Citizens of Guinea are heading back to work as negotiations to end an 18-day general strike continue. Union leaders have gotten President Lansana Conte to agree to put a new prime minister in charge of the government and let the aging President, who is suffering from diabetes, nominally stay in power. But thousands of activists who had held mass protests last week are threatening to continue to strike if living conditions in the country do not improve significantly. From the capital Conakry, law school student Ibrahima Diallo explains that although an agreement has been hammered out, the strike is by no means over.
“Since four days now, the syndical leaders tried to make sure that the President can name a prime minister, but that negotiation is from the syndical leaders. The strike is not finished. It’s just stopped. When all the negotiations will finish, then we can say that the strike is stopped,” he said.
In return for calling a halt to the strike, union leaders received assurances that the government would lower the prices of basic commodities like rice and gasoline, and that the President would pursue prosecution of two close political allies named in a corruption probe. The government also ageed to make January 22 a national day of remembrance to honor the estimated fifty-nine people shot by security forces in city streets during last week’s protests. Law student Diallo says that the death toll in last week’s violence went far beyond state radio’s estimates and could be as high as one hundred if you take into account all the violence that occurred outside of the capital in the country’s interior.
“So many state radio stations told there were about sixty killed. But let me say it’s about one-hundred because when we also take in the countryside, like Kankan, and Labe, there were people killed there also,” he said.
Diallo explains why the union leaders decided to agree to terms with the government on Friday to halt the strike.
“The movement of the union leaders was just to get a prime minister and try to make the prices down on the market. We are behind them, but if we are not satisfied on what they are doing, I think we will go on the road and make another strike. We want a real change on all things in Guinea. But if negotiations do not end, I think that people will come back to say again that they do not agree with the proposition of the government. If it’s not done, we cannot accept that,” he said.
President Conte dismissed his previous prime minister, Cellou Dalein Diallo, last April but has yet to appoint a successor. Union leaders, who represent workers who mine almost half the world’s bauxite reserves, are hoping for the President to name an honest, intelligent leader with full decision-making powers to head a new transitional government. For now, says Ibrahima Diallo, stores have reopened and companies are back in operation.