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Top Guinean Businessman Appointed Ruling Party Head


Guineans are reacting angrily to the appointment of the country's wealthiest businessman, Mamadou Sylla, as honorary president of President Conte's ruling party. In December, Sylla was released from prison on corruption charges at Mr. Conte's special request, an incident that helped trigger strikes that have roiled Guinea during the past few months. Naomi Schwarz has more on the story from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

Guinea has seen a great deal of unrest in the past six months. A nationwide strike demanding political change turned into a brutal military crackdown that left more than 100 dead. Earlier this month, soldiers shook the country again as they protested unpaid wages. Another 10 civilians died.

Now, Mamadou Sylla, a man who some analysts say has become a symbol for what Guineans says is wrong in their country, has been appointed head of the ruling Unity and Progress Party, alongside ailing President Lansana Conté.

Guinea analyst Dustin Sharp says the announcement came as a surprise.

"It is somewhat baffling, given the trigger that Mamadou Sylla played just a couple of months ago," said Sharp.

Sylla is a longtime ally of Mr. Conté, and the country's wealthiest businessman. Last year, he was the subject of a corruption investigation that ended abruptly when Mr. Conté went personally to the jail to free him.

Analysts say it was a turning point for Guinea. The next month, angry about corruption in the government, and worried by spiraling inflation, rising prices, and a failing economy, the country's powerful unions called a nationwide strike. The strike ended when Mr. Conté acceded to union demands to appoint a new, independent prime minister.

Alpha Barry, who runs a cyber café in the capital, Conakry, says Sylla's appointment shows how little has really changed, even after months of turmoil.

Barry says the move is a continuation of the old style of politics, and he says Guinea needs to move forward into a new style of government.

But Yamadou Touré, secretary general of the National Organization of Guinean Trade Unions, says this move shows the ruling party is aware that politics in Guinea have changed.

Touré says the more the ruling party knows it can no longer control the central bank and that things in Guinea will never be the same, the more they need someone who can supply money to help them maintain power.

He says he is encouraged by the signs of progress he sees in Guinea, thanks to the work of the trade unions and Guinea's new prime minister, Lansana Kouyaté. But he says he expects further discord as the process continues.

He says he is worried that the prime minister's reforms and the appointment of new ministers, a move mandated under the agreement that ended the strike, will cause a new tensions with the government, which he says will not relinquish power easily.

The position of prime minister is not guaranteed by Guinea's constitution, and previous reform-minded prime ministers have been fired by Mr. Conté.

Guinean analyst Sharp says even Mamadou Sylla, who right now seems so favored by the administration, should not rely on his powerful position.

"It could be that Mamadou Sylla's star is rising a little bit today, but that is no guarantee of success in the future," said Sharp. "The political currents in Guinea are pretty treacherous."

Guinea has tremendous mineral resources, but remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

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