The West African nation of Guinea marks the 50th anniversary of
independence which it gained after breaking with other French-African
colonies that accepted a power-sharing agreement with France, the
colonial power. But the celebrations have been subdued because Guinea,
despite considerable mineral wealth, remains one of the poorest
countries in the world. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from our West Africa
Bureau in Dakar.
The celebrations began at midnight with fireworks and a small parade in the capital, Conakry.
Lansana Conte told the nation that the time for promises had passed and
it was time to take concrete steps toward economic development. But, in
a reference to frequent anti-government protests, he said this would
occur in an atmosphere of peace and liberty.
Guinea was the
first African colony of France to gain independence after Guineans
rejected, in a referendum, a proposal to join a French commonwealth.
independence leader and first president Ahmed Sekou Toure delivered the famous
rejection to then-French President Charles de Gaulle in 1958. He said Guineans prefer poverty with dignity over wealth in slavery.
other African colonies accepted the commonwealth offer but they also
gained independence a few years later in the continent-wide move
The reaction of the French government at the time, however, was harsh and Guinea was largely cut off from French foreign aid.
Sekou Toure became increasingly obsessed over plots, real and
perceived, to overthrow him. And his security forces detained and
tortured thousands of Guinean dissidents.
Human rights groups
estimate more than 50,000 people were executed or died in prison during
the government of Mr. Sekou Toure who died in 1984.
outside Conakry, was the most famous detention center. Families of the
Camp's victims Thursday gathered at one of the few known mass graves
near Conakry to remember their loved ones, many of whose bodies have
never been recovered.
The head of the Association, Marega Fode,
says all Guineans supported independence and the anniversary provides
an opportunity to atone for the excesses that followed.
says it is time to locate all the mass graves, return the victims'
remains to their families and build a monument to their memory. He says
only then can the process of reconciliation begin.
are proud of the historic defiance of their first president. But many
criticize the government for failing to take advantage of the country's
considerable mineral wealth.
Most Guineans live on less than one
dollar per day and the country is ranked by the United Nations as one
of the poorest in the world.
The discontent has led to protests
in recent years including several weeks of rioting in which more than
100 people were shot to death by police.