CONAKRY— Shop owners in Guinea’s capital, Conakry, started resuming business little by little on Tuesday, after days of unrest that had many traders waiting and watching. Since an opposition rally last week, the city has seen clashes between supporters of the two main political camps - a division that runs largely along ethnic lines. Guineans say the government and the opposition must reach out to each other and to their supporters to stop the cycle of violence.
Vendors shout their prices in Conakry’s Madina market on Monday morning - the first business day after deadly clashes between supporters of the government and backers of the opposition. Most shops remained closed, their owners sitting by, preferring to wait and monitor the situation.
Police and gendarmes in riot gear were posted throughout the area. In the areas where clashes took place in recent days, there are charred remains of tires and a car in the Hamdallaye neighborhood, shattered car windshields in one main marketplace, broken shop doors in another.
Twenty-six-year-old Mouctar Sow sells mobile phones in Madina market. He talked with VOA on Monday morning as he and fellow traders were standing by to see whether it was safe to open up shop. The vendors, mostly of the Peul ethnic group, said youths supporting President Alpha Condé - who’s Malinké - attacked Peul shop owners Friday and Saturday.
He says, we’re waiting to see if they’ll come back. And if they do, he says, we’ll fight back. We, the Peul, we’re not going anywhere.
The clashes followed an opposition rally on Thursday, which was authorized by the government. The opposition is calling for transparent legislative elections, two years after President Condé was elected. The march was mostly peaceful, but in one area of Conakry with a concentration of Condé supporters, there were clashes. Each side blames the other.
Accounts of the days’ events are full of references to ‘us’ and ‘them.' Political rivalry automatically means deep antagonism and that’s a big part of the problem, says Abdoulaye Fadiga, who sells fabric near Madina market. He’s also head of a local group called National Association for Peace. He says Guineans have a lot to learn about multi-party democracy.
He’d opened his shop on Monday morning. But the steel doors were only halfway opened - easier to lock up again in case of trouble.
He says Guineans have a long way to go in learning civic-mindedness. He says he witnessed much of the unrest and there was provocation from both sides. Many opposition militants take advantage of what are supposed to be peaceful marches to start trouble. On the other hand, Fadiga says, Condé supporters see a successful opposition rally as a win for the other side so they resist.
He says he’s particularly disturbed by the ethnic dimension events have taken lately. He says this group denounces Peul, that side denounces Malinké - this is unacceptable and deplorable, because we have no choice but to live together.
Bountouraby Camara sells clothes in Madina market and is the family’s sole breadwinner. She came to tears as she talked about the impact of the instability.
She says she’s not sold a thing for three days. This morning she had no money to leave at home for her children to buy breakfast. She called on Guineans to stop the violence.
Many Conakry youth said they want to see government and opposition leaders working to unify the people, focusing on the country’s good and not political power.
President Alpha Condé, in an address to the nation last Friday, condemned the violence and destruction and appealed for calm on all sides. He said without peace, development and investment are impossible.
This resident of Conakry, who did not want to give his name, said the recurrent instability keeps Guinea stuck.
While other countries make progress, the little bit we have here in Guinea, we destroy it, he says. And for what? Politicians. Politicians sow trouble and this is where it leads us. Fifty-four years of independence - no electricity, no running water, no roads, nothing, he says. All for politics and a fight for power.