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Guinea President Shakes Up Cabinet


Guinea President Lansana Conte has again reorganized his cabinet. The changes appear to do little to lessen analysts' worries about the future of the country, which has been ruled by the ailing former coup leader for the past 22 years.

Figuring prominently in Monday's cabinet shake-up are several longtime allies of President Lansana Conte.

Among them are Alseny Rene Gomez, a former interior minister, who oversaw 1993 presidential elections won by Mr. Conte amid charges of irregularities, and ex-finance minister Kazaliou Balde, a close friend of the president.

Significantly, Fode Bangoura, Mr. Conte's political strongman in the previous cabinet, will now serve in the influential capacity of minister of state for presidential affairs.

In April, Mr. Conte fired then-Prime Minister Cellou Diallo shortly after having granted him increased powers. Guinea remains without a prime minister in the new cabinet, which has grown to include 30 ministers.

Though Monday' s announcement on state television came as a surprise to some, journalist Maseco Conde says such wide-reaching decisions are not out of place in the country, which has essentially been ruled by one man for more than two decades.

When the president makes a decree, he does not go on television or radio to justify his decisions, Conde says. He signs the decree, and it is simply made public later.

Concerns about Guinea's future are growing among diplomats and analysts.

Mr. Conte, a chain-smoking diabetic in his seventies, was flown to Switzerland earlier this year to undergo medical treatment. No clear line of succession exists in the event of the president's death. Politicians and the military are positioning themselves for the expected post-Conte period.

It is a volatile situation that an Africa analyst with London-based Control Risks, Rolake Akinole, says has not changed with the restructuring of the cabinet.

"The shuffle does not eliminate the threat of a power struggle," Akinole says. "It is still very unlikely that a constitutional succession would be followed legitimately. So what is basically happening is that there is a gradual shifting and tipping of power to other strong figures in the political arena."

Mr. Conte has been under increasing pressure in recent months, as an economy in tatters, and regular food shortages, have led to a series of nationwide general strikes.

Akinole says many of the promotions or new nominations have gone to staunch Conte loyalists.

"I think its generally intended to sure up his support," Akinole says. "And one thing he has done, he has promoted members of his close Soussou ethnic group. And this could signal that he recognizes that his political authority might be waning, and he needs to protect himself."

Mr. Conte rose to power in a military coup in 1984, just days after the death of Guinea's independence president Sekou Toure.

In the late 1980s and '90s, Guinea remained stable as its neighbors Sierra Leone, Liberia, and later Ivory Coast, slipped into cycles of civil war. But the country's infrastructure is in ruins, and many experts predict Guinea will be West Africa's next trouble spot.