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Conté, Lansana 1944(?)–

Lansana Conté 1944(?)

President of Guinea

At a Glance

Offered an Agenda of Change

Tension Mounted in Mid-1980s

An Able Political Leader

The Transition to Democracy

Sources

General Lansana Conté has led the West African nation of Guinea on a slow path toward democratization since assuming power during a military coup in 1984. His political and economic policiesbased on the free market systemhave made Guinea more attractive to foreign investors despite lingering economic austerity in the mineral-rich nation. Slow and deliberate in leadership style, Conté takes his time making important policy decisionsa tendency that has led opposition groups to demonstrate for a more rapid introduction of democratic reforms.

Conté is a military leader who also enjoys the support of much of the populace, having for the most part avoided the harsh dictatorial style of his predecessor, Sekou Touré. He has taken pains to maintain an ethnic balance within his government and has thus avoided the ethnic violence endemic to some other African nations. On the other hand, Conté has frequently reshuffled his cabinet, called the Council of Ministers, to remove potential adversaries from the center of political power.

His popularity, which reached a peak during an aborted coup attempt in 1985, eroded amidst continued persecution of opposition groups and delays in the implementation of presidential elections. Some observers have charged that the former professional soldier remains a one-man ruler in Guinea.

Throughout his first ten years as president, Conté has enjoyed the support of the military, whom he has protected to some extent from his economic reforms. Support also comes from the French, with whom he has established improved relations. Other nations as well have been attracted by his openness to the West and his attempts at democratization, and major foreign lenders like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Worid Bank have rewarded his economic reforms by granting additional loans.

Guinea is potentially one of Africas richest nations, due to its mineral resources such as bauxite (used in the production of aluminum), iron ore, and diamonds. In addition to its minerals, the countrys agricultural and industrial sectors offer the promise of further development. Still Guinea remains a poor country with a host of economic problems. Its weaknesses include a lack of highly trained managers and an underdeveloped infrastructure of transportation and communications.

At a Glance

Born c. 1944 in a village about 50 miles north of Conakry, Guinea. Member of the Soussou ethnic group.

President of Guinea, 1964; assumed leadership in a military coup following the death of President Sekou Toure; founder of Military Committee of Recovery (CMRN), 19B4 (dissolved, 1991); founder of Transitional Committee for National Recovery (CTRN), 1991; candidate of the Party for Unity and Progress (PUP) in first multiparty presidential elections; won election, 1993. Promoted from colonel to brigadier-general following successful defense against a coup attempt in 1985.

Addresses: Office Presidential Office, Conakry, Guinea.

Guinea achieved its independence from France in 1958. It was ruled by Sekou Touré, its first president, from 1958 until his death in 1984. Touré was a harsh dictator who left the country in economic chaos after 25 years of economic mismanagement under a socialist regime. He was also a highly suspicious leader who used the police powers of the state to terrorize and subdue his opponents as well as the general population.

Offered an Agenda of Change

Sekou Touré died unexpectedly on March 26, 1984, during heart surgery in Cleveland, Ohio. There was no clearly established successor to the Guinean president, so within two weeks the army stepped in and took over the government. The bloodless coup was led by two colonels, Lansana Conté and Diana Traoré. Conté became president, and Traoré became prime minister. Tourés political party, the Guinean Democratic Party (PDG), was abolished, and the new government established the Military Committee of National Recovery (CMRN) as the countrys ruling body. No other political parties were recognized at the time.

The new military leaders were greeted enthusiastically by the citizens of Guinea, and especially by the countrys youth. For them, the 1984 coup marked an end to Tourés reign of political and economic control. Among the promises made by the new military leaders was a new era of freedom. The violence and disastrous economic policies of the prior regime were denounced, and Conté promised there would be no executions. Some former leaders of Tourés party were jailed, while other political prisoners were freed. At least at first, the Conté government was perceived as open and magnanimous, not only to the populace of Guinea but also to Western nations long shunned by Touré.

Conté and the CMRN were faced with the task of political and economic reform, some of which had been started in the last years of Tourés regime. Tourés rule as president was one of ethnic domination by his own Malinké people. Conté, a member of the Soussou ethnic group, sought to ease tensions by creating a pluralist government in which all ethnic groups would be represented. On the economic front, he needed to make the country more attractive to foreign investors.

Following years of corruption under Touré, the government bureaucracy, civil service, and state-run organizations were badly in need of reform. Unfortunately, the ruling body created by the military proved to be too diverse, with no clear political direction. Disagreements arose concerning which economic changes were possible or even necessary.

Within months of the coup, a power struggle developed between President Conté and Prime Minister Traoré. Like Touré, Traoré was a Malinké, and he was seen to favor his own people as the government was being reorganized. Africa Record described Traoré as impetuous and self-serving. Clearly ambitious, he tried to rally support for himself within Guinea as well as abroad. He took a higher profile than Conté, making state visits to Paris and London, and single-handedly authorized major expenditures without anyone elses approval or consent.

Tension Mounted in Mid-1980s

In December of 1984 Conté abolished the position of prime minister and demoted Traoré to minister of state for national education, one of four newly-created state minister posts. Traoré refused to acknowledge changes in the balance of power and continued to occupy the prime ministers residence. Animosity between the two leaders continued into 1985.

In January of 1985 the death of Captain Mamady Mansare, a close friend of Traorés, was announced. No announcement was made, however, of an attempted coup against the Conté government that resulted in the arrest of 41 soldiers. The suppression of a more serious coup attempt came in July of 1985, when Colonel Traoré spearheaded a takeover attempt while Conté was out of the country attending a regional summit meeting in Togo.

Traorés forces succeeded in capturing a radio station in the Guinean capital of Conakry, and Traoré went on the air to announce the dissolution of the CMRN and formation of a new government. However, soldiers loyal to Conté quickly regained control, and Conté returned to the capital two days later. Traoré and his family were arrested as part of a purge of coup sympathizers, both military and civilian. Colonel Traoré was executed almost immediately, and no public trials were ever held for the estimated 200 people arrested for allegedly taking part in the coup attempt. The plot was described as an attempt to reassert Malinké rule and return to the authoritarian practices of Sekou Touré, although Conté and the CMRN tried to downplay the ethnic aspect of the failed attempt in order to minimize ethnic tensions.

Conté was promoted to brigadier-general after successfully defeating the coup attempt. It seemed as if the entire incident only served to strengthen his position in the government and improve his public image. He was able to consolidate his personal power, although he would continue to face opposition from different segments of Guinean society throughout the years to come.

An Able Political Leader

Following the failed coup attempt in July of 1985, Conté took his time and spent the remainder of the year deciding on a new government and initiating new economic reforms. According to Africa Report, the reason for the delay was Contés desire to deliberate carefully before coming to an important decision. Although the delay in forming a new government gave the impression of indecision and weakness, Conté was able to remain firmly in control and form a new government to boost the nations confidence in his leadership.

When Conté announced the new Council of Ministers in December of 1985, he increased the number of civilian ministers from nine to 19 and reduced the number of military ministers to 12, thus giving civilians a majority over the military for the first time. He also diminished the influence of potential military rivals by sending them to remote parts of Guinea as resident ministers, an action he would take again in the future.

Another notable characteristic of the new government was a bigger role given to expatriate Guineans, some of whom returned from long exile to accept cabinet positions. This step was intended to attract investment from wealthy Guinean traders who had left the country under Sekou Tourés rule. Technocrats were appointed to other cabinet positions, helping to give the cabinet the appearance of being ready to deal with economic reform.

Conté strengthened his personal power by appointing a key supporter, Commander Kerfalla Cámara, as permanent secretary of the CMRN. By appointing minister-delegates to other sensitive cabinet positions, Conté became personally responsible for the key portfolios of defense, information, planning and international cooperation, and interior and centralization. He also reorganized the armed forces command and placed close associates in charge of key posts.

Following the 1985 reorganization, the first steps toward democratization were taken by allowing district council elections in Conakry in April of 1986. A plan developed with the help of French advisors called for introducing such local councils throughout the country.

Although Conté and the CMRN had clear intentions of liberalizing Guinean politics after taking power in 1984, no formal announcement of constitutional reform was made until Contés speech on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of Guineas independence. With Guineas constitution suspended since April of 1984, Conté announced in October of 1988 that a new constitution would be drawn up. He characterized the four and one-half years of CMRN rule as a transitional period that had reached its conclusion.

The Transition to Democracy

While citing continuing problems with official corruption and embezzlement, Conté announced the following year that Guinea would make the transition to a multiparty democracy during a five-year period that would follow the adoption of a new constitution. The constitution would be drafted by a commission of Guineans, and the CMRN would be replaced with a Transitional Committee for National Recovery (CTRN) to rule during the five-year transitional period.

While the 1989 plan set no definite date for adopting a new constitution, it proposed the CTRN have an equal number of military and civilian members. Only two official political parties would be allowed, there would be a unicameral National Assembly, and the president would be elected by popular vote for a five-year term and could be re-elected only once.

In 1990 the new constitution was drafted by a commission headed by Foreign Minister Major Jean Traoré. At this time the governments call for exiled opposition leaders to return to Guinea to participate in the political liberalization was largely ignored. Opposition groups in exile rejected the new constitution and called for a voter boycott. They demanded an immediate end to military rule (rather than a five-year transitional period) and a national conference of all political groups. In August of 1990 three members of major opposition groups were arrested, and they later received prison sentences on charges of forging official documents and distributing banned newspapers.

On December 23, 1990, the new constitution was approved in a popular referendum. Some 97 percent of the electorate turned out, and 98.7 percent of those voting approved the new constitution. As announced the previous year, it called for the formation of a CTRN to replace the CMRN and the creation of a two-party democratic system within five years.

In January of 1991 the CMRN was dissolved and a 36-member CTRN was appointed. Under the new constitution, members of the CTRN could not hold cabinet positions. Later in the year Conté announced that legislation for the adoption of democracy would be ready by the end of 1991. He also announced that although a two-party system was expected, more parties might be allowed under certain conditions. Speeding up the process of democratization somewhat, Conté announced in October of 1991 that a full multiparty system would come into operation starting in April of 1992. Legislation passed at the end of 1991 made the CTRNs job more or less complete, and as a result its size was cut from 36 to 15. Conté resigned as president of the CTRN early in 1992 in response to charges that the countrys executive and legislative branches should remain separated.

Conté continued to move Guinea toward full democratization when he announced in September of 1993 that the countrys first multiparty presidential elections would be held on December 5, 1993. As a candidate of the Party for Unity and Progress (PUP), he won the election with just over 50 percent of the vote. Legislative elections were scheduled for 60 days after the presidential poll.

Throughout his first ten years as president of Guinea, Conté enacted the necessary economic and political reforms that would provide for a better standard of living in Guinea. Although he has faced oppositioneither because his economic reforms were too difficult or his political reforms moved too slowlyhe has taken appropriate measures to meet the demands of his opponents or to deal with them in an appropriate political or military manner. His able rule had taken Guinea far along the path of liberal political and economic reform, steps necessary for a country that suffered for most of its first 25 years of independence under a harsh dictatorial ruler.

Sources

Books

Africa Contemporary Record, Africana Publishing Company, 1986-1990.

Africa South of the Sahara 1994, Europa, 1994.

Keesings Record of World Events, Longman, 1988-1993.

Rake, Alan, Whos Who in Africa: Leaders for the 1990s, Scarecrow Press, 1992, pp. 134-35.

Periodicals

Africa Report, November-December 1986, p. 21; November-December 1993, p. 11.

Business America, April 11, 1988; July 17, 1989, p. 17.

David Bianco

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"Conté, Lansana 1944(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Conté, Lansana

Lansana Conté (länsä´nä cōNtā´), 1934–2008, Guinean political leader and military officer. Conté enlisted in the French army in 1955 and served in Algeria. Returning to Guinea in 1958 after his homeland's independence, he rose through the ranks to become army chief of staff (1975) and lieutenant colonel (1982). In 1984 he led a coup following President Sékou Touré's death and became president. He retained power until his death, surviving three attempted coups and winning reelection from 1993 on in multiparty balloting that failed to meet democratic standards. Conté, who was made a general in 1990, ruled over a nation that became increasingly impoverished as the government became increasingly corrupt.

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"Conté, Lansana." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Conté, Lansana." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/conte-lansana

"Conté, Lansana." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/conte-lansana