In 1985 Lansana Conte declared himself President of Guinea after leading a military coup. The constitution of the country was immediately suspended and Conte vowed to end corruption. While Conte technically restored democratic elections in Guinea, most international observers believed that all of Conte’s Presidential victories were rigged. In November, 2006, according to Transparency International, Guinea was listed as the second most corrupt country in the world, barely edged out by the most corrupt country in the world, Haiti. This week, on December 23, 2008, after 23 years of rule in Guinea, Lansana Conte died.
Hours after Conte’s death, another military coup occurred. This time army Captain Moussa Camara suspended the constitution and declared himself President, vowing to rid Guinea of corruption and to hold “transparent presidential elections by the end of December, 2010”. Conte is a member of the “National Council for Democracy and Development.”
Gosh, I guess if I was a citizen of Guinea it would give me a real sense of comfort to know that my latest dictator was a member of the “National Council of Democracy.” Of course, the first thing Camara did was to stop all mining production in Guinea. The mines are owned by foreign companies and Camara wants to “renegotiate all mining contracts.” In other words, he wants to make it more difficult and costly for foreign mining firms to operate in Guinea. If the “renegotiation” is not acceptable to the foreign-owned mining companies, they may pull out their investments. Or, Camara might “expropriate” the private property of the mining companies and kick the owners and skilled workers out of the country. In either case, the result will be a lower standard of living in Guinea.
My prediction is that Camara won’t chase out the mining companies; he’ll just “renegotiate” their revenues with a nice bribe for himself. Don’t look for elections in 2010 either, unless they’re fixed.
The Guinea story reminds me of a question people often ask me; “Why do foreigners continue to buy US government securities in spite of our negative balance of payments, weakening dollar, financial scandals, and huge national debt?” The answer is simple: We have regular elections that are clean and transparent. For over two hundred years, once the votes are counted, the winner goes into office and the loser goes home, without a coup and without violence. If there are contract disputes, the courts are generally fair and judicial decisions are rendered in a relatively short period of time. Foreigners investing or banking their money in the United States suffer no more risk than US citizens. In other words, the government of the United States of America is exactly the opposite of the government of Guinea. That’s why, despite our problems and at least for now, the foreign “smart money” continues to stay in the United States of America.