Guinea's capital Conakry grinds to a halt as general strike begins

Author: Editors Desk Source: France 24
February 26, 2024 at 12:55
A picture taken in Conakry on October 12, 2020 shows a view of the city centre. © John Wessels, AFP (archives)
A picture taken in Conakry on October 12, 2020 shows a view of the city centre. © John Wessels, AFP (archives)
Guinea's capital came to a standstill Monday on the first day of an open-ended general strike in a key test for the junta that seized power in 2021 and banned demonstrations while muzzling critics.

A confederation of the main unions has urged public and private sectors to strike for the release of a prominent media activist, lower food prices and an end to media censorship.

Schools, shops, markets and roads were empty early Monday in Conakry and hospitals only offered skeletal services as youths set up barricades on arterial thoroughfares.

"This strike is welcome, it will force the authorities to understand that they are not gods on earth," a ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

"I'm on strike because Guineans are sick of the artificially created suffering, maintained by our leaders." 

It comes a week after the military junta unexpectedly dissolved the transitional government – which had been in office since July 2022 – without providing a reason.

The junta also ordered government members' passports to be seized and their bank accounts frozen.

Police kept a low-profile presence in the seaside capital on Monday.


Press censorship 

Journalists have been at the forefront of protests against media censorship.

Television channels have been removed and radio frequencies disrupted in a crackdown on media outlets. 

The unions have called for the immediate and unconditional release of Sekou Jamal Pendessa, secretary general of the Union of Press Professionals of Guinea (SPPG), who was arrested at the end of January for "participating in an unauthorised protest".

Pendessa was sentenced Friday for six months in prison, three of which were suspended. 

Internet restrictions imposed three months ago were lifted last week, a day after the unions announced plans for the strike.

The resumption of internet access surprised many in Guinea and sparked a flurry of social media comments.


Rare protests 

Protests have become rare under junta leader General Mamady Doumbouya, who took power in a September 2021 coup. 

General Doumbouya has not spoken publicly since the start of the year, despite a deadly explosion at the country's main oil depot in December paralysing Guinea for several weeks.

The military leaders banned all demonstrations in 2022 and have arrested a number of opposition leaders, civil society members and the press.

Mineral-rich Guinea has endured decades of dictatorial rule after independence from France in 1968. Fierce repression of union strikes in 2007 under former president Lansana Conte left 186 dead, according to NGOs

Under international pressure, the junta has promised to hand the reins of government back to elected civilians by the end of 2024, but the opposition has accused it of authoritarian drift.


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