Thursday, 15 February 2007

Guinea update from Ross Velton, Bissau


“I have got to know the guy in charge at the Guinean Embassy here in Bissau quite well over the past few days. I went to see him this morning for an update on the situation in Guinea-Conakry. His assertion that it was “very good” is obviously diplomatic rhetoric, and it must be said that his take on what is going on in his own country has often contradicted what I have heard from NGO workers in Guinea-Bissau and, indeed, the BBC World Service reports. This is not necessarily his fault, since I imagine that the government in Conakry has bigger priorities at the moment than keeping embassy officials updated. Today he was reporting that the Guinea-Bissau/Guinea-Conakry borders were open from midday to 6pm. However, travellers staying at my hotel were turned away from the border yesterday, so I am sceptical that the borders are open today. On my last visit to the Guinean Embassy, I was told that the borders would be closed until at least tomorrow. Even if you can enter Guinea-Conakry, the curfew (from 6pm to midday) - which the army are enforcing, sometimes quite violently - will restrict travel, and a general strike means that nothing is open.”
Ross Velton, by email, 15th February 2007

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Guinea – too dangerous to visit

Guinea, one of West Africa's most stimulating and normally enjoyable countries to travel in, has now become more stimulating than most travellers would want, with the resumption of a general strike aiming to force the country's president to stand down, and his statement that the country was now at siege and that the army should restore order at all costs. Lansana Conté who has ruled since the country's first president, the dictator Sékou Touré died in 1984, has increasingly lost his grip on power. The final straw was the January general strike, when the country's powerful unions forced him to appoint an independent prime minister, and then rejected his choice as being too close to the presidency. The gloves now seem to be off on both sides, but it's not yet clear how much of the army Conté can count on to support him. Meanwhile, the streets of the capital, Conakry, and many other towns, are scenes of chaos and confusion, with official and unofficial roadblocks and incidents of banditry and looting on the increase as the long-suffering people of this rich and beautiful country – admittedly mostly the wilder young men of this rich and beautiful country – seize their opportunity to hit back and grab what they can. Our researcher on the ground in the region has just emailed from Guinea-Bissau to say that he managed to get a visa, but we've agreed he's going to stay clear of Guinea-Conakry for now and move on to his next assignment, Burkina Faso. Most expatriates living in Guinea have now evacuated to Dakar or Freetown and Air France has cancelled its Conakry flights.

The BBC, as usual, is updating regularly. You should also have a look at the following blogs, though they aren't all being updated frequently, and some owners are no longer in Guinea.

News from Guinea and Friends of Guinea
Bonnie's Peace Corps Experience in Guinea
Letters from Guinea

Friday, 9 February 2007

Attacks in Niger

Look out for yourselves if travelling in northern and eastern Niger. An army base near Iférouane was attacked, allegedly by Touareg gunmen, yesterday. There was also at least one attack on some tourist vehicles in late December between Arlit and Agadez, reported by the 153 Club. They robbed everyone and took the vehicles. This was pure banditry, and nobody was reported injured, but being stranded out there with little food and water, before being rescued by Nigerien police, is no joke. As usual, travelling low-key is safer – though there's little public transport in the remotest areas so you'd probably end up in a big 4x4 anyway – but these parts of Niger remain lawless and not for the fainthearted.