No blank cheques for dubious regimes

17 October 2009

No blank cheques for dubious regimes

Two weeks ago the junta in the West African state of Guinea was responsible for a veritable bloodbath. According to human rights organisations, at least 157 people lost their lives, while a further 1250, including a number of prominent opposition leaders, were wounded. Eye witnesses report that soldiers moved into the suburbs of the Guinean capital of Conakry, looting shops and houses and raping women en masse.

Ewout Irrgang is a Member of Parliament for the SP

Ewout IrrgangThis is the sad aftermath of an initially bloodless military coup which occurred in December 2008, in which President Moussa Dadis Camara appeared in the first instance to be acting in the interests of the desperately poor Guinean population. He tackled corruption and drug smuggling and cut prices for necessities such as rice and petrol. More importantly still, he promised free elections would be held in 2010 and that he would not put himself forward as a candidate. In going back on the latter promise in recent weeks, he has provoked outrage amongst the general population, resulting in the demonstration of 28th September, with its fatal consequences.

Camara, however, received full support for his candidature from Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade. Wade was the first and almost the only African leader to congratulate Camara on his seizure of power last December. On 12th September the 83 year old Wade visited Conakry in order to boost Camara's resolve, lovingly referring to him as 'my son'. In the long speech which followed, Camara echoed Wade's words, confirming the special bond which he had with ‘papa’ Wade and the latter's important advisory role in west African politics.

The Netherlands yearly doles out tens of millions of euros in what is termed 'budgetary support'. The European Commission also supplies budgetary support, which by 2013 will amount to almost 150 million euros. Development Minister Bert Koenders, of the PvdA (Labour Party) would be well-advised to suspend Dutch budgetary support and propose at EU level that the Commission follow suit.

It is precisely because of the important advisory position which the Senegalese president holds in the explosive west African region, and in particular in Guinea, that his actions must be severely condemned. Friend and enemy agree that had Wade spoken out against Camara's candidature, the bloodbath at the end of September could have been avoided. Now that he has consciously refrained from any such judgement, Wade can surely have no further claim on our aid.

In addition, it must be said that the Senegalese president plays just as despicable a role in his own country, which under his tutelage has headed in a downward spiral towards becoming an authoritarian state. Wade is preparing his son Karim to succeed him, while freedom of the press is curtailed and laws are amended without any agreement from the country's parliament.

In a time when spending is under pressure, aid which is open to reasonable doubt must be the first to go, certainly when the regime receiving budgetary support exercises such a baleful influence on the region.

This article first appeared in Dutch in the daily newspaper NRC.next, on 13th October 2009.

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