Cablegate: A Private Chat with Guinean Prime Minister Lansana

DE RUEHRY #0163/01 1261450
O 051450Z MAY 08




E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/03/2013


Classified By: Ambassador Phillip Carter III for reasons 1.4 (b) & (d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: On May 3, Ambassador Carter met with Prime
Minister Lansana Kouyate at the EMR for 90 minutes. Kouyate,
who was traveling to Kuwait that evening, had just come from
a meeting with President Conte at his farm in Dubreka where
the PM discussed plans for a possible cabinet reshuffle, and
the creation of a government committee to address Guinea's
growing food crisis. The Ambassador's meeting covered a
number of topics, from the Ambassador's latest travels into
Guinea's interior to Kouyate's most recent meeting with
President Conte, to the current political and economic
challenges facing the country. The issue of Guinea's growing
narcotics trafficking problem was also raised with some
surprising insights regarding the apparently strained
relationship between President Conte and his eldest son
Ousmane, a leading figure in the country's drug trade. END


2. (U) Kouyate was clearly pleased to be meeting with the
Ambassador, stating that it had been a while since he had an
opportunity to exchange ideas. Noting the Ambassador's recent
travels throughout the country, Kouyate asked about the
Ambassador's impressions. The Ambassador told the PM that it
is clear that the elections are a topic of much interest
among the various groups he had met with, including local
political, youth and civil society leaders. However, he
shared his impression that people seem frustrated, with many
feeling that the government is not doing enough to ensure
that the elections will be well organized, free and fair. The
Ambassador stressed the need for better communication among
these different groups in the countryside, emphasizing that
the regional CENI representatives and local officials
(Governors and Prefects) need to define their respective
roles and responsibilities in order to avoid confusion as
election day approaches. According to the Ambassador,
everyone seemed to be waiting for instructions from Conakry
rather than initiating the necessary dialogue amongst
themselves. On this score, the PM stated that he will be
convening a meeting of all political parties, the CENI, the
Ministry of Interior and donors to discuss what needs to be
done to get the process rolling in a more determined fashion.
The Ambassador told the PM that he hoped that the CENI would
also receive additional funding from the government, beyond
the paltry 500 million GnP (about $110,000) it has already
received. Kouyate said that he is looking to address the
CENI's budget shortfall through a supplemental allocation to
the "initial" allotment.

3. (SBU) The Ambassador also noted that many interlocutors
were concerned about the growing ethnic character of each of
the parties as well as the parties' apparent lack of action
with respect to the elections. The PM responded by saying
that the issue of ethnicity is not new or unique to Guinea,
but that if any party wants to build the political standing
necessary to control the National Assembly or win the
Presidency, it will need to garner support from all of the
country's ethnic groups. He shared the Ambassador's view that
even within the Malinke, Sousou, or Fulani ethnic groups,
there are divisions that will likely prevent any one
political party from claiming the complete support of any one
ethnicity. He pushed back on the Ambassador's assertion that
the parties were not preparing themselves. The PM said that
while the official campaign period is legally limited to a
certain number of weeks before the election, the parties are
actively seeking candidates and marshaling resources. He
described one recent instance where a party had imported a
container of promotional materials, such as Tee-shirts and
caps with logos, and sought an exemption for the $500,000
duty imposed by customs, which he could not waive. The PM
mentioned the law passed in May 2007 that obligates the
Guinean Government to provide registered political parties
with some public funds, and said that he had directed the
Finance Minister to fulfill this obligation.

CONAKRY 00000163 002 OF 004

Food Crisis

4. (C) Turning to economics, the Ambassador said that the
government's recent ban on agricultural exports would likely
cause more harm that good over the medium term, and would do
nothing to solve the problem of rising food prices globally.
The Ambassador noted that during his recent visit to the
Forest Region, several producers complained about the ban.
He stressed that banning exports creates a disincentive to
farmers to increase production since their market is
effectively cut off. Kouyate acknowledged the Ambassador's
concerns, and emphasized that he is deeply committed to a
liberal and open economic policy. However, he noted that,
globally, there is a growing protectionist trend among
countries that export agricultural commodities such as rice.
He said he understood donor objections, but that the ban is
an expedient necessity to support Guinean consumers who are
increasingly squeezed by rising food prices. He added that
local exporters deposit their profits into foreign accounts,
meaning that Guinea gains little financially, if anything,
from agricultural exports. The Ambassador responded that an
export ban does not resolve the problem of repatriated
revenues/profits, and urged the PM to focus on resolving
problems that continue to inhibit local production. Kouyate
stated that his government would clarify its policy to focus
on certain essential staples.

5. (SBU) On the issue of food assistance, the Ambassador
urged the PM to improve his government's coordination on this
matter. The PM revealed that he had just left President Conte
with a draft decree to establish a government steering
committee on this subject, that Conte had agreed, and that
the Agriculture Minister would receive the signed decree from
Conte the following day.

Ministers, Governors, and Prefects

6. (SBU) The Ambassador commended the PM on his selection of
Governors and Prefects, many of whom are viewed as dynamic
individuals truly concerned about their communities, but
pointed out that despite these appointments, people are
increasingly frustrated, viewing the government as largely
ineffective. Kouyate recalled that, during a trip to Morocco
shortly after he had appointed these new administrators, he
was complemented by the then Moroccan PM because the majority
of his prefects had received their administrative training
from one of Morocco's best schools. Kouyate was unaware of
this connection but later found out that the Minister of
Interior had selected the prefects because of this specific
training. While he said he was pleased with his governors and
prefects, (with the notable exception of the Kindia Prefect
who had been recently appointed by Conte and was considered a
corrupt political hack - reftel A), he added that they lacked
resources and basic equipment. He said that he would be
providing 50 vehicles and uniforms to these local officials
to help them in their activities before the elections.

7. (C) At the national level, Kouyate said he is looking to
shake up his cabinet, an idea he proposed when he had met
earlier that day with Conte. Kouyate told the Ambassador that
he is looking to get rid of a handful of ministers he
described as "not productive" and "not loyal." He also said
that he plans to restructure certain ministries that are "too
heavy." He specifically mentioned the Ministries of
Education; Youth, Sports, and Culture; and Industry and
Commerce as those that will be split. He stated that Conte
supported this idea and that upon Kouyate's return from
Kuwait; the two would look at the PM's restructuring plan
more closely and select new ministers. Just as important,
Kouyate added that he hoped he would be able to also
restructure the civil service, which is seen as a major
obstacle to reform.

The Bete Noir - Ousmane Conte

8. (C) The Ambassador expressed his concerns about the
growing drug trade in Guinea. Noting that until recently,

CONAKRY 00000163 003 OF 004

much international attention was focused on Guinea Bissau as
the first narco-state emerging in West Africa, the Ambassador
said that it appears that the center of this illicit activity
had now shifted to Guinea. As the Ambassador spoke, Kouyate
visibly slumped in his chair, and then leaned toward the
Ambassador, and said that he is aware of this problem and
that the major Guinean trafficker is President Conte's son,
Ousmane. He revealed that about eight months ago, an aircraft
from Colombia or Venezuela was interdicted by local police at
the airport in Faranah, a small city in the Middle Guinea
region. When informed about the interdiction by the Minister
of Interior, Kouyate instructed him to conduct a full
investigation, seize the contraband and prosecute those

9. (C) A couple of days later, the Minister returned to
inform the PM that the plane and its cargo had been released
by the head of the National Gendarmerie, General Jacques
Toure. Kouyate said he was furious and convoked Toure to his
office. When initially confronted, Toure reportedly denied
releasing the aircraft, but later told the PM that the
illicit operation was lead by Ousmane Conte. (Bio note:
Kouyate stated that he knows Toure well as they are related
to each other through Kouyate's mother's family). Kouyate
challenged Toure, asking him if he had informed anyone about
this matter or if he had raised it with President Conte
directly. Toure reportedly said he had not. Kouyate said he
chastised Toure for his actions. He told the Ambassador that
he then went to the First Lady, Henriette Conte, about
Ousmane's complicity. Henriette reportedly described Ousmane
as totally out of control, and directed the PM to take the
matter up directly with the president. When Kouyate raised
the incident, President Conte reportedly asked why his son
would do such a thing. Kouyate told the president that it was
a way for his son to get rich quickly and that it reflected
poor character. Kouyate said that he reminded Conte that he
had raised concerns about Ousmane years ago with the
President but that nothing had been done. Kouyate then
revealed a confidence from Conte to the Ambassador,
mentioning that the President has had no contact or any
communication with his son in over two years. According to
Kouyate, Conte stated clearly that if evidence develops that
ties Ousmane to narcotics trafficking, then he should be
arrested and prosecuted.

10. (C) Kouyate asked if the Ambassador could express his
concerns about the growing drug trafficking problem in Guinea
in an open and public manner, such as a letter. The PM said
that such a communication would help his office to engage the
President and the government about this growing problem. He
also asked for whatever assistance the USG could provide to
help his government interdict smugglers. The Ambassador said
that he had serious concerns about corruption within Guinea's
security services on this score, noting the discrepancy
between a recent press article highlighting a seizure of one
ton of cocaine and police stating that only 350 kilos had
been found (reftels B and C). Kouyate stated that some of the
police are likely involved. He added that since his arrival,
over 30 police and security personnel have been arrested for
crimes and corruption, and are now languishing in prison.
According to Kouyate, this is unprecedented in Guinea's
history. He stressed that he would work with the Ministry of
Interior to ensure that "the forthright and correct police
officers" would be tasked to stop any flight or ship trying
to smuggle narcotics into Guinea. The Ambassador said that he
would look into what he could do and that he would coordinate
his efforts with his European counterparts. Kouyate repeated
his request for a letter that outlined U.S. concerns about
narcotics trafficking in Guinea. The Ambassador stated that
he would meet the PM's request and have something for him
upon his return from Kuwait.

Bilats Timing

11. (U) Kouyate raised the much delayed bilateral
consultations, stating that he was keen to have them. When
the Ambassador noted that the dated that the Foreign Ministry
had offered May 21-22, would not likely work for principals
in the African Bureau, the PM stated that if possible it
would be better to hold them in June or July, given his own
travel schedule. The Ambassador stated that he would convey

CONAKRY 00000163 004 OF 004

this timeframe to Washington.


12. (C) As the PM was leaving, the Ambassador asked him about
Conte's health. Kouyate, slowly shaking his head said that
"the president's health is up and down but he is not doing
well." He admitted that "it is difficult to deal with that
man", revealing that he is never sure what he is thinking.
The Ambassador stated that he has been hearing much criticism
of the president and that he is not well regarded in the
countryside. Kouyate said that one does not need to leave
Conakry to hear the same thing. He said that at a opening
ceremony for a new stadium at the small university in
Sonfonia, the crowds jeered every time Conte's name was
mentioned. According to Kouyate, he had to admonish the
crowds to be respectful, particularly given that the stadium
is named after President Conte. "It was incredible" he said,
shaking his head again with forlorn look on his face.


13. (C) This was not the ebullient and positive PM of
previous encounters. It is clear that political pressures and
burdens of office have tempered Kouyate. His political
ambition, though constrained, remains evident. For many
pundits, the PM's tenure is almost over but he is fighting to
hold on to his job. His feeble attempt to excuse the export
ban reveals a man willing to use populist measures for
political gain even while recognizing its negative economic
impact. His plans to restructure his cabinet have been long
in the making and he is undoubtedly under pressure to bring
some of the old guard back. He will likely use the
restructuring as an opportunity to engender new alliances and
support. However, given his weak standing with civil society,
the unions, and the presidential entourage, a cabinet shuffle
could prove his undoing, if mishandled.


© Scoop Media

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