Guinean General Sekouba Konate, aka “The Tiger”, may have orchestrated a 2008 coup, but the transition regime chief is not a fan of being in power, and for him a civilian government can not come fast enough.
“Power doesn’t interest me,” is a phrase often repeated by the burly 46-year old who dresses mostly in fatigues, his eyes masked by dark glasses, wearing the red beret of the elite Battalion of Airborne Troops of which he is a former commander.
On the eve of Guinea’s long-awaited presidential run-off vote which took place on Sunday, some 10 months after he took over as head of a transition government, General Konate declared the military had no regret at leaving power.
“Long live democracy! Long live the elections! Long live national unity,” he said.
However, the general, who holds no special charm and seems ill at ease when speaking publicly, his head bowed and voice monotonous, was the chief architect of a bloodless coup that followed president Lansana Conte’s death.
Conte, also a general, had ruled with an iron fist for 24 years after seizing power himself in a coup in 1984.
Conte’s protege, Konate shunned the top spot, leaving the young Captain Moussa Dadis Camara to lead the junta — a decision which led to disastrous consequences for the west African nation.
“Even if he was the strongman of the country, he didn’t want to take the place” of president Conte, said one soldier.
“He preferred the post of defence minister,” and staying behind the scenes.”
Whether sheer coincidence, a smart manoeuvre or keen political acumen, Gen Konate was out of the capital during the bloodiest episode following the coup when troops massacred more than 150 opponents of Camara on September 28, 2009.
And he was also out of town on December 3, when Camara’s aide Aboubacar Diakite shot his boss in the head.
With the gravely-injured junta chief out of the picture Konate had no choice but to agree — with the immediate support of the international community — to assume the presidency and lead the nation to its first free election.
The son of a Lebanese mother and Guinean father, the ethnic Malinke grew up in Conakry.
He regularly travels to Lebanon and has strong ties to the community which plays an important role in the Guinean economy. His critics say he does not like power, he likes money - and his stint in the top job has been profitable.
A lover of the good life, Gen Konate is often seen in popular dance halls, bars and restaurants with those close to him.
He earned his nickname “The Tiger” for his zeal during combat between 2000 and 2002 during operations on the southern border with Liberia, then in full civil war, and within the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone.
In the past year he has been credited with restoring order in a brutal and undisciplined army which has carried out abuses with impunity for years.
In his six months in office, Konate has not stopped preaching to the military, praising its “newfound pride”.
“The time has come to break with a past of violence, chaos, rivalry, hatred and passion,” he declared solemnly on the eve of the election, addressing the candidates, former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo and veteran opponent Alpha Conde and other personalities.
“We in the military ... are determined to support and entrench democracy in Guinea,” he said, adding that the army was not harbouring any “hopes to retain power”.
And, as if to outline the “national reconciliation” promised by both presidential candidates, Konate paid tribute to the “martyrs of democracy”.
The general was the third-in-charge in the military junta in place at the time of the September 2009 massacre.
But on Saturday Konate spoke of unity, saying the election “was possible only because we fought together to demand our rights and freedoms.” In the audience, the imposing head of the presidential guard, the dreaded commander Naby Camara alias “B52”, nodded to reporters: “It is sure, the civilian who will be elected, we will be behind him. Now we want democracy, as in other countries.” (AFP)