Wed, Jun 14, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Guinean president’s rant over ‘tablet revolt’ ignites debate over his conduct


German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, welcomes Guinean President Alpha Conde at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on Monday.

Photo: Reuters

Footage of Guinean President Alpha Conde, 79, berating and mocking students has morphed into a national debate about his conduct, forcing the government to repeat a promise to provide university-goers with tablet computers.

Tensions began at a student forum held on June 1, when Conde ranted at a booing section of young attendees, accusing them of throwing a tantrum for jumping up and down while chanting “tablets, tablets.”

Conde made a “one student, one tablet” campaign promise during a 2015 presidential election that has yet to materialize, with youth groups saying it embodies another failure by his administration to address holes in education financing.

But what has really incensed Guineans is a widely shared video showing Conde’s reaction to the students’ cries, with both sides accusing the other of disrespect in a society where deference to elders is expected.

“I would like to offer my excuses for the rude behavior of these people, who are not representative of Guinea’s youth,” Conde said to attending international dignitaries, before turning his wrath on the students.

“I was a student before you; we made Africa proud of us. You are like baby goats. ‘Tablets, tablets,’” he mocked. “Like baby goats!”

The expression he used — “sauter comme un cabri” (jump like a baby goat) — is a nod to former French president Charles De Gaulle, who used it to mean someone making a big fuss for nothing.

Conde went on to say the tablets are “not a right,” even for students in the US and France, calling his audience “unworthy” of the devices, before threatening to cancel the policy entirely.

“You can jump up and down, and shout until tomorrow, it doesn’t bother me,” Conde said, jabbing with his finger, his voice raised in anger.

Tensions were so high at the People’s Palace in Conakry that the vice rector of Lansana Conte University, an establishment close to the capital, had a heart attack on the spot and died.

A rector from another university was hospitalized following the incident.

Although tensions have calmed and the government has attempted to make amends, students are not letting go easily.

“Nobody is asking him anything, because now we have understood. He has not kept a promise since he took power,” medical student Mamadou Soumare said.

On Facebook, commenters such as Guiramba Koikoi Kalivogui, told Conde “a promise is a debt,” urging him to “have the courage to pay for the tablets.”

Others noted a lack of respect on the students’ side, while nonetheless calling on Conde to do as he had promised.

The presidency announced last week that Conde had gathered his higher education minister and advisers for a comprehensive meeting on the distribution of tablets to universities.

Adviser Tibou Kamara described a “family argument” that had got out of hand, describing Conde as a “father” who had failed to hand over a “present.”

“Some of them lacked restraint in his presence,” Kamara said.

According to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Guinea counts 100,000 university students, with just 600 subsidized tablets distributed so far due to technical problems, including the compiling of biometric data.

Guinea ranked 156 of 173 countries globally in terms of spending linked to GDP, according to the most recent available figures from the CIA World Factbook, and the sector is beset by strikes.

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