Sunday 20 August 2017

Tablet revolt: Guinea president's rant ignites student debate

Tablet revolt: Guinea president's rant ignites student debate
(AFP 06/13/17)

Footage of Guinea's 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 materialise, 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 behaviour of these people, who are not representative of Guinea's youth," Conde says 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 mocks. "Like baby goats!"

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

Conde goes to say the tablets are "not a right", even for students in the United States 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 declares, 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 hospitalised following the incident.

- 'Family argument' -

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," said Mamadou Soumare, a medical student.

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 advisors for a comprehensive meeting on the distribution of tablets to universities.

Advisor 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 told AFP.

According to the higher education ministry, Guinea counts 100,000 university students, with just 600 subsidised 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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