EVENTS in the former French West African state of Guinea took a tragic turn for the worse when military forces, seeking to preserve their hold on political power, opened fire on protesters, killing at least 157 people.
Guinea, with a population of 10 million, has had a very unhappy history since its independence in 1958. It was ruled by successive dictators until last December. When the most recent one, Lansana Conte, died, the armed forces moved quickly to seize power, while promising elections.
The leader of the military coup, Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, 45, promised initially that he would not run for president. When he moved toward changing his mind as the elections, scheduled for January, approached, popular opposition appeared. Last week, the armed forces, obviously enjoying power, killed, wounded, and raped protesters in the capital, Conakry.
The stakes are high. Guinea is rich with bauxite, gold, diamonds, and iron ore. But its people have never benefited, as corrupt, venal leaders have consistently taken the wealth for themselves. Captain Camara and his feral cohorts obviously seek to perpetuate that scenario.
The United States had been providing Guinea with $15 million in aid, which it has now suspended in hopes of influencing the Camara crew to govern less brutally and more responsibly. France had been sending military aid. So far, neither the African Union nor the subregional Economic Community of West African States has taken meaningful action to rein in the excesses of Captain Camara's regime.
Without international action, prospects are for more violent suppression of the Guinean opposition and the likely perpetuation in power of a corrupt military regime.
The next step should be for the United States, France, or some other power to take the matter to the United Nations Security Council. This is not an internal affair because Guinean refugees are starting to flow into neighboring states.
Africa also has seen unanswered military coups in Mauritania and Guinea-Bissau in recent months. Some see this phenomenon as partly in response to U.S. militarization of its policy toward Africa since the creation of its new Africa Command last year. It would be useful for the administration of President Obama to take action on Guinea to indicate the contrary.