Leadership: How To Get Promoted From General to Dictator

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March 26, 2006: In the West African country of Guinea, President Lansana Conte has been in power for more than two decades. Conte is a dictator, but is suffering complications from a severe case of diabetes, which he has neglected for years. While Conte is currently in Switzerland for treatment, speculation at home about a possible successor is becoming widespread. The constitutionally designated successor is the President of the National Assembly, a nonentity with no political base. Sorting all this out could lead to a civil war, a common outcome in these dictatorships when the big guy dies.

For some time now, senior military officials have been trying to select one of their number to take over once Conte goes. They had earlier selected the well-regarded Farcine Toure, a retired colonel with ties to the country's larger tribes. This choice was endorsed by Conte. But since then, military support for Toure's "candidacy" has declined. This leaves a potential vacuum at the top should Conte die any time soon.

Complicating the matter is the fact that in November, Conte fired a large proportion of the armed forces, which then numbered about 12,000. An estimated 1,900 officers and men, partially as an economy measure, but mostly to get rid of the former chief-of-staff and many of his supporters in the ranks, were dismissed. Disgruntled former military men are frequently a faction in these civil wars. Poor leadership at the top is common in these African style dictatorships, where tribal loyalties complicate politics to the point where only violence can decide the succession problem. A job in the military is a big thing, and taking that job away is something worth fighting over.

 


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