Guinea. The Presse at the Front Against the Military Junta
Alhussein Sano is a Guinean intellectual wearing many labels combed by numerous étiquettes : journalist, tv animator, producer and director of institutional documentaries and fiction. He entered the media world with the creation of his agency MAXI PLUS in 1995 and he can boast journalistic experience of 28 years. Today welcomed at the Maison des Journalistes, Alhussein recalled to us the weakening of the freedom of the press in Guinea through his journeys and his trials.
In 2007, his show CLAP centered on the arts and the culture integrating the program of national television (RTG1) is his biggest pride. Satisfied audiences, the chain asks him to perfect the grill programs to leave in 2009.Despite the pretty professional route offered to him, Hussein notes nevertheless, that the replacements within the chain RTG are based on his ethnic group: “the administration of the RTG was very malinkinized to leave in 2010 (NDLR: the ethnic group Malinké became the majority in the house of the administrators), it was impressive : the new editorial line was now based on the praise of the new president of the time, Alpha Condé,” in contempt of journalistic neutrality.
Despite a chaotic political situation, Alhussein was named director of programs in 2013, “on proposal of the director at the time.” He continues his projects for RTG and MAXI PLUS, “one of the best-equipped production companies in the country.”
The ethnic group, central element of the life of a Guniean journalist
But, in February 2019, while the president Alpha Condé started his second term, the country was on fire. Reluctant to renounce the president of the country, the ex-Chief of State then tried to modify the Constitution, triggering violently repressed protests and the anger of the opposition. Elections are organized despite the dozens of deaths, reaffirming his position for a third term in 2020. The coup d’État of the Military Junta on January 5, 2021 ended by carrying out his impeachment.
A somber period for Alhussein, and this from 2019 : invited by the general director of RTG at the meeting of his political party, the RPG, Alhussein understands that they are expected to return to their ranks. “He said it was a good opportunity for me because I belong to the ethnic group Malinké like him,” one of the main ethnic groups in the country and of which Alpha Condé is from. “Your proposition had shocked me,” we explained our JRI in an implacable tone. “I told him that my journalism career demanded I be impartial in my work.” A resistance that cost him his housing and he paid by exile. He affirms “never having accepted his proposition because this line of broken community didn’t play any role on me, and above all, I didn’t remember their project of the third term. Over time the divorce between us had been definitive.”
Little by little, Alhussein saw his responsibilities and his work get trampled : the simple refusal of participation at a political meeting was enough to destroy his career in Guinea. “I was excluded from all activities of the chain. Our relationships were really poisoned because of my cousin Abdourahamane Sano, National Coordinator of the FNDC (National Front for the Defense of the Constitution), one civic grouping opposed by the Military Junta.”
The elevated price of the resistance of the press
Main political opponent, FNC is at the start of the movement of protests against the modification of the constitution to validate the accession of Alpha Condé for a third presidential term. The CNRD proposed to his cousin to be a part of the transition government, which he had refused. He fanned the ire of the regime, who was therefore concentrated on Alhussein.
“I was then replaced by a militant of the RPG party at my job, for breaking my career plan.” As if this wasn’t enough, Alhussein was demoted as Head of Production and Directing for RTG2, a channel that doesn’t broadcast. Always having the fierce urge to do his job and equipped with his production box, the Guinean journalist was focused on his projects, notably the direction of a documentary on the activities of the FNDC, for which his cousin worked. Unfortunately for him, the difficulties didn’t stop there. He explains that, “following a coup d’état on September 5, 2021, perpetrated by the military group CNRD (National Committee for the Rally of Development), the Gunieans thought they were losing an executioner (Alpha Condé)and believed they found a hero, the head of the military juntas, the colonel Mamady Doumbouya.” However, as Alhussein reminds us well, Mamady Doumbouya “had witnessed and participated in the execution of the Alpha regime.“
Skeptic, Alhussein observes the noose tighten around the Guinean journalists, including himself. “The military regimes are often disrespectful of human rights and use all of the media to reduce the silence of the executives and political leaders who don’t share their ideas,” deplores the journalist.
In January 2022, Alhussein was invited to a meeting with the new Secretary General of the ministry of Communication, in order to revise the programs of RTG1 and 2. Explaining his desire to maintain professional integrity, Alhussein hit a demagogic wall, costing him his post as Director of Programs. “The Secretary General challenged me harshly: ‘You always refuse to help us?’. I was really surprised by this reaction, then he added in the same tone: ‘When you will change your opinion, the doors of the department will be grandly open to you.’ All this verbal violence was suspicious. In April, there was a new meeting in the Director General’s office. Two men were facing me : the first said to me that he liked my show and the other told me that he wanted to watch my documentary on the members of the FNDC.”
A trap he did not fall for. “I responded that according to the contract, after directing, the producer had to recover the film with all the media and rushes used. They insisted in vain. I suspected they were there to trick me.”
Over the discussion, the men present in the office of the General Director learned that Alhussein’s passport has expired. They then offer to make a photocopy of it to put an end to its administrative deadlock. Not fooled, Alhussein gives them only one passport, the other still holding his visa. “I understood that they were intelligence agents who wanted to confiscate my valid passport. It is a very popular practice in Guinea,” he reasons not without pride.
The press, collateral damage of a political crisis
Following the fall of Alpha Condé facing the CNRD, the FNDC calls for new waves of protests against the military juntas. This one had indeed promised to hand over power to civilians, but it settled without announcing an expiration date.
CNRD and FNDC then clash on all fronts. “The military deemed it necessary to annihalate all the actors of the FNDC who had played a major role in the fall of Alpha Condé and all the supposed collaborators,” notably himself. On July 5, 2022, while the FNDC organized a press conference, its members were brutally arrested by the police and beaten in front of the cameras. They were released after a week at the demand of the people.
After the visit from governmental agents, Alhussein was forced to vacate his house without warning, summarily expelled. He therefore took refuge with his family at Hamadallaye, but it is watched and receives impromptu visits from the military, forcing him to hide with friends.
July 29, 2022, following a large civilian protest, Alhussein decided to hear from his family. “In less than 30 minutes, two hooded military pickups broke into the courtyard of the family home. They knew that I was there and they started to search the house, confiscating telephones, stealing our money and brutalising my sisters. I narrowly escaped by climbing over the backyard wall.” If he managed to escape, Alhussein would leave behind his precious computers, now in the hands of the military, as well as its assembly equipment.
“In Guinea, when you are arrested, you can be killed immediately or be at risk of dying in prison or spend years there without being judged.”
For him, the entire Guinean press is on borrowed time. “Of course, it was the same with Alpha Condé, there is a real continuity of his policy. We can’t say everything about the Guniean juntas and it shows.” Independent or state, the media has been and still is muzzled by the power.
Last examples to date, a journalist convened in July after an article on a medical truck was blocked by the military, as well as another arrested for covering social work employees at a mine in Boké this year. A suffocating situation for Guineans, one of which it seems impossible to undo.
“All the media is controlled by the High Authority for Communication, who kept the same president after Condé. Scripts are put together by the government and distributed to the public media. If a radio station wants to make a commercial, it will inevitably become political. They are the very expression and communication of power. If we don’t play the game, the journalists can be banned from the air.” says Alhussein.
A little optimistic, he would like to continue his work in France, “where we protect freedom of expression. The state preserves liberty better, I can now speak of Guinea without worry. Even if the head of the military juntas leaves, all his men have been placed in the ministries, it would be an illusion.” A deadend in which Alhussein no longer plans to slip. Other Guineans continue nevertheless, to defy the power and the army by simply doing their job. Soldiers of information whose courage should not be forgotten.
Written by Maud Baheng Daizey, translated by Amelia Seepersaud.