Monday, January 26, 2009

Coup d'etats and less mochas, more aluminum sheeting

e-mail from Andrew sent 1/25/09
Bonjour a tous!

So I was in the United States for a little while. It's a magical place. They have Japanese Hibachi grills and football on TV. Plus less farm animals. I had a whirlwind couple of weeks-- trips to camp and college, skiing with Dad and cousins, Mom's chicken-and-broccoli casserole-- what's not to like? I even got to see Pascal Losambe. Twice.

Amazing place.

In the meantime, Guinea, this lovely crescent-shaped little country that I live in, had a bloodless coup d'etat after the president died due to illness.

Rumors had been flying for several weeks before the news was confirmed. I got to Conakry in late December in preparation for my trip home, and my taxi driver told me, with utter sincerity, that he was sure the President was dead. He said Conte's entourage just didn't want to let the news out until they had decided what to do next. I got to the Peace Corps office and the guards there all shook their heads scornfully-- "nah-- he's still holding on." I got into the Peace Corps house and one of the Volunteers there was sure the president was dead and the country was going to dissolve into anarchy. The next day our Peace Corps Director told me this was confirmedly false, and Conte was alive.

And so the rumors went, until the day I got home and was sitting at the dining room table playing Boggle with my little sister when my mom brought down a BBC article she had printed out. The headline read: Guineans face uncertain future: President Lansana Conte's death spells the end of years of misrule in Guinea.

"Welp," I thought, "that was timely. I guess that pretty much settles the rumors."

Guinea, a resource-rich country that still remains painfully under-developed, has suffered mightily since it's independence from France in 1958. It's first ruler, a socialist dictator named Sekou Toure, brought Guinea together through his passionate defiance of the French. He said famously, "Nous preferons la liberte dans la pauvrete que l'oppulence dans l'esclavage" = "We prefer freedom in poverty to prosperity in slavery." Despite this strong start to independence, Toure turned out to be a ruthless leader, closing the country to the West, murdering many of his political rivals, and refusing to give up power until his death in 1984, when, after a coup of his own, Lansana Conte swept to power with promises of liberalization, democracy, and a fresh start. These promises were only a mask for Conte's real intentions for wielding power: make himself and his entourage fabulously rich. People estimate that at the time of his death Conte was worth over a billion dollars. And this in a country where the majority of people live in mud huts on less than a dollar a day. Guinea is the world's second-largest exporter of bauxite-- the metal used to make aluminum-- yet none of this mineral wealth ever makes it to the petit Mamadous, or Average Joes, of the country.

Needless to say, people were happy with the change in regime. A young military captain, Moussa Dadis Camara, was chosen to head up the military junta that secured power following Conte's death. He has promised to root out corruption (good luck) and hold elections by 2010-- both admirable goals and what everyone wants to hear. People seem cautiously supportive, yet are skeptical-- with good reason. Conte came to power in '84 saying very similar-sounding things. Not long after, he realized just how much he stood to gain by stealing the country's money, and clung to power until he died. "We are praying for Guinea," everyone tells me here, and I join them gladly, knowing that it will need more than words to alter a system of governance that, like a giant tree rotting from the inside-out, is diseased by corruption at every level.

Changing the topic, for those of you who have read this far, I need your help! As I wrote in my last email, I have spent the last seven months working with the community of Boulliwel to put together a Peace Corps Partnership Project. With funds that I hope to raise through people like you, we are going to finish the construction of a community building in my village. It will house the local Boulliwel NGO APIB, or the "Association for the Promotion of Local Development Initiatives." They work with other national and international organizations building schools, housing for teachers, and health posts all throughout the Sub-Prefecture where I live.

Our goal is to raise around 5,500$ to give the NGO-- which does great work on behalf of the people of Boulliwel-- a beautiful home from which to conduct their development activities. I have told them that I would do my absolute best to get that money raised, and, after drafting the proposal and writing up the budget, I need your help to raise the money!

Would you consider giving 10 bucks to my project? Just think: if 550 people would all give 10 dollars, then we'd have all the money we need and nobody's bank would be broken (nope-- we have Wall Street to do that, right? ;). I know and understand that we are in an economic crisis-- giving is down in every possible area. Yet the needs remain. So I would humbly ask for your help-- if you are in the habit of buying 3.50$ mochas once a week, just think-- you could forgo the mochas for a month, and instead, give 14$ to Boulliwel! That's enough to buy a roll of wire cables!

Please consider this, but of course-- no pressure. I do not want to be in the business of guilt trips or self-righteous fund-raising schemes. It just seems like, if we could take a tiny fraction of the money and resources that we take for granted in the US and use them to help poor communities, we could make a huge difference in the world.

To donate, follow these simple steps:
1. Go to
2. Click "Donate to Volunteer Projects"
3. Scroll down to the "GUINEA" project titled "Completion of NGO Headquarters" by Volunteer "J. Haile." (yup, they put J when they meant A)
4. Click on this project.
5. In the white box on the right of the page, put in the dollar amount you'd like to donate. Follow instructions from there.

As of this morning, we still needed to raise 4036$. I'd love to have this raised by March, so if possible, tell your friends, tell your moms, tell your rich uncle Warren-- whoever. Let's just get the money raised and finish the building.

Thank you for everything, guys, and say hi to the snow for me.

Much love,

P.S. If you are interested in seeing the 11-page proposal that I've written for the project, please email me and I'd be happy to send it to you. I would have sent it out with this email but it takes forever to send a document to 150 people. Thanks!

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