"When you start treating people differently, not because of any harm they are doing to anybody but because they are different, that's the path whereby freedoms begin to erode."
President Obama Speaking in Kenya (2015)
Gandhi said we have to value our words as much as our actions, but it is also imperative to translate our words into action. The time has come for Obama's "African Doctrine" to be implemented and there is no better place to start than Guinea.
Almost every American would not be able to locate Guinea on a map of Africa. An equal number, most likely, had never heard of the troubled nation until it became 'ground zero' for the recent Ebola epidemic. That anonymity has added to the burden of the people of Guinea and its horrible record on human rights.
A quick primer on the West African nation would be helpful.
The country is bordered by such countries as Senegal and Sierra Leone. The official language is still French -- left over from the days of French colonialism. It is about the size of Oregon and has just over ten million people. While the country is about 85 percent Sunni Muslim, there is a sharp division between the Fula and Malinké tribes that keeps threatening to explode into a Rwanda type situation.
The word 'liberate' (freedom) does not apply in this country, dominated by just three dictators throughout its post-colonial history.
After Guinea's independence in 1958, President Sekou Touré ruled unchallenged for 27 years. Upon his death, there was a military coup and Colonel Lansana Conte became President: he dominated the troubled nation for another 24 years until his death in 2008. A period of unrest has ensued and President Alpha Conde took control and remains in power today, with a 'democratic' presidential election scheduled for this fall.
For close to six decades there have only been three Presidents and that has led to massive human rights abuses. Increasingly, the people of Guinea have taken to the streets and bravely faced the guns of the military. Hundreds have died and been wounded in protests over the last seven years.
Increasingly the violence has become a battle between the Fula and Malinké tribes, which if it continues could lead to a tribal bloodbath.
In order to deflect from its record of torture and lack of any human rights, the government has attempted to make the LGBT community and women scapegoats. These two groups have suffered greatly under the current government and the military. In addition, children not only have been tortured but denied the basic needs of any living human being.
If you ask anyone in Guinea there are no homosexuals in the nation. In fact, you would have to look long and hard to find an open member of the LGBT community. Fear is a constant companion of the community since they often have to flee, disappear or jailed if discovered. It is one of the few African nations without an organization to provide its LGBT citizens with a voice. Being gay in Guinea means three years in prison and in 2012 the government led by President Alpha Condé established a 'morality police' unit to seek out homosexuals.
Human Rights Watch reports that there is significant sexual and gender violence -- acts of violence, homes reportedly burned to the ground and beatings that often are joined by family members and former friends who are ashamed of their child's homosexuality.
Woman fare no better in this dark nation.
The rate of female genital mutilation is the second highest (96 percent) in the world. The literacy rate is one of the lowest in the world and that is mostly because woman are systematically left out of the education system to do work for men. In fact, Guinea has the highest rate of child marriages in the world as women are bartered into marriages at a very young age. Not only are they forced into horrible abusive marriages but over 50 percent are in polygamous marriages where the wives are just one step above slavery.
Successful women are targeted, tortured and abused. Female journalists have been beaten and gang raped. Law enforcement often are the 'ring leaders' in such abuses including the use of batons to inflict great damage to women.
Hunger, torture, abuse, involuntary servitude is a way of life in this unknown nation. The Ebola epidemic has ironically shined a spotlight on Guinea. Now is the time for the Obama administration to implement his inspiring words and bring relief and change to the people of Africa.
There is no better place to start then Guinea.