Senegal bans Guinean planes as diplomatic spat simmers

By Simon Allison 3 November 2011

A low-intensity diplomatic war is simmering in West Africa, with the governments of Guinea and Senegal becoming increasingly petty in demonstrating their mutual dislike. But the spat has its roots in an accusation that – if true – is very serious indeed. By SIMON ALLISON.

In a fit of pique, the Senegalese government has banned any planes travelling to or from Guinea from using Senegalese airspace. This is a rather inconvenient prohibition as far as Guinean travellers are concerned, as most of the very few air routes out of the capital Conakry traverse Senegal at some point or another, including flights to Paris, Casablanca and, of course, the Senegalese capital Dakar.

Ostensibly, the ban is in retaliation for Guinean authorities grounding a Senegal Airlines plane in Conakry. Guinea claims the airline was responsible for paying the outstanding bills of the now-defunct Air Senegal International. But Senegal points out the two airlines are completely distinct, Senegal Airlines being an ongoing private enterprise and Air Senegal International being public and bankrupt, and says the grounding of the plane is illegal.

If this all seems rather petty, it’s because this is more than a mere aviation dispute. Relations between Senegal and Guinea have been sensitive even since Guinea’s President Alpha Conde survived an assassination attempt at his residence. After the attack, Conde publicly accused the governments of Senegal and Gambia of complicity, and claimed the attack was planned at a top Dakar hotel where his main political rival, Cellou Dalien Diallo, often stays. Diallo enjoys large support among Guineans in Senegal.

The claims of involvement were vociferously denied by both governments, but the bad blood lingers. DM

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