Piles of rubbish and broken-down cars are being removed from the rundown streets of Conakry, and disgruntled hawkers on the main avenues have been told to close their stalls and move on.
“We’ve been working night and day,” says truck driver Mamadouba Soumah, who was requisitioned for the cleanup.
On ministerial orders, in Soumah’s words, the capital of dirt-poor Guinea has been scrubbed and primped to transform it into “the pearl of the world’s lagoons.”
The reason for the transformation has nothing to do with a visit by a foreign VIP or a major sporting event, but with literature.
Conakry is being enshrined as World Book Capital for the next 12 months.
The honour propels the poverty-stricken, little-known city to the ranks of cultural titans such as Madrid, New Delhi, Montreal, Turin and Amsterdam — all previous holders of the title since its inauguration in 2001.
As World Book Capital, a city gets the chance to showcase established and emerging literary talent, both from home and abroad, and to lure major book publishers.
It is also a golden opportunity for promoting talent in other areas — theatre, music and cinema.
But to Guinea, the title also helps the country to literally turn the page on the 2013-16 Ebola epidemic that today burdens its image abroad.
Guinea was the epicentre for an outbreak of the disease that spread to neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia, killing more than 11,300 people and triggering a worldwide fear of contagion.
“Books, learning and reading are key to human life,” director general Irina Bokova said.
“The strong investment of the Republic of Guinea in promoting books and literacy bears witness to a clear vision of culture and education as drivers of development and recovery.”