Guinea Chooses Between The Showman And The Ascetic

7 mins read

When the results of the Guinean presidential election held on June 27th was released last Friday, things went as predicted by observers of the Guinean political process. According to the results released by the Independent electoral body, known by its French acronym, CENI, CellouDalein Diallo, the 58 year old candidate of the UFDG, Guinea’s Democratic Forces Union, topped the polls with just about 40 percent of the total votes cast, while the veteran opposition leader, 72 year old Alpha Conde came second, after polling about 20 percent of the votes cast in the elections. The veteran Conde leads the RPG, the Assembly of the People of Guinea. On the eve of the election, we had stated that these two along with SidyaToure, a former Prime Minister and leader of the UFR, the Union of Republican Forces, were the front runners in a race of 24 presidential candidates.

Although there were a few peaceful demonstrations in the Guinean capital, Conakry, by some of the defeated parties in the elections, after the results were announced, the general feeling was still that the results reflected the choice made by the Guinean people just as much as the elections were felt to have been generally free and fair. The observer missions from ECOWAS, AU, the European Union, IOC and the Carter Center all praised Guinea for pulling through a successful election and given the background of where Guinea emerged from, it was a wonderful performance. To emphasize the need for Guineans to stay the democratic course, the President of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping, has been visiting Conakry this week, where he was scheduled to meet with various political leaders to douse the tension which followed the announcement of election results late last week. It was also coming in the wake of threats by interim military leader, General Sekouba’s threat to resign because he felt demonstrators had insulted him, after the announcement of results.The re-run of the election is now the main issue on the plates of Guineans and in the next few weeks, till the election which takes place on August 1st, according to sources in the diplomatic community, they have the opportunity to re-examine the two men standing on the ballot: CellouDalein Diallo and Alpha Conde.

Between the two gentlemen is a gap of age, with Diallo being 58 years and Conde 72; there is also a sharp contrast in their personalities. Diallo seems the ascetic, self-disciplined politician who has a sense of divinely-inspired mission and one who believes that a leader’s personal lifestyle is very much a major part of the process of governance. On the other hand, Alpha Conde has a more expansive personality, and he is readily willing to flaunt the network of friendships that he has built around the world. In fact, it is one of the central aspects of his appeal. I was very lucky to be one of the few journalists to get the opportunity to have a short interview with the three leading candidates of the recent election in Guinea. Diallo trained as an economist, working severally as director in many departments of the Guinean central bank.

I questioned Diallo about the values that govern his political life and he said that his life was forged in the context of the basic education and moral values he was taught at home. His life is dedicated to working for the common good. A leader in his view must set examples, including in his own life, because people will be watching the conduct of the leader. Diallo told me that he is not in government to make money. Dwelling on his life experience further, CellouDalien Diallo reminded that he took part in several negotiations with the IMF and the World Bank which helped his understanding of development issues. He explained that in his dealings with these external bodies, he was guided by the need to tell the truth always, because the values of truth were what he inherited from his parents. He has never been out to make money in his years in public service.

Leaning on his experience as a former prime minister and a minister who spent 14 years in government, Diallo told me that what worried him was the fact that the leader of the country at the time, Lansana Conte did not have vision, so he could not go far for Guinea’s development. Diallo said that the paradox of Guinea is that it is a rich country with poor people. The roots of the paradox for him are bad governance, mismanagement, corruption and a lack of capacity to solve basic problems. He looked at the problem of electricity particularly and agreed that a lot was expended but the corruption and mismanagement he spoke about made it difficult to achieve anything significant. Yet it is one sector that he believes can be fixed or needs to be, using technical assistance from abroad and then training Guineans in the long run, to be responsible for the system. What happened in the past, according to Diallo, was that those who managed were close to the former president and were not interested in the efficiency of the system but in pilfering resources from the organization.

One of the most sensitive issues of Guinean political life is the economic dominance of the Fulbe people. Members of other communities argue that the Fulbe have taken over the country and they are afraid of the combination of economic life with political power. Diallo told me that his answer is very clear; he will run a government based on law, whereby the resources of the country will be equitably distributed, while appointments will also be equitably taken to all the communities of Guinea, and this includes basic services. As for the private sector, Diallo’s plan is to assist the development of entrepreneurial capacity amongst the Guinean people. On the vaunted domination of the Guinean economy, he said the roots of Fulbe active economic life is related to the arid nature of life in the Futa Djallon homestead of the Fulbe. They are obliged to move to other parts of the country in search of economic life. He added that under the regime of the founding father of Guinea, Ahmed Sekou Toure, the Fulbe were oppressed. But late President Lansana Conte seemed to have built a tacit alliance with them and when he liberalized the economy, they profited handsomely as leading entrepreneurs, who could help indulge the love of money of the late President Conte.

While he will not be doing anything to curtail the economic success that the Fulbe have achieved, Diallo promises that he will be equitable in the provision of opportunities for the people of Guinea from all backgrounds. I also asked what he felt about having a Truth Commission to examine the difficult history of Guinea; he was not opposed to the idea, because a correct reading of history must take place to close the painful chapters of Guinean history. I left CellouDalien Diallo with a feeling that this was a man with a deep sense of duty and one leaning on the groundswell of feeling amongst the Fulbe people who have never tasted political power, despite the preponderance of population. That preponderance was underlined with his victory in the June 27 election. The fact that he did not get the required fifty percent plus one votes needed to out-rightly form the government tells the story of the complications of Guinean political life.

Alpha Conde was the last of the three presidential candidates that I interviewed and it was the interview which almost didn’t take place. It was on the eve of the election and he was visibly tired from the long campaign. Reluctantly he lowered his guards and began by telling me that the fact that the election was to hold was due to the goodwill of the interim military president, Sekouba. Guinea he assured me has all the possibilities to develop and become a melting point, like the USA. He said that as a rich country has a lot too, including trained people all over the world. While conceding that not all of them will be able to return home, still some will, and they can make a major contribution to the development of Guinea.

Alpha Conde told me that in the course of his recent trips he met the financier George Soros and Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, who assured him that if Conde became president and highly trained Guineans choose to return home, they will be willing to pay their salaries. He has also met with Presidents Zuma of South Africa, Dos Santos of Angola and Gadaffi of Libya and they are looking at the possibilities of exploring joint venture projects with Guinea. In the specific area of petroleum products marketing, he wants Guineans to enter the business to diffuse the complete monopoly which the French company, TOTAL, has in the sector at the moment. He wants Indians and Brazilians to be part of the opening up of Guinea, arguing that with good governance structures, Guinea will take off. The people’s need can be satisfied; and water and electricity can be guaranteed in cities while food security can be achieved within three years. It was also imperative in Conde’s view, to approach issues of education and health with discipline and honesty. Having said so much, Alpha Conde took leave of our short discussion which allowed a peek into his plans for Guinea if he gets the opportunity to become president. As it turned out, he got the second highest number of votes in the June 27 election and is now primed for a runoff against Cellou Diallo early in August.

The Guinean presidential election runoff will be a straight choice between two different individuals with equally strong personalities and impressive credentials. They will have a few weeks to attempt to build alliances which can help them secure the votes which went to other candidates during the June 27 election. In Guinea, the ethnic loyalties of people remain a very strong part of the political process. But the two individuals remaining on the ballot have to reach out and help douse the worries which linger in the country. For CellouDalien Diallo, he must find the right formula to make people belonging to other ethnic communities stave off worries about Fulbe domination in both the economy and politics; on the other hand, Alpha Conde is perceived to have an arrogant, even dictatorial, proclivity. That is what he has the next few weeks to diffuse. Whichever way it goes, the presidential runoff in Guinea should open a tortuous route to the commencement of democracy in that country. It will not be easy at all.

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