Guinea: The Ballot Thumps The Soldier’s Bullet

June 25, 2010
7 mins read

All over the Republic of Guinea today, over four million voters will be casting their votes in 8, 422 polling booths, to freely elect a president; it is the first free and fair election to be held in Guinea, in fifty-two years. The last time anything close to a free poll was held in Guinea was during the referendum which opened the road to independence. And what a choice faces the Guinean people! There are over one hundred political parties in this country of ten million inhabitants, but at the end of it all, only 24 candidates were qualified by the Supreme Court of Guinea to participate in the presidential elections which opened this morning. The expectations are truly high in Guinea as well as in the West African sub-region and around the world.

The Brussels Airline Airbus plane that took us from Dakar to Conakry was full of passengers from around the world: Guineans returning home to vote as well as the ubiquitous stream of election observers. Guinea is at the center of world attention and for the first time in a long time, it is for all the right reasons. The streets of Conakry are festooned with colourful posters of the various candidates while rallies are noisy as they are festive with rich colours along with groups of supporters in T-shirts bearing the pictures of candidates. There are dare devil rides in often battered cars and similarly noisy musical processions that take up the streets leading to traffic gridlocks on the streets of Conakry. But the campaigns have been peaceful, despite the surfeit of candidates and the political parties had in fact agreed to a code of conduct to keep the lid on unhealthy rivalries. State television has also given a fair coverage to all the different parties and candidates to ensure a level playing field.

How does one separate the 24 presidential candidates? This is not a fundamentally issues-based election; people are genuinely happy that they can take part in a free election for the first time in their country’s history. But Guinea is a country of very complex ethnic mixtures and identity has become very central to its politics in recent years; although some people here believe that the dictatorship of the founding president, Ahmed Sekou Toure merely suppressed the ethnic identity but his demise has given reign to its expression. Of the 24 presidential candidates in today’s election, 10 are Malinke, while 7 come from among the Soussou and 2 belong to the Forestier people and 5 belong to the Fula community, the largest ethnic group in Guinea. The Fula have always been the economically dominant community owning most of the commercial ventures in the capital including impressive investments in real estate. However, President Sekou Toure, himself a Malinke, purged the Fulbe elite and killed many of the notable Fula intellectuals and bureaucrats as his rule slipped dangerously down the road of paranoia and dictatorship. One of the most famous Fula notables  killed was the first secretary general of the Orgnaization of African Unity, Diallo Telli.


So today’s presidential election, according to observers and people in the diplomatic circle, is actually shaping up to be a contest between four leading candidates, three of whom have been prime ministers in the past. Alpha Conde is a French-educated economist and educationist, who at 72 years, is the oldest of these four leading candidates. He leads the RPG, or Assembly of the People of Guinea political party, which has the slogan “Let us Change Guinea”. Alpha Conde was an historical opponent of Guinea’s long ruling military dictator, Lansana Conte and is also said to receive financing and support from the Burkinabe dictator, Blaise Campaore as well as Laurent Gbagbo in Cote D’Ivoire. He is one of the candidates with effective means to run an election because of the support that he receives from abroad and is known here for his opposition to the old military dictator. However, Conde has never held any leadership position in Guinea, while his long period abroad and his age are seen as potential weaknesses for his bid to become president. Alpha Conde is Malinke.

Francois Lounseney Fall is also Malinke and a 61 years old lawyer, former diplomat and former prime minister. Fall belongs to the United Front for Democracy and Change (FUDEC) party which is headquartered in Upper Guinea. His party’s slogan is “Let us build a democratic and prosperous Guinea”. Fall is said to be a hard working and honest individual and was a very good diplomat believed able to use his diplomatic connections effectively if he gets elected. However, his party is considerably weak and not properly established around the country. His financing is said to come “from some friends” as well as from party sources. Then there’s the 60 years old Lansana Kouyate, an accountant by training who has been a diplomat as well as serving briefly as a prime minister. Kouyate belongs to the PEDN- Party of Hope for National Development, whose slogan is “Progress comes out from struggle”. Kouyate is a man of means, good taste and comfort, said to have very rich friends that bankroll his campaign, and these include the Libyan strongman, Colonel Muammar Gadaffi. Lansana Kouyate is said to be an energetic politician and is known to be persuasive and creative. But his opponents say that as prime minister, he was too servile in his relationship with the late Lansana Conte.

In a country where ethnic solidarity plays a vital role in politics, can a man whose ethnic group, the Diakanke represent only 2% of the national population, become the president of the country? Sidya Toure is seen as one of the leading candidates in the race and is the only one of the candidates in today’s election that I have been able to sit down with for a discussion, so far. He believes that because he is from a small group he can in fact be the consensus candidate of today’s election. Sidya Toure said he cannot be accused of having an agenda of domination because he does not come from a large ethnic group and those afraid of ethnic domination actually see him as a preferred candidate. Toure is 65 years old, small in frame and is an economist trained in France.

Toure’s party is the Union of Republican Forces (UFR). Those who know say he appears to be above the ethnic dimension to politics, and is remembered to have revived the Guinean economy as well as fixing electricity within six months. Sidya Toure has many qualified Guineans working in his campaign and he told me that the main issues he will tackle if elected include agreeing to an economic program with the Bretton Woods institutions and trying to access the HIPC program to get Guinean debts cancelled; fixing education; electricity and water supply as well as developing agriculture. He says he might even institute a truth commission to examine Guinean history. His weakness is what he considers  strength and that is coming from a small ethnic group at a time when ethnicity has become a factor of Guinean politics.


Last but not the least is Cellou Dallein Diallo, a 58 years old economist and former prime minister too. If elections are won by the number of people who turn out for rallies and those who wear the T-shirts of a candidate, then there can be no gainsaying the fact that Diallo is the leading candidate in today’s election. There is also the fact that he is Fula, the largest ethnic community in Guinea and also the richest, but one that has never had access to political power. In fact, the Fulbe here have suffered persecution in the hands of Ahmed Sekou Toure and have always wanted to match their economic power with political ascendancy. It is on the crest of the hope that Cellou Dallein Diallo’s candidacy swims. He belongs to the Guinea Democratic Forces Union (UFDG), which is strongly identified with in the Futa Djallon as well as in Fula dominated quarters of Conakry. The party’s slogan is “For a United and prosperous Guinea”. Diallo has the financial support of the Fulbe merchant classes and those in import and export trade and became central in the opposition to the last military ruler Dadis Camara.

Cellou Dalein Diallo was in the government of Lansana Conte for 13 years serving as minister in several ministries. As prime minster, people remember his work in infrastructural development of the country and he in fact became the victim of his own success, because Lansana Conte’s sidekicks got the old dictator to remove him from power because of his increasing popularity. Diallo is seen as a man of very simple appearance and a diplomat told me that you would trust him for simplicity. His party seems to be doing well and he pulls a huge crowd wherever he goes, and that might be because of his record in government or the fact that the Fula people are everywhere anyway. Because of his administrative experience, Diallo is seen as an individual who can immediately begin to rule with knowledge of issues, if elected. However, there is the fear that he will be an expression of the fear of other ethnic groups in Guinea; that is the combination of political power in the hands of the economically powerful and dominant Fula community. And that is potentially a destabilizing factor into the future for Guinea. I am still poised to meet Diallo and Alpha Conde in the run up to today’s election, and we might know more about their plans for a post-election Guinea.


Whatever the outcome of today’s elections, who can disagree with the fact that Guinea has walked through a tortuous history to get to this stage? Guinea’s independence was one of the momentous events of modern African history. The defiant gesture of voting for independence even in poverty, in preference to the wealth in servitude which General De Gaulle offered the African colonies fired the imaginations of peoples around Africa and in the colonial world. Yet before long, Ahmed Sekou Toure began to show his true colours as an insecure and paranoid dictator who decimated the best trained experts who could have assisted to build a modern country.

When he died, Guinea fell into the hands of a military dictator, Lansan Conte who presided over a fast-crumbling state and the deepening of the underdevelopment of the country and his own death saw the ascension to power of a group of soldiers led by Dadis Camara, who was frankly not better than a brigand. He is remembered for gunning down pro-democracy activists in a stadium in open day light. That in fact became the turning point that brought Guinea to the point of elections toady, and a victory of the ballot over the bullet. Guinea is potentially one of the richest countries in the world; and if it gets democracy right, it can then begin to unlock the potentials for the benefit of its long-suffering people. But that is still a long way from today’s elections.


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