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Guinea waits with bated breath for election decision

The Guinea military is hoping to tamp down violence while the country waits for a Supreme Court decision on last week's election results, which have been questioned by the losing candidate.

By Cindy ChungongGuest blogger / November 23, 2010

A Guinean man speaks with police investigating the shooting of Abdulai Bah, 20, who died from a gunshot to the neck, in the mostly Peul suburb of Bambeto in Conakry, Guinea, Wednesday Nov. 17, 2010. A state of Emergency has been declared over the country two days after it was announced that RPG candidate Alpha Conde had won Guinea's tense presidential election.

Jerome Delay/AP

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Labe, Guinea

The streets are eerily quiet in the town of Labe, as its under-curfew residents await the Supreme Court’s final decision on the long-awaited elections. Businesses are slowly starting to reopen, but intermittent gunfire in the distance is a stark reminder of recent events. Security forces patrol the town permanently, a state of emergency having been declared across the whole of Guinea, until results from the Nov. 7 election are legalized.

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Cellou Dalein Diallo, the losing candidate, announced even before the results were officially released that he would not accept them, unless 2 prefectures in his opponent’s stronghold were disqualified for alleged fraud. Here in Mr. Diallo’s birth town, the announcement of his defeat (47.5 percent of votes against Alpha Conde’s 52.5 percent) by the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) on Nov. 15 was immediately met with violence by Diallo’s UFDG (Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea) supporters, who encircled the opposition RPG (Rally of the Guinean People) headquarters.

Security forces intervened quickly, but around town the property of members of the Malinke ethnic group (seen as partial to Conde’s RPG) was already being destroyed. In nearby Pita and Dalaba, the burned out shells of vandalized cars now litter the roadside. In all, clashes between UFDG supporters and security forces in the capital, Conakry, and the mid-Guinea region (Diallo’s stronghold) have so far left nine dead and dozens more wounded.

In this impoverished West African nation, where 70 percent of the population is illiterate, public services are basic, at best, and outside of main towns, electricity and running water are a rarity. That’s a staggering fact, given that the country is the source of 22 major rivers. Infrastructure is among the poorest in the region, even though the country has been spared the warfare that has blighted most of its neighbors.

For a population thus desperately cut off from the ruling class in Conakry, the only thing that links many average citizens to those vying to lead them is a common ethnicity. Despite officially avoiding appealing to any specific group, ethnic lines were clearly drawn during the campaigning for this historic election. Diallo, a member of the Peul ethnic group, obtained 44 percent of the vote in the first round, capturing the vast majority of the Peul vote. For the second round, he gained a valuable ally in the third-placed candidate, Sidya Toure (13.6 percent), a popular Malinke former Prime Minister. With this backing, many external analysts had assumed that Diallo’s victory was “a virtual certainty.”

How, then, did he only poll an additional 3.5 percent in the second round? If the UFDG’s account is to be believed, the answer lies in mass fraud and intimidation in RPG strongholds. Whether or not their claims hold, one thing is clear: Sidya Toure’s alignment with a Peul candidate was an impossible pill for many of Toure’s former supporters to swallow, with Conde emerging as victor in the Lower Guinea region where Toure had been popular in the first round.

The Peul are the largest ethnic group in Guinea (approximately 40 percent of the population) and are already perceived to control business interests in the country. For many of the smaller ethnic groups, in particular the Malinke but also the Soussou and southern Forest groups, the idea that Peuls should also control political power only feeds their fear of domination. The large turnout for Conde certainly reflects his supporters’ belief in his ideals and struggle–after all, this is a man who has spent his entire political career fighting authoritarian regimes in Guinea (resulting in being sentenced to death in absentia and a later stint in prison), while other candidates benefitted from them. It also, however, reflects the triumph of their distrust and fear of Cellou Dalein Diallo and those he is believed to represent, the Peul.

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