In Guinea, opposition leader Conde's win is challenged

Guinea is divided by ethnicity, and Conde's opponent is framing his challenge to the presidential election results in ethnic terms. Violence has followed.

Joe Penney/Reuters
Members of the Guinean military ride on a pick-up truck as they patrol the streets of a suburb near the capital Conakry on Nov. 18, 2010. Alpha Conde, winner of Guinea's presidential election according to preliminary results, has played down ethnic tensions and appealed to rivals to abandon protests and help him rebuild the nation.

On Monday, Guinea’s electoral commission declared opposition leader Alpha Conde the victor of a drawn-out presidential election contest. The win represents an “extraordinary comeback” for Conde, in the words of Michael Tantoh:

After winning a dismal 18 percent of votes in the first round of the election – against former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo’s 43 percent – Condé’s turnaround strategy saw him beat his rival with 52.52 percent of the vote. Diallo won 47.48 percent.

Conditions changed dramatically in the four months between the first and second rounds, a period during which Condé fought tooth and nail to obtain a more transparent and credible electoral commission.

Radio France Internationale reports that on the political front, he formed alliances with 16 parties which lost in the first round, enabling him to win in three of the four regions in the country and in four of the five communes in the capital, Conakry.

Reuters has more on Conde, including the stories of his previous runs for the presidency. From the little I have read, it sounds like his victory this year was in the works since as long ago as 1993, when he may have won (though not officially) a disputed election.

Conde’s victory is not, however, the end of the story. Dissension, and now violence, have followed the announcement of the provisional results.

First, Diallo has also declared victory.

Second, in a country divided by ethnicity, he is framing his objections to the vote in implicitly ethnic terms:

Diallo’s party, the ethnic-Peul-led Union for the Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG), have alleged voter fraud at several polling stations where voting totals were greater than registered voters. Diallo specifically vowed to contest “the inclusion of any results from Siguiri,” where hundreds of ethnic Peuls were chased from their homes in the lead-up to elections.

Although the displaced Peuls eventually were granted the right to vote in a protocol agreed upon by both parties, Diallo claims his party observers were denied access during voting and could not therefore certify its transparency.

His refusal to recognize the region of Siguiri is of critical importance: either party’s victory hinges on it.

Third, Diallo’s supporters have taken to violence:

In Conakry’s Bambeto suburb, riot police clashed with Diallo supporters, who rushed forward forward in small groups to throw stones before being driven back by tear gas.

At the Donka Hospital, 66 people from the fighting have been admitted since Monday morning. Sixteen are in critical condition and many have gunshot wounds.

Both candidates are calling for victory, but the ethnicization of the dispute continues on both sides: Conde’s supporters from different ethnic groups have also expressed their allegiance to him in ethnic terms.

So, what comes next?

I would bet on Conde retaining his title. International observers considered the vote largely free and fair, and the UN has called on all parties to accept the results.

But the conflicts underlying the presidential race will not be easily settled. It seems Conde will enter office amidst violence and allegations of illegitimacy, potentially undermining his domestic political capital from the start. A conflict-torn country like Guinea would benefit from a sense of national unity, but that will not come overnight.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student of Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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