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.

Jerome Delay/AP
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.

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.

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.

In the prefectures of Kankan and Siguiri in Alpha Conde’s stronghold in Upper Guinea, violence against local Peuls by Malinke broke out more than a week before the election, forcing at least 2000 out of the region (according to the Red Cross). The UFDG accused the RPG of orchestrating the attacks, in order to prevent Peuls from voting on election day. The RPG countered by claiming that the UFDG was vastly exaggerating the number of Peuls displaced to fraudulently obtain extra voting rights.

While it is now up to the Supreme Court to analyze the various claims of fraud and announce its decision by Nov. 26, it is clear that the stakes were simply too high for either side to play entirely fair during the process. While elections as a whole were carried out in a peaceful environment, there were a host of irregularities which may or may not back accusations made. Yet, perverse as it seems, the Supreme Court validating Diallo’s claims and discounting Siguiri and Kankan could be the worst possible outcome for the Peul. Given the violence perpetrated against them in these districts before the elections, it seems almost certain that, should the results be reversed and Diallo declared winner, they will be systematically attacked. One would have to worry for the safety of Peuls in any area outside their stronghold of the mid-Guinea region. Indeed, displaced people from Siguiri in the town of Mamou in mid-Guinea expressed exactly this fear of returning to their homes if their candidate won.

Although it is impossible to be certain, it seems highly improbable that the current results will not stand. This would leave three major paths for the country to follow, once the Supreme Court decision is announced: 1) outbreak of civil war between the two factions. This is the least likely option, as Diallo is unlikely to call his supporters to violence, neither side is armed, and the whole country is wary of war, having hosted refugees from conflicts in Guinea-Bissau, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone; 2) Diallo refuses to concede defeat and his supporters continue to protest, leading to the military deciding to take power permanently, under the guise of restoring calm; and 3) Diallo ultimately concedes the Presidency to Conde, and, after some initial violent protests by UFDG supporters, Guinea launches its first democratic government.

Fortunately, there are signs that it is this third option that will prevail: firstly, interim President, Gen. Sekouba Konate, has been adamant that the military would play no further role in the country’s governance after elections and, so far, there has been no dissent from the military ranks. In any case, both the RPG and UFDG will be keen to avoid giving the army reason to change its mind, in particular Diallo’s supporters, who see the armed forces as biased against Peul (Diallo, himself, was injured in the infamous Sept. 28, 2009 attacks by government security forces against protesters).

That security forces are already taking advantage of the increased power given to them by the state of emergency to rob ordinary citizens of their possessions is a further sign to both sides that its powers must be curtailed as soon as possible.

Furthermore, though there remains a hardcore of activists who will continue to protest, locals in Diallo’s stronghold are realizing the futility of the violence. While they do not trust Conde, some are now arguing that he should at least be given a chance to prove his worth. Lastly, legislative elections, scheduled for sometime next year, will give the opposition one more chance to gain a foothold in the running of Guinea.

Thus, though the transition has been far from smooth, there remains hope that this mineral-rich country will finally be able to begin a new era of democratic, civilian government. The fate of 10 million citizens and the stability of a war-stricken region depend on it.

Cindy Chungong was an election observer during the Guinean elections.

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