When Alpha Condé was sworn in as president of the Republic of Guinea in January 2010, following a labyrinthine transition negotiated by international stakeholders and the major national players, Guineans breathed a sigh of relief, hoping that the days of blatant disregard for their electoral sovereignty were behind them. After all, Condé had been a political activist and one of the leaders of African pro-democracy movements since the 1970s. In the process, he had been blacklisted as a counterrevolutionary by the Sékou Touré regime (1958-1984), and imprisoned (1998-2001) for his political activities by the Lansana Conté government (1984-2008).
In the past two years, however, this sense of relief and hope has been waning for many Guineans, especially for young people and other citizens who want to see the country overcome the bottleneck of ethnopolitics that has afflicted it for decades. Fairly or unfairly, much of the blame has been laid at President Alpha Condé’s feet by virtue of the fact that his election and re-election were expected to enable Guineans to definitively close the long chapter of single-party and military rule and join countries like Ghana, Benin and Liberia on the road to sustainable recovery. Having been regarded in the past as an opposant historique (historical opposition leader), alongside leaders like former presidents Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, Nicéphore Soglo of Benin, and François Mitterrand of France, Condé was expected to provide a truly constructive stewardship.
The Condé administration has introduced noteworthy changes, including positive reforms in the mining sector (Guinea’s primary source of exports), a reduction in political censorship of the media, an increase in women’s participation in government and governance, and the taming of impunity for economic and financial crimes.
These improvements notwithstanding, many Guineans are disappointed in Condé’s record for what they perceive as his administration’s contribution to the extreme “tribalization” of Guinea’s political culture. This is so because, considering his background, it was hoped that under his leadership ethnopolitics would recede, rule of law would prevail, and that his administration would unite the Guinean people and tackle challenges like the declining quality of the national education system, youth unemployment, the increased rate of brain drain, crime and insecurity, and institutional corruption.
The disappointment turned into outrage for many a Guinean outside Condé’s Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) party and Arc-en-Ciel coalition, when the party and the coalition sponsored a referendum contemptuously counterfeiting the constitution to eliminate the presidential term limit and accommodate their unlawful desire to maintain him in power. Guineans see in the move a reprehensible manifestation of what some have dubbed the “third presidential term syndrome” that is eroding much of the progress that African pro-democracy civil society forces made in the last three decades. Ironically, in counterfeiting the constitution, Condé and his followers are replicating Lansana Conté’s undemocratic practices that he and the entire opposition leadership were challenging when the Conté government imprisoned him.
It is fair to suggest that the cascade of street demonstrations that have rocked Guinea since Condé hinted at his intent to run for a third term are meant to summon the conscience of Africa to halt the looming miscarriage of democracy. This is why President Condé has stonewalled the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union, the same intergovernmental organizations that spearheaded the negotiated transition from the military rule of Captain Moussa Dadis Camara (December 2008-December 2009) to the election that brought him to power.
On the other side of the political spectrum, the opposition has essentially become a shadow of its former self with little substance to offer in terms of plans and strategies to efficiently tackle the many problems facing the country. Cellou Dalein Diallo’s Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) is considered the main opposition party challenging Condé’s RPG-Arc-en-Ciel coalition mainly because the Fulani, the bulk of its constituency, is the largest ethnic group in Guinea. To be sure, the Fulani are estimated at 40% of the total population, followed by the Mandenka/Malinké (the bulk of Alpha Condé’s following) at 30% and the Soso (Lansana Conté’s former base) at 25%.
In the face of the deepening crisis, a growing number of concerned Guinean scholars and civil society leaders are looking beyond the current plight and envisioning major reforms that will lead to the elimination of political parties and the development of a people-centered system of governance. The emerging movement, referred to as “Contrat Citoyen” (Citizen Contract), calls for a democracy driven by a mechanism of political competition anchored in patriotic collaboration among the organic communities that make up the Guinean citizenry. The strengths of this innovative approach reside in the fact that it would enable the Guinean nation to rid itself of the politics of ethno-exclusivism in which Western-centric multipartyism has engulfed the country. Furthermore, the new approach privileges African values such as communitarianism and trans-ethnic consensus-building. Finally, the approach requires and is expected to facilitate the emergence of a transformational leadership that is rooted in Afro-communitarianism and informed by 21st-century Africanity.
The founders of the “Contrat Citoyen” movement are voicing their disappointment with the failure of President Condé’s administration and the national political establishment to live up to the legitimate expectations of the Guinean people. Both the administration and the opposition have failed to learn from the examples of leaders like Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Mathieu Kérékou and Nicéphore Soglo of Benin, Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, to just name a few. These leaders share the admirable legacy of having pulled their respective countries out of acute crises and having stepped down at the end of their terms, as mandated by the existing constitutions. Finally and on a larger scale, the actions of Alpha Condé and other African heads of state who corrupted their countries’ constitutions to accommodate their desire to remain in power have reignited the debate over whether African countries will ever succeed in building viable states and suitable governance systems by continually mimicking the constitutional traditions, legal systems, and political practices of their former colonial rulers.
On October 24th the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) has declared Alpha Condé reelected in the first round with 59.49% of the vote against Cellou Dalein Diallo, with 33.5%. A few days earlier, two members of the CENI, Diogo Baldé and Marie Hélène Sylla, had withdrawn from the vote counting process in reaction to what they described as “grave anomalies detected in the result tallying procedures”. As can be expected, the opposition has unanimously rejected the official results, citing widespread electoral frauds, and accusing the Condé camp of violating the most sacred right of the Guinean citizenry; namely, the right to choose their leaders. It is anticipated that Diallo will soon lodge an official complaint with the Constitutional Court challenging the official results.
Also, if history is any guide, it is predictable that street protests will erupt in Conakry and other major cities. Violent clashes between mostly young protesters and security forces are likely to continue and amplify. National and international media outlets have already reported many instances of such clashes, some having resulted in serious injuries and even deaths of unarmed civilians.
Guinea has come full circle, from widespread sociopolitical violence and despair to an internationally negotiated transition toward something resembling democratic governance and to full relapse into autocratic ethnopolitics and violent repression. This is, perhaps, the opportune time to heed the call of the “Contrat Citoyen” movement for a halt to the spiral of deceptive electoralism and for a true new beginning. The time is ripe to convene the National Renewal Conference that Guinean progressist forces have been demanding all along and that the political class has sidelined for nearly four decades. One thing has become more evident: the status quo is only likely to dismantle the already severely damaged social fabric of Guinea’s national community.