The country that had the election a week and a half ago was just plain “Guinea,” officially “the Republic of Guinea,” formerly known as “French Guinea,” and sometimes referred to as “Guinea-Conakry” (Conakry is the capital) to differentiate it from the other Guineas.
What is special about Sunday’s election?
1. Incumbent Alpha Condé was the first president in Guinea to come to power (in 2010) through a democratic election.
At independence from France in 1958, Guinea was led by Ahmed Sékou Touré, who went on to “win” uncontested presidential elections from 1961 to 1982. Days after Sékou Touré died in 1984, Lansana Conté took power in a military coup and won three multiparty elections in what observers described as a “facade” of democracy.
Days after Conté died in 2008, Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara took power in a military coup. Following a massacre of opposition members in a meeting in 2009, one of Camara’s aides shot him in the head. Camara survived and went into exile. Condé won the multiparty presidential election that followed in 2010.
2. Sunday’s election was the fourth presidential contest Condé has competed in, but the first time he has run as an incumbent.
Condé, 77, has been in politics for a long time, but the presidential term he is finishing is the first political office he has ever held. As an opposition activist during Sékou Touré’s rule, he was sentenced to death in absentia. He placed second and third in presidential elections that Conté was accused of stealing in 1993 and 1998. Conté’s government threw Condé into jail in 2000 for “undermining the authority of the state”; after his release in 2001 he boycotted the election of 2003. In his third presidential contest in 2010, Condé placed second in the first round with 18 percent (behind Cellou Dalein Diallo with 44 percent), and then won the presidency in the second round with 53 percent.
3. In Guinea’s highly fractionalized political system, success relies on making (sometimes surprising) alliances.
In the 2010 presidential election, 24 candidates from 24 different parties competed. Although he won a mere 18 percent in the first round, Condé was able to win in the second round by gaining endorsements from at least twelve of the other competing parties.
In the campaign for this most recent election on Oct. 11, Diallo formed an alliance with the party led by former junta leader Camara, currently in exile and indicted in absentia for the 2009 massacre of the opposition, including members of Diallo’s party. Notwithstanding that surprising alliance, Condé was predicted by observers to win last week’s election because of the ethnic and personal rivalries that divide his opposition (as well as some accomplishments such as completion of a Chinese-built hydroelectric dam). Eight candidates (considerably fewer than in 2010) competed in the first (and only) round of this year’s presidential election.
4. The election’s main contestants come from two of the larger ethnic groups in the country, but neither group is large enough to deliver electoral victory alone.
The largest ethnic group in Guinea is the Fulani, with more than 40 percent of the population; followed by the Malinké, with 30 percent; and the Sossou, with 20 percent. The remaining 10 percent comes from more than 20 smaller ethnic groups.
In the first round of the 2010 presidential election, Diallo, a Fulani, won 44 percent of the vote vs. 18 percent for the Malinké candidate, Condé.
Some observers believe that Condé successfully united most of the other parties against Diallo by uniting the non-Fulani ethnic groups against the Fulani. Diallo, however, argued that Condé rigged the 2010 result. Despite being the largest and economically dominant ethnic group, no Fulani has been president of Guinea.
5. Although Guinea has a history of troubled elections, and Diallo has rejected this year’s result, election observers described the election as valid (if disorganized).
Guinea’s first three multiparty elections, under Lansana Conté, were described by observers as fraudulent. In response to major candidates being ruled ineligible to run, most opposition parties boycotted the 2003 election (including Condé’s party), which was also considered fraudulent.
The first round of the 2010 election was open, transparent and peaceful, but before the runoff election in 2010, violent clashes between supporters of Condé and Diallo led the election to be postponed three times. Diallo accused Condé of fraud but conceded when the Supreme Court ruled against him.
In the run-up to this October’s election, Diallo complained about the Independent Electoral Commission over a number of issues, including disorganized distribution of voter cards, and he demanded a five-day delay for the election, which was not granted. Nonetheless, Diallo chose not to follow through on his threat to boycott the election.
This election was peaceful. Observers say the vote was transparent and valid, despite such logistical problems as insufficient materials. In response to early returns that indicate another victory for Condé, Diallo’s supporters accused the president of fraud and called for the election to be repeated. Last Wednesday, Diallo withdrew from the election, alleging fraud, and said he would not recognize the results.
On Saturday, the Independent Electoral Commission declared Condé the winner with 58 percent of the vote, which makes a run-off election unnecessary (pending confirmation by the Constitutional Court). Diallo, with 31 percent of the vote, still refuses to recognize the result, but said he would not appeal.
Tyson Roberts has taught African politics, international political economy, and authoritarian politics at the University of California at Los Angeles, UC-Irvine and Princeton University. He blogs about African politics, primarily in ECOWAS countries, at african-politics.blogspot.com