Thursday, October 21, 2010

Guinean elections.

Les élections les élections.

Either it’s accompanied by a sadly shaking head, or an enthusiastic "Ils vont se passer dans de bonnes conditions!" They’ll happen just fine!

It’s Wednesday. The run-off of Guinea’s first-ever democratic presidential election is scheduled for this Sunday. It’s an exciting time to be in Guinea. It’s a nerve-wracking and uncertain time to be in Guinea.

Early July. Then September 19… October 10… now October 24. The date for the presidential run-off has been repeatedly postponed, thrusting Guinea, and me, into a precarious and potentially explosive waiting game. The day I got on the plane to leave for Guinea I learned that the elections that were to happen two days after my arrival were postponed. We still don’t know if Sunday’s elections will really take place. I have a whole new appreciation of certainty.

A brief review of why these elections are so important. But first I should take a minute to reiterate that in writing this I am merely attempting to summarize that which you, my dear family and friends, would be reading yourself if you were reading the local news in French. Peace Corps' business is strictly non-political. Peace Corps, and I, have no opinion or agenda regarding these elections. I tell you all of the following so that you have an idea of the environment in which I am living and working. On continue. On September 28, 1958, "On a voté non!" We voted no! Guinea was the only one of France’s West African colonies that chose to sever all ties with France. Better to be poor in independence than rich in slavery, proclaimed Sekou Touré, Guinea’s first leader. Guinea turned to the Soviet Union for help until Touré’s death in 1984. Then General Lansana Conté took over the presidency and proceeded to rig elections until his death in 2008.

Up until this point, you could note a few similarities between Cameroon’s and Guinea’s histories. Both countries have had only two authoritarian leaders, ever. When I arrived in Cameroon in 2008, Cameroonian President Paul Biya and Guinean President Conté had been in questionable power for roughly the same amount of time. Only Paul Biya hasn’t died yet…

But in 2008 Guinea took a sharp turn in another direction. President Conté died, and military Captain Dadis Camara took over in a bloodless coup. He promised to step down and allow free elections after two years. Guineans were thrilled. Dadis, as he was known, started to clean house, publicly prosecuting corrupt government officials from Conté’s administration, which was rife with nepotism. The legal proceedings were broadcast on national television. Every night, families gathered excitedly around their TV sets to watch “The Dadis Show,” as they called it, where justice seemingly was served.

The international community, however, was not so entertained. They put huge amounts of pressure on the Guinean government and people to hold free elections. Dadis balked at the pressure, at setting a date, and questioned why he personally could not run for president. He was Guinean, n’est ce pas, and he wanted his chance.

Then September 28, 2009. The fifty-first anniversary of independence. Demonstrators gathered at the stadium of the same name, the September 28th Stadium in the capital city of Conakry. They demonstrated peacefully, calling for the promised elections. Government officials later said that they did not have the right to be in the stadium that day, that they did not have permission. Whatever the case, nothing excuses the violence that ensued, yet still nothing has been done to prosecute those responsible. More information is here, but in sum, over 150 people lost their lives in the massacre, hundreds of women were raped, and hundreds more demonstrators were injured. Reactions among Guinean government officials have ranged from denial to feigned ignorance. As for Dadis himself, although he had given the order that no demonstrations should take place that day, he personally denied any direct involvement in the massacre.

As I’ve been told, what happened next is that Dadis personally went to seek out some of his high-ranking military officials, whom he believed to be responsible for the violence. They were hiding out in the islands off the coast of Conakry. During Dadis’ attempt to bring the accused in, he was shot in the head. He was flown out of the country for medical treatment and has been convalescing in Burkina Faso ever since.

Currently, we’re under an interim government, led by military General Sekouba Konaté. As promised, the first round of the long-awaited presidential elections was pushed through in June of this year. A field of dozens of candidates was narrowed to two. It’s these two that are currently battling it out til the end to be Guinea’s first freely-elected president.

And now, enter the sticky question of ethnicity. Candidate number 1, Mr. Diallo, captured 44% percent of the vote in June, the largest of any candidate, which is roughly indicative of his ethnic group’s predominance in Guinea. Despite being the largest ethnic group in Guinea, Diallo and his Peuls have never held the Presidency.

Candidate number 2 is Alpha Condé, a Malinké who captured about 18% of the first-round vote. In addition to the Malinké and the Peuls, the Sousous are another major ethnic group in Guinea. The Sousou and the Malinké seem to be teaming up to keep the Peuls and their boy Diallo out of office. As you can see, the election is incredibly ethnically charged. (And in case you’re wondering, yes, the town where I will eventually serve is evenly split between the two competing factions, Malinké and Peul. So every question, from what local name I would take to which local language I’ll learn, is ethnically charged.)

So why the interminable delays for the run-off election? Initially, ballots hadn’t arrived from South Africa on time, as they were supposed to. Next, the president of the electoral commission, which ultimately pronounces the election results, died. Then, Alpha Condé accused the first round of elections of being marked with irregularities and voting fraud. Most recently, the newly-appointed head of the electoral committee, replacing the guy who died, has been vehemently disputed.

But lo and behold! Last night, yet another new head of the electoral committee was announced. And he’s not even Guinean!! Thank you other lung of the Malian-Guinean body… he’s a Malian. So far both candidates seem to accept his nomination. But now it’s Thursday, the election is looming in only three days. Nothing has confirmed yet that it will actually happen. As for us Peace Corps Volunteers, we are safely holed up in a little town outside of Conakry, away from the potential hot mess. There has been street violence in Conakry, but life here au village is calm, and we, like the Guineans, will continue to wait. There’s a lot of hope and a lot of excitement in the air. I’ll keep you posted on what could be a huge moment in Guinean history.

1 comment:

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