Conde’s Re-Election in Guinea Doesn’t Cap Democratic Transition

Conde’s Re-Election in Guinea Doesn’t Cap Democratic Transition
A billboard with the face of Guinea’s incumbent president, Alpha Conde, in Conakry, Guinea, Oct. 9, 2015 (AP Photo by Youssouf Bah).

On Oct. 11, Guinea’s president, Alpha Conde, comfortably won re-election in a poll nevertheless marred by deadly clashes between government and opposition supporters ahead of the vote. Official results, announced six days later, showed him taking nearly 58 percent of the vote, with overall turnout at around 66 percent. As in 2010, Conde faced off against Cellou Dalein Diallo, who was Guinea’s prime minister from 2004 to 2006, with another six candidates also participating. Conde’s first-round majority means there will be no second-round run-off ballot.

In a year featuring as many as a dozen important elections in Africa, Guinea belongs to an important subset of countries: those emerging from dictatorships. Its experience shows how rocky the road can be. Despite headlines hailing the “peaceful elections” in Guinea—although seven people died in clashes between supporters of Conde and Diallo on the eve of the vote—two concerns have hung over the process: accusations that Conde rigged the election, and fears about the 77-year-old president’s health. For countries earlier in their transition away from dictatorship, notably Burkina Faso, the example of Guinea highlights how elections are not, in and of themselves, signs that a crisis is over.

It took a dramatic series of events in recent years for Conde to reach the presidency. As a longtime opposition leader, he ran afoul of two long-ruling Guinean heads of state and spent time in jail and exile. When the second of those rulers, Lansana Conte, died in office in 2008, a junior army officer, Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, seized power. Camara initially enjoyed some popularity, but crackdowns on dissent destroyed his regime’s image at home and abroad, particularly after a September 2009 massacre and mass rape committed by the elite presidential guard against peaceful demonstrators in the capital, Conakry. The situation deteriorated that fall, and in December 2009 a soldier shot and seriously wounded Camara. He was hospitalized in Morocco, and his second in command—and rival—Sekouba Konate took power, supervising a 12-month transition that culminated in Conde’s inauguration in December 2010, after Guinea’s first free vote since independence from France in 1958.

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