Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Woes of Guinea’s Political Deadlock

Author: Mohamed Toure

How Ethnic Partisans Are Holding Their Own Futures Hostage

Guinea's President Alpha Condé (left),
opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo (right).
On July 2nd, 2012, Guinea’s president Alpha Condé vowed that the country’s long overdue legislative elections would be held by the end of the year. President Condé, having won the first free and fair presidential election since the early days of Guinea’s independence from France, came to power with high expectations and an aggressive agenda to develop the West African nation. Currently, Guinea’s future is being held hostage by political deadlock between President Condé, who heads the RPG (Rally of the Guinean People), and the opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo of the UFDG (Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea). The authors of this deadlock are partisans on both sides, whose zeal is fueled by misunderstood ethnic loyalties. The current situation has many wondering: will Guinea be able to overcome the social, economic, and political stagnation amplified by this ethnic division?

For a modern democratic state to function, it must represent its people, have a system of checks and balances to minimize and prevent abuses of power, in addition to translating the will of the people into effective policies. Guinea’s legislative elections were supposed to be held no later than six months after the presidential elections that took place in November of 2010. Regrettably, continued disputes between the President’s camp and that of the opposition leader have prevented the legislative elections from being organized in a timely manner.

The absence of a proper legislative body is holding the nation back during a time when the entire African continent is seeking a path for better governance, economic development, and integration into the global community. President Condé’s heavy reliance on executive powers, coupled with his French-colonial micromanagement style, has proven ineffective in achieving the country’s urgent objectives. At a glance, the principal reasons for the postponement of the elections are technical flaws of electoral systems, as well as political party concerns. The President and the opposition leader have both been vocal on these issues.

Ethnic tensions had a strong impact on the outcome of the 2010 presidential election in the predominantly Muslim country. Mr. Diallo ran against President Condé for the position, with both men enjoying overwhelming support from their own ethnic groups, the Peuhls, and the Malinkés, respectively. The Peuhls and the Malinkés are the largest ethnic groups in Guinea, followed by the Soussous. Collectively described as the Forestiers, smaller ethnic groups, located in the forest region of the country, represent the smallest minority in Guinea.

Opposition leader (UFDG) and
former Prime Minister, Mr. Diallo
In a campaign cycle characterized by ambiguous agendas, policy-based campaign promises were wanting. While Mr. Diallo managed to gather full support from his tribe, Mr. Condé built a coalition of predominantly Malinké and Soussou parties called l’Arc-en-Ciel (The Rainbow). On Election Day, Forestiers, having no candidate of their own in the race, turned out in low numbers at the polls. This leaves little room for doubt on the ethnocentric nature of the political showdown currently taking place. The election became a contest to determine which ethnic identity would define the executive office, and the nation came very close to civil war. Guinea managed to avoid a civil war, unlike those that took place in neighboring Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast. Still, the threat of instability caused by ethnic rivalries remains very real in the coastal country. While the intent of each party’s partisans may have been to stand behind the man who would best represent their narrowly defined interest, their commitment to little other than their ethnic identity may harm their individual and collective fortunes.

Following over a decade of service under the 24-year authoritarian regime of Guinea’s late President, General Lansana Conté, Mr. Diallo left office with a questionable record. During his time in office, he served in six ministerial positions, including once as minister of transportation. In 2006, after allegations of reshuffling the government in an attempt to grab more power than Guinea’s president was willing to relinquish, Mr. Diallo was sacked as prime minister. Under his leadership, the country made little noticeable strides forward, and questions still linger over the fiscal and legal accountability of his government. At best, the story of his leadership is one of underachievement and service to a dictator, for which Guineans, including his supporters, continue to suffer. It begs the question, would much have changed if Mr. Diallo had become president?

President Condé
Recently, President Condé and his ministers have become tabloid-worthy sensations. News of a secret agreement between Guinean authorities and the South African investment company, Palladino Capital, has come to light. The company, headed by the fund manager, Walter Hennig, reportedly entered into a loan agreement with the Guinean government, whereby, in the event of a default, the country could forfeit 30% of its mining resources to Palladino Capital and its partners; this would be highly unfavorable to Guinea’s interest. Such reports could alter the public’s perception of the President. Guineans, if this deal turns out to be foul play, will consider the President as corrupt as the rest. Mr. Condé, who spent over five decades in opposition to all of Guinea’s previous authoritarian regimes, has previously lauded his non-involvement in corrupt government affairs. The facts of the story are still being uncovered; in the meantime, the government’s inability to tackle the country’s most basic issues means that the futures of all Guineans, including those of President Condé’s supporters, hang in the balance.

The issue is not whom partisans support; rather, the issue is that their support is unconditional, even when their candidate is caught in error. During the past half-century, Guinea’s political parties have been shaped around the single, unquestioned leadership of one man, and have never created an environment fostering debate and novel policy ideas. This party model reflects the ethnocentric hierarchy of pre-colonial and colonial-era Guinea. The country’s politicians operate like village chiefs—old, self-important, hungry for omnipotence, and unchallenged, save by members of rival ethnic groups. This party model is ineffective, even dangerous for the country’s political life.

President Condé and Mr. Diallo
Guinea is now at a crossroad. With the next presidential elections only three and a half years away, organizing the legislative elections by year’s end will bear heavily on the country’s stability. A legislative body favorable to the President will make it easier for him to carry out his policy agendas for the remainder of his presidential term. Conversely, a parliamentary majority for Mr. Diallo’s party would be an invaluable bargaining chip against the President, to whom he lost in 2010. For these reasons, President Condé and Mr. Diallo are likely to continue a heavy-handed exchange over the technical and political details of the elections’ organization and timetable.

Without a fully functional executive, legislative, or judiciary body in place, Guinea’s transition from military to civilian rule will remain incomplete, and will prove unattractive to international aid and foreign investors. This will have a ripple effect on the quotidian affairs of all Guineans. Political party surrogates would do well to reconcile their narrow self-interest with those of the nation. Though, perspectives will have to shift and mature on the interconnected nature of individual and national interests. Going forward, the unwavering support for a politician based only on ethnicity will no longer be sustainable. There is a common dream for a brighter future; all Guineans, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, or political affiliation, share this dream. In order to realize it, Guineans, and party surrogates in particular, will have to journey beyond their traditional ethnic loyalties, and give precedence to Guinea’s convergent national identity and future.

Mohamed L. Touré is the editor-in-chief of SEADiaspora. He is currently a business professional based in Maryland, in addition to serving on the steering committee of Alliance Guinea, an organization focused on human rights, democracy, and justice in Guinea. He is an associate at the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance. Mohamed graduated from the University of Baltimore with a B.S. in Business Administration and a concentration in International Business. He is a Guinean-Italian, who holds dual citizenship and resides in the United States. His belief in sustainable development as the way forward for Africa is rivaled only by his commitment as an A.C. Milan fan.

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