Democracy in West Africa – Fingers crossed in Guinea
Oct 17th Economist
Democracy does not run as deep throughout west Africa as it does in Nigeria, but there have been signs of progress since the region’s biggest country marked its first electoral transfer of power in March. Last month democrats thwarted a coup in Burkina Faso, putting it back on track for elections later this year. And on October 11th Guineans turned out in their millions to vote in only their second democratic presidential ballot in over 50 years.
Having previously endured decades of dictatorship under Ahmed Sékou Touré and his successors, Guineans are heartened. Their president, Alpha Condé, who won the country’s first free vote in 2010, can take some credit for pulling soldiers off the streets and returning them to barracks. He has improved electricity supplies and made mining contracts more transparent. Yet low commodity prices and a crippling battle against Ebola have dented his popularity and invigorated the opposition.
The latest poll, like the one that preceded it, pitted Mr Condé against Cellou Dalein Diallo, the main challenger among seven. Guinea’s young democracy is still ethnic in nature, and this vote has exposed many of the same tensions as the last. Human Rights Watch, a pressure group, reckons that at least seven people were killed during the 2010 presidential election campaign. Another 50 died in the run-up to a legislative election in 2013. Several people lost their lives in pre-polling clashes this time, and locals worry about more fighting, particularly if the president pulls off a victory in just one round. Opposition parties argue that would be impossible without rigging.
They already feel cheated. Rival candidates asked for (and were refused) a delay, claiming unfair distribution of voter cards and the presence of children on the electoral register. Their complaints have only grown louder since the votes were cast, and all seven candidates have demanded an annulment. Observers have not validated these claims. An EU delegation cited “massive deficiencies” ahead of polling, but says it is impossible to work out who was helped by them. In its post-election report the EU mission concluded that the process overall was indeed “valid”.
This failed to convince the opposition. On October 14th, Mr Diallo said he was withdrawing from the race, and would not accept its result. Analysts had been expecting Mr Condé to win another term once the votes were counted, which will take a few days, though a second round may be needed. If Mr Diallo is not going to contest a second round, it is unclear what will happen. He has said his people will protest. A repeat of 2013’s violence may still lie ahead.