Guinea: Post-election violence averted, but strong tensions remain
Published: 27 Oct 2015
By: Djibril Balde
On 17 October 2015, Alpha Condé, the incumbent president of the Republic of Guinea was declared the winner of Guinea’s presidential elections. With 58% of the vote, Condé was able to avoid a second round. The opposition, led by Cellou Dalein Diallo however, described the election as a “masquerade” and refused to recognise the results. Although there has not, so far, been violence in the aftermath of the elections, deep tensions remain.
In Guinea it has been always difficult to find a consensus between the government and the opposition regarding the electoral process. Diallo and his Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) have alleged a number of problems in the electoral process, including improper issuance of voter ID cards and had demanded a five day delay in the election date. A number of demonstrations were organised around these complaints in the run up to the elections.
The election campaign was characterised by violence in many areas of Guinea. Confrontations between government and opposition supporters in the southern city of N’zérékoré turned violent in early October, left one person dead and dozens injured, according to official sources and with one NGO reporting that they had treated nearly 80 people injured by bullets or stones thrown in the protest. In the northern town of Koundara, according to a local police officer, “violent clashes erupted, with stones and sticks” between supporters of the UFDG leader of the opposition Cellou Dalein Diallo and those of President Alpha Condé and it was reported that at least 17 people were wounded.” On 10 October fighting in the capital of Conakry reportedly killed three and injured 50.
According to some opposition supporters, the government mobilised security forces using tear gas to prevent opposition protests against the electoral timetable. Security forces also reportedly fired warning shots, but a number of the injured suffered from bullet wounds, raising questions about potential abuse of force by security forces, something which has been a historical problem in Guinea.
Moreover, it is also essential to remember that in the past political violence has played negatively on ethnic tensions in Guinea. Almost every political party in Guinea is identified with an ethnic group. The party of President Alpha Condé, the Rally of Guinean the People, is dominated by the Malinké ethnic group (which constitutes about 30% of the population), while the UFDG is dominated by the Fulani ethnic group who are the largest ethnic group in the country (approximately 40% of the population). In Guinea, politicians play a dangerous game of stirring up ethnic divisions in order to attain or stay in power. The Fulani ethnic group was particularly harshly targeted under the repressive regime of Sékou Touré, compelling thousands of them exile particularly in Senegal.
Some six million Guineans registered to vote in the presidential election. On Sunday, 11 October 2015, they went to the polling stations to fulfil their civic duty. There were eight presidential candidates. Both the European Union and the African Union deployed observer missions to monitor the vote. Although, some irregularities were noted, such as lack of voting materials and logistical and organisational problems, both missions assessed the vote to be “valid”, appreciating the participation of the Guineans and the absence of violence during voting.
Dozens of polling stations lacked equipment such as ballot papers, signing registers or ballot envelopes. In addition, biometric voter lists, which voters must sign after voting, were not arranged in alphabetic order, meaning that finding an individual voter’s name was quite time consuming. Franck Engel, the head of the European Union observer mission confirmed these irregularities, saying: “There are manifest problems in terms possibilities for employees of the polling stations to find their voters because the registers that they were using were not arranged logically, neither alphabetically nor numerically.” He concluded, however, that these problems, while irritating, did not affect the legitimacy of the vote.
A Guinean resident in Senegal who spoke to IRRI in Dakar told us that he had voted but many of his countrymen could not do so because they have not received their voters’ cards, even if they had attempted to register in Dakar. He considers that many Guineans were deprived of the right to vote, particularly in Dakar, where the population tends to support Cellou Dalein Diallo. He recommended that action be taken to avoid similar problems in the future and called for calm, serenity and non-violence in Guinea.
On the day following the vote, the seven opposition candidates demanded the cancellation of the vote due to what they called irregularities and fraud and Diallo, announced that he will not take his case to the Constitutional Court, which he alleges is not independent. The international community and human rights organisations expressed concern about the risk of post-election violence which is very common in Guinea.
To avoid further violence, and in order to promote political stability in Guinea, it is important to create an environment in which disagreements can be resolved through appeal to the appropriate bodies, the national electoral commission and the courts, rather than through violence. In order to achieve this, the international community should help Guinea to strengthen its institutions and to properly review the whole electoral register, which has been a source of conflict between the ruling party and the opposition. Investigations should be conducted into the pre-electoral violence in order to ensure accountability for any individuals who may have incurred criminal liability in fomenting the violence and to identify measures for avoiding similar violence in the future. In the meantime, both the government and the opposition should continue to appeal to their supporters to ensure calm and should work together to advance political dialogue and address the core issues that are driving electoral tensions.