After 10 years as Guinea’s president, Alpha Conde is running for a third term in office via an election set for October 18. The opposition have been raising dust since the president’s party, RPG, made known his candidacy, but they don’t know how to deny him a constitutional right.
Judging by his popularity, Conde is likely to win. Both his allies and his critics acknowledge his charm and intelligence and would like him to stay on as president.
When he first came to power in 2010, his supporters almost idolized him as a “new man” untainted by corruption. Ten years later, most Guineans still hold that view. But some opponents say he’s authoritarian and rarely listens to advice. They‘re the people who seem to be battling the spectre that has for long afflicted many leaders in Africa: tenure elongation.
But even if he ruled for 10 more years, that is, two more terms allowed by the country’s new constitution, Conde would not have stayed in power as long as either of his predecessors Ahmed Sekou Toure and Lansana Conte did. Toure ruled for 26 years from Guinea’s independence in 1958, while Conte ruled for 24 years from 1984 when he seized power in a military coup.
Under monarchical or dictatorial regimes, few people really worry about the “sit-tightism” of their country’s leader, so long as they’re being led well. The stability provided by a strong leadership and a period of non-elections has often brought economic prosperity or better living conditions for the people. Libya today is a reminder that a country is better off when ruled by a benevolent dictator than when it is ruled by democrats assailed by election crises.
In actuality, there was no multi-party democracy in Guinea until 2010 when the name of a former activist who fought the country’s despotic regimes (and during which he spent years in prison and on exile) was on the ballot. That former “rebel” who won the presidential election of that year is Alpha Conde. He came to power with a lot of goodwill.
But the vote of 2010 brought with it the prevalent disease in African politics: tribalism. Conde did not win on the first ballot; there had to be a runoff, and he defeated his main rival, Cellou Dalein Diallo of the UFDG party, because other smaller parties supported him. Ethnic tensions followed. Conde is Malinke while Diallo is Peul; the Malinke make up 35% of Guineans and the Peul, 40%. Diallo has opposed Conde’s government since then, at times accusing the president of marginalizing his tribe. He ran against the president on such ethnic sentiments also in 2015. But he lost again.
The opposition have, since last year, organized protests against a referendum for a new constitution. Not because they didn’t want a new constitution but because they feared that it would qualify Conde to seek a third term in office.
Rather than mobilise Guineans to vote “No” in the referendum, the Diallo-led opposition wanted to throw away the baby along with the bathwater! And so the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), an amalgam of the main opposition parties and civil society organisations, held several demonstrations to oppose any constitution change. The referendum and a legislative election eventually held on March 22, this year. The result was in favour of “Yes” – over 90% voted in support — and a new constitution has since been promulgated.
Informed watchers of the small West African country told me there was an agreement that Conde should organise a referendum after taking over in 2010. He deferred the referendum during his first tenure mainly because of Ebola, the deadly virus disease that tormented Guinea and its neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone for almost three years, beginning from 2014. More than 11, 000 people were killed. But after Conde won reelection in 2015, he asked for the referendum to change the country’s constitution. And that has now happened, despite protests by the opposition.
Everyone agrees that the Guinean constitution needs an overhaul. With the new constitution, Guinea would have one of the most progressive constitutions in Africa. There is compulsory education for every Guinean until age 16. Early marriage is abolished – the minimum legal age has been raised to 18. Child labour, female genital mutilation, slavery and the death penalty are abolished. It also grants spouses equal rights in case of a divorce. The minimum age one must attain before they can run for office has been reduced from 25 to 18. It is mandatory that at least a third of members of the executive and legislature be women.
The only thing the opposition feared was Conde’s third term. There is a provision limiting the presidential mandate to two terms, but Conde is eligible to run because the constitution has ushered in a new republic. He has consistently extended his hands of fellowship to the main opposition candidate to join him in national service, but Diallo has remained a perennial opposition candidate. By participating in the October 18 presidential contest, however, he has recognized and legitimized the new constitution he had hypocritically opposed. Now, Conde has a cabinet including even foreigners – Oxford- and Harvard-trained Ghanaians and Sierra Leoneans are in his cabinet.
Conde has other positive credentials that appeal to some of us non-Guineans. I abhor opposition for its own sake. When a good leader is in power, he should be helped to lead even better. Having an election cycle every four or five years is a Western tradition. It’s expensive – and it achieves little for us in Africa. Only when an incumbent underperforms should we have cause to seek their replacement. And that’s why most Nigerians have always opposed tenure elongation under any guise: there have been failed attempts by at least three former Nigerian presidents.
An assessment of President Conde’s 10 years boasts mainly alphas. When he mounted the saddle, he met complex problems. There was nothing in the treasury. He couldn’t even host visitors in the capital Conakry – there was no standard hotel. The 12million people of Guinea and their businesses used just 200 megawatts of electricity.
Building up from Ground Zero, the Guinean leader had to put necessary infrastructure in place. Now there exist five five-star hotels in Conakry. The country now consumes 2, 000MW of electricity. In the first 50 years after the country’s independence, only $5billion foreign investments went into Guinea. In nine years of Conde’s regime, $15billion investments were attracted to the country.
Guinea now has a new port; neighbouring Mali uses it also. Oil and gas have been discovered. The country has the largest concentration of bauxite in the world, and significant amounts of iron ore, gold and diamonds. The economy is booming, even though the local currency (Guinean franc) has been devalued; the rate has stabilized at a little over 10, 000 for one American dollar.
The situation in Guinea is far better than in most other African countries including Nigeria. Is it not the reason the United Bank for Africa (UBA) and Access Bank of Nigeria have established a presence there? Tony Elumelu and Arthur Eze are some of the Nigerian business people that have seen and exploited opportunities in Guinea.
Yes, there is inflation in the country, but which nation has been immune to inflation since the Covid-19 era? Due to a slowdown in trade between Guinea and China, the value of imports has fallen while the value of exports (80% of which is iron ore) has remained stable. The economy is largely dependent on agriculture.
Although Conde is already 82 years old, Guinea still needs a leader like him. In no way could he be compared to former “dinosaurs” in Africa! He’s Africa’s true son, and it’s no accident that he shares a country with the author of The African Child, Camara Laye. Since he has done well, he should not go yet.
Had the president chosen to quit, Africa would miss his diplomatic proficiency. A true pan-Africanist, the Guinean president has been quietly helping to resolve problems in many countries of the continent. We know how, as chairman of the African Union, he headed off a crisis when an Egyptian activist died in prison. A product of anti-Apartheid struggle himself, he has severally intervened in South Africa’s ANC. He supports the right causes, unencumbered by ethnic, political or sectional considerations. An example: although Guinea is a Francophone country, President Conde supported Anglophone countries during the eco currency debate.
Informed Guineans – and even the international community – would dislike any attempt to reverse these gains. Conde has been the most worthy African statesman after Nelson Mandela. Guineans should retain him so he could use the next few years to groom a successor to maintain the peace and prosperity of Guinea.
Nwamu, an entrepreneur, is the CEO of Eyeway.ng