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Guinea’s Fragile Transfer of Power

June 29, 2010

Guinea’s fragile transfer of power

By Tom Burgis in Conakry

Published: June 27 2010 11:01 | Last updated: June 28 2010 08:33

Guineans voted in a free presidential election for the first time on Sunday, as the military prepared to hand power to a civilian ruler who will inherit a scramble for the fragile west African nation’s mineral riches.

Some 4m voters across Guinea’s mountains and rainforests and in Conakry, the dilapidated capital, tested the often improvised preparations for polls on which donors including the European Union and the US are spending at least €30m.

Delays frayed tempers but at polling stations in Conakry good humour prevailed in long queues as the nation of 10m people glimpsed the prospect of an end to 52 years of destitution and repression that followed independence from France.

General Sékouba Konaté, the interim ruler who has led an unlikely transition to elections, summoned the 24 candidates to a sweltering room in the presidential palace on Saturday night to tell them: “It’s for you to decide: peace, liberty and democracy or disorder and instability.”

Guinea is a leading producer of bauxite, the ore used to make aluminium, and sits at the centre of a region plagued by conflict and only slowly recovering from recent wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire.

The winner will decide the fate of a rush of recent deals signed by military-backed governments with mining groups promising some $40bn to exploit some of the world’s biggest undeveloped stocks of iron ore.

Tropical rains failed to damp a carnival atmosphere at campaign rallies, with some partisans wearing little but body-paint in their candidate’s colours. Others evoked the spirit of Barack Obama’s triumph in the US with cries of “Yes, we can.”

Observers have warned that the results of the hastily prepared elections, due by Wednesday, could be open to question, leaving scope for candidates eliminated ahead of a widely expected second round run-off to cry foul.

The victor will face the task of meeting dizzying expectations with public finances looted for decades and ensuring that a suspicious military remains in the barracks.

“Health, education, the army, infrastructure, electricity, all that needs a lot of money,” Cellou Dalein Diallo, a former prime minister widely tipped to advance at least to the second round, told the Financial Times.

“Life will not change immediately. But it must no longer be that the people are one group and another is taking trips and building villas.”

Kerfalla Yansane, finance minister, said the outgoing government had held preliminary talks with the International Monetary Fund about resuming co-operation that could help unfreeze donor assistance.

The vote comes only nine months after security forces loyal to Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who had seized power following the death of long-time dictator Lansana Conté in late 2008, shot dead 156 opposition protesters.

A bullet to the head from a would-be assassin among his entourage forced Capt Camara into exile into December.

Gen Konaté, his seemingly reluctant successor, sidelined freewheeling commanders and forced the military to accept the prospect of civilian rule.

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