Why Guinea’s Election Crisis Matters by Peter Pham

The Guinean opposition has always enjoyed the support of the overwhelming majority of Guineans, as evidenced in this 2013 video.

The following article appeared in the April 23, 2015 issue of the US News and World Report. You will not find a better assessment of the dire political situation in Guinea today.  The author, Peter Pham, is to be commended for his research and for parsing out the truth often masked by government disinformation campaigns.

Why Guinea’s Election Crisis Matters
The country is key to maintaining peace and stability in West Africa.

Guinea security forces and protesters on Monday, April 13, 2015.
By J. Peter Pham April 23, 2015 | 11:00 a.m. EDT + More

The international community breathed a collective sigh of relief following the recent presidential, parliamentary and gubernatorial elections in Nigeria. Although the competition was the fiercest Nigerians have ever seen and the polls were marred by some irregularities and a few regrettable episodes of violence, the graceful concession of the defeated incumbent president and the magnanimity of his challenger pave the way for next month’s historic peaceful, democratic handover of power in Africa’s most populous country. It is a significant milestone, not only for Nigeria, but for Africa as a whole.
But imagine what would have happened if President Goodluck Jonathan had rigged the election process or simply refused to accept President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s win at the ballot box? That’s what President Alpha Conde is trying to do in nearby Guinea, a geopolitically sensitive nation in the same West African subregion, where the political upheaval and ethnic conflict being risked could easily spill over into neighboring countries, including Mali, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, all of which are just themselves emerging from prolonged periods of civil strife. Consequently, there is an urgent need for the international community to engage more robustly in Guinea. The good news from Nigeria should not be an excuse for complacency about the prospects for democracy and stability elsewhere in the region.
Moreover, we should not view Guinea merely through the prism of Ebola, despite the efforts of the incumbent president to blame everything on the epidemic of which his country has been the unfortunate epicenter, as he shamelessly did this past week in Washington. Even before the outbreak of deadly disease wreaked havoc with the economy, both urban and rural poverty were increasing during the president’s tenure according to his own finance ministry’s report to the International Monetary Fund. Unable to run on his weak record, Conde, in office since a disputed election in 2010, is using every trick in the book to remain in power. Recently, the regime has been increasingly blatant in rigging the electoral process to ensure that it “wins” the elections scheduled for less than six months from now.
The political opposition realizes that it is being railroaded by the government, which controls the so-called Independent National Electoral Commission. That body has rejiggered the electoral calendar to give an insurmountable advantage to the incumbent president, who has refused to engage in a political dialogue with the opposition for almost a year.
Frustrated by both the government’s intransigence and the international community’s lack of attention, the coalition representing the major opposition parties has taken to the streets to demand free, fair and transparent elections. The peaceful demonstrations, including a massive one planned for this Thursday, have continued despite the regime’s attempts to violently repress them. On Monday, for example, several protesters, including a 15-year-old boy, were wounded when live rounds were fired at them by police.
As a result of these demonstrations, Conde’s government has finally offered to renew dialogue with the opposition. However, Cellou Dalein Diallo, a free-market economist and former prime minister, and other leaders of the opposition coalition have declined to participate in talks with the government until two conditions are met: the pro-government electoral commission must cease to function and be revamped; and the timetable for elections which the commission unilaterally announced must be dropped in favor of one which represents the consensus of all stakeholders. Speaking from Paris on Wednesday, Conde rejected any change to the election timetable.
The preconditions are necessary because opposition leaders do not trust Conde and think that the offer of negotiations is little more than a clever trap, just fruitless dialogue designed to waste time as the electoral clock continues to tick.
The opposition is confident that it has the support of the masses. Of course, it will have to prove that assertion at the polls. But for that to occur, the entire electoral process must be free, fair and transparent. And the process has to begin long before the Oct. 11 date chosen for the presidential vote. The opposition is demanding, quite reasonably, that local elections that Conde has postponed on one pretext or another for more than four years be held before the presidential poll, in accordance with Guinea’s laws as well as the repeated promises of the president himself.
Why is this so important? First, there is no basis in the Guinean constitution for the repeated postponements of these elections and, as a result of them, as both opposition politicians and civil society leaders have pointed out, none of those occupying local government offices – mayors, local council members, ward chiefs, etc. – has a legal mandate. Second, as many observers have noted, the criteria under which these officials have been retained without the consent of their constituents has been their allegiance to the president. Third, these same unelected local officials, dependent as they are upon the incumbent for their livelihood, will be the very people who, at the grassroots level, will not only be determining who can register to vote ahead of the polls and who casts ballots on election day, but will themselves be counting ballots and tabulating results.
Opposition candidates and pro-democracy advocates alike fear, justifiably, based on their experience in the controversial 2010 presidential election from which many reports emerged of fraud, that the process will be corrupted. Thus, these activists have called on the international community, especially the United Nations, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the European Union, France and the United States, to engage more energetically in Guinea to ensure a level playing field for the upcoming local and presidential elections. Deploying foreign observers to monitor polling sites on election day would be too little too late.
Why does Guinea matter? Why should the international community, with so many crises demanding attention, even care? Guinea matters because it constitutes a case of arrested development, a country which has never realized its ambitions despite extraordinary human and natural resources – among other things, it holds two-thirds of the world’s largest reserve of bauxite, and prodigious amounts of gold, diamonds, iron ore, graphite, manganese and other mineral resources – that could make Guinea potentially one of the richest nations in Africa. Alas, since independence in 1958, the country has been run by a series of authoritarian leaders who have ruled from the top down for the benefit of the fortunate few, not for the entire nation. Moreover, without credible elections, Guinea risks plunging into a profound political crisis and, indeed, outright conflict. Ethnic tensions are already being stoked and, in a region whose borders were very recently shown by the rapid spread of the Ebola virus to be all-too-porous, such conflicts will be impossible to contain.
To head off this very real threat, the international community needs to engage now to ensure free, fair and transparent elections yielding credible results acceptable to all Guineans. It not only matters for the people of Guinea, but is critical to maintaining peace, stability, and democratic gains of the entire region.
J. Peter Pham is director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.


Visite de Mr. François Hollande en Guinée. Lettre ouverte de Pottal-Fii-Bhantal Fouta-Djallon

Visite de Mr.  François Hollande en Guinée. Lettre ouverte de Pottal-Fii-Bhantal Fouta-Djallon

New-York le 26 Novembre 2014.

À son Excellence, Mr. François Hollande, Président de la République Française.

Mr. Le président,

En Novembre 2012, vous avez fait une déclaration félicitant le président Alpha Condé pour les soi-disant performances économiques de la Guinée ainsi que les réformes des forces de sécurité. À cette occasion, notre organisation, Pottal-Fii-Bhantal Fouta-Djallon, vous avait adressé une lettre exprimant notre inquiétude sur le satisfecit et la caution morale que vous aviez donnés à Mr. Condé, tant votre appréciation était en porte-à-faux avec les réalités sur le terrain. Deux années après, alors que vous vous apprêtez à faire un bref séjour en Guinée, nous avons l’honneur de vous adresser encore une lettre pour vous exprimer notre préoccupation sur la détérioration de la situation dans notre pays.

Avant tout, à travers votre personne, nous voudrions adresser au peuple français, nos sentiments de gratitudes pour le support que la France a octroyé à la Guinée  dans le combat contre l’épidémie d’Ébola. Ce geste s’inscrit dans la longue tradition de coopération entre nos deux pays  que les vicissitudes politiques n’auront pas pu détériorer. En d’autres circonstances, Pottal-Fii-Bhantal Fouta-Djallon aurait appelé avec enthousiasme à une forte mobilisation pour que votre visite soit non seulement célébrée  mais aussi un tremplin pour une plus fructueuse  coopération. Toutefois, depuis notre lettre de 2012, la situation en Guinée n’a fait qu’empirer. Tous les observateurs s’accordent sur le fait que la Guinée est devenue un pays à haut-risques avec tous les facteurs d’une guerre civile, voire d’un génocide. La misère grandissante des populations est le terreau sur lequel le gouvernement sème des tensions sociales et ethniques artificielles pour détourner l’attention des citoyens.

L’arrivée au pouvoir de Mr. Alpha Condé, en dépit des irrégularités et des violences  qui marquèrent la campagne présidentielle, avait fait espérer que la Guinée allait rompre avec son passé de violence politique. Force est de constater qu’en trois ans, Mr. Alpha Condé a ruiné le capital politique que les élections lui avaient donné. Mr. Condé a renforcé la culture d’impunité qui, pour se perpétuer, a besoin d’exacerber le clientélisme ethnocentrique.  Pour se maintenir, le régime s’est condamné à s’assurer la complicité d’officiers militaires accusés de crimes contre l’humanité  pour leur participation dans les tueries et viols de Septembre 2009. Du fait de ce laxisme, il est possible que dans la garde d’honneur en charge de vous accueillir  à Conakry, il y ait des officiers responsables de ces crimes. Mr. Condé est resté sourd aux appels internationaux et aux demandes multiples des citoyens guinéens, notamment des victimes et de leur familles, pour démettre les accusés de crimes contre l’humanité de leurs fonctions officielles. En Octobre 2014, Mr. Condé a indiqué avoir demandé aux «blancs» d’abandonner le dossier du 28 Septembre. Il marque ainsi son  explicite opposition à toute poursuite  du processus judiciaire contre les auteurs de ces crimes. À cette  troublante provocation s’ajoutent de nombreux crimes  par les forces de sécurité du président Condé. À ce jour aucun officier n’a été inculpé pour les crimes  contre des dizaines de manifestants dans la préparation des élections législatives ni ceux qui les suivirent. À Zogota, des populations furent massacrées dans leur sommeil suite à une demande de compensation pour leurs terres par le gouvernement. Des jeunes innocents furent kidnappés à Conakry par les forces de sécurité, sans aucun motif, et déferrés dans des conditions atroces au nord du pays. Certains succombèrent aux tortures. Récemment, c’est une personnalité politique de l’opposition qui fut exécutée en plein jour à Conakry. La tragédie de Womey et la répression qui suivit, en pleine crise d’Ébola restent un point saillant de la défaillance de Mr. Condé dont le laxisme a favorisé la propagation de l’épidémie en Afrique de l’Ouest. Le tissu social guinéen est plus que jamais fragilisé. Le  pacte citoyen indispensable au maintien de la paix civile et à l’émergence  de toute démocratie a été dissout.

Durant les trois années  à la tête de notre pays, Mr. Alpha Condé a exhibé des formes désolantes de mépris des guinéens.  En même temps,  il  montre une inquiétante propension à n’écouter que les opinions des dirigeants des pays occidentaux auxquels il  croit devoir la sauvegarde de son pouvoir. Ayant dilapidé la confiance à lui faite de diriger son pays, Mr. Condé  déploie des efforts considérables pour faire croire qu’il a l’assentiment des dirigeants de l’occident.  D’importants moyens financiers sont utilisés pour payer des lobbyistes et pour s’attirer le soutien de personnalités internationales telles que Georges Soros, Tony Blair et Bernard Kouchner dont il exploite les ambitions, politiques ou financières.  C’est à ce titre  que nous vous adressons cette lettre. Nous voudrions en appeler à votre responsabilité personnelle  et de celle de la France, afin d’amener Mr. Alpha Condé à changer le cap de sa politique ruineuse, pendant qu’il est encore temps.  Comme  notre organisation l’a maintes fois réitéré, le mépris des victimes, l’entretien d’un climat provocateur d’impunité et l’arrogance de criminels reconnus sont les sources des guerres civiles. La France ne peut certes pas être tenue responsable d’éventuelles confrontations en Guinée. Mais du fait des rapports historiques, économiques et culturels qui lient la France et la Guinée, nous pensons qu’il est de votre devoir de profiter de votre rencontre avec le président guinéen pour aider à changer le cours dangereux de l’histoire dans notre pays.

Nous vous souhaitons la bienvenue en terre guinéenne et vous prions de croire à nos sentiments de très haute distinction.


Doctors Without Borders’ Guinea Ebola Coordinator Says Virus “Out of Control,” Conde’s Promises Short on Delivery

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) or, in English, Doctors without Borders (DWB) is putting out its second Ebola alert in two months stating the virus is “out of control” in Guinea. In an article further below, dated November 6, 2014, the DWB coordinator for Ebola in Guinea, Caroline Scholtes, says that with the virus spreading to several different geographic locations in the country, the two primary Ebola treatment centers, Conakry and the Forest region, are not adequate.  Further, Scholtes says,  “Ebola is likely to become endemic in Guinea. It’s depressing.”  And, it seems like Alpha Conde is  not being helpful.
In an October 26, 2014, article Rony Brauman, former head of DWB, said that DWB staff in Conakry complained that in May and June, Conde tried to coerce them not to be so public with information about the spread of Ebola in Guinea  because it was scaring people and would affect the economy (Read: it would affect investor interest in Guinea).  Unfortunately, Conde went further and accused the DWB staff of trying to enhance their own reputations with the public by providing updates about the outbreak!  Given that Conde’s very best friend, Bernard Kouchner, is the co-founder of DWB, you have to wonder whether he exerted influence to support Conde.
Today, new stats were issued for Guinea’s Ebola program: 1,813 cases, 1079 deaths.  Note that these numbers are considerably higher than figures given for Guinea over the last several months. In the second week of October alone, 100 new cases were reported in  Conakry.
It looks like Conde’s pressure to downplay the number of Ebola cases back in the spring and summer may have had some effect.  From the article below and anecdotal stories from Guineans who recently traveled to Guinea, there is little trust in Conde’s ability to handle the Ebola situation.
Please note that as of today, November 9, 2014, International SOS reports that Guinea’s Ebola status is “WIDESPREAD AND INTENSE TRANSMISSION”

Conakry (dpa) – For three full days, a man lies dying in midst of Marche Madina, a bustling market in Guinea’s capital, Conakry. It is one of the largest in West Africa. He is writhing in pain, then unconscious. Nobody dares approach him.The fear of Ebola, which killed more than 4,900 people across the region during the worst haemorrhagic fever outbreak in history, is written on everyone’s faces.A toll-free telephone number, 115 – set up by the health department as an Ebola hotline – is ringing but leads to a recorded message: “This number is currently unavailable.” Panic starts to spread.On day three, the Red Cross finally arrives to collect the man. But it’s too late. His body is taken straight to the morgue.The teams have been busy since the number of confirmed Ebola infections in Conakry dramatically shot up this month, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). A hundred new cases were reported in the capital in the second week of October alone.Ten months into the outbreak, which started in December in a small village in Guinea’s east, the country roughly the size of the United Kingdom has only two Ebola treatment centres.

One 85-bed facility is located in the capital, the other, with about 35 beds, is situated in the town of Gueckedou, at the opposite end of the country, a two-day car drive further east. There is no help for Ebola patients in-between.

Both treatment centres are run by medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), with some support from Guinean health workers.

The country’s public hospitals don’t have the know-how to treat Ebola patients. The only other facility for the population of 12 million is a transit centre in the south-eastern town of Macenta, the country’s current Ebola hotspot.

“There should be a treatment centre in each [of Guinea’s 33] prefectures,” says MSF project coordinator Caroline Scholtes.

The WHO says 10 additional Ebola facilities are needed.

Even the better off middle class, which has the means to access private health care, is currently at a loss. The private Ambroise Pare Clinic in Conakry was shut down on October 10 after a nurse was infected with Ebola.

The entire staff is under observation for 21 days. A note reading “heightened epidemiological vigilance level” is plastered across barricaded doors.

That means the vast majority of the 1,553 Ebola cases the WHO recorded in Guinea by October 25 continue to be cared for at home – placing families and communities at high infection risk and making it extremely difficult to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

“We have a huge catastrophe on our hands,” a United Nations source in Conakry told dpa. “This is just the beginning.”

He believes the number of unreported cases is likely to be 10 times higher than the number recorded by the WHO.

The lack of treatment centres also means that most patients have to travel far, sometimes hundreds of kilometres, to reach help. Few Guineans own a car. Most rely on crowded, public transport.

Although the nation has a lower case load than neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia, experts believe the epidemic will be harder to contain here. Ebola cases are spread out across the country – and not concentrated in the capital, like in Liberia – and therefore harder to trace.

“In Guinea, Ebola is increasing exponentially in terms of case numbers as well as geographically. One or two cases in remote areas are enough to create a hotspot if systems are not in place,” warns Scholtes.

With every new case, contact tracing gets more difficult. One Ebola patient has an average of about 100 potential contacts.

“The outbreak is completely out of control. Ebola is likely to become endemic in Guinea. It’s depressing,” says Scholtes.

Disapproval of President Alpha Conde’s Ebola response is perennial among international aid organizations in Conakry, but no one wants to criticize the government publicly, out of fear their work might be hampered.

On paper, the president has led a strong fight against Ebola. He declared a “national health emergency,” warned against panic and believing in rumours.

Conde tried to negotiate with Guinea’s neighbours to lift travel bans that hurt the economy and pleaded for attacks on health workers and burial teams to stop. Last week, he called on retired doctors to offer their assistance in treatment centres.

“If we fight back immediately, the faster we can stop the disease from spreading,” said Conde.

But for now, Conde has translated few of his appeals and promises into practice.

For more background on Guinea and Ebola:

Ground zero in Guinea: the outbreak smoulders – undetected – for more than 3 months

Dispatch from Guinea: Containing Ebola

Ebola in Guinea: Alpha Conde Coerces Doctors w/o Borders Staff to Downplay Seriousness of Epidemic

Rony Brauman, former president of Doctors without Borders

In an article (in French), the former president of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) or Doctors without Borders (DWB), Rony Brauman, comments on progress in eradicating Ebola in the primary affected countries –Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. In Guinea, Mr. Brauman stated  concern about Alpha Conde’s interference in the work of Doctors without Borders staff during May and June this year.  Conde accused  the health professionals of  “. . . trying to do too much, spreading panic about increased number of cases and promoting their organization.”  It appears that Conde was trying to muzzle  DWB in order to prevent investors from finding out that Guinea was part of a full-blown epidemic.

During July through September, it was difficult to find updated Ebola statistics for Guinea; in fact, it appeared cases were leveling out.  It is difficult to know whether Conde’s interference caused DWB to be less public with information during that time. On October 9, Doctors without Borders issued a press release about a spike in Ebola cases in Guinea. Not only was DWB concerned about increase in cases, but were short of beds as well.  Will Conde attempt to hush up DWB again?  He certainly has the leverage to do so; his best friend is former French foreign minister and co-founder of DWB, Bernard Kouchner. They met as school boys in France and have been friends for 60 years.

In a related article, “Why is Guinea’s Ebola Outbreak so Unusual?,” dated April 1, 2014, National Public Radio Radio interviewed Esther Sterk, a tropical medicine adviser to DWB, who shared concerns about the unusual spread of the virus in Guinea:

Doctors Without Borders has called the current outbreak of the Ebola virus in Guinea “unprecedented” — not because of the number of victims (so far at least 78 have died) but because the disease has traveled to various parts of the country. The widespread infection (which includes the capital city of Conakry) is at least unusual, the World Health Organization agrees, and presents more challenges than usual to the medical team seeking to contain the virus.

Sterk goes on to say that she “thinks” the virus has spread so widely because its “easy for people to travel from place to place in Guinea.” Perhaps there are other factors as well.

Finally, please see information from the CDC as of 10/25/14  showing a case count table and a map showing outbreak distribution for all three countries. Note that the Guinea part of this updated map, while not consisting of a large amount of cases, does show that the cases are distributed more broadly throughout the country than maps from a month or two ago.