Members of the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), a coalition that opposes to a constitutional change to allow Condé to run for a third term, at a funeral march following a violent crackdown on anti-government protests. Photo credit: VOA/Zakaria Camara (Public Domain)
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October 18, 2020
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Amid violence, Guinea held a presidential election on October 18, 2020. Incumbent Alpha Condé ran for a controversial third term, and for the third time, faced off against opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo. Both candidates claim they won, but election officials declared Condé the winner.
Guinea’s politics are playing out in an environment of increased polarization and political violence.
Elections in Guinea routinely see significant delays, ethnic tensions, and violence. The country has a history of coups. Historically, the security forces have used excessive force to quell protests.
Guinea’s two biggest political parties are the Condé’s Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) and the main opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG), led by Diallo. Diallo narrowly lost the presidency to Condé in 2010, considered to be Guinea’s first credible election, following a transition from military to civilian rule.
Increased Polarization and Potential Ethnic Conflict
The country has a total of 130 registered political parties, many of which are based on ethnicity (Guinea has over 20 ethnic groups) and personality rather than ideology. RPG and UFDG are bitter rivals . While the parties both claim to be multiethnic, Condé’s RPG gets most of its support from Malinke people, and the UFDG mostly gets support from Fulani people.
Condé has described the presidential election as a “war,” and has given speeches in the Malinke language, which some see as stoking ethnic tensions as it has been the custom to give national addresses in French. Meanwhile, the opposition has accused Condé of being a dictator.
The 2020 Elections in Guinea and Condé’s Pyrrhic Victories
In 2020, Condé sought third term following his victory in a 2020 constitutional referendum. The result opened the door for Condé to run again (which Russia encouraged because Russian companies have mining interests in Guinea), the logic being that a new constitution means a new republic, which means a reset on term limits. The new constitution was controversial – opposition protests beginning in October 2019 over the proposed change left at least 31 people dead, and protests on voting day left at least 10 people dead.
Condé’s RPG appears to be on a roll, with dual victories in March 2020. In the legislative elections, which the opposition boycotted, RPG won 79 of the 114 seats in the National Assembly. Furthermore, Condé won a referendum that would allow him to seek a third term.
However, as Kabinet Fofana and Joschka Philipps noted in April 2020: “In Guinea, the referendum has resuscitated an amalgam of political, inter-ethnic and religious conflicts. These can be contained, but initially appear worryingly similar to the communitarian violence that shook the region in 2013.”
While there were 11 candidates for president in 2020, the election was primarily a contest between Condé and Diallo. The official result was 60 percent for Condé and 33 percent for Diallo. However, Diallo challenged the results, alleging fraud and prompting street protests leading to at least 10 deaths. The government arrested a number of opposition members following the election.
Guinea’s 2021 Coup
On September 5, 2021, Guinea’s president, Alpha Condé, fell in a military coup. Colonel Mamady Doumbouya declared himself leader and dissolved the country’s government.
Guinea’s political future remains uncertain, but regional and international bodies, as well as Guinean civil society and political groups, have urged elections. Doumbouya has promised elections and a return to civilian rule, but has not committed to a timetable.
Although Guinea is one of the world’s poorest countries, it has mineral wealth. It is one of the world’s biggest producers of bauxite (a key ingredient in aluminum). Much of the bauxite is exported to China, which loaned Guinea $20 billion in exchange for bauxite concessions. Guinea also has iron, gold, diamonds, and oil.
During the Cold War, Guinea initially aligned with the Soviet Union following independence from France, but became site of geopolitical competition and vacillated between Moscow and the west. As Russia beefs up its political and military involvement in Africa, it has its eye on Guinea, supporting Condé’s bid to change the constitution. In that vein, in several African countries, Russia has sent mercenaries along with “political technologists” to help incumbents rig elections in exchange for mining concessions.
Curated News and Analysis
AFP (December 14, 2021): West African bloc calls for election timetable from Guinea
Alain Foka, France24 (November 15, 2021 – interview): Guinean transitional president Mamady Doumbouya: ‘We want to give power back to Guineans’
Trevor Filseth, National Interest (October 16, 2021): Guinean Coup Leader Purges Army in Consolidation of Power
Luke Hurt and Peter Cai, East Asia Forum (October 16, 2021): Simandou is China’s poisoned chalice
Reuters (October 7, 2021): Guinea junta names former civil servant Beavogui as prime minister
AFP (October 5, 2021): US urges Guinea coup leader to set election timeline
BBC (October 1, 2021): Mamady Doumbouya: Guinea coup leader sworn in as president
Boubacar Diallo and Carley Petesch, AP (September 28, 2201): Guinea’s junta releases transition charter toward elections
Saliou Samb, Reuters (September 27, 2021): Guinea junta bars its members from running in next elections
David Zounmenou, ISS Today (September 24, 2021): Can coups be removed from Guinea’s political culture?
Laurent Lozano and Mouctar Bah, AFP (September 24, 2021): In Guinea opposition bastion, hopes for a brighter future
The Africa Report (September 22, 2021): Guinea: Can Doumbouya lead the country in a peaceful transition?
Ovigwe Eguegu, The Diplomat (September 21, 2021): Does Guinea’s Coup Matter to China?
Boubacar Diallo and Krista Larson, AP (September 16, 2021): Military junta opens talks over Guinea’s future post-coup
Jeffrey Smith and Jonathan Moakes, Foreign Policy (September 14, 2021): Guinea’s Military Coup Was Both Predictable and Avoidable
Editorial Board, Financial Times (September 7, 2021): Guinea’s coup stems from crisis of legitimacy
David Lewis, Edward McAllister and Saliou Samb, Reuters (September 6, 2021): ‘Unattainable power’: the frustrations that drove Guinea’s coup leader
Boubacar Diallo and Krista Larson, AP (September 5, 2021): Soldiers detain Guinea’s president, dissolve government
AFP (November 12, 2020): Guinea arrests opposition leaders after disputed election
Lindsey Pruett, World Politics Review (November 4, 2020): Guinea Braces for More Instability as Conde Wins a Disputed Third Term
Voice of America (October 25, 2020): Guinea’s Opposition Challenging President’s Election Victory
Boubacar Diallo (October 24, 2020): Guinean president wins a 3rd term, electoral commission says
Babacar Dione, AP (September 24, 2020): Guinea’s opposition urges West African leaders to step in
Mouctar Bah, AFP (September 24, 2020): Guinea president appeals to base, calling election a ‘war’
Jack Cable and Zoe Huczok, Stanford Cyber Policy Center (September 21, 2020): Who Are the President of Guinea’s Facebook Trolls? The Blurry Line Between Modern Campaigning and Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior
Reuters (September 6, 2020): Veteran Guinea opposition leader to challenge President Conde in October election
Honoré Banda, The Africa Report (September 1, 2020): Guinea: Alpha Condé officially running for a third presidential term
Kabinet Fofana and Joschka Philipps, African Arguments (April 16, 2020): Guinea’s elections had a clear winner. But its contest for power isn’t over.
François Soudan, The Africa Report (February 21, 2020): Alpha Condé vs. the opposition: Unmasking the power struggle
The Economist (October 21, 2019): The Kremlin is encouraging Guinea’s president to ditch the constitution. The Guinean people aren’t thrilled.
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