On Monday afternoon, advocates of democracy and human rights; senior staff of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED); dignitaries including the American Ambassador to Guinea and Guinean Ambassador to the United States; international development professionals including the director of USAID/Guinea; and passionate members of the Guinean community gathered at NDI to see Guinea’s new President, Professor Alpha Condé. In a mixture of concern and support, attendees asked questions about Guinea’s current situation and the future of its nascent democracy.
Kenneth Wollock, the President of NDI, expressed his organization’s congratulations to and support for President Condé and their commitment to promoting the development of a strong and vibrant democracy in Guinea. President Condé was soon ushered into the room by secret service personnel, and immediately began addressing the room.
In his address, President Condé began by revisiting the particularities of the 2010 presidential elections in minute detail. Troubles at the CENI, the issuance of multiple voter cards per individual, and the issuance of voter cards to minors were all among Condé’s talking points — as well as details of feuds among political parties and factions within the CENI.
He averred that the first round of elections in 2010 was plagued by serious irregularities, argued that the second round was better but far from perfect, and went on to guarantee that his administration would do everything in its power to avoid such problems in Guinea’s upcoming legislative elections.
He also used this occasion to counter arguments in the press that his government is composed only of members of one ethnic group, noting for instance that while he might have several “Fofanas,” there can be Fofanas and others that come from Lower Guinea and the Forest in addition to Upper Guinea, where he is from.
His argument singled out the absence of names from Guinea’s largest ethnic group, the Fulani, which he stated were the most different group in Guinea.
Given that last year’s elections were marred by violent ethnic clashes and regionalist politics and that these tensions continue to worsen and plague the country, there is concern that these remarks do not serve the cause of national reconciliation.
Glaringly absent from his address was any vision or program for the development of the country now that he is president.
Following his opening remarks, the president opened the floor for questions, and humorously added that there would be “no taboo questions” for him. Members of the audience took him up on this offer in posing a variety of solid questions.
The first, asked by Binta Terrier and Ourouro Bah, covered two popular concerns in Guinea’s public discourse: the appointment of ministers and soldiers (Pivi Coplan and Thiegboro) who served under previous administrations and are accused of being implicated in serious acts of corruption and human rights violations, and the suggestion that the attacks against President Condé’s residence should possibly be investigated by an independent commission supported by the International Contact Group for Guinea given the country’s past history with fabricated plots to overthrow the government as justification for crackdowns on opposition.
President Condé took a defensive stance in his responses, stating that he never appointed Pivi and Thiegboro to any post in his government (but that as a civilian he had to appease the outgoing acting president, General Sekouba Konate), and that the only minister that he retained from a previous administration was his current finance minister, Kerfalla Yansane, who was in attendance at the event.
[Erratum. This response is both disingenuous and an outright lie. The Ouagadougou agreement of January 2010 barred officials of the transition regime from participattion in the post-election government. But the so-called “democratically elected president”, Alpha Conde, has consistently violated this disposition. Thus, in addition, to Kerfalla Yansane, he re-appointed three former members of the CNDD junta in Prime minister Fofana’s cabinet. They are: (a) Gen. Mamadouba Toto Camara, State minister of Security & Civilian Protection; (b) Gen. Mathurin Bangoura, minister of Urbanization, Housing & Construction; (c) Gen. Mamadou Korka Diallo, minster of Animal Husbandry. Instead of acknowledging his deliberate infraction, he portrays himself as an appeaser of Sekouba Konate, whom he accuses of calamitous financial mismanagement. — T.S. Bah]
President Conde also said with conviction, and repeated later, that he is a “head of state, not head of a human rights organization.”
Later, in her closing statement, Jennifer Cooke of CSIS addressed the president with her hopes that “as head of state you will come to see yourself as head of the ultimate human rights organization.”
These remarks were met with by far the most enthusiastic applause of the event.
In response to the question about a possible independent, international investigation into the attacks on his residence, President Conde responded with indignation that any Guinean who would suggest such a thing is no patriot and has no respect for the country’s sovereignty.
Again in her closing remarks, Ms. Cooke, the CSIS’s head for Africa, suggested that given the tensions and mistrust currently seen in the country, the president might consider certain tools at his disposal such as an independent investigation as a means to communicate that he understands the concerns and is working to increase trust.
Among other questions asked, two of them focused on the president’s plans to ensure that the legislative elections are free and fair and facilicate open campaigning for all candidates across the country (asked by Alliance Guinea’s own Mohamed Touré), and Nimatoulaye Conté’s concerns about the much-needed inclusion of women and youth in Guinea’s political life.
“We will put all our resources to use to organize the legislative elections before the end of the year,” asserted President Condé.”
He went on: “we will avoid a repeat of last year’s elections by issuing securitized voter cards and holding a new census in order to prevent children of 14 years of age from voting, and individuals with multiple voter cards from voting multiple times.”
Condé took on a stern tone in tackling the issue of gender equality in his government, mentioning several times that won his the elections with the support of a coalition, and that he must satisfy the demands of his alliance.
He did not address strategies to improve dialogue with the opposition or ensure safe and open campaigning.
In sum, from Alliance Guinea’s perspective, President Conde missed the opportunity at this event to present before its distinguished audience his vision for a new Guinea.
He said nothing about how he plans to reconcile the country after terribly divisive presidential elections and a history of state crimes against its citizens; he said nothing about his overarching plan for Guinea’s sustainable development.
He did not make any assurances that recent restrictions to freedom of expression would not be repeated nor did he address concerns of security for opposition party members and others in the country who might disagree with him.
Much more remains to be seen if and how this traditional opposition party leader will remember all that he fought for over the past several decades and how he will now work to serve as leader of all Guineans.
August 1, 2011, Washington, D.C.