Guinea’s transition to democracy has been a difficult one. The country, which has been ruled by autocratic leaders since independence in 1958, is in the throes of a complex, protracted political crisis. In late 2008, long-time ruler General Lansana Conte died, and a young, mercurial army captain – Moussa Dadis Camara – took power in a bloodless coup. Security forces and the army have been strongholds of power in Guinea for decades, and Dadis’ rule was shored up by loyal supporters in the military. Shortly after he seized power, Dadis promised to hold democratic elections, but when he appeared to be failing to uphold this promise, people took to the streets.

On Sept. 28, 2009, a political rally in the capital Conakry turned into a bloodbath as Guinean police and security forces attacked civilians with live rounds, raping women and wounding hundreds. The political fallout from this massacre hurt Dadis’ rule; he could either dissociate himself from what happened (which he ultimately did), suggesting that he did not have tight control over the Guinean army. Or he could claim that this was unplanned and that “rogue” elements wrecked havoc. Either way, when faced with a strong international and domestic reaction, Dadis had a difficult time handling the situation, appearing both confused and arrogant.

Late last year, an assassination attempt on Dadis landed him in hospital in Morocco. He was shot in the head, and it is rumored that he will never return to politics. Since the assassination attempt he has not been back to Guinea, and is currently in exile in Burkina
Faso. The frightening incident again underscored how untenable the political situation has become in Guinea. Dadis’ deputy, General Konate, the vice-president and minister of defines, replaced Dadis at the helm. Meanwhile, a high-level international contact group – which includes Burkinabe president and well-known autocrat Blaise Compaore as the appointed mediator – has been brokering negotiations between the various political factions.

Supporters of Guinea's presidential candidate Alpha Conde rally in Conakry

Konate has garnered more international support than his predecessors, and has been making real efforts to bring about a peaceful democratic transition. A March 2010 presidential decree paved the way for a presidential election in June. The first round of the election, with 24 candidates vying for the position, was deemed “fair and transparent” by international observers. Two candidates – Alpha Conde, an ethnic Malinke, and Cellou Dalein Diallo, a Fulani and former prime minister – remain in the race

Since then, though, ongoing tensions between supporters of the two politicians, and allegations of bias from the country’s electoral commission, have made the second round of the election elusive. Initially scheduled for August, the second round of the election has been postponed several times: on Sept. 19, Oct.10 and Oct. 24. Last Friday, Oct. 22, the country’s newly appointed election commissioner, a Malian general, called off the Oct. 24 poll indefinitely. Earlier this week, amid escalating violence, the election was rescheduled for Oct. 31.

It’s difficult to know whether Guinea will emerge from this period of instability and insecurity with the strong, democratic and inclusive state that is being promised by both candidates. In my next two posts, I will try to shed light on the matter by discussing the powerful political role of Guinea’s army and security forces, and painting a picture of the two candidates, their backgrounds and their promises to the Guinean people.

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