A political milestone has just been marked in Guinea: the campaign for the first round of the presidential election was launched yesterday, the first free and open competition for the country’s top leadership post since independence in 1958. The first round of the election is scheduled for June 27, with a potential second round slated to occur 2 weeks later, should no absolute majority emerge from the first round of voting.

Guinea has seen a lot of political turmoil since late 2008: the rise and fall of excentric junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara and the horrific massacre of pro-democracy protesters in September 2009 have cast a shadow on the country’s prospects for peace and stability. Guinea’s current acting leader and head of the National Council for the Restoration of Democracy, General Sékouba Konaté, will not be running in the upcoming election. He recently reaffirmed his commitment to hold the presidential election without delay and as scheduled; fears that Guinea’s armed forces – who have a lot to lose when the country is returned to civilian rule – may disrupt the electoral process are rife. The national independent electoral commission received a worrying report on the reorganization of the armed forces, and Dadis supporters within army ranks are considered destabilizing elements. Nevertheless, the promise of a free and fair election has been greeted with excitement and anticipation by Guineans eager to turn the page on authoritarianism.

In a recent interview, Said Djinnet, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa and the head of the UN Office for West Africa said “Everybody, including the junta leadership, fully recognizes that the key problem in Guinea is the army and that the defense institutions need to be reorganized and reformed. They are saying that if you do not reform the army, you will not be able to find a peaceful solution.”
This election is a critical one, not only for Guinea, a country that has yet to have a genuine democratic ruler at its helm, but also for the advancement of good governance and democracy in the West African region. The International Contact Group on Guinea, which is composed of representatives from ECOWAS, the AU and the UN and several other international organizations, has been actively involved in addressing Guinea’s political woes. In the interview mentioned above, Djinnet also noted that “the real challenge to peace and stability [in Africa] is governance, political and economic governance, so that the people feel that the power is fairly shared and that the resources are also fairly shared.”

For Guinea, the time has hopefully come for a successful transition to constitutional order and democratic rule. Speaking to Le Monde Diplomatique about the upcoming election, British Ambassador to Guinea Ian Felton quipped: “All is still to do, but the vibes are good.

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