“LNGO LIVE democracy, long live peace, ”said Kabinet Cissé, head of the Guinean electoral commission, announcing on October 24 that Alpha Condé had won a third term as president. But in the streets of Conakry, the capital, there were few signs of peace – perhaps due to a lack of democracy. Injured protesters lay next to charred vehicles. A fleet of police trucks surrounded the home of Mr. Condé’s rival, Cellou Dalein Diallo, who was trapped inside for more than a week after the October 18 vote.
It is a crisis that many saw coming. In March, Mr. Condé, 82, who ruled for nearly a decade, passed a new constitution that allowed him to run for two more six-year terms. Dozens of people have been killed by security forces during protests against a referendum on the changes. Guineans also have other grievances. Most of the country’s 13 million people are poor, despite the presence of the world’s largest reserves of bauxite, from which aluminum is refined.
The election pitted Mr. Condé against Mr. Diallo for the third time. Both are supported by their ethnic groups; Mr. Condé is Mandinka, Mr. Diallo is Peul. The vote itself was relatively calm. The trouble began the next day, after Mr Diallo claimed victory, citing photos his party apparently took of the results posted outside the polling stations. When his supporters started celebrating in the streets, the authorities cracked down. Soon the parties became protests and the government sent the army.
The state admits that 21 people died in the days following the vote (including members of the security forces, he said). The opposition says at least 30 people, including children, have been killed. More than 100 were shot and wounded. They weren’t just hit by stray bullets, says Ilaria Allegrozzi of Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group: “Some of them were clearly targeted. As information floods in from outside the capital, the death toll could rise.
Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), says that those who commit or incite violence are “liable to prosecution either by the Guinean courts or by the ICC“. But that seems unlikely. For decades, Guinean security forces have killed with impunity. As the electoral commission prepared to announce the results, the internet was shut down and international phone calls cut.
It is difficult to say who really won the election. Officially, Mr. Condé obtained 59% of the votes. But four electoral commissioners (affiliated with the opposition) published a report detailing “serious anomalies”. In one of Mr. Condé’s strongholds, the turnout was over 100%, they say. Elsewhere, the votes were not counted due to alleged irregularities. The European Union also questioned the outcome. Mr. Diallo says there was “massive fraud”. He says he will take his case to the Constitutional Court, although he doubts his independence.
A United Nations delegation, ECOWAS (a regional bloc) and the African Union arrived in Guinea on October 25 in the hope of negotiating a solution to the crisis. But they lack credibility. ECOWAS spoke little when Mr. Condé changed the constitution and declared the election legal. “I do not expect much from these emissaries who, in reality, have always been on the side of Alpha Condé”, tweeted Mr. Diallo, after meeting the delegation. “Let’s continue our mobilization in the streets …NO RETIREMENT! “
As The Economist going to press, things had calmed down – but they could easily heat up. Guinea has a history of ethnic problems. Last week in Conakry, a man was stoned to death by youths supporting Condé, said Amnesty International, a guard dog. His apparent crime was to be of the wrong ethnicity in a government stronghold. Outside the capital, settling of scores is reported along ethnic lines.
An agreement that could calm things down seems a long way off and “will not be enough to prevent another violent political crisis in the years to come,” said Gilles Yabi of the West Africa Think Tank in Senegal. If Mr. Condé had just respected the constitution, democracy could have taken root. His decision to run again, Yabi says, may have set the country back decades. ■
This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the title “Ballots and bloodshed”