The presidential elections in the West African State of Guinea has ended with a clear winner, as security forces took positions throughout the capital Conakry as the head of the country’s electoral commission declared Alpha Conde the winner of a presidential election that was very tightly contested. But supporters of his opponent had took to the street in protest and rioted, claiming that their victory had been stolen. One could hear gunfire ringing out just after the results were announced around the neighbourhoods where rioting had taken place.
Alpha Conde is a 72-year-old university professor who has spent most of his time in France. He won 52.5 percent of the votes about with 1.4 million in total. According to the National Independent Electoral Commission President, Siaka Sangare, Cellou Dalein Diallo, his opponent, got 1.3 million of the nearly 2.9 million ballots cast, around 47.5 percent. It capped a day in which security forces arrested demonstrators and fired tear gas at Diallo supporters burning tires. The highway leading out of Conakry was blocked by police trucks during the day as police chased bands of young men, who pelted them with rocks. The election last week should have been a moment of pride for Guinea, marking the former French colony’s first democratic vote, but it has been overshadowed by ethnic tensions between supporters of Diallo, who like him are mostly Peul, and supporters of Conde, who are mostly Malinke like him.
According to the AP news, the two groups are the country’s largest ethnic groups and have a history of bad blood dating to the rule of Guinea’s first dictator Sekou Toure, a Malinke. He executed an untold number of Peul intellectuals after claiming to have uncovered a ‘complot Peul,’ or Peul plot against him. Over the weekend, Diallo held a press conference where he declared he would not accept the results if the election commission refused to throw out ballots from two contested provinces which were swept by anti-Peul riots in the days before the Nov. 7 poll. Diallo said his supporters were too intimidated to show up to vote and his party could not even find representatives to observe the counting of ballots. However, Sangare, the president of the election commission, said his office is only able to throw out results from precincts if there is evidence of fraud, and he does not have the means to verify the claims of intimidation. He said it would be up to the country’s supreme court to evaluate the complaint.
Conde’s victory is bound to polarize the country along ethnic lines. Earlier in the day tires gave off an acrid plume at the mouth of the Hamdalaye neighborhood, a mixed suburb that includes households from both ethnicities. As word spread that Conde may have won, bands of Peul youths began attacking Malinke homes, including one where a Malinke family was getting ready to have lunch. They say a group of men threw a rock through their window and yanked off the metal bars. They set the mattress in the bedroom on fire. Its coils were poking out through the scorched fabric. In the living room, a poster of Alpha Conde adorned a wall, making clear the family’s political affiliation. “They said that if Cellou (Diallo) does not win that they will kill all the Malinke,” said the 60-year-old owner of the house Moussa Dioubate. “I don’t understand why we are trying to kill each other over an election … It’s barbaric.” Security forces began arresting the demonstrators in the afternoon, dragging them down the street and shoving them into the backs of their blue pickups. Among them was Ahmed Diallo, a young Peul man, who the police say was among those that broke into Dioubate’s house.
Once in the back of the truck, an officer took off his helmet, and began punching Diallo with it, until his cheek started bleeding. “Save me,” he said, stuttering when he saw a reporter. “I had nothing to do with it. I was just walking by.” Human rights organizations worry that the street fights could degenerate and prompt the military – which has ruled Guinea for the past 26 years – to get involved. Already private radio stations in Labe, a town in the interior where Peul outnumber Malinke, were reporting that the military had stepped in to help secure the town after angry Peul began pillaging Malinke homes and businesses. Late into the night, the tat-tat-tat of gunshots could be heard. The army is said to be majority Malinke and they are blamed for a horrific massacre last year of protesters that had gathered at the national stadium to demand an end to military rule.
Guinea is now set for a period of democratic governance after enduring years of military dictatorship. Sierra Leone’s president Ernest Koroma, played a significant role in securing a peaceful transition of power. He shuttled several times to the Guinean capital urging parties to show restraint and accept the final results of the election. He has been keen on seeing his country’s neighbour put its past behind it and embrace a new future that will usher in good governance and respect for human rights, freedom and liberty.
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