The October election that took place in Guinea gave rise to a wave of polarized electorate who have been engaging in a variety of protests, riots, and other forms of civil disobedience in light of President Alpha Condé passing a constitutional referendum that granted him an extended third-term presidency. In a similar bid to that of Mr. Alassane Ouattara of the Ivory Coast, Condé’s third term also sparked violent protests across the country that resulted in gross human rights violations as dozens of young protestors were shot in conflict. After passing a constitutional referendum in March that reset his two-term limit, the 82-year-old Presidential incumbent, Condé, was able to sustain his power in a vivacious power grab that ignored traditional democratic norms. Stemming from this decision was widespread criticism and polarization, in which opposition leaders encouraged members of the youth to commit acts of civil disobedience. Opposition candidate, Cellou Dalien Diallo, claimed a false election victory and was charged with disrupting public order.
Protesting in relation to the referendum has created gruesome political environments, in which the police and military have fired tear gas canisters at demonstrators. Amnesty International found that in Guinea, 70 protestors were killed between January 2015 and October 2019. One victim of the political violence was reported to be a 7-year-old boy who had been shot in the head. Since the results of the election, the country has endured at least 17 protest related deaths. Guinea’s government has also banned several protests in recent years under Condé’s administration in order to restrict the freedom of speech of journalists and activists. During the pandemic, the government has placed a ban on protests entirely, claiming that it is in the best interests of public health. The Human Rights Watch has speculated that this an excuse to repress voices of dissent and to silence opponents of President Condé.
In both countries, Guinea and the Ivory Coast, Outarra and Condé were seen as initial proponents of democracy who had criticized their respective nations’ previous governments for not being able to effectively consolidate democracy. This quickly changed, however, when both West African leaders sought an illegitimate third term by altering the constitutions of their democracies. The lack of institutional forbearance and violation of established democratic norms poses a threat to the wellbeing of democracy as the leaders utilize authoritarian methods to expand their power. Each of these leaders also pursued their election victory in spite of great costs to the public’s wellbeing. The Ivory Coast has seen up to 35 election-related deaths, reminiscent of the 2010 Civil War that also witnessed a reluctant concession of power.
Opposition efforts in Guinea present a significant challenge to the authoritarian consolidation under President Alpha Condé. Opposition leader, Diallo, severely undermined the legitimacy and transparency of the election, even claiming a premature victory. The landslide results in Condé’s favor also aided in a general distrust of election results, substantiating claims of election fraud and manipulation made by Diallo against the President. Guinea’s government has placed restrictions on the internet and social media in order to suppress a rise of opposition supporters. Social media is an increasingly crucial tactic for a young opposition constituency that utilizes online platforms to garner international attention and support. By cutting off the internet, international calls, and limiting social media, the Guinean government employed abusive tactics to reduce the number of protestors and fortify authoritarian strongholds.
Authoritarian consolidation may not be extremely prevalent in Guinea quite yet but it is definitely on the rise. The polarization of the public in relation to the recent election poses some threatening conclusions about the state of the Guinean electorate. President Condé and his administration have gone to extensive efforts to extinguish dissenting voices and are extremely willing to use the arms of the government to do so. The military and police have actively engaged in heightened levels of abuse and violence in the city’s capital, turning it into a violent political and physical battleground. Opposition leaders are arrested and charged for disrupting public order in an attempt to mobilize their supporters. The government has gone so far as to impose social media restrictions and control the ability of citizens to express themselves freely, blatantly violating a variety of human rights. Democratic backsliding is underway particularly due to the lack of freedoms that Guineans are subject to as a result of the government’s authoritarian behavior.
Furthermore, opposition leaders in Guinea have undermined the legitimacy and transparency of elections, creating distrust and a lack of faith in basic democratic processes. Violence amongst supporters that has resulted from such speculation further attests the to the polarization in the country that is a hallmark of democratic erosion. Supporters, of both parties, have found themselves increasingly affected by the results of the election and are very much willing to risk their lives for their respective causes. While this may be justified or a result of the personal nature of the current political atmosphere, it also reduces mutual toleration amongst opposition parties, further withering away at democratic ideals.
AfricaNews. “Guinea Bans Political Protests, Citing Pandemic.” Africanews, Africanews, 23 Nov. 2020, www.africanews.com/2020/11/23/guinea-bans-political-protests-citing-pandemic/.
“Guinea: Post-Election Violence, Repression.” Human Rights Watch, 19 Nov. 2020, www.hrw.org/news/2020/11/19/guinea-post-election-violence-repression.
Muzna ErumJunior Correspondent at The Organization for World PeaceMuzna Erum is a student at the University of Toronto studying journalism and Media Studies. “Gunfire And Protest Occur After President Alpha Condé Wins His Third Term In Guinea.” The Organization for World Peace, 19 Nov. 2020, theowp.org/gunfire-and-protest-occur-after-president-alpha-conde-wins-his-third-term-in-guinea/.
Sakor, Bintu Zahara, and Vamo Soko. Protests, Elections, and Ethnic Tensions in West Africa: What Are the Driving Forces? 24 Nov. 2020, blogs.prio.org/2020/11/protests-elections-and-ethnic-tensions-in-west-africa-what-are-the-driving-forces/.
The third term sought by Alpha Condé in Guinea comes as part of a wave of democratic erosion in West Africa. As you mentioned, Ouattara is also seeking a third term in Côte d’Ivoire and has suffered protest deaths, but Benin also experienced flawed legislative elections followed by protests and a heavy handed response by security forces. In addition, President Kaboré in Burkina Faso is excluding a segment of their population from participating in elections, President Bio is consolidating his party’s power in Sierra Leone, and President Sall in Senegal is limiting political competition and public demonstrations. In my opinion, this trend will continue. Leaders of nations in this region can see that the consequences for undemocratic actions are very limited, and if they want to hold onto power, they have that option. The international community needs to understand that just because democratic processes brought a leader to power, that leader will not necessarily consolidate democracy. Elections do not equal democracy, and failures to guarantee civil liberties need to be taken seriously. However, foreign interference erodes democracy, so Western states should not interfere too much, otherwise governments in West Africa will be less responsive to the needs of their citizens. Regional organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union should be responding strongly to these issues. Maybe these organizations are not punishing these states sufficiently because Western democracies have become increasingly inward looking in the past five years. To stem this tide of democratic erosion, the international community needs to emphasize the importance of human rights so that opposition groups are able to challenge the anti-democratic incumbents in these states.
Hey Rishika, this was a great introduction to the challenges facing many West African countries in consolidating democracy. I especially liked that you included how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected authoritarian control, as that will surely change the trajectory of any previous politics. Since you point out similarities between the leaders and situations in Guinea and the Ivory Coast, I would have loved to see your thoughts on which aspects of this pattern owe themselves to the colonial legacy of these states and their institutions. I am also curious as to the political maneuvering done to extend these term limits – if it happened twice in neighboring countries, could there be a cultural element that incumbent politicians are able to appeal to? Or perhaps it’s all about the power to manipulate election results. Either way, an engaging read.