At a time when the world is locking down due to the Covid-19, Guinea is busy fighting street battles with security forces who are trying to force people to vote in a referendum which is irrelevant in the face of the pandemic threatening the world. The incumbent President Conde wants to extend the presidential term limits and stand for a third term. So far, the Guinean government is busy concentrating on elections rather than the more serious issue of Covid-19 which has been declared a pandemic by the WHO. At a time when mass gatherings should be limited or banned altogether, Guinea is letting its youth out on the streets to protest.
However, contrary to all international norms and standards, the elections were held on Sunday 22nd March 2020. Apparently, the electorate voted to back the highly contested new constitution, the country’s electoral body announced on Friday. This must be a blow to President Alpha Conde’s opponents who fear the reforms are a ploy to extend his grip on power. The proposal to change the constitution was hugely controversial in the West African state, spurring mass demonstrations in which at last 32 people were killed, according to an AFP tally.
Independent National Electoral Commission president, Amadou Salifou Kebe, told reporters that 91.59 percent of ballots cast, were in favour of adopting the new constitution, while 8.41 percent were against. Turnout was 61 percent, he added, saying that these were provisional figures.
The elections were originally planned for March 1 but was postponed until March 22 because of international criticism of its fairness. In Africa, a winning margin of this gap is always viewed with deep scepticism, giving rise to allegations of vote rigging and manipulation of the results.
The authorities went ahead with it after scrubbing some 2.5 million unverifiable names from its electoral register, following advice from the Economic Community of West Africa States ( ECOWAS).
Election day was marred by violence, with scores of polling stations ransacked across the country and, according to the country’s political opposition, dozens killed. Authorities have said only a few deaths occurred on polling day, and that the voting took place in peace. In a sign of impatience with Conde’s government abroad, however, France, the United States, and the United Nations have all expressed their reservations about the vote on March 22. France, the former colonial power, condemned election-related violence in Guinea this week and said the vote was not credible.
The United States also said this week that the situation in Guinea was worrying and that it shared international concerns about the fairness of the vote, and the lack of political dialogue surrounding it.
The United Nations’ special representative to West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, released a statement too, saying he was following developments “with great concern”. Eric Humphery-Smith, a senior analyst at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said the election outcome was “no surprise,” but that the scale of the president’s win was. “The result is a victory for Conde, allowing him to stand for that prized third term,” he said.
This kind of irresponsible behaviour by the government of Guinea should be categorically condemned by the African Union (AU), ECOWAS and the United Nations (UN). How can a leader be so careless of the entire country’s health and worry about his stay in power? A glance of TV screens across the world today, show cities that have been deserted and emptied of their inhabitants due to partial or complete shutdowns that have been imposed by governments to protect their citizens from Covid-19. And here is an African country with a power-hungry leader who dreams of perpetually being in power and cares less about the health of his nation and more about his insatiable desire to satisfy his greed. To run a referendum requires millions of dollars. Wouldn’t that money be better used to protect against Covid-19?
Surely, President Conde’s priorities are not well set. He represents the kind of leaders that Africa needs to get of rid of. At this time, the President should have been seized with the opportunity of thinking about how to protect the people of Guinea from this pandemic rather than going for a referendum to seek a third term in power. President Conde has been in power for a long time. He has done his bit. It is time for him to relinquish power to the younger generation of leaders to take over and move Guinea forward. This curse of elder African leaders not wanting to leave power seems to be widespread. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda and President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi come to mind. All these leaders have tempered with their national constitutions in one way or another in a bid to extend their stay in office. In Cameron, the incumbent President Paul Biya is still standing for elections despite his advanced age.
Why do African leaders not want to retire when the constitution mandates it? The answer might be that the majority of them have committed crimes during their time in power and are afraid it might come back to haunt them. Fear of what they have done while in power is the main driving force behind their not wanting to leave power. I think another contributing factor is that many of these leaders marry young wives who are seized with the opportunities brought by power, that of fame and pomp. These first ladies are not making things easy for these old presidents, and I think they exercise far too much influence on their husbands and have increasingly become too greedy to say the least. I call upon the young first ladies of Africa to advise their husbands that their time to retire has come. They should resign and allow the new leadership to run the country. They should concentrate on leaving a legacy for future generations from which the country will benefit.
We call upon President Ramaphosa, the current chair of the African Union (AU) to impress upon his colleague President Conde, not to embark on this disastrous path and urge him to put the people of Guinea first. He should immediately call off the so-called referendum and instead concentrate on the much pressing Covid-19 pandemic and save the lives of the people of Guinea.
Conde is a good example of the generation of African leaders who have failed to shed the shackles of their colonial/slave masters. In 2020, Africa does not need this kind of leaders. We need to move with the times or else we are doomed as a continent!
Dr Mustafa Mheta
Researcher/Head of Africa Desk
Media Review Network
011 837 3220