With military authorities having declared a state of emergency, Guineans face an anxious waiting period before confirmation of final results from the 7 November presidential elections by the Supreme Court.
While the interim government of President Sekouba Konaté has promised to act strongly against any acts of civil disorder, banning meetings and all types of political activity in the build-up to the court’s announcement, human rights activists have warned of persistent violence in several parts of the country, accusing security forces of exacerbating tensions and abusing their power.
Despite conciliatory messages from both candidates, independent observers point to growing militancy among party activists, with the final outcome of the elections likely to be hotly contested. Under Guinean electoral law, the Supreme Court is meant to give a final, definitive verdict on results. But there is some confusion over the time frame for the court’s review process, with court insiders hinting that a final ruling could come as late as 2 December.
According to the results released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) on 15 November, Alpha Condé, long-time opposition leader and candidate of the Rassemblement du peuple de Guinée (RPG), took 52.5 percent of the vote in the second round of voting on 7 November. Condé’s opponent, former prime minister Cellou Diallo won 47.5 percent of the vote, a remarkable shift in fortunes from the first round in June when Diallo emerged as the clear front-runner.
Interviewed as incoming head of state by French international TV station France 24, Condé talked of breaking with Guinea’s past and tackling key problems, including “water, electricity and self-sufficiency in food”. He stressed his readiness to form a government of national union, hinting that Diallo featured in his plans. Condé deplored the international media’s emphasis on inter-ethnic tensions in Guinea, arguing that the electoral contest had been wrongly depicted as a battle between the Malinké, the ethnic group most strongly identified with his own campaign, and the Peul, often described as forming the principal support base for Diallo and his Union des Forces Démocratiques de Guinée (UFDG).
Condé argued that a large part of his own vote had come from Peul, Soussou and other non-Malinké groups.
But discussions about a political settlement in Guinea and the country’s economic future have been completely eclipsed by outbreaks of violence and the strong response by the military. Despite appeals for calm by both candidates before and after the poll, there were serious clashes in the capital Conakry and in the interior of the country, notably in the northern region of Moyenne-Guinée.
The government imposed a State of Emergency on 17 November – a military spokesman making frequent appearances on national TV and radio to announce a ban on demonstrations and political gatherings of any kind and a 12-hour curfew running from 6pm until 6am, warning of serious consequences for those found in breach of the new rules. The government has since reinforced the curfew, blocking movement by cars during the same hours.
Bread prices double
Early reports from Conakry said the government’s announcement had had an immediate impact, with most people off the streets after dusk on the first evening the curfew came into force and many shops and businesses staying closed the following morning. Major price hikes have been reported in the capital’s markets, with bread prices doubling in some areas. The curfew has meant a general slowing-down of activity, including at the workplace, with many civil servants and other public sector workers heading home by early afternoon. Conakry residents confirm a heavy deployment of troops, with gunfire heard in many parts of the city overnight, while there are persistent rumours of fresh attacks, reprisals and counter-reprisals by militants of both camps despite the military’s high profile intervention.
Human rights activists have accused the military of exploiting the situation, with soldiers harassing civilians and engaging in theft, rape and assault. The President of the Organisation Guinéene de Défense des Droits de l’Homme (OGDH), Thierno Madjou Sow, says that serious human rights violations before and during the elections have got worse since the polls closed.
“There should be clear instructions from the authorities to security forces to stop mistreating the population”, Madjou Sow told IRIN from Conakry. “Soldiers should be intervening instead on behalf of ethnic groups that are coming under attack.”
In speeches and web-postings, both RPG and UFDG accuse the other of inciting inter-ethnic hatred and engaging in systematic violence. Independent observers point to serious abuses from both sides.
In Conakry, Madjou Sow says Peul communities have been victimized in several districts, with Peul women traders expelled from market areas and soldiers joining anti-Peul actions led by young militants supporting Condé.
In a communiqué issued on 18 November, the International Crisis Group (ICG) noted reports of “Red Beret soldiers, notorious for human rights abuses, roaming in Peul neighbourhoods in Conakry and hunting down Peul businessmen.” But the ICG communiqué also noted attacks by UFDG supporters on property belonging to Malinké and Peul supporters of the RPG. Ratoma, the only one of Conakry’s five communes to vote for Diallo, has been particularly volatile.
Northern region of Moyenne Guinée
In the northern region of Moyenne Guinée, where there is a strong Peul majority, there have been reports of anti-Peul actions directed by security forces and of violence instigated by Peul activists against other communities. Serious clashes were reported in towns like Labé and Pita, where the préfet was replaced for alleged “weakness” in facing down attacks by Peul militants. Madjou Sow says Peul minority communities have been attacked in other areas, notably Siguiri in the east, triggering a major exodus. Madjou Sow said local authorities had failed to respond to critical situations that could clearly have been foreseen with dangerous consequences.
No official casualty figures have yet been issued. Press reports point to at least 12 deaths since the post-elections violence, but there are concerns that other fatalities may have gone unregistered by medical authorities, while many injured, particularly in the interior, will have little access to health care.
Stressing that violence was being instigated by groups on both sides of the political divide, an independent observer monitoring recent developments told IRIN: “The party leaderships are saying one thing in public, saying they want reconciliation and appealing for an end to the violence, but that is very much at odds with the message going out to the party militants.”
Concern is already being expressed about the humanitarian fall-out from the elections, particularly the destruction of property and the rapid movement of communities in flight. For example, in Labé, the main town in Moyenne Guinée, there are reports of at least 300 civilians seeking protection at the local gendarmerie headquarters, overstretching the authorities’ thin resources.
France, the USA and Canada have all warned against breakdown and appealed to political leaders to respect constitutional procedures. Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, proposed in the past as an external mediator in Guinea, has pushed the same message in contacts with Diallo, Condé and Prime Minister Jean-Marie Doré, who has been particularly vociferous in blaming Diallo’s supporters for the upsurge in violence.
Warning that the situation in Guinea now goes well beyond “party supporters protesting election results”, the ICG calls for more discipline from the armed forces, strong messages of concern from the UN Security Council and International Criminal Court, more effective human rights monitoring and a joint effort from Diallo and Condé to diffuse tensions and “address the ethnic polarization seen during the second round of polls”.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]