On Sunday, over five million of my fellow countrymen and -women will queue at the polls to determine our destiny. The choice that lies in our collective hands will dictate the future of Guinea for generations to come. We can choose, on the one hand, six additional years of political repression, social division and poverty; or we can stand up, together, and unite to choose the alternative: a road that is paved on a foundation of justice, the rule of law, respect for basic freedoms and the necessary reforms that will uplift our country out of the crushing poverty that is holding us back.
Over the course of the past 10 years, our people have suffered. They have suffered due to a lack of political leadership that is now ingrained in the DNA of our country’s ruling party and further embodied by President Alpha Condé, a man who recently upended our Constitution and engineered a self-serving scheme to stay in power for an unconstitutional third term.
Guineans did not take this assault on our values lightly. We took to the streets in the thousands to demand a new path, standing firm and brave, reimagining what it means to be responsible citizens refusing to accept the unacceptable status quo. We withstood teargas and batons, bullets and beatings. And we have the scars and grief to show for it. Local civil society groups have put the death toll at 92, though my own party officials put the number at well over 200.
The ruling regime has demonstrated a willingness to cross every conceivable line to remain in power and entrench misrule. The crimes have been so egregious that they have drawn the ire of both the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court — quite the ignominious feat for a country like ours that rarely registers on the international radar.
And this is part of the problem. In a world today that is preoccupied by a global health pandemic and democratic backsliding across the board, rarely do events in our small country cause alarm. Those who have ruled over us in Guinea — often violently and with no accountability — have drawn strength from this lack of oversight. They have grown emboldened in the darkness. But this is where our global allies in the struggle for democracy and respect for human rights can play their part. This is where the readers of this article can enter the picture.
We need your eyes and your voices to let our leaders know that they are no longer operating in the shadows. We must let the political elite know, loud and clear, that the world is watching, that there will be consequences for their abuses. This is crucially important now more than ever as election day approaches on 18 October — for our country will not have outside election monitors and poll watchers who would otherwise help to raise the necessary alarms.
By even standing in the upcoming election, some will claim that I am legitimising President Alpha Condé’s unconstitutional actions. Some will argue that I should not contest in an already flawed and unfair election — one that has been called a charade by my fellow citizens and outside observers due to a range of concerns, including clampdowns on the free press and civil society, a lack of citizen access to polling stations, and a slipshod voter registration process that leaves many Guineans unable to cast a ballot. Then, there is of course the spectre of President Condé himself labelling this election a “war” between himself and my campaign.
In 2010 and 2015, I endured rigged, unfree and unfair elections. My supporters and I have suffered violence, harassment and intimidation, including this week when my campaign convoy was surrounded and attacked by armed men. In the interests of peace and putting Guinea first, however, I accepted those previous results. And I again accept this current challenge.
Despite the immense difficulties before us today, bowing on the sideline would not bring the change in Guinea that we need and deserve. Standing down would merely cement another six years of corruption and hardening dictatorship — it will also encourage other would-be dictators elsewhere.
And this outcome is intolerable.
My mission is therefore to unify the Guinean people, to serve the nation, and hopefully inspire other pro-democracy leaders beyond Guinea’s borders to stand tall in the face of repression. Together, we must bravely rebuild our social fabric and our unique, though surely interconnected democratic destinies.
Should the country elect me this weekend, my commitment to the Guinean people will be founded on freedom, unity and the fostering of equity. My administration will work immediately to create an environment of opportunity where performance and working hard will be the guarantors of success, not how connected you are with the ruling elite.
Our priorities will be to invest in basic infrastructure by leveraging our immense natural resource wealth, which has been sabotaged, stolen and disrespected by our current leaders; to establish good governance as the operating norm; establishing access to quality education and healthcare for all so that we can build a lasting and sustainable workforce to be proud of; and quite simply, to bring Guinea back into the community of democracies by ending our forced membership in the club of authoritarians and anti-democratic thugs.
To the international community, we cannot afford for you to stand idly by in the lead up to and during our election on 18 October. And while we welcome statements of solidarity — including United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent statement — we need action. Guineans deserve a free and fair election and to have our voices heard. No longer can rigged, sham elections be accepted, in Guinea or elsewhere. The stakes for us, and for the region, are too high.
Cellou Diallo is an economist and former Prime Minister of Guinea (2004-2006). He is currently the President of the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea, the country’s main opposition party, and candidate for president in the 18 October election.