/ 16 October 2020

The October election season: Guinea, Tanzania and Cote D’Ivoire head to the polls

Graphic Elections Twitter
(John McCann/M&G)


‘Papa Promise’ fails to deliver

If Guinea’s elderly, infirm president Alpha Condé is re-elected on Sunday, will he be yet another of the country’s presidents to die in office?

Sidy Yansané


Perhaps the most striking image from Guinea’s electoral campaign was when President Alpha Condé was interviewed by news channel France 24 at his palace in Sékoutoureya in the capital, Conakry. The head of state turns 83 next March, and on camera he appeared greatly diminished, both physically and intellectually.

He struggled to keep his eyes open, and was unable to suppress a persistent grimace. During the interview, the president found it difficult to express himself, especially concerning recent events. He was most comfortable dwelling on the past, raising his voice and cutting off the two interviewers to lecture them in the pedagogical tone for which he is famous, and for which he is nicknamed “The Professor” (he began his career teaching law at the Sorbonne in Paris).

Fifteen minutes into the interview, the thought occurred: if Condé is re-elected on Sunday, will he be yet another Guinean president who dies in office?

Despite his advanced age, and despite having already served two terms in office, Condé was seemingly unable to find a successor in his party, the Rassemblement du peuple de Guinée. To allow himself to run again, he altered the country’s constitution to remove the provision on term limits. This sparked fierce protests from both opposition parties and civil society organisations, which spilled over into massive demonstrations in which hundreds of thousands of citizens took to the streets, all shouting “Amoulanfé” (“This will not pass” in Sousou, one of the four main local languages).

The brutal response from state security forces killed dozens.

Condé’s record during his decade in power is mixed. He strengthened some aspects of the country’s democracy, including freeing media and releasing political prisoners. And thanks to his economic policies, Guinea is now the third-largest producer of bauxite in the world.

But he has also failed to deliver on his many promises (so many that some young people refer to him, ironically, as “Papa Promise”), especially when it comes to service delivery and economic development. In a recent evaluation report, the Association of Bloggers of Guinea found that the president had fulfilled just 13% of the pledges he had made. “On education, town planning and industry, the failures are significant,” said the association’s president Alfa Diallo. At the mass demonstrations, popular discontent focused mainly on the continuing struggles to access electricity and the dire lack of roads.

During the campaign, the president’s team glossed over these failures. “The government’s electoral campaign lingered less on its mixed record and was content to scold opponents,” said Kabinet Fofana, the director of the Guinean Association of Political Science. Fofana said that Condé’s desire to remain in office was driven by powerful business interests, which could lose out under a different administration. 

In other words, Condé does not necessarily have strong popular support, although in the absence of reliable opinion polls this is difficult to measure.

Against this backdrop, tensions are running high. “With the complete lack of trust between political figures, I fear renewed violence after Sunday’s vote,” said Fofana. 

These concerns were echoed last week by Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, in an official statement. “As in previous elections, where similar episodes of violence broke out, I call for calm and restraint from all political actors and their supporters,” she said.

These are dangerous days for Guinea, but the country has been here before — as Condé well knows. He was a political exile under the “revolutionary dictatorship” of Ahmed Sékou Touré, the first strongman of an independent Guinea. He was also a political prisoner under the decades-long military regime of General Lansana Conté. 

Yet he appears to be following the same authoritarian path forged by his predecessors. His frail television interview even recalled Conté’s last years, when the general was so infirm that during the 2003 presidential vote he did not have the strength to leave his vehicle, and the ballot box had to be brought to him. 

Conté died in office in 2008. Sékou Touré died in office in 1984. Is Guinea doomed to repeat history once again?

“There is a form of continuity in governance,” observed the philosopher Amadou Sadjo Barry, a professor at the Cégep de Saint-Hyacinthe, a college in Quebec, Canada. “Behind democratic formalism, authoritarian practices persist. Since the death of Sékou Touré, politics has no longer been linked to the organisation of society and individual progress.”

This trend persists despite Guinea’s significant mineral wealth, which contrasts so sharply with the country’s extreme and widespread poverty. “We are in decline because this authoritarianism has failed to bring economic development and meet people’s aspirations,” said Barry. 

So far, the Guinean people have been offered little hope that the elections on Sunday will arrest that decline.

Côte d’Ivoire

Ouattara seeks third term under 2016 constitution

Leanne de Bassompierre in Abdijan

Two weeks away from Cote d’Ivoire’s presidential elections, campaigning is officially underway, with incumbent Alassane Ouattara, who is seeking a controversial third term, kicking off his campaign with a rally in the central city of Bouaké on Friday. 

Opposition parties have called for the election to be postponed over what they deem Ouattara’s unconstitutional bid for a third term, but stopped short of saying they will boycott the poll. The ruling party maintains a new constitution adopted in 2016 reset the clock on term limits, and that the election will take place regardless of whether the opposition participates. 

“I look forward to seeing you on the evening of 31 October 2020, to celebrate the RHDP’s victory,” Ouattara told a meeting of his party’s strategic committee on Wednesday, according to a copy of his speech.

The 78-year-old former Interna­tional Monetary Fund executive is dead set on a first-round victory, in which he will need to convince more than 50% of the country’s nearly 7.5-million registered voters to support him.

While the official campaign period runs from 15 to 29 October, Ouattara has been on the road for weeks, personally announcing a 21% increase in the price paid to cocoa farmers at the start of the main harvest on 1 October in the capital Yamoussoukro and inaugurating several infrastructure projects, the cornerstone of his presidency. 

Locals joke he’d even attend a random baptism if invited.

Yet in a country where the median age is 18.9 years, both the incumbent and his octogenarian main rival, Henri Konan Bedié, 86, will have to win over a growing youth population. 

“Over the next two weeks, your efforts should focus on proximity through door-to-door operations, detailing our results (until now) and ambitions for the next five years in simple and accessible words to our compatriots,” Ouattara said.

Ouattara’s camp has emphasised his physical fitness. This is a relevant concern: after all, the sudden death of his chosen successor Amadou Gon Coulibaly this July is what led Ouattara to announce his candidacy a month later.

(John McCann/M&G)


Opposition could stop Mafuguli’s re-election

Simon Mkina in Dar es Salaam

Tanzania’s election is scheduled for 28 October, and although there are 16 parties in contention only two have any real chance of victory.

Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), the ruling party since independence in 1961, has never lost an election. It is led by incumbent president John Magufuli, who is running for a second term in office. Hoping to upset its dominance is Chadema, the main opposition party, which is fielding charismatic parliamentarian Tundu Lissu as its presidential candidate.

The ruling party’s campaign has been very loud and very visible. President Magufuli’s face and the party’s signature green and yellow colours can be found on posters, leaflets and billboards across the country, and coverage of his campaign dominates television broadcasts, radio airtime and newspapers. 

It helps, of course, that the media space is tightly controlled by the government and its allies. Influential artists and actors, including Diamond Platinumz, Ali Kiba and Harmonize have endorsed his bid for re-election.

You have to look hard to find any sign of Chadema’s trademark blue and white colours, either on the streets or on the airwaves. 

The opposition party has complained that new taxes have made it significantly more expensive to produce electoral materials, and that the media landscape is biased against it. Despite these challenges, Lissu can pull a crowd: Chadema rallies are just as full as those for the ruling party. 

And on social media, where — despite its best efforts — the government has less control, it is clear that the opposition enjoys significant popular support.

Working in Chadema’s favour is an informal deal it has struck with the third-biggest party in the country, ACT-Wazalendo, led by Zitto Kabwe. ACT-Wazalendo is asking its supporters to vote for Lissu; in exchange, Chadema has endorsed ACT-Wazalendo’s candidate to lead in Zanzibar (the island is a semi-autonomous region with the Tanzanian federation).

The question now is whether this united opposition front will be enough to unseat a sitting president who is expertly exploiting all the advantages of incumbency.