Cautiously optimistic scenes in the West African nation of Guinea as the population prepares for its first free elections in its history, tomorrow. There are 24 presidential candidates, and so far election observers from around the world say everything looks like it’s in order.
After independence from France two military dictators ruled consecutively from 1958-2008, after which the country faced instability and violence (including a large massacre of civilians) under a new military regime, until Gen. Sekouba Konaté – then Vice President of the new junta – took control of a transitional government, in an agreement sponsored by nearby Burkina Faso this past January. He quickly scheduled democratic elections for the Republic of Guinea, pledging to stay out of them himself, and the army has stood down and plans to remain in its barracks during the election tomorrow.
Bands of supporters in their candidates’ T-shirts marched through the rutted streets, motorcades of partisans coursed down the avenues on beaten-up motorbikes and thousands of people crowded highway overpasses to greet presidential candidates noisily as they returned from final campaign trips for Sunday’s vote.
The candidates, all 24 of them, have been free to hold packed rallies without interference, and the faces of presidential hopefuls now beam from giant billboards all over town. Soldiers, omnipresent in Conakry in the past year, have barely been in evidence in recent days. They have been ordered to stay in their barracks during the voting, a military spokesman said.
“The army is neutral,” the spokesman, Lt. Col. Lancei Condé, said. “We don’t have a candidate.”
Election observers confirm that the transitional government has taken pains not to influence voters. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, the leader of the European Union’s electoral observation mission here, said, “There’s a serious determination at the political and administrative level to make this election happen and be a success.”
Simply thrilling. I do love a good election, especially in Africa.
So that’s the promise. The peril is, of course, the unfortunate possible outcome after the election. Even if there is no widespread violence or military intervention in the first-round or the runoff in this election, there is still the possibility of future instability, whether by popular discontent with the slow grind of democracy or by some overzealous or power-hungry military officer. Statistically speaking, from what I have read, the failure rate for developing country democracies in their first couple decades remains extremely high. So the odds are against Guinea.
But, in the things-could-be-worse perspective, Guinea can always look at its neighbor Guinea-Bissau (the former Portuguese colony), which was being labeled less stable than Somalia by the drug-traffickers last summer, and faced a military coup earlier this year that went virtually unnoticed by the rest of the world. As long as Guinea’s doing anywhere near as well as it is now, it’s way ahead of Guinea-Bissau.
So, let’s hope for the best, and keep the 10 million people of Guinea in our minds tomorrow. If they pull this off successfully and continue without instability, they could become a seriously strong role model for democratization around the third-world, since the story of the Republic of Guinea is one seen time and again all across Africa and the developing world.
This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.