After a very successful first round presidential election in June – its first in the post-independence period – the West African state of Guinea finally managed to hold a smooth second round between the top two first round candidates this weekend, after a very troubling period of delays and ethnic clashes over the past several months. NY Times:
After weeks of delays, ethnic tensions and clashes between the police and rival groups of supporters, this mineral-rich but poor West African nation quietly went to the polls Sunday to choose its first-ever democratically elected president.
Sunday’s vote unfolded calmly as citizens lined up outside schools and other polling places, waiting to cast ballots in a runoff election originally scheduled for last summer. Since then, disputes over the leadership of the electoral commission and fighting between rival ethnic groups allied with each of the two candidates have led to repeated postponements.
But apart from the late arrival of voting materials — ink and ballots — at polling places in this nation of about 10 million people, international observers said they noted few hitches on Sunday.
Great news. And it appears that the key to the smooth election was to bring in a total outsider from neighboring Mali to run the election commission during the runoff, to prevent accusations that one ethnic group or another was controlling the outcome.
As the vote was repeatedly delayed, ethnic tensions increased, amid confusion over who was in charge of the election.
The first head of the electoral commission was convicted of fraud and died in Paris a short while later. His replacement was accused by Mr. Diallo, who is from a different ethnic group, of bias. In October, a Malian general was appointed to head the commission, calming the rival camps. But before that, there were repeated violent clashes. In September, one person was killed and dozens were wounded in fighting in the streets here in the capital between groups of supporters of Mr. Diallo and Mr. Conde.
The country of Mali has had a very successful transition to democracy after the end of military rule in the early 1990s and the peaceful transfer of power between presidents in 2002. The country has a functioning unity government, a popularly elected president and assembly, and the military is supportive of the civilian rulers and does not interfere with political affairs. The decision to bring in Malian advisers and figures of authority may prove to have been the crucial decision in smoothing the way for Guinea’s first election. The Malian general is an outsider, but he is from West Africa (as opposed to bringing in European or American teams), and he represents one of the best examples of democratic transition in the region, while his military status makes him an authority figure and somebody that the Guinean Transitional Government — who are also mostly military officers — would be comfortable working with.
So my pessimistic take in mid-September seems to have been unwarranted and impatient. It was never going to go off flawlessly, and this is a huge step forward. Now we just have to see how the results are greeted and whether the new democratic government can bring enough change to the country to lend it the public confidence required to endure. If it does work out, it will still go down as one of the fastest, smoothest, most direct transitions from military to democratic civilian rule in African history, to the best of my knowledge.
Hope springs eternal.
This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.