Guinea’s president is prepared to risk it all for a third term as anti-government protests grow

Members of security forces stand guard as people march during a protest over a suspected effort by president Alpha Conde to seek a third term in Conakry, Guinea Oct. 24, 2019.
Members of security forces stand guard as people march during a protest over a suspected effort by president Alpha Conde to seek a third term in Conakry, Guinea Oct. 24, 2019.
Image: REUTERS/Saliou Samb
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Every Thursday in the Guinean capital, up to hundreds of thousands of supporters don the scarlet t-shirts of the opposition coalition and pour into the main arteries of the city, forming a red river through Conakry.

Despite violence from the security forces, whom the opposition coalition says killed 14 people so far, politicians Cellou Dalein Diallo and Sidya Touré have been leading protests against a possible third term that incumbent president Alpha Condé looks likely to try to push through. Although Condé has thus far not declared publicly that he plans to seek a third term when his second finishes in 2021, he has backed a new constitution that would allow him to do so.

Explaining the government’s position, Guinea’s investment minister Gabriel Curtis argues that voting on a new constitution is necessary for democratic progress. “It should be put to a vote because the constitution we are under has not been voted on by the public. I think people want to have a constitution that is more reflective of the people of Guinea’s aspirations,” Curtis told Quartz Africa.

Diallo, the main opposition candidate who ran and lost two presidential elections to Alpha Condé in 2010 and 2015, told Quartz Africa that “If Alpha persists in changing the constitution against the will of the Guinean people, there is a clear risk of confrontation that could lead to violence that threatens peace and stability in Guinea.” The violence has taken on ethnic dimensions, as politicians have tried to pit Fulani–Diallo’s ethnic group–against Malinké and Soussou.

Guinea’s president Alpha Conde
Guinea’s president Alpha Conde
Image: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/

The authorities’ response to the protests has already been deadly. At least 14 protesters have been killed by security forces since Oct. 24, according to the opposition. This week the ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda warned “all actors and their supporters to refrain from violence and resume dialogue to prevent further casualties.” Condé is also cracking down on independent reporting of the protests.

Condé was rebuffed by United States secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who tweeted, “We discussed Guinea’s upcoming elections and I reiterated the critical need for regular, democratic transitions of power for a thriving democracy.”

Pompeo’s tweet and statement indicate that the Trump administration favors a formal end to Condé’s time in power when his second term ends. This contrasts strongly with the Russian position as stated in January by the former Russian ambassador to Guinea Alexander Bregadze, who came out strongly came out strongly in favor of changing the constitution when he said on state TV in January that “Constitutions are no dogma, Bible or Koran,” and that “as the popular Russian saying goes, you don’t change horses at a river crossing.”

His remarks ignited an outcry and Bregadze was replaced as ambassador two months later, but in April he was named head of the Guinean branch of Russian aluminum firm Rusal, a powerful position in the bauxite-rich country.

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara was ambiguous about the issue, saying “Ask a Guinean,” when questioned by Quartz Africa at the Russia-Africa summit. Ouattara himself changed the Ivorian constitution in 2016 to allow for a third term. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who Condé courted in August by celebrating Eid in Buhari’s village Daura, has remained silent on the issue.

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