By Ajong Mbapndah L
While he may not have officially made a statement on the third term project, that President Conde or anyone in his entourage should entertain such thoughts does profound damage to iconic portrait of a change agent that brought the current President of Guinea to power, says, Washington DC based journalist and Editor of AlloAfricaNews, Ben Bangoura .
Instead of the Mr. Conde changing the system, it is the system that has changed him, and if the President gets his way with the third term bid, the consequences could be tragic for Guinea, Ben Bangoura says. The expectations of Guinean people under his current tenure have not been met as the country remains amongst the poorest in the world, Bangoura continues.
The International community can be helpful by persuading Mr. Alpha Condé to avoid the third term agenda as this is neither in his personal interest nor in that of people of Guinea, Bangoura says.
President Alpha Condé is in his second and last term, according to Guinea’s constitution. How has he fared as President?
A pertinent question from a genuine journalist you have always been. Thanks again for reaching out. In a previous interview, I remember, we talked about a landmark election that culminated in Prof Alpha Condé, a self-declared reformer, clinching the presidency after a tumultuous transition. It was a moment of hope considered by many as the light at the end of the tunnel for Guinea, after decades of military rule which left the country in shambles.
He fought so much for democratic reforms, human rights and good governance in the country, has he lived up to the promises he made while in the opposition?
I doubt whether he succeeded or not. Key indicators are that he has not lived up to the promises he made while in the opposition. The expectations of Guinean people under his current tenure have not been met. Guinea is still one of the poorest countries in the world. The general population lacks clean water and has a little access to electricity, while the average citizen still lives below $1 a day. That is at odds with the country’s enormous resources. Guinea has the third largest bauxite reserves in the world among its natural wealth. The question is, who or how the local content fits into this?
On political front, things are not going well either. Alpha Condé has tightened his control over all branches of the government. Meanwhile, the country has not conducted any successful elections in recent years. For instance, the term of the current National Assembly expired six months ago. Alpha Condé had to issue a presidential decree to keep it going. At the same time, local elections held in February 2018 were marred by violence and have yet to be settled across the country. The Guinean Constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, but it is currently restricted. The system of governance is highly corrupt, and the rule of law is not respected. And in an apparent attempt to divide and conquer, Alpha Condé, an ethnic malinké, initiated a dangerous policy. Under his regime, one must be an ethnic Soussou to be eligible for the post of Prime minister in Guinea. While the chairmanship of the National Assembly is exclusively reserved for a native of the Forest region, as peulh you belong to the opposition. What kind of policy is this in a country where people, regardless of their background, have generally been living in peace and harmony for centuries like a family? I prefer to see someone holding a high position in the government because of his competence and not because of his ethnic identity.
There are talks of the constitution being changed so that he can have another mandate, where is this coming from? is it feasible and is President Conde in support of this?
Well, Alpha Condé has not made any official declaration in that regard. However, it looks though he is heading in that direction. A source knowledgeable on the matter stated that a new constitution has been drafted with help of experts from foreign countries, including France. This source added that the bill effectively guarantees a third term bid for Alpha Condé and that it has a good chance to pass if introduced this year in the National Assembly controlled by the RPG-Arc-en ciel, a coalition of political parties that back President Condé. But this source conceded that its fate maybe uncertain if submitted to a national referendum.
Where is this idea coming from? Of course, the idea is coming from Alpha Condé himself because of his increasing desire to remain in power until his death. He has a clan around him – arguing that he deserves an extended stay to finish his work as a “Dieu le Père”-. He currently has surrogates deployed in every region of the country, bribing local officials and community leaders to drum up support behind the idea.
To boost his shaky international standing, President Condé has reportedly recruited some prominent French politicians and journalists to shepherd the campaign for a third term. Countries including China and Russia, which have substantial interests in mining sectors in Guinea, have signaled their willingness to back such a move. Alpha Condé has also assigned his Ambassador in Washington, Kerfalla Yansané, to negotiate for him an official visit in the United States that would include a White House photo op with president Trump to be used as a tool for propaganda. Well connected sources indicate that the Embassy of Guinea is currently seeking assistance from a Lobbying Firm in the nation’s capital to assist in the process. But the outcome is far from certain.
Is third term doable? Maybe! Is it feasible? No! The current constitution of Guinea has two important provisions: Article 27 states that the president can only be elected to be president for a total of ten years. No more than that. The other one is article 154 which stipulates that if amendment were to occur, this should not undermine the standing of the latter. Knowing that they lack the constitutional avenue to proceed, President Condé and his cronies have apparently settled on a brand new constitution.
With regards to the opposition parties and civil society groups that could fight such a move, how organized and how serious are they?
The opposition has responded with an outright rejection of any move to change or pass a new constitution. A significant number of civil society organizations are emerging under the umbrella of the FNDC (National Front for the Defense of the Constitution). In recent weeks, high profile community leaders, including the so called Kountigui of Basse Côte Elhadj Sèkhouna Soumah, a key ally of President Condé, have distanced themselves from it. The question now is whether the opposition has a clear strategy and a “war chest” to take on President Condé who is now very rich by all accounts. But I believe that the majority of Guinean people are opposed as well. They have witnessed democratic changes taking place in neighboring countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, Gambia etc.., changes that resulted in a peaceful transfer of power from one government to another. They want to see such a positive change in Guinea in 2020 by electing a new head of state, no matter who that is, to ensure the continuation. They do not want to see another autocratic leader dying in power by not respecting the constitution, something that may yet trigger another painful period of transition.
What is the position of the Army in this unfolding drama?
It is hard to say right now. But in a dramatic move earlier this year, Alpha Conde issued a decree on January 8, 2019, appointing 4 high-ranking officers in the Army as Ambassadors to Angola, Cuba, Guinea Bissau and Mali. In recent weeks, the president also appointed several other army officers to civilian positions within the administration. They were mainly assigned in the remote areas of the country.
Analysts believe that this was done on purpose to weaken the army because these officers are known to be “very experienced” and may also “harbor interest” in staging a coup if the opportunity should arise. In my view, his actions in that regard amount to a preemptive strike.
Prior to this bizarre decision late last year, President Conde removed Mr. Kelefa Sall, the presiding officer of the constitutional court, from his post. He was openly opposed to any modification of the constitution. Indeed in 2015, during the swearing in ceremony for his second and last term, which was attended by a dozen heads of state, including longtime dictators from Chad, Rwanda and Equatorial Guinea, Sall suggested that Condé should avoid any attempt to change the constitution in order to remain in power. He was very upset about that.
You are versed with developments in Africa. In Benin, it was chaotic and sham general elections. In Guinea, should President Conde succeed to change the constitution, what will this mean for democracy in west Africa and the rest of Africa broadly speaking?
It would be a devastating blow to Democracy for the region, particularly for Guinea. It would bring chaos in a country that is already on a political and an economic downward spiral. A third term would be a lack of vision, a leadership failure of historical proportions on the part of the 84-year-old Alpha Condé whom many had once referred to as “opposant historique.”
Remember, this is a guy who once billed himself as a ”reformer” and “unifier”. At one point, he said he was going to be the “Mandela of Guinea”. One who would deliver that change Guineans have been dreaming about for decades. We all know that Mandela was a one term president in post-apartheid South Africa who rejected the call for him to stay in power permanently. We also knew Mandela as a unifier who fought for justice and equal rights for all. Alpha Condé on the other hand seems to want to cling on to power at any cost like Mugabe. In addition, the fact of matter is that Guinea under his leadership, is an autocratic state, a country divided along ethnic and class lines, between those who have and have not. He came in promising to change the system. Instead, it is the system that has now changed him for the worse.
If he succeeds in imposing a new constitution in Guinea, he may not be around for that long. He could be toppled by a popular uprising similar to one we have then seen in Burkina Faso, and most recently in Zimbabwe, Algeria and Sudan. Mr. Condé must understand that there is a life after the presidency, that he is going to die one day -one way or the other-. Therefore, he should focus his efforts crafting a lasting legacy for himself as a leader that has a sense of history and who was able to rebuild his country, leaving it in peace and in economic prosperity.
History tells us that no mankind has ever achieved everything he wanted to do in life. In democratic society such as the United States, each time there is alternance, the outgoing president always says to his successor: “Here is what I have accomplished, here are the works to be done”. The idea that Mr. Alpha Condé started something in Guinea he needs to carry through is foolish.
How can the international community be of help in supporting Africans fighting for democratic reforms?
The International community can be helpful by persuading Mr. Alpha Condé to stay away from such move. This is neither in his personal interest nor in that of people of Guinea. The International community can also support the grass roots organizations in the country to reinforce the institutions that are already there. As former US president Obama rightly said: “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions”. We also know that the United States under President Trump is not supportive of those autocratic leaders in Africa who have failed their peoples so miserably. Alpha Condé is certainly one of those leaders today. So, such message is rather encouraging.
How has the media fared under President Conde and how much of a force is it in the political dispensation in Guinea?
Under President Condé, I must say that the media has fared very poorly because of lack of resources. Like any country under dictatorship, the state media, including the National Broadcasting System (RTG), is the mouthpiece of the government. The independent media, specially the media online, tends to do better job though limited in scope. In Guinea, Independent media is under constant attack. In recent years, several journalists were killed in the line of duty while others are arrested, harassed, beaten or jailed.