GUINEA: Ethnicisation of campaign and opposition cracks signals risks of sporadic violence

GUINEA: Ethnicisation of campaign and opposition cracks signals risks of sporadic violence

Elections in Guinea are taking place against the backdrop of an epidemic, just as they did five years ago. In 2015, it was Ebola Virus Disease. In 2020, it is the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), although the latter has not affected the country in the same way. Nevertheless, the outlook of the upcoming poll looks to be very similar to the 2015 one with the same candidates and very similar issues at stake; as such the country will be faced with both short-term security and travel risks as well as longer-term political and corruption risks.

A contested third term

President Alpha Condé is running for re-election on 18 October. While there are 12 candidates in total, his main challenger will be long-time political rival and leader of the Union des forces démocratiques de Guinée (UFDG), Cellou Dalein Diallo. Should no candidate obtain an absolute majority, a run-off election will be held in November, two weeks after the publication of the official results.

The opposition deems Condé’s re-election bid unconstitutional, due to the constitutional two-term limit on presidents. However, constitutional changes that were pushed through in a March referendum, largely boycotted by the opposition has reset the count to zero, according to the government and the ruling party, Rassemblement du peuple guinéen- Arc en Ciel (RPG-Arc en CIel) .

However, many people expected the incumbent to run again, alleging the constitutional changes were made with this intention. Among them were the broad-based coalition Front national pour la défense de la constitution (FNDC), which includes civil society organisations and political parties and has staged a series of large anti-government demonstrations since October 2019. Many of these have turned violent, leading to over 40 fatalities, hundreds of injuries, and significant destruction of property.

Nevertheless, the FNDC mobilisation against Condé’s third-term bid appears faltering amid growing divisions and potentially lost momentum in protests. As restrictions on public gatherings and travel were imposed in March to slow the spread of COVID-19, the rate and intensity of protests has declined. Furthermore, the FNDC has disowned Diallo and the UFDG due to his bid for the presidency. Other politicians running in the elections, such as Ousmane Kaba, the leader of the Parti des démocrates de l’espoir (PADES) party, have also been ousted from the coalition. These oustings are due to the movement’s desire to boycott the polls altogether, while Diallo and other opposition politicians have opted to challenge Condé at the ballot.

There are also growing divisions among opposition parties. While Diallo is likely to be the main opposition candidate, several anti-government parties have said they would not support him in a run-off against Condé. It is probable this is a  political tactic aimed at garnering the largest number of votes possible in a bid to then have greater leverage to obtain more concessions from Diallo, should they back him to a victory in a run-off. Nonetheless, it is indicative of a divided anti-government movement. Ultimately this favours Condé’s prospects for re-election.

Mounting security risks and ethnicisation of politics

Amid the divisions, there are indications that national politics have returned to the same fault lines as those seen in previous polls. Guinean politics have historically been guided by ethnic or regional affiliations; while the minority-Fula community (also known as Peuhl or Fulani in other parts of the sub-region) have supported Diallo in the past, the majority-Malinke (also known as Mandinka) support Condé. This means politics remain very regionalised (See Figure 1). Violent protests and mob attacks against presumed supporters of Diallo in Kankan in the beginning of October, after the opposition leader was prevented from attending a planned rally in the city, also appear to support this assumption. 

Political strongholds during the 2020 presidential elections

At the same time, and in spite of Condé’s historical support in Kankan region, the president is being challenged in his stronghold by Kaba, a former minister who was ousted from the RPG-Arc en Ciel after falling out with Condé in 2016. 

Furthermore, ethnic tensions have also been mounting in the south-eastern commodity-rich N’Zérékoré region over the past year. According to a report by Human Rights Watch in September, which monitored violent incidents during the political campaigns for the constitutional referendum and legislative elections in March, 32 people were killed and 90 people were injured in inter-communal fighting between supporters and opponents of the RPG-Arc en Ciel.

Transparency issues

As in previous polls, the opposition continues to question the validity and fairness of the voter register. However, a statement by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on 23 September, which said the voter register quality was ‘sufficient’ for the polls, have undermined their claims. The regional political and trade bloc has also agreed to deploy electoral observers, indicating it is confident that elections will be free and fair.

This is likely to favour Condé, given that nearly 30 per cent of registered voters are in his northern strongholds. By comparison, no more than 14 per cent of voters live in Diallo’s strongholds. Despite this numerical advantage for Condé, winning those strongholds alone will not be sufficient for his re-election. This suggests that the outcomes in the ‘swing regions’ (as shown in the map above) will likely determine the ultimate results, and the backing of other minority candidates will be critical for either candidate. 

Forecast

The level of violent unrest will depend on the outcome in the first round. Should Condé win an absolute majority, opposition parties are highly likely to allege vote-rigging and challenge the results in the courts. This will prolong political uncertainty. In addition, they are likely to engage in public demonstrations. Flashpoints for such events will be the announcement of court verdicts.

Should the vote go to a run-off, political uncertainty will increase significantly in the one-month outlook as the likelihood of one candidate being able to realistically challenge the incumbent will be higher, particularly if he is able to garner support from other candidates. This scenario would also see an elevated risk of insecurity, including violent protests, following a second round. A large majority in favour of Condé is likely to fuel suspicion about the validity of the results among the opposition, prompting violent protests.

In the longer run, and in the event that Condé loses a run-off, political and corruption risks are likely to increase as a result, as the incoming government is likely to launch investigations into the management of public funds and contracts signed during the previous administration.

Operations managers should factor these scenarios into security threat assessments and operational planning over the next two to three months. 

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN THE October 2020 EDITION OF THE SUB-REGIONAL INTELLIGENCE MONITOR FOR CENTRAL & WEST AFRICA

Also in this edition:

COTE D’IVOIRE: Mounting animosity amid presidential election campaign raises prospect of insecurity and instability