Whoever wins Guinea’s presidential election faces a huge task rebuilding the West African country’s shattered institutions, basic services and economy, the top UN official in the region said.
Results of Sunday’s first round are not due until Wednesday (tomorrow) and a run-off between the two main front-runners is expected in July, yet there is a sense of euphoria in junta-ruled Guinea at the prospect of a return to civilian rule.
But the capital city’s infrastructure is shambolic and much of the population is without reliable electricity or clean running water, so the risk is that the euphoria could give way to disappointment if change does not come quickly.
“The challenges are enormous,” Said Djinnit, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative for West Africa, told Reuters.
“These are failed state institutions. (The new government) will have to rebuild the state and its infrastructure, rebuild the basis of the economy, and to engage in the reconciliation process,” he said in an interview late last Sunday.
The state’s ability to provide services to its population has been crippled by decades of repressive, undemocratic rule first by Sekou Toure, then by Lansana Conte, whose death in 2008 created a power vacuum the army filled, and most recently by a chaotic 18 months under the erratic Captain Moussa Dadis Camara.
“The real transition will start after the president has been elected fairly, by the will of the people,” Djinnit said.
“Given the background of ethnic divisions, absence of democracy, lack of governance culture, it all requires that people move together, and the leaders move together.”
None of Sunday’s 24 candidates are likely to win more than 50% from the first round, meaning a run-off between the two leading candidates will probably be needed on July 18.
Assembly of Guinean People (RPG) leader Alpha Conde and Cellou Dalein Diallo of the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) are among the favourites.
Both belong to large ethnic groups — Malinke and Peul, respectively — in a vote that may divide on ethnic lines. Sidya Toure, another top contender, is from the Diakhanke minority.
Guinea will need a great deal of foreign help, Djinnit said, assistance which is likely to be forthcoming because of Guinea’s strategic importance to the region, and in part as a result of its bauxite, iron ore, gold and other valuable minerals.
“It has to do with the interests of parties to be part of a successful recovery programme, and also to do with immense resources in the country,” Djinnit said.
As well as the United Nations, which says post-election Guinea will be a priority, the European Union, United States and France have been heavily involved in organising the election.
Neighbouring countries, which fear an influx of refugees should trouble break out in Guinea, will hope the country remains peaceful.
“For Sierra Leone and Liberia, their nightmare is what happens when Guinea explodes, so stabilising Guinea has an immediate, huge impact on the sub-region,” Djinnit said.
After a string of military coups, and disputed and delayed elections across Africa in recent years, a success story in Guinea would be a lesson to countries nearby and more distant.
“We are in an environment, regional and continental, where any little success is great achievement which other countries can emulate,” Djinnit said. “The biggest lesson to learn from Guinea is that there is hope … even in the most desperate situation, you can transform it into an opportunity.”
Pic: UN Secretary General – Ban Ki Moon