Poll raises hopes in crumbling Guinea capital

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When the tide drops, the youths of Timenetaye emerge from cramped hovels to play soccer on the sand — the closest thing to a field in this part of Guinea’s capital — before the water rises again and sweeps it away.

Pleasures have been fleeting for generations of Guineans as the West African state lurches from crisis to crisis, but hopes are starting to rise that the first free poll since independence from France in 1958 could finally break the cycle of misery.

Voters cast ballots on Sunday in a presidential run-off aimed at ending nearly two years of army rule since the death of President Lansana Conte, himself an ex-army officer who came to power in a 1984 coup, Reuters reports.

Full results have been promised by Friday, and despite the risk of unrest if the losing candidate challenges the outcome, many Guineans are optimistic about the chances for change.
“This election will finally release us from our misery,” said Diallo Abou, a 23-year-old selling notebooks at a market in the Dixinn district of Conakry. “We are tired of dictatorship, tired of conflict, tired of crisis,” he said.

Guinea’s capital Conakry — dubbed ‘Come and Cry’ by some visitors — bears the scars of neglect and turmoil, and shows how much work will need to be done by the winning candidate if Guineans hopes are to be fulfilled.

A cluster of shambolic structures built on a finger of land jutting into the Atlantic, Conakry has the kind of coastline that could attract millions of tourists if it weren’t for the pollution, poverty and dangers from an indisciplined military.

Clashes between rival political and ethnic groups in the run-up to the November 7 vote have left crushed glass and burn marks in the roadways where cars were attacked and tires set on fire.

Markets are vibrant, with brightly clad women and men hawking fruit, smoked fish, electronics and pirated CDs. On street corners, pigs and sheep gnaw on gathering refuse that never seems to be picked up.

CONAKRY BY CANDLE LIGHT

A railway cuts through the city on which billions of dollars worth of bauxite mined from the interior is shipped off to be processed into aluminium for airplanes, foil, and cans.

By night, the streets are engulfed in a darkness broken only by the headlights of passing cars, as most of the dwellings lack generators and electricity is often cut. Candle light emanates from shops and homes as people mill about in the shadows.

For Guineans with means, leisure time means hiring a fishing boat to an island, a swim in the municipal pool, or a dinner at one of the cities few fine restaurants.

But for the rest — and there are many in this country where the average person lives on $1 a day — life is a struggle with none but the most basic of pleasures.
“We spend most of the day trying to sell enough to make a living. When there is free time, it is spent with friends at a cafe or bar,” said bank employee Sylla Abou, not related to the Dixinn market trader.
“This country has all it needs to be wealthy, but we’ve not had the leadership and we are suffering.”

Guinea’s run-off election last Sunday pitted former premier Cellou Dallein Diallo against veteran opposition leader Alpha Conde in a contest analysts fear could stir ethnic divisions.

If the transition to civilian rule comes off, it would end decades of turbulence marked most recently by the September 28, 2009 killing of more than 150 pro-democracy marchers by security forces at a Conakry stadium where they also committed mass rape.

It would also bolster investment in the country’s vast minerals resources that could eventually trickle down to average Guineans. Companies like Vale and Rio Tinto have earmarked billions of dollars for iron ore developments.



Along the streets of Conakry’s Sandervalia neighbourhood, a man wearing a T-shirt with the words “Obama: Yes We Can” walked along a street lined with campaign billboards.
“Look at the way we’re living right now,” said Alpha Issiaga Bongoura, a musician from the same district. “We’re just surviving in the hopes of stability.”