By - Tobi Idowu
The last few weeks have witnessed been tumultuous in Guinea as citizens consistently trooped out in protest to the possible declaration of an illegal third term by the country’s president, Alpha Conde. What initially were a series of small group protests reached their peak last week as large crowds of demonstrators took to the streets of the country’s capital in what organisers described as a million people, although the security authorities pugged the number at a modest 30,000 people.
Why the Protest?
“We are tired of the lies, the false promises, and above all the fact that he (Conde) is no longer capable of meeting the expectations of the people. Ten years in power is long enough,” Souleymane Kamagathe, a baker, said to AFP. His comments summarily reflect the concern of the average Guineans on the protest march, most of whom are not only disillusioned by the presidential rule of the long-term opposition, but are also scared of the possibility that this rule could be extended.
Conde’s mandate expires in December 2020, when he will have completed two successive five-year terms, as guaranteed by the country’s constitution. Ordinarily, this clear and ambiguous stipulation derived from the country’s body of laws should have clear all possible doubts as to when the president will move out of the presidential palace. It should also have been enough guarantee for the Guinean protesters, whose anxiety, all things being equal, will have justifiably been called an unnecessary exaggeration. However, events in Guinea are going contrary to such ideal.
Unstated, but certain eye for life presidency
81-year-old Conde knows all about the stipulated end of his tenure in December next year; however, he seems unable to accept such predictable end to a (presidential) dream he chased for years before it came to pass a decade ago. Conte still lives in the illusion of 2010 country-wide love and acceptance of a liberator which saw him emerge as the country’s president after two years of military rule and nearly a quarter of a century despair of Guineans under the authoritarian President Lansana Conte. Which is why, he has refused to entertain any discussion of an end to his presidency in few months.
He has not only refused to rule out running again when he is constitutionally ineligible to contest next year, but he has also slyly set some moves in motion to get himself a cover of legality for his yet undeclared bid.
Last month, Guineans woke up to the reality of their dreaded dream when Conde-led government announced plans for the possible review of the country’s constitution. It soon became clear that this move was initiated in view of giving a legal backing to the perpetuating plan of the president.
Not a few critics of the president and many private citizens have expressed strong fears that the attempt to tweak the constitution equals to a reset button on Conde’s presidency. They have observed from far and near, in neighbouring African countries, how such events planned out: on the sly push by the president, parliamentarians would decide to adjust the constitution of the country, which, when done, offer the president fresh and sometimes indefinite terms he could seek to rule. It has happened in Rwanda, in Gabon, in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, and other countries with the class of African strong men.
“Alpha Conde also wants to change the constitution to stay in power until his death. It will not work,” artist Kefine Konate told The Associated Press news agency.
Describing the situation in the country as “explosive,” Marie-Madeleine Dioubaté, an opposition presidential candidate, does not doubt the possibility of Conde seeking new terms. She said emphatically, “Mr Alpha Condé is nearing the end of his mandate in 2020 and he absolutely wants to seek a third term,” she told RFI.
However, for associates of the President, citizens’ preemptive protest on a possible third presidential bid from the incumbent president is not necessary and mischievous. Information and Communication Minister Amara Somparé said, “The demonstrations are against rumours not facts, because we don’t know yet if the president intends to stand for a third term. So, people are wasting their time,” he told RFI.
On the issue of the constitution, he responded that the people will ultimately decide its fate, “there is a debate in the country regarding a new constitution to be submitted to the people by referendum. They will decide either yes or no. This is an act of democracy,” he said.
Guineans now face an increasingly uncertain fate in the nearest future, which has been brought on them solely by a president whose body language continues to cause disaffection in the former French colony. His government’s continued denial notwithstanding, his actions, via his hold on the parliamentarians and the consequence of that on the constitution review, suggest a hazy future.
A hint of what to come are the regular crackdowns on demonstrations in the last few weeks. Nine people have been reported killed by the police, who are wont to open fire on demonstrators. While authorities deny the use of excessive force, they still have announced the launch of an investigation. Moreover, several opposition campaigners and politicians have been arrested and sentenced to prison for allegedly inciting civil disobedience. It is hoped that the president will act statemanly to receive the brewing issues before it degenerates into full blown calamity.
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