Guinea: No Place for a Worn-Out President?

Article excerpt

Despite his poor health, President Lansana Conte (right) was returned to power in the 21 December presidential election boycotted by the main opposition coalition. Yohannes Perry reports from Conakry.

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The "Front Republicain pour L'Alternance Democratique" (FRAD), Guinea's opposition coalition made up of the four main opposition parties in the country, boycotted the presidential election, claiming it had "no faith that the result will be free or fair".

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In reality, FRAD had been weakened by two important factors: an internal disagreement over how to respond to the election; and a publicity hunger after it had been starved of any meaningful coverage as the state-owned media, run by government appointees, gave the coalition no space at all.

Unlike many African countries, the concept of independent electoral commission does not exist in Guinea. The interior minister directs and supervises elections, putting the opposition at a huge disadvantage.

Lack of funds and logistics to campaign in rural areas is also a major opposition problem. Says Dikite Mohammodu, a shop owner in Conakry: "The opposition leadership is made up mainly of teachers, clerical officers, academics, traditional leaders and disgruntled returnees from neighbouring countries--they are well educated but have no resources to fight the election."

Analysts say in 2004/5, the political scene will be dependent on President Conte's poor health. At 72, the president is suffering from acute diabetes mellitus and hypertension, last year he was taken to hospitals in Morocco and Cuba, but insiders say he is still frail.

But the ailing president has not groomed a successor and his critics say he has systematically undermined the authority of most senior members of the ruling "Parti de L'Unite et du Progres" (PUP). The military seems to be the only body that has the ability to control the whole country and prevent it from descending into anarchy in a post-Conte era.

"The president dominates the politics of the country and he is feared, thanks to the army, which is officered and dominated by his Sous tribesmen who back his government", says a student of the University of Conakry who asked not to be identified.

But, despite these flaws, the Conte government has provided a degree of economic and political stability, even though this stability is now ebbing away as the president's ill health has prevented him from keeping control over state affairs. …