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Guinea: A Triumph for African Democracy

Guinea: A Triumph for African Democracy
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As posted earlier today on the Huffington Post

From the outside looking in, African elections often look messy, violent and corrupt. Incumbents and their political parties rig election outcomes even before the polls open. It is easy to become cynical about democracy in Africa when important processes–elections–are no more than pro forma exercises.

Against this background, what is happening today in the Republic of Guinea deserves a closer look from other African nations and the international community.

We have observed over the years that elections in and of themselves can not bring about democratic change. Independent institutions and a determined civil society are the necessary change agents.

In Guinea, the Supreme Court and courageous civic activism led the way to the return of civilian rule. Last night, the Supreme Court of Guinea confirmed the final results of the June 27, 2010 first round election.

The first poll results were challenged by opposing candidates due to allegations of fraud. The Court moved quickly to delay the July 18 second round vote and expeditiously adjudicated the complaints. Upon careful consideration and the execution of due process, the Court confirmed that former Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo and Alpha Conde will face each other in the run off.

The Court’s action legitimized what Guinean and international observers called the country’s first free and fair election since the country gained independence from France in 1958. The ruling should also encourage all political parties to peacefully participate in Guinea politics through to the next presidential race and beyond.

Additionally, Guinea’s brave and determined civil society deserves tremendous credit for refusing to allow the military junta to continue its involvement in politics.

Following the death of President Lansana Conte in December 2008, the military seized control of government and announced its plan to participate in the election. Civil society refused to accede to further military participation in government and protested.

Civil protest reached a crescendo in September 2009 with a mass demonstration in the capital city of Conakry. Security forces were sent to the national stadium to quell the disturbance.

What ensued was a massacre where 150 demonstrators were killed. Women and girls were raped openly in the streets, and journalists were targeted for physical attack and harassment.

The massacre did not deter the pro-democracy advocates. It did, however, lead to the demise of the military junta.

In January 2010, the United States and France helped organize a transitional government to govern the country through to the June election. A military general and a veteran legislator were named President and Prime Minister respectively. The international community provided assistance to support the independent electoral commission, train political parties and prepare civil society.

By all accounts the campaign leading up to the first round election were largely free and fair. While there were logistical problems, the independent election commission operated in an open manner and the political parties refrained from violence, intimidation and other obstructionist activities.

The next President of Guinea faces herculean challenges. The economy must be re-organized and restored. Mining concession agreements must be reviewed for fairness and accountability. The people need greater access to electricity and food security.

Nonetheless, Guinea is off to a good start. The lesson to be learned from this experience is that independent institutions and determined people form the corner stone of democratic change everywhere.

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