Guinea: The downfall of democracy?

An interview with Cellou Dalein Diallo, Former Prime Minister
Cellou Dalein Diallo
Cellou Dalein Diallo

The West African country of Guinea is blessed by abundant natural resources, but remains one of the poorest countries on the continent according to the UN Human Development Index. The country’s past marked by autocratic leaders and coup d’états, poor rule of law, supressed democracy and endemic corruption have left little development progress for the population. Now, Guineas appalling history of misuse of power by autocratic rulers seems to go into another round:

In the midst of the Coronavirus crisis that is shaking the whole of humanity, forcing all the countries of the world to close in on themselves, Guinea’s president Alpha Condé organised on 22nd March 2020 a double parliamentary and constitutional referendum vote. Condé has been in power for 10 years and was not allowed to run for a third presidential term according to the Guinean constitution. With presidential elections upcoming for the end of 2020 a change in the constitution seemed to offer the 82 year old president a solution to stay in power.

The voting was therefore accompanied by very lively protests and a boycott by the political opposition and civil society all united under the umbrella of the FNDC (National Front for the Defence of the Constitution). The violence that marked these elections resulted in the deaths of several Guineans. All tensions continue to be crystalized by the fundamental political debate about the appropriateness, legality and legitimacy of the adoption of a new constitution in Guinea.

This referendum, the results of which have been validated by the Guinean Constitutional Court, should pave the way for Alpha Condé to seek a more than likely new candidacy. Is this another downfall of democracy for Guinea?

In this political context FNF interviewed Cellou Dalein Diallo (CDD), Former Prime Minister, Vice President of Liberal International and President of the opposition party UFDG.


Mr. Cellou Dalein Diallo, what is your take on the holding of and the running of this double parliamentary and referendum vote?

On 22nd March 2020, Guinea experienced one of the most contested, the most militarised, the most violent and the least democratic elections in its history. The double ballot was held in defiance of the international community. Alpha Condé refused to heed the calls to reason from the country's moral and religious authorities, and the multiple warnings of the international community, including the West African Economic Community (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU), both concerned about the preservation of peace and the respect for democratic principles. Thus, the ballot of 22nd March was held without witnesses because there were no regional or international observers willing to associate themselves with the masquerade.

Moreover, this double ballot was organised in a context of major health threats. While all over the world, containment and curfews are decreed by governments to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Alpha Condé, knowing full well that the crowds generated by such as election increase the risks of infection, will set on to organise his referendum coupled with the parliamentary elections. Some go so far as to accuse him of having asked the Ministry of Health to suspend all Coronavirus screening tests and to halt the publication of results until after the double vote was held. The masquerade, since that is what it is all about, was organised in violation of the Constitution and electoral laws with a tailor-made voting register, and marked by serious violence that resulted in the death of dozens of people, hundreds of wounded, thousands of arrests and massive destruction of property.

Throughout Guinea, contrary to the provisions codified in the Electoral Law, the voting process was not organised and overseen by representatives of the Electoral Commission, but by local representatives of the government and the state (sub-prefects, prefects, governors) and sometimes by uniformed officers (police officers, gendarmes, soldiers). Instead of taking place in polling stations in accordance with the Law, the counting of votes was carried out in sub-prefectures, military barracks or police stations, without the presence of polling station officials or the candidates or their representatives. In some places, the private homes of the candidates of the ruling party were even used to store election materials or to count the votes cast at the polling stations.

This massive fraud gave the results desired by the President of the Republic without surprise: more than 61% of turnout in the referendum and, hold tight, 91% of "yes" votes. With regard to the parliamentary elections, according to the results published by the Electoral Commission, the ruling party ‘RPG-arc-en-ciel’ won 37 out of 38 constituencies in the single-member constituency. The only constituency he lost is the one where he did not present a candidate. It is not without reason that the proclamation of the results of this double ballot did not arouse any enthusiasm, even among the supporters of the ruling party. Because they are aware that these results, far from reflecting the reality of the ballot boxes, were shamefully fabricated in some offices or in the military barracks.

Do you think the call for a boycott by the FNDC was well heard?

Despite intimidation and corruption, Guineans did not mobilise to vote, so the actual turnout did not exceed 20%. In reality, the active boycott by the FNDC and the opposition of the overwhelming majority of Guineans to the double ballot did not allow for the proper distribution of election materials in many constituencies, particularly in the capital Conakry, and in all the regions of Lower Guinea, Middle Guinea and the Forest Region. In these regions, several polling stations could not open or operate due to a lack of staff and/or election materials. In many places, voter cards, ballot boxes, voting booths, registration books had been ransacked or destroyed, and polling station staff intimidated.

In Nzérékoré, the regional head office of the Electoral Commission was burned down along with all the electoral material. In the constituency of Mali, only 21 polling stations out of 380 (5%) were able to open, in Tougué, 35 out of 188, in Koubia 17 out of 177, in Labé 45 out of 490, in Lélouma 14 out of 263 and in Dalaba 4 out of 205 were able to open. In Haute-Guinea, ballot papers with ‘NO’ to the referendum were not distributed. In Maléah, a rural commune of Siguiri, a stronghold of the ruling party, which had received both ‘YES’ and ‘NO’ ballot papers, the ‘NO’ largely prevailed. The Sub-Prefect (local representative of the State), distraught by the prospect of losing his job, hastened to change the results.

On the other hand, in the region of Middle Guinea, perhaps with the hopes of offering some credibility to the results, the Electoral Commission published, in some areas, the real figures of the voters’ turnout and participation. In Dalaba, for the first round of the first-past-the-post election, according to the results published by the Electoral Commission, the participation rate was only 1.19% and the candidate for the ruling was elected with only 766 votes out of 64,575 registered voters. In Labé, where the turnout was a mere 1.75%, the candidate for the ruling party was elected with 2934 votes out of 167,471 registered voters.

What impact could this empty-chair policy have on the legitimacy and legality of this election?

Far from opting for the empty-chair policy, the Political Opposition has taken its responsibility by persistently demanding the prior clean-up of the Electoral Register as a condition for its participation in the vote because this Register contained numerous anomalies and irregularities, as later recognised by the OIF (International Organisation for the Francophonie) and the ECOWAS. With an electorate of 8,330,688 voters, the voting register represented 68% of the Guinean population. However, in the sub-region, the rate is around 40%. It is 41.23% in Senegal, 31% in Côte d'Ivoire, 41.58% in Togo, 40.88% in Benin, 38.33% in Burkina Faso, 39.50% in Mali and 38.58% in Niger.

The Guinean voting register was inflated by the presence of nearly 2,500,000 fictitious voters and several hundred thousand children voluntarily enlisted in the fiefdoms of the ruling party, whereas the Electoral Commission refused to enlist regular voters in the fiefdoms of the Opposition – people who have the right to vote. Faced with the firm refusal of the Electoral Commission and the Guinean authorities to take the necessary steps to correct these irregularities, the Opposition, not wishing to endorse such a voting register, decided to withdraw from the process.

The ballot was not inclusive, there was no real competition in the absence of the Political Opposition, which holds 45% of the seats in Parliament and as many councillors in the country's communes. What undermines the credibility of this double ballot, in addition to the lack of competition, are the conditions in which the elections were organised.  I have sufficiently explained it above. To this must be added the fact that all the technical and financial partners of Guinea, including ECOWAS and the African Union, refused to deploy any Election Observation Missions on the grounds that the conditions for transparent and credible elections were not met. And after the elections, the vast majority of these partners did not fail to denounce the lack of credibility of the elections.

The FNDC leaders accuse President Alpha Condé of ambitioning to run for a third consecutive term, whereas the Constitution of 2010 forbids him to do so. By resetting the counters to zero with this constitutional referendum, a new avenue will be wide open to him. What is the state of the fight against President Alpha Condé's third term in office? Do you still hope to achieve a political alternation in view of his firm determination?

The struggle to defend the 2010 Constitution, which began on 3rd April 2019 with the creation of the FNDC, will continue beyond 22nd March. This struggle has scored important victories both inside and outside the country. The FNDC has succeeded in bringing together Guinean from all walks of life, in all its ethnic, political and socio-professional diversity for this struggle and has organised huge demonstrations against this illegal and conflict-ridden project to change the Constitution.

Despite the bloody repression that has already resulted in more than 106 deaths in Conakry and in the regions of the country, hundreds of people injured by gunfire, the kidnapping of several dozens of our leaders and supporters and their arbitrary detention, including in military camps, the FNDC's commitment to a democratic change of power remains intact. FNDC has decided not to recognise the Constitution and Parliament that will result from this electoral masquerade and is determined to continue its fight until the outright cancellation of this double vote which has no legal basis and which was organised in a complete violation of the Constitution and the laws of the land. We will therefore continue this fight until these demands are met and transparent and inclusive elections are held with a sincere and a mutually agreed electoral register, both for the parliamentary and the presidential elections in 2020.

Can you tell us about your action plan and the alternatives you plan to implement to thwart Chairman Condé's strategy?

The struggle did not stop on 22nd March. We will continue until the final victory, with the support of the overwhelming majority of Guineans. It is thanks to this popular support that, despite the deployment of all military and paramilitary forces, the double vote could not be held normally.  Although the results were announced, there was no election. What is certain is that we will continue our fight until the double ballot is cancelled and transparent and inclusive elections are held on the basis of an agreed and approved voting register, for both the parliamentary and upcoming presidential elections in 2020.

What are your expectations of the international community, especially the European Union and the United States?  Are there countries that could do more and better for democracy in Guinea?

It should be recalled that the international community, including the EU, the USA, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United Nations questioned the credibility of the double ballot held on 22nd March, citing its lack of inclusiveness, the lack of an agreed voting register; and the illegal and chaotic conditions in which the ballot was organised. We hope that the international community will maintain this position and will continue to work for the return of peace, the respect for the principles of rule of law and democracy, and the protection of human rights. In this respect, the EU and its member states are particularly expected to implement the provisions of Articles 9 and 96 of the Cotonou Agreement.

What does explain the timidity of ECOWAS' action in this Guinean crisis, compared to its firm determination when it came to resolving the Gambian post-electoral crisis in 2017?

That is a question we are asking ourselves. For example, we did not understand why the two high-level ECOWAS missions announced to arrive in Conakry were each cancelled at the last minute.  In our view, these were highly likely to sway the position of President Alpha Condé. Other questions also remain unanswered. Why did the ECOWAS Commission limit itself to simply acknowledging the organisation of the double ballot of 22nd March when all the other partners unanimously considered that these elections were not credible and strongly recommended the initiating of a political dialogue?

Nevertheless, it must be recognised that ECOWAS has taken important steps in the Guinean political crisis. Notably, it has sent an expert mission which confirmed that the voting register was indeed corrupted; and the refusal to comply with the Guinean government’s request for an ECOWAS observers’ mission to oversee the elections on 22nd March. We would like to hope that, in accordance with the principles that govern it, it will take firm action against Alpha Condé's excesses.

President Alpha Condé says, he is resistant to criticism from the international community. At the same time, he is trying to change his alliance by seeking the support of Russia and Turkey. In your opinion, what are the geopolitical implications that could result from President Condé's manoeuvres?

Having failed to find a receptive ear with Western governments for his third term, he has turned to Russia and Turkey, who clearly support him in this respect. Russia, having lots of interests in the exploitation of Guinean bauxite, had clearly expressed its support for the third term through its ambassador in 2018 during a ceremony attended by diplomatic officials presenting their New Year’s wishes to President Condé. I am not interested in geopolitics. What interests me is the interest of Guinea. Russia has maintained good relations with Guinea since our country’s independence.While we deplore the Russian Ambassador’s public support for his third term in office, we remain committed to cooperation with this long-standing partner.

Despite the abundance of natural resources, Guineans still languish under the weight of poverty. Over the past ten years the neighbouring countries Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire, both having liberal Presidents, have made a qualitative leap in terms of governance and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, leading to a boom in prosperity, economic development and social progress. At the same time, Guinea has experienced a sharp decline in democracy, a breakdown in the rule of law and massive human rights violations. Mr. Cellou Dalein Diallo, you call yourself “liberal” and you claim to belong to the liberal family, since your party, the UFDG, is a member of the African Liberal Network and Liberal International. What policies do you intend to implement to reverse the trend, if you were elected? Can you outline your governance agenda on these issues?

Our manifesto is of liberal inspiration. In a nutshell, the establishment of the rule of law, democracy and the protection of human rights are at the heart of this project. In order to achieve these objectives and very rapidly improve the living conditions of Guineans, firstly it will be necessary to set up an efficient, neutral and impartial administration, free of laxity and corruption, capable of delivering quality and professional services to citizens and of creating and maintaining a business climate that is reassuring for investors and creditors.Then, of course, it will be necessary to ensure that the judiciary is independent and impartial and that it can provide a secure remedy for citizens as well as for investors and companies whose rights are violated.

In terms of public policies areas, a top priority will be given to education, training and public health. The private sector will be encouraged to support the State in building infrastructure, modernising agriculture, and processing our agricultural and mining products, especially bauxite, on the spot, all in compliance with environmental standards. Job creation will be at the centre of all public policies and consultations with the private sector. The promotion of SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises), media, women and young people will be at the heart of this matter.

But nothing will be possible without the unity of the nation. Our people also need hope. These expectations will have to be met through trust and unity. A confident and trusting Guinea, healed from the shameful wound of ethnicism, and proud to gather upon itself. A Guinea of responsibility but also of solidarity and where the rights and freedoms of every Guinean and every foreigner in our country will be respected. This is our vision for our nation. It is on this foundation that living together in harmony will develop and build the prosperity that our people so badly need.

The human rights situation in Guinea is often decried by human rights organisations. How to put an end to these serious and systematic violations of fundamental rights, including the right to life?

Since Alpha Condé came to power in 2010, more than 200 people have been killed at close range by the defence and security forces during political and trade union demonstrations. No investigation has ever been carried out to identify and punish the perpetrators of these crimes, and no administrative sanction has ever been taken against a police and gendarmerie official. Worse, the killers are protected, and often the military and gendarmes who are enthusiastic and act with zeal in suppressing demonstrations are instead rewarded with promotions.

The government in its fight against the FNDC has gone beyond all reasonable limits. It has not only sent its killers into the concessions to gun down children and housewives; it has fired on hearses during funeral procession and fired tear gas in mosques and cemeteries, as it did in Bambéto on 4 November 2019. Mr Condé has pushed the cynicism to the point of sending the bodies of victims of police repression back from public hospital morgues and burning churches in Nzérékoré on 22nd March.

Ending these recurring human rights violations in Guinea must begin with ending impunity, as it is well known that impunity encourages recidivism. Since 2011, the Opposition has been fighting for the right to justice and reparation for victims of violence, particularly during political demonstrations. Not only does Guinea have a legal arsenal that ensures justice for all victims of violence, but the Government has also regularly committed itself, through the Political Agreements, to carry out investigations to identify and punish, in accordance with the law, the perpetrators and sponsors of crimes. Neither the law nor the commitments made in the Political Accords have ever been respected by Alpha Condé with regard to human rights violations committed during political demonstrations.


Cellou Dalein Diallo is a Guinean politician. Born in 1952 in Labé, Cellou Dalein Diallo is the President of the UFDG (Union des Forces Démocratiques de Guinée), the main opposition party in Guinea and Leader of the Opposition.

Cellou Dalein Diallo graduated in 1976 from the Conakry University with a degree in management and accountancy. He then followed several teaching programmes, among others at the Centre d’Études Économiques Financières et Bancaires (CEFEB) in Paris in 1984-1985 and at the International Monetary Fund Institute (IMF) in Washington in 1989.

Cellou Dalein Diallo began his career at the Ministry of Commerce before joining the Central Bank, where he was successively Director of Accountancy and Budget, Director of Foreign Exchange and General Director of Economic and Monetary Affairs. From 1985 to 199, he took an active part in the reorganization of the Institute of Missions and the Guinean banking system. He supervised the implementation of the Foreign Exchange regulation and of the prudential regulation of banks. He was called to government in 1996 as Minister of Transport, Telecommunications and Tourism and in 1997 he became Minister of Equipment, Transport, Infrastructure and Environment. In February 2004, he became Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture and Prime Minister in December.

Cellou Dalein Diallo has been President of the Union des Forces Démocratiques of Guinea since 2007. He took part in the 2010 presidential election, where on 24 candidates, he obtained 44% of the valid ballots cast. In September 2013, his party obtained 37 seats on 114 at the 2010 parliamentary election and he became Leader of the Opposition. In 2017, he was elected Executive Vice-President of the Liberal International.