Guineans Want Their Presidential Candidates to Run on Policy, Not Ethnicity

Les opérations d’affichage des listes électorales provisoires via  Jacob Kpézé Guilavogui CC-BY-40

Provisional lists of candidates being posted. Photo by Jacob Kpézé Guilavogui CC-BY-40

The citizens of Guinea-Conakry are preparing to cast their ballot for president on 11 October, a vote that is eagerly awaited since the 2010 elections — the first free elections held in the country since independence — were marred by irregularities and ethnic tensions.

The country’s blogosphere is buzzing with anticipation. Many social media users and bloggers have revived the Association des Bloggeurs de Guinée (the Guinean Association of Bloggers), also known as Ablogui, and have set up Facebook pages to share their views. Their main objective is to reform political discourse by forcing candidates to talk about their policies rather than their ethnicity.

On 10 September, coinciding with the beginning of the electoral campaign, Ablogui launched GuinéeVote, a platform whose goal is to provide a tool to compare the policies of the eight candidates. But as of 6 October, only two candidates have provided their policy manifesto to the platform, and current President Alpha Condé, who is running for reelection, announced his on social networks. The remaining five haven't communicated their plans for the country, hindering the citizen effort for more transparent elections.

Banner of the Guinea Votes Project to encourage citizen election monitoring via Ablogui with their permission

Banner of the Guinea Votes Project to encourage citizen election monitoring via Ablogui with their permission

Fodé Kouyaté Sanikayi, president of Ablogi, explained that it is critical that voters base their choice on policies and therefore policies need to be made available to the public:

En fin de compte, on ne vote pas des programmes, mais plutôt des personnes. Les partis ont été incapables de faire une divulgation adéquate de leurs programmes, ils ne savent pas mobiliser les citoyens autour de leurs objectifs de sorte qu’il est plus facile de jouer la carte du communautarisme, celle de l’appartenance ethnique. Voilà les raisons de notre l’initiative de changer le discours politique. Des discours simplistes et bon marché qui font appel aux différences ethniques, en aggravant les antagonismes, qui conduisent souvent aux tensions et même à la violence, nous voulons une comparaison des contenus des programmes proposés, forçant les politiciens à être plus constructifs en essayant de convaincre leurs électeurs dans l’exercice cohérent du pouvoir.

At the end of the day [in Guinea], we do not vote for programs, but rather for individuals. Political parties were unable to make adequate disclosure of their programs, they do not know how to mobilize citizens around their policies so it's easier for them to play the community/ethnic card. That is why we started this initiative: to change the political discourse. We do not want simplistic and cheap speeches that only appeal to ethnicity and are worsening antagonistic ethnic tension. This often leads to further tensions and even violence. We want to compare the contents of the proposed programs, forcing politicians to be more constructive in trying to convince their constituents on how they will exercise the power that will bestowed upon them.

Guinea is home to several ethnic groups, with the Fula people and the Mandinka people representing about two-thirds of the population.

The GuinéeVote platform also offers an interactive map that will collect and curate social media to monitor the elections:

Interactive Map of Guinee election monitoring  plateform

Snapshot of Map of Guinee election monitoring platform

‘A bit like making solemn promises’

Beyond GuinéeVote, the country's bloggers have tried to find original ways to talk about the election.

For example, Diakite Ibrahima Kalil, a Conakry resident and member of Ablogi, compared politicians with sales representatives in the way they have conducted their campaign:

Voici la figure d’analogie Commerce = Politique :

Leader politique = Commerçant

Projet de société = Marchandise

Electeurs = Clients

Vote = L’achat effectué par les clients

Pouvoir = Bénéfice

Campagne électorale = Publicité

A chart showing the analogy between commerce and politics:

Political Leader = Shopkeeper

Their vision for society = Goods

Electors = Customers

Vote = A purchase made by the customers

Power = Profit

Electoral Campaign = Advertising

He also criticised that some candidates refused to publish their policies or ignored the importance of the GuinéeVote platform. He argued that politicians ought to have taken advantage of the opportunity to explain their candidacy:

Dans d’autres pays ce genre d’initiative serait appuyé très convoité non seulement par les potentiels partenaires mais aussi par les politiques, puisque c’est un canal qui permet de divulgation de leurs intentions et projets chose qui peut séduire le maximum d’électeurs à travers le web à cette époque de nouvelle technologie et d’interconnexion, c’est de l’e-campagne. Mais depuis son lancement, beaucoup de ces candidats n'ont pas encore transmis leurs programmes…

Faire connaître son projet c’est en quelque sorte se faire des obligations solennelles qu’on aura à remplir une fois au pouvoir. Mais celui qui ne fait pas connaître son projet ne veut pas avoir d’obligation envers le peuple, moi je dis [si] une telle personne devient président, vous n’aurez rien à lui reproché quoi qu’il fasse puisqu’il n’y a pas eu de contrat entre vous, il n’a pris aucun engagement. Disons donc que le projet de société est un engagement pour un leader politique à réaliser les attentes du peuple une fois au pouvoir.

In other countries this type of initiative would be enthusiastically supported, not only by potential contributors, but also by politicians. In this era of new technology and interconnection, the Web is a channel through which politicians can communicate their intentions and projects and hence attract the maximum number of electors, through an e-campaign. But since its launch, many of the candidates have still not sent in their programmes…

Publishing a manifesto is a bit like making solemn promises that must be fulfilled once you are in power. But those who do not publish their programmes do not want to be under any obligation to the people. In my view, if such a person becomes president, then whatever they do, you will have nothing to complain about, because there was no contract between you since they made no promises. So we can say that a political leader’s vision for society is a commitment to carry through the will of the people once he gains power.

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