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Guinea has struggled under President Condé, but Russia backs his quest for a third term

Screen capture from a video of the Russian Ambassador giving his speech by Africa Guinee TV on YouTube [in French]

On January 9, 2019, Alexander Bregadze, the Russian Federation's ambassador to the Republic of Guinea, sent his New Year's compliments to Alpha Condé, president of the West African country.

He filmed the video greeting in Conakry, the capital, where his diplomatic office is located — and in his speech, broached a particularly sensitive subject — the possibility of Guineans changing the constitution to allow President Condé to seek a third term after his current tenure expires in 2020:

Depuis que la Guinée est devenue la Guinée d’Alpha Condé, elle est vraiment en marche. Monsieur le Président vous êtes un exemple phare pour la jeunesse guinéenne. Malheureusement, le principe d’alternance qui domine beaucoup de Constitutions dans le monde, mais pas toutes heureusement, impose la mentalité de revanche: ‘C’est notre tour, maintenant c’est nous qui devons diriger le pays…’

Mais les Constitutions ne sont pas ni dogme, ni Bible, ni Coran.

Since Guinea has become the Guinea of Alpha Condé, it is truly on the march. Mr. President, you are a beacon to the youth of your country. Unfortunately, the principle of political succession, which dominates many constitutions in the world, not all happily, entrenches an attitude of payback: ‘It's our turn now, we must run the country…’

But constitutions are neither dogma, Bible, nor Quran.

“Constitutions adapt themselves to reality”, he continued in Condé's presence, making it clear that reality did not adapt itself to constitutions: “Even for Christians, there's the New Testament and the Old.”

According to the ambassador, all is well in Guinea. And yet, the facts reflect another reality.

Teachers went on a general strike this year that lasted three months, unemployment is growing nationwide, and Guinea was found to be the chief country of origin for illegal migrants entering Europe in 2018, with a staggering statistic of 13,068 people.

Yet, the ambassador went on:

Sous nos yeux la Guinée devient le pays le plus électrifié de l’Afrique. D’une année à l’autre,  on circule mieux sur les routes entre Conakry et les régions guinéennes.

Before our eyes, Guinea is becoming the most electrified country in Africa. Year after year, the roads between Conakry and the regions are getting easier to drive.

In an article for the newspaper Vision Guinée, journalist Pathé Bah writes that Ousmane Kaba, a former strategic adviser of President Condé, acknowledged in a public intervention:

La Guinée est dans l’obscurité, Il n’y a pas d’électricité dans notre pays. C’est pourquoi, je me suis battu pour avoir l’argent pour construire Kaleta sur le Konkouré. On se bat pour avoir beaucoup de barrages sur le Konkouré, parce que cela fait avancer le pays.

Guinea is in darkness. There is no electricity in our country. That is why I have fought for the money to build Kaleta [a hydroelectric power station] on the Konkouré [river]. We are fighting to get many reservoirs on the Konkouré, because it takes the country forward.

As for the country's economy, the finance minister estimates the level of growth at 5.8 percent for 2018, with an inflation rate of 8 percent.  The African Development Bank reckons that Guinea marked growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) of 6.6 percent in 2016 and 6.4 percent in 2017 — but that didn't stop the ambassador from declaring exaggerated numbers to indicate growth:

Ces dernières années on a constaté la croissance entre 10,5% en 2016 et de 6 au 7% en 2018 avec le pronostic de 7% en 2019…Connaissez-vous beaucoup de pays en Afrique qui font mieux ?

… Over the last few years, we have seen an increase of between 10.5 percent in 2016, and from 6 to 7 per cent in 2018, with a forecast of 7 percent in 2019 … Do you know many countries in Africa which are doing better?

The ambassador added road conditions to his litany of praise for the president. However, Alimou Sow, an eminent Guinean blogger, shared a contradictory experience on his blog:

Je suis debout dès potron-minet pour affronter, en solitaire, le tronçon jugé le plus difficile, Conakry-Kindia — 135 km que l’on accomplissait, il y a quelques années, en un peu moins de deux heures montre en main. Maintenant, il faut rajouter deux heures supplémentaires pour crapahuter sur la même distance devenue un parcours de rêve pour un rallye raid de type «Paris-Dakar», tant la route est en piteux état.

I've been up since daybreak to confront, alone, what is judged to be the most difficult stretch, Conakry-Kindia — 135 kilometers, which one could complete, a few years ago, in a little under two hours by the stopwatch. Now, you must add two more hours to crawl the same distance, turned into a dream route for an endurance rally à la ‘Paris-Dakar’, so perilous is the state of the road.

In 2016, members of the Guinea Bloggers’ Association launched a campaign to draw attention to the state of the country's roads, and show their exasperation via the hashtag #montronsnosroutes [let's show our roads].

“The Guinea Bloggers Association will start a campaign to denounce the state of the road in Guinea. The idea is to share a photo on social media with the #ShowOurRoads hashtag.” Launch image for the de Guinea Bloggers’ Association's campaign #montronsnosroutes. Used with permission.

The Russian ambassador's speech has caused embarrassment to both civil society and the diplomatic community. Guinea's opposition leader, Cellou Dalein Diallo, castigated the diplomat's attitude in these terms, quoted by Balla Yombouno in the newspaper Le Djely:

Il a été manipulé par Alpha Condé [le Président de la Guinée] lui-même. Et nous savons qu’il est le représentant d’une grande nation, d’un grand pays qui a participé activement à la décolonisation du continent africain, et qui a eu une relation exemplaire avec la Guinée dans le respect du principe de non-ingérence dans les affaires intérieures […] Nous allons essayer aussi de saisir le gouvernement russe pour faire état de cette prise de position …

He has been manipulated by Alpha Condé himself. And we know that he is the representative of a great nation, a great country which actively participated in the decolonisation of the African continent, and which has had an exemplary relationship with Guinea in respect of the principle of non-interference in internal affairs […] We will be striving to contact the Russian government to press this position …

Speaking on behalf of civil society activists, Gabriel Haba, president of the Citizen Action Brigade, expressed  indignation sparked by the ambassador's support; journalist Ibrahima Sory Barry posted about it for Aminata.com:

La question de l’alternance est une question de souveraineté. Et la souveraineté appartient au peuple. Il n’est pas du rôle d’un ambassadeur de dicter à la Guinée sa destinée. C’est de l’ingérence dans les affaires internes de notre pays.

The question of political succession is a question of sovereignty. And sovereignty belongs to the people. It is not part of an ambassador's role to dictate Guinea's fate. It is an interference in our country's internal affairs.

The civil society organisation Cellule Balai Citoyen (Citizen's Sweep Up) published a press release, which read in part:

La Guinée vit sous le risque d’un embrassement sans précèdent susceptible de découler d’un forcing politico-social en faveur d’un 3e mandat en violation de l’actuelle constitution mais aussi de l’éthique dans la gouvernance démocratique. Cette tentative qui se fait de plus en plus sentir peut être source d’une violence politique aux graves violations de droits de l’homme dans notre pays qui peine encore à cicatriser le lourd passif dans cette matière, de l’indépendance à nos jours.

Guinea is at risk of an unprecedented embarassment which is liable to unleash a sociopolitical impetus for a third term in violation of the current constitution and indeed, the ethics of democratic governance. This increasingly palpable attempt could give rise to political violence with serious human rights violations in our country, which is still struggling to make good the heavy legacy of this kind from independence to our own time.

On Facebook, writer and commentator Ibrahim Marie Sanoh wrote:

C'est fort abstrus que ce soit un étranger qui doit saluer les prouesses du pouvoir guinéen et plaider à ce qu'il lui soit accordé d'autres années pour faire du pays le plus électrifié du contient le plus industriel du monde, tandis que le peuple qui l'a investi manifeste une cruelle indifférence et ne pipe mot.

It's pretty peculiar that it takes a foreigner to pay tribute to the Guinean regime's feats, and plead for it to be given more years to make the country the most electrified in the world's most industrial continent, while the people who have brought it to power manifest a cruel indifference and have nothing to say.

Meanwhile, the behaviour of other ambassadors attracted the attention of Guinean blogger Nouhou Baldé:

Cette déclaration est tellement grave que le silence des autres n'est pas à excuser si facilement. D'autant que certains de ceux qui ont pris la parole par la suite (l'ambassadeur du Maroc, le représentant de la Banque mondiale…) ont dit ne pas dire mieux que le russe. Personne ne s'est désolidarisé de cette déclaration et aucune ambassade n'a publié un communiqué…

This declaration is so serious that the silence of the rest can't so easily excuse it. All the more so as some of those who have spoken up since (the Moroccan ambassador, the representative of the World Bank…) have said the same as — that is to say, no better than — their Russian counterpart. No one has disassociated themselves from this declaration and no embassy has published a communiqué …

On January 14, security forces dispersed a demonstration outside the Russian embassy, which civil society organisations had organised in protest over the ambassador's comments.

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