Guinea: A Triumph for African Democracy

07/22/2010 04:06 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

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 and opposition hero Cellou Dalein Diallo (43%) and Alpha Conde (18%) 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. Among the injured was Ceillou Diallo, now the front runner to win the Presidency in next moth's election.

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 administer 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, water, medicine and food security. Nonetheless, Guinea is off to a good start. The last several monhs have been nothing short of remarkable. they prove that elections alone do not bring about democracy. Without an independent and acceptable judiciary, elections could not be adjudicated; without a free press, voters could not get unbiased reporting on the candidates etc. Yesterday, we witnessed not only an effective handling of fraud allegations, but more importantly, we saw the other candidates accept the ruling and a country ready to move on peacefully to the second round.

All this is happening in a country that has never held a democratic election in its history. Africa and the rest of the world should stop and pay attention to the miracle that is unfolding in Guinea.

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