Ouattara and Conde, two contrasting African leaders

At a recent meeting of Cote d’Ivoire’s leading political and business leaders, President Alassane Ouattara declared that he will not be seeking an extension of his constitutionally allowed two term limits, which expires in October this year. Expectedly, this was greeted with all round commendation both locally and internationally as it signals the opening of the democratic space in the country.

Ouattara’s positive announcement comes just as events in its next door neighbour, the Republic of Guinea are taking an opposite turn. President Alpha Conde who was a guest of President Muhammadu Buhari during last year’s eid-el Kabir festival is seeking to amend the country’s constitution to allow for a new two-term limit of six years each. This crucial amendment is conveniently included in the provisions of the referendum, which seek to outlaw gender mutilation and give equal rights to women in the country.  If the referendum is passed, it will give eighty one year old President Conde, a former opposition leader who has been in power since 2010 when he won elections in the country’s first democratic elections the opportunity to seek a fresh mandate, which will see him rule for a possible twelve years.

As expected, there has been widespread condemnation of the move both locally and internationally, which has led to its being postponed twice. The Economic Community of West African States, (ECOWAS) the regional bloc of which Guinea is a member has found fictitious names and over bloated figures in the register of voters for the referendum. The opposition has protested what it calls the ‘’undemocratic nature’’ of the referendum. Clashes between government forces and demonstrators against the referendum have resulted in death toll of over thirty persons so far.

But the president remains undeterred. He has pressed home with the referendum and parliamentary elections, which took place on Sunday March 22, 2020 amid a call for total boycott by the opposition. Also, the timing of the referendum could hardly be inauspicious against the background of the outbreak of the corona virus pandemic in which two cases have so far been reported in Guinea.   Informed observers believe that under this acrimonious atmosphere, the result of the referendum cannot be credible and it will most likely plunge Guinea into a future of avoidable uncertainty.

It can be said that the example of Ouattara in Cote d’Ivoire may have to do with the circumstances which brought him to power in 2010. It is worth recalling that following Ouattara’s election to succeed President Laurent Gbagbo, the latter reneged on the handover and a bitter civil war ensued in the country which claimed thousands of lives. Eventually, it needed the intervention of France to effect the installation of Ouattara to power. In drawing lessons from that unfortunate experience and for acting to prevent a repeat of it, President Ouattara deserves our commendation. He has deservedly earned a place among the icons of democracy in Africa.

Like Cote d’ Ivoire too, Guinea has followed a similar trajectory in political instability. But under the current circumstances, they could not have been more dissimilar. While President Outtara has done the needful, president Conde of Guinea tragically, as a former opposition leader himself who knows the pains of authoritarianism, seems not to have imbibed the lessons of the democratic struggle that brought him to power. At the ripe age of eighty one, no one needs to tell President Conde that it is too late to play these kinds of political shenanigans.  And worse, he seems against better judgement to be embarking on a course of action which can only bring further problems to his embattled country in the short and long term. That is hardly the kind of legacy expected of an elder statesman to live behind for his country.

Before it is too late, we urge President Conde of Guinea to hearken to the voice of reason both within his country and abroad, and allow the nascent democracy in Guinea grow. The current uncertainties in the country have to do with his desire to cling to power through a dubious constitutional amendment that would favour him. He should do the most honourable thing by stepping down when his tenure expires in December this year, allowing for other fresh candidates to contest.

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