Conde, a veteran opposition leader, was elected on November 7 in a vote meant to end nearly two years of military leadership in the West African mineral-producing country, and to draw a line under half a century of authoritarian rule often marked by political and tribal violence.
“I will try in my small way to be Guinea’s Mandela and unite every son of Guinea,” Conde said after taking his oath. “The restoration of social cohesion and national unity requires a collective look at our painful past.”
His inauguration was attended by current South African President Jacob Zuma and the heads of state of regional neighbours Guinea Bissau, Mali, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Senegal.
Guinea’s election has been held up by the United Nations and others as an example in democracy for African neighbours including Ivory Coast, where a dispute over an election on November 28 has pushed the nation to the brink of renewed civil war.
“I have hope, a lot of hope,” said Moumouni Konate, an unemployed former micro-lending agent. “I know that things will change in this country because Alpha has promised it.”
Guinea is the world’s biggest exporter of bauxite, the raw material in aluminium, and has iron ore deposits that have drawn billions of dollars in planned investments from companies such as Rio Tinto and Vale.
But poor governance and political turmoil have kept mining revenues from reaching ordinary Guineans, most of whom eke out an existence on less than US$1 a day and many of whom lack access to clean water, electricity, and education.
The November 7 election was billed as the country’s first free vote, but its result triggered several days of clashes between supporters of Conde’s rival Cellou Dalein Diallo and Guinea’s notoriously brutal security forces.
Diallo conceded defeat but has insisted the election was marred by fraud and that thousands of his mostly ethnic Peul supporters were chased from their voting constituencies by Conde’s backers, who include many ethnic Malinke. Stability in Guinea could provide investors the legal certainty they need, and could shore up fragile gains in a region hit by three armed conflicts since the late 1990s.
Conde has already promised a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission to examine atrocities ranging from the recent violence to the use of starvation cells to execute dissidents under Sekou Toure, Guinea’s first president.
“The work starts now. Food independence in three years, the fight against corruption and theft of public funds, all of this will require profound reform,” said Yero Balde, an economist, speaking about the challenges facing Conde.
Conde’s rise to power follows 50 years in opposition which included exile and a death sentence under Toure and prison under Guinea’s second president, General Lansana Conte.
He has promised to reform the country’s notoriously unruly military, review mining contracts, and increase public access to water, electricity, and education. “Expectations are high and one wonders how the new president could possibly meet them,” said Balde. “It will be difficult.”
Mining companies are eager to see Conde’s choices for key cabinet posts, particularly for head of the mines ministry, amid a series of contract disputes and huge joint venture deals that require ratification.
Mining earns about 80% of Guinea’s currency receipts, but revenues have fallen on less than US$150 million a year from around US$200 million in the 1980s and 1990s. –– Reuters.