African review

A late and brief review of two major West African elections held earlier this month (or in late October). The first round of the elections in Côte d’Ivoire were held on October 31 and a runoff is tentatively scheduled for November 28. The first round of the elections in Guinea were held way back in late June but the runoff was finally held on November 7. I hadn’t talked about the Guinean elections because I don’t know much about the situation, but I did preview the Ivorian elections.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the first round of voting opens up a runoff which is totally unpredictable. Incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, in office since 2000, comes first with 38.04%. But his two major opponents take the bulk of the remaining votes. Alassane Ouattara, supported by former northern rebels, will face Gbagbo in the runoff after taking 32.07% of the vote. Former President Henri Konan Bédié, the candidate of the old Baoulé-PDCI elite, is behind with 25.24%. Bédié has contested these results, but they will stick and his voters will still probably back Ouattara in the runoff as he had pledged to do before the first round. This might be enough to push Ouattara over the top, or it might not.

I had said that the results by region would be interesting, and they are.

Most patterns are predictable. Ouattara has huge backing in the traditionally Muslim areas of the north, Bédié is strongest in the Baoulé homeland while Gbagbo has more widespread southern support but polls best in the Bété homeland. To win, Ouattara will need to assemble a coalition taking up the bulk of Bédié’s southern Baoulé while running up huge margins in the Dioula and Sénoufo Muslim areas up north.

In Guinea, these were the first democratic elections since independence in 1958. Between 1958 and 1984, the country had been led into the drain under the rule of Ahmed Sékou Touré, one of West Africa’s most sanguinary despots. Between 1984 and 2008, the country was ruled by slightly milder dictator Lansana Conté who was promptly succeeded by a military junta led first by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, and now by Brigadier General Sékouba Konaté. The presidential ballot predictably included a lot of heavy weights, but no close allies of the ruling junta were amongst the top candidates. On June 27, former Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo (a close ally of Lansana Conté who broke with Conté in 2006/2007) got 43.69% of the vote. A long-time opponent of both the Conté and Sékou Touré regimes, Alpha Condé, placed a distant second with 18.25%. Former Prime Minister Sidya Touré, who had also broken with Conté (but much earlier than Diallo) got 13.02%. Another former Prime Minister, Lansana Kouyaté got 7.04%. The vote split heavily along ethnic lines, making a map of the first round a good demographic guide to the country.

Cellou Dalein Diallo dominated in the Peul stronghold of Middle Guinea and the Fouta-Djalon plateau. Condé dominated in Malinké-populated Upper Guinean plain, while Sidya Touré did best in the Susu-populated areas along the Atlantic coastline. Three other candidates also won prefectures, most of them in the Guinée forestière region, a densely forested area near the Liberian border populated largely by smaller ethnic groups such as the Kpèllés and Kissi. Ahead of the runoff, most small candidates backed Condé but Sidya Touré, who had contested first round results, ended up backing Diallo. Yet, the main factor coming into play ahead of the runoff featuring a candidate from the country’s two largest ethnicities, the Peul and Malinké; were ethnic loyalties.

According to runoff figures, Condé has won with 52.52% against 47.48% for Cellou Dalein Diallo. Ethnic votes allowed Condé to catch up with the first round’s frontrunner. A map clearly shows that despite Cellou Dalein Diallo’s utter dominance (often taking 85-95% of the vote) in the Fouta-Djalon plateau region, Condé managed the same numbers in the Upper Guinean plains and also raked up the quasi-entirety of votes cast for first round favourite son contenders such as Kouyaté, Telliano and Kourouma. In maritime Guinea, despite Sidya Touré’s endorsement of Diallo, Condé also won the bulk of the Susu vote there and also won by the narrowest of margins in Conakry, the capital.

Diallo has not recognized the results (which seems to be usual for defeated candidates in African elections), and there have been bloody ethnic clashes, mainly in Conakry, between ethnic Peuls and Malinkés. Relieving ethnic tensions will be but one of Condé’s (who is 72) challenges. Guinea, despite rich mineral (bauxite) resources, is extremely poor and extremely corrupt; and has no democratic past whatsoever. Condé is undoubtedly one of the best possible persons to deal with these issues, but the country is in dire need of competent leaders to get it out of the ditch.

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Posted on November 21, 2010, in Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. No comments on the danger of the combination of a presidency only one can win and an ‘ethnic census’-election?

  2. That sort of thing is so common in West Africa that mentioning it is almost passé.

  3. Ethnicized election are really awful. Getting rid of that is the only was for Africa to have workable democracies.

  4. to Antonio V:

    Is the only way to have workable democracies ‘getting rid of ethnicized elections’? You can wish that to happen, but how to do it in a democratic way? The question is: how to manage ethnic problems in a democratic way? My point was: a powerful one-person presidency is not on that route.

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