It was heralded as an election that would finally bring democracy to a coup-weary West African nation, but Guinea’s much-postponed Nov. 7 presidential runoff ended up exposing deep ethnic fault lines and has sparked a threat of further ethnic violence.
Violence broke out Monday when the country’s electoral commission announced provisional results declaring Alpha Conde the victor in a tight race against his rival, former Prime Minister Cellou Dalien Diallo.
At least seven people were killed and nearly 200 injured in the clashes as the still leaderless country awaits the outcome of Diallo’s challenge to Guinea's Supreme Court. The court is expected to announce its decision next week.
The clashes saw members of Diallo’s mostly Peul – or Fulani - supporters pitted against Conde’s largely Malinke and Soussou ethnic base.
A tense calm has prevailed in the Guinean capital of Conakry following the declaration of a state of emergency by the country’s interim military leader on Thursday.
But reporting from Conakry on Friday, FRANCE 24’s Pauline Simonet said simmering tensions remained between the Soussou and Malinke ethnic groups in the city’s capital.
“The tension is palpable”, said Simonet. “There is a profound sense of suspicion between the two communities”.
‘We don’t attack them, they attack us’
In Conakry, a city of several ethnically divided neighbourhoods, tribal elders were calling for calm.
"Everyone should stay home, avoid a fight, do not throw stones. We ask everyone to control their children", said Tenaba Mamadou, district head of Coloma, a Conakry suburb that is home to ethnic Peul and Soussou residents.
FRANCE 24's Simonet noted that in many parts of the city, ethnic neighbourhoods were just yards apart, but she added: “For the moment there is no communication between them at all”.
Responding to Mamadou’s call for calm in Coloma, a young Soussou resident insisted: “We don't attack them, they attack us. Your call for calm is noble, but honestly if they attack us we will respond”.
A Peul-dominated neighbourhood is just 50 yards away. Residents there told FRANCE 24 that their Soussou neighbours accompanied by men wearing uniforms destroyed their belongings and attacked them.
‘Smashing houses’ won’t help the country
In an interview with FRANCE 24 on Thursday, Condé, who was declared the poll winner, said he understood the frustration felt by Diallo’s supporters.
“I have to make them understand that smashing houses is not what will help develop the country”, said Conde. “Guinea has such challenges that we can’t waste our time in frivolous opposition. Each of us should have a common programme that is to get Guinea out of this misery”.
The hugely anticipated vote ended two years of rule by a military junta that was marked by often excessive use of force by security forces.
In one particularly bloody event in September 2009
, soldiers and police ran amok at an opposition demonstration at a football stadium, killing up to 156 people and injuring many more.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) warned this week that continued heavy-handed police and army reactions against protesters risked exacerbating the conflict.
“Guinea’s leaders must take urgent measures to halt widespread attacks against defenceless civilians and to prevent political tensions from degenerating into large-scale ethnic violence and regional instability”, the organisation said in a statement.
“If Guinea’s security and defence forces do not enforce greater discipline in their ranks, the country could quickly descend into further chaos ... (which) would ruin Guinea’s transition process and endanger the prospects of investment”.