Alpha Condé, portrait of a political animal

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At 82, the current head of state is running in the presidential election on October 18 to run for a third term following the controversial adoption of a new constitution in March last year. From historical opponent to presidents Sékou Touré, then Lansana Conté to president of the Republic of Guinea, a look back at the career of a man with multiple and sometimes conflicting facets.

From our correspondent,

When he holds a meeting, Alpha Condé undergoes a metamorphosis. With a hoarse voice that seems to come from the depths, he pursues the audience, strides the stage like a cat, grimaces and imitates like a comedian. “At times like these, he’s on another planet, I’m not even trying to talk to him,” says a close associate.

Born on March 4, 1938 in the Lower Coast region, this original Malinké, educated at Fathers College, traveled to France at the age of 15 to pursue his studies. At the Lycée Turgot in Paris, he forged bonds of friendship that will last his entire life, especially with Bernard Kouchner. At the Sorbonne, but also at Sciences-Po, Condé rubbed his shoulders with Jean-Pierre Chevènement, André Santini, Pierre-André Wiltzer, Michèle Alliot-Marie and especially the Africanist Albert Bourgi, who remains one of his most faithful companions. Investment banker Jean-Paul Dessertine remembers “a very elegant boy and a little seductive. The typical portrait of the revolutionary African student at the time! ”

Alpha Condé draws a sulfur-containing reputation as a “leftist” with a “bad influence” on African students, which he takes under his wing and guides in the hallways of the university campus. “He often said, ‘When I become president,’ he believed it hard as iron, we a little less, but in the end it was he who was right,” notes Edmond Jouve, then professor at the Sorbonne.

He fought for SNESUP (National Union of Higher Education) and Federation of Students of Black Africa in France, of which he became president, then coordinator of national groups at the time the organization was torn apart in fratricide between the pro-Moscow Orthodox to the partisans of China or Albania of which he is a part.

Initially favorable for Sékou Toure, who had just proclaimed independence after the historic “no” in the 1958 referendum, he moved away three years later given the authoritarian turn taken by the regime that sentenced him to death in absence in 1970.

“When he rang my doorbell to show me the article about his conviction, I did everything I could to ensure that his assistant contract was renewed,” Edmond Jouve recalls. In the mid-1970s, Alpha Condé joined the Sucres et Denitées trading company, but did not lose sight of politics. He traveled throughout West Africa and laid the foundations for what would become his party, the Rassemblement du peuple de Guinée (RPG).

A “sentimental

Organized in divided cells for greater security, the early activists remember leaflets transported in packages of laundry to cross the Ivorian border. But also of oppression, abuse and imprisonment. The legacy is still present in RPGs, where division and centralization remain strong: the party officially no longer has a president since Alpha Condé took office.

He returned to the country in 1991 and ran for president in 1993, then in 1998, but was arrested shortly before the results were announced and sentenced to five years in prison for endangering state security after a “judicial guerrilla war” which his friend, lawyer Me Boukounta Diallo, remembers with emotion.

Forgiven three years later, “he comes out of prison hardened and strengthened in his determination,” said a relative. He may seem impulsive and brutal, but he is sentimental. He may be clumsy or irritable, these are behaviors he has never been able to control, but it is not evil. ”

IN 2010, The “historical opponent” has never been a member of any government and uses it to present a picture of a new candidate with “clean hands”.

“I inherited a country, but not a state,” he says to explain the size of the task. Ten years later, Alpha Condé is proud to have lined the army, built hydropower plants which should increase the country’s energy production and revised mining contracts. But the population does not feel the fallout from strong growth, only driven by the export of bauxite.

In the mid-2010s, Guinea took the gamble of supplying to Chinese industry after Indonesia banned the sale of the raw ore to encourage local processing, and Malaysia decided to discontinue production because of too polluting.

The country is thus implementing for the first time an economic and financial program with the IMF. Despite this, it still lags behind in development indicators.

Politics in the blood

“Same president, Alpha Condé continues to speak the opponent’s speeches,” an observer judges. His favorite targets are his two main political rivals, Cellou Dalein Diallo and Sidya Touré, two former prime ministers whom he accuses of having “brought the country to the ground” when they were in business during the military regime in Lansana Conté. But over the years, the head of state has brought back many former leaders in the Second Republic. Among them his current prime minister, Ibrahima Kassory Fofana, his special adviser, Tibou Camara, or the secretary-general of the presidency, Kiridi Bangoura. A former guard who cohabits with new, younger heads, like his chief of staff, Ibrahima Khalil Kaba, or his protocol chief, the very energetic and multitasking Mamadi Sinkoun Kaba.

Alpha Condé has politics in his blood. “He devoted his whole life to it,” notes analyst Cabinet Fofana. Even his most ardent opponents recognize his talents as a strategist. He was able to divide the opposition by reaching out and bringing back some of his most ardent opponents to the government, such as Mouctar Diallo, the current youth minister, or Sidya Touré, who held the post of senior head of state. He knows how to play with the rivalry between Bah Oury and Cellou Dalein Diallo, the enemy’s brothers at the helm of the UFDG. Accused of playing the ethnic card, Alpha Condé denies it by invoking his other Fulani warriors or his Pan-African beliefs.

Re-elected in the first round in 2015, the president promises to devote his second term to women and young people, but his government does not yet apply the parity introduced in the new constitution. The nickname “Promise Dad” by its opponents, Alpha Condé announces, decides and orders: “A tablet for every student”, “free health for all”, “electricity, running water”, “jobs for young people” … And is upset to see that the execution is missing. The reason according to his relatives? The head of state is ubiquitous and wants to control everything with the risk of falling into micro-management. He sometimes calls ordinary citizens directly to inquire about the state of his country.

“Alpha Condé drowns in detail”

In 2013, he personally took the answer to the Ebola epidemic in hand. Even today, he can be heard ordering cans of sardines designed to make sandwiches for his campaign delegates or T-shirts in party colors. “Alpha Condé drowns in detail,” apologizes a loved one. He likes contact; in the middle of a meeting, he comes down from the platform and disappears into the crowd, “making his near guard crazy”. The president is going fast, very fast. He lives at a hectic pace and jumps from planes to helicopters to inaugurate at all costs. He still takes the time to scan the international press or talk about his career. He knows all the secrets of African and French politics and has a visible delight in talking about his relationship to the great in this world.

“I want to be Mandela in West Africa,” he proclaimed the day after his 2010 election, referring to his past as an imprisoned opponent. But Mandela only served a period, his opponents remember. It is “the biggest disillusionment in our country’s political history”, the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution responds to the announcement of its candidacy for a third term following the controversial adoption of a new constitution. “Free Alpha Condé,” sang reggaeman Tiken Jah Fakoly. Today, his title “Alpha Goes Crazy” resounds over the speakers during the FNDC demonstrations.

Even his longtime friends have a hard time talking about this “turnaround”. Alpha Condé gets annoyed. “Is Guinea the only country where a sitting president is drafting a new constitution that could allow him to run for re-election?” Why are we creating a scandal out of it? “He seems convinced that he is not done with his work:” We only had seven and a half years with the Ebola epidemic, “he told his activists. “Sierra Leone and Liberia too”, his opponents reply.

“Allowing an alternation is a kind of capitulation”

“There is also a personal logic, it’s me or nothing … He finds out that it is a kind of capitulation to allow an exchange. He believes the first presidents died in power, so why not him? “, Analyzes Cabinet Fofana.” He may be right, but the hubris of power seems to be turning its head, “said a relative who saw ‘s’ exacerbate the authoritarian temperament’ of the former ‘Mao’ conversion to democracy. China, Turkey and Russia are today its main allies. “But Alpha has neither the brutality nor the grip of an autocrat, he swings without tilting,” he adds.

“It’s extraordinary that I’m considered a dictator,” he exclaims in one recent interview with RFI, before we remove the reports from international NGOs documenting the violence from the security forces and the dozens of deaths besides the demonstrations since 2010.

“I want the young people to take power!” He says to his activists. But at the age of 82, Alpha Condé is still more determined than ever to return for a third period and has not brought out any potential second places.

Also read: President of Guinea: Cellou Dalein Diallo, a technocrat who went into politics