If Guinea Can…
If Guinea can pull off free and fair elections this weekend, it will lay the foundations for what could be one of Africa’s most unexpected and significant good news stories.
True, any new government must still deal with widespread poverty, a shattered economy and an army that just nine months ago was involved in mass killings and gang rapes of opposition marchers.
But such has been the catalogue of military putsches, tainted votes and constitution-tinkering by incumbents in the immediate neighbourhood that a genuine election in Guinea should send a signal across West Africa and beyond.
“If it can happen in Guinea, it’s lesson for other countries and an incentive to (the world) to maintain engagement,” said Rolake Akinola, Africa analyst at Eurasia Group.
On one level, Sunday’s elections are a fluke – the result of a bullet fired by a former aide at former junta leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, grazing his skull and putting him out of action and in temporary exile in neighbouring Burkina Faso.
But on another level, they stem from a profound hunger among Guineans to put their dysfunctional past behind them and an international awareness that the country — crucial to regional stability — had reached tipping point.
The United States, European Union, France, Japan, Spain and others have piled in with an estimated 40 million euros of funding for the election process.
And Washington and Paris have discreetly but emphatically lent their weight to the regional diplomacy that has kept Dadis Camara out of the picture.
Of course, such direct intervention would be unthinkable in countries which had not plumbed the depths reached by Guinea.
But if things hold together in Guinea, it should bolster the arguments of those in rich world capitals who argue in favour of engagement — whether via targeted sanctions, shuttle diplomacy or outright financial support when merited.
It should also encourage military leaders in Niger to make good on promises to hold elections and return rule to civilians, and Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo to ensure presidential elections in his country that are now five years late.
After all, if Guinea can, why can’t they?