Fifteen years ago this month, Guinea’s late ruler Lansana Conte made clear what form democracy would take under his rule.
We answered a summons to a late night news conference to hear the result of his first multiparty election, speeding through silent streets where armoured vehicles waited in the shadows. The interior minister announced that ballots from the east, the opposition’s stronghold, had been cancelled because of irregularities. Conte had therefore won 50.93 percent of the vote. There was no need for a run-off because he had an absolute majority.
The show was over.
We rushed off to file our stories at the press centre, set up helpfully by a government under pressure to show the world it was ready for fair elections. The press centre was gone, the lines cut. In the morning, fighter jets swept over Conakry in case the message had not been clear already.
There were more elections, there was occasional turmoil on the streets, sometimes bloodshed. At one point Conte was almost overthrown, but he managed to hold on until his death from illness on Monday.
In a matter of hours, the army - Conte’s real constituency – made clear he would be succeeded by one of his own instead of any of the civilian politicians who prospered under the system over which he kept such strong control.