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By Paul Melly

West Africa analyst

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image captionAlpha Condé was in opposition for years before winning elections in 2010 and 2015

Alpha Condé, Guinea’s 82-year-old head of state, will this Sunday ask his country’s 5.4 million voters for a third term, opening what promises to be a tense, high-stakes electoral season for West Africa, with contests soon following in Ivory Coast, Ghana and Niger.

If he fails to clinch outright victory with more than 50% of the vote, the president will probably have to face off against his leading opponent, Cellou Dalein Diallo, in a run-off that on past form that will probably spark violent confrontation on the streets of Conakry, the crowded capital city, crammed into a narrow peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic.

Mr Condé’s accession to power in December 2010 was the first genuinely democratic handover in his country’s 52-year independent history – a saga of authoritarian and military rule pockmarked with episodes of severe repression and spectacular brutality, the most recent of which had been the 28 September 2009 massacre, when troops killed at least 160 opposition supporters, and raped 110 women, attending a rally at the national stadium.

image copyrightAFP

image captionThe 2009 stadium massacre is a reminder of Guinea’s brutal past

He had himself served jail time for challenging General Lansana Conté, who had ruled from 1984 to his death in 2008, and he faced a huge task to gradually reform the security forces and construct a democratically accountable state with a basic respect for human rights and transparent public finances.

Achievements

The past 10 years have brought significant progress.

Early fears of a comeback coup by army hardliners gradually faded, and the military has been at least partly reformed, with many officers sent into retirement.

A team of capable technocratic ministers has got the economy back on track, rebuilding a solid cooperative partnership with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the donor community.

Guinea has huge mineral wealth and regulation of the extractives sector has been overhauled.

Confidence among investors has recovered, opening up the prospect that Simandou, one of the world’s largest untapped iron-ore deposits, might finally be exploited – creating thousands of new livelihoods and with construction of a new rail line to link the landlocked southern interior to the coast.

As one of the three countries severely affected by West Africa’s 2014-16 Ebola outbreak – alongside neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia – Guinea developed experience in tackling infectious disease that it has been able to bring to bear in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

One of the grand old men of sub-Saharan politics, Mr Condé re-established Guinea’s profile on the African diplomatic stage.

Disappointments

But serious problems persist, particularly in human rights.

Opposition figures such as Mr Diallo have suffered sporadic harassment, while political life is still scarred by periodic outbreaks of street violence between frustrated youthful demonstrators and security forces that, despite retraining, still frequently resort to lethal force to curb unrest.

Moreover, the long promised trial of the military figures indicted for the 28 September massacre has still not taken place, despite a sustained campaign by the families of victims, foreign diplomatic pressure and hints that the International Criminal Court (ICC) will step in if the Guinean authorities fail to act.

At least one of the soldiers formally indicted has actually held government office under Mr Condé, while Moussa Dadis Camara – the military ruler whose troops carried out the massacre – has been questioned but, ultimately, left untroubled in exile in Burkina Faso.

Capt Camara remains hugely popular in his home region, Guinée Forestière, and senior politicians seem reluctant to sanction any move that could threaten hopes of attracting support there.

In the 2015 election Mr Diallo even formed a bizarre electoral alliance with his camp, while a key ally of Capt Camara is a senior minister in Mr Condé’s government.

Third-term controversy

That is the unsettled background contest for this year’s election, which has been rendered hugely contentious by Mr Condé’s determination to seek a third term – a move that has meant changing the constitution, through a referendum in March.

Guinea and Ebola:

media captionFilmmaker Dan Edge visits the tree in Guinea thought to be the source of the current Ebola outbreak

The new constitution does not scrap two term limits, but resets the counter, so previous terms served do not count.

Early this year, the regional body Ecowas (the Economic Community of West African States) identified 2.5 million names of apparently fictional electors on the voters’ register.

The opposition decided to boycott the referendum, giving Mr Condé an easy mandate.

In recent days, he has argued that this was a constitutional overhaul that he had long wished to carry out but felt that he could not prioritise during the early years of his administration.

image copyrightAFP

image captionThere were protests earlier in the year against holding a referendum, which the opposition boycotted

But pressed over whether he has ambitions to be head of state for life, he has been evasive.

Although Mr Condé did not formally confirm that he would stand again, even early last year his ambition to do so was already common talk in Conakry – and a source of worry among other West African leaders, and European diplomats, fearing a renewed bout of instability in a country with such a long history of confrontational urban political violence.

There were hopes that the president could be persuaded to opt for a graceful elder statesman retirement. But his determination has been evident for many months.

The ethnic card

This has presented a tough dilemma for opponents, under few illusions about the public profile, incumbent’s spending power and state muscle that Mr Condé brings to the race.

Five things about Guinea:

  • Independence leader Sekou Touré famously told France in 1958: “Guinea prefers poverty in freedom than riches in slavery”
  • “Black power” civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael moved from the US to Guinea in 1968, with his then-wife Miriam Makeba, becoming a life-long proponent of pan-Africanism
  • It has the world’s biggest reserves of bauxite – the main source of aluminium
  • Its Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve, a Unesco World Heritage Site, on the borders with Ivor

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Pakistan blast: At least seven dead in Peshawar school attack

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At least seven people have died after an explosion during a class at a religious school in Pakistan, police have said.

Children of various age groups are among the dead, an officer at the scene told the BBC.

Dozens of others were injured in the attack, which took place in the northern city of Peshawar.

No group has yet claimed responsibility. An investigation has been launched.

The city of Peshawar, close to the Afghan border, has seen some of the worst of the violence during the Taliban insurgency in recent years.

Six years ago, gunmen stormed a military school in the city leaving more than 150 dead, including many children.

What happened?

The blast took place at about 08:30 local time (03:30 GMT), police told the BBC.

About 60 people are understood to have been in the class at the religious school, known as a madrassa.

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An eyewitness has told the police he saw a man enter the building with a bag of explosives shortly before the blast.

news agency that two teachers were injured.

Hospital officials told Reuters news agency that they had received dozens of injured, many with burns.

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Duterte seeks best Covid vaccine deal but ‘will not beg’ or allow private suppliers to rip off Philippines

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he would pursue a direct government-to-government deal for a coronavirus vaccine with either China or Russia, warning that ‘corrupt’ private suppliers could try to swindle his country.

“Let me tell everybody that we will not beg, we will pay,” Duterte said in a televised address on Monday night, adding that while Manila is not seeking charity it also aims to sign a direct government-to-government deal without intermediaries.

The president did not indicate the status of vaccine negotiations with Beijing or Moscow, saying he merely mentioned the two countries as possible sources out of a “sense of urgency,” and that “all options” were still on the table. 

The one that could give us the best interest for the country will be chosen.

Duterte stressed the need to obtain an inoculation directly from a friendly foreign state, rather than a private business, warning that such transactions could only bring “trouble” and that a government deal would mean “no corruption.”




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Under its proposed national budget for 2021, Manila will devote some 2.5 billion Philippine pesos ($51.6 million) to vaccine procurement, which Duterte said would be overseen by Finance Secretary Carlos ‘Sonny’ Dominguez III.

“Since he is going to pay, I will listen to Sonny. If there are no funds, he will go to jail,” the president said, apparently threatening prison time for a member of his own cabinet.

Duterte previously torched Western pharma firms developing coronavirus immunizations, saying they were “all about profit,” pointing to some companies who asked for a “cash advance before they deliver the vaccine.” The leader gave a stern warning to any company who offered similar proposals, vowing “I’ll kick your a**.”

Though the president has offered to be the first in his country to take the jab developed in Russia, Sputnik V, it is not clear whether such an arrangement has been made. However, Moscow’s ambassador to the island nation, Igor Khovaev, recently stated the jab could be available to the Philippines by the end of the year.




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Sputnik V questions ANSWERED: Head of team financing world’s first Covid-19 vaccine explains formula to critics



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At least 7 killed, 70 wounded after bomb goes off at religious school in Pakistan – hospital official

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At least seven people were killed and more than 70 wounded in an explosion inside a seminary in northern Pakistan on Tuesday morning. Children are among the victims.

The blast took place in Peshawar, the capital of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Senior police official Wagar Azim told AFP that a bomb brought inside the Speen Jammat mosque, which also functions as a religious school for local children, went off in the middle of Quran studi

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