The EU must not allow Guinea to become another Belarus

The EU must not allow Guinea to become another Belarus

After weeks of deliberation, the EU has finally sanctioned 40 Belarusian officials for their role in the country’s highly disputed August 9th elections. Conspicuous by his absence from the list of those punished, however, was President Alexander Lukashenko, a man frequently termed “Europe’s last dictator” who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist since 1994. The EU sanctions, long held up by a Cypriot veto, will be a welcome sign for the tens of thousands turning out week after week in Minsk to demand free and fair elections: international scrutiny from global powers like the EU is essential to holding regimes like Lukashenko’s to account.

Meanwhile, an eerily similar situation is currently unfolding in Guinea, where elections are slated for October 18th. As recently as 10 years ago, incumbent leader Alpha Condé was praised for being the first democratically-elected leader since Guinea won its independence over half a century prior. Condé has turned increasingly authoritarian while in office, however, and pushed through a controversial new constitution—mirroring his close ally Vladimir Putin—to reset term limits and allow him to pursue a third term. Now facing an unexpectedly strong challenge from the country’s former Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo, Condé is using every underhanded trick in the book to secure his presidency – and the EU must not stand idly by while he does so.

Belarusian brutality

The recent EU sanctions against Belarus – which consist mostly of frozen assets and travel bans for 40 individuals, the most senior of whom is the country’s Interior Minister – are the bloc’s attempt to condemn what independent observers have largely decried as a rigged election. Despite widespread public support for Lukashenko’s chief opponent Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who drew the largest rally crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union, official figures proclaimed the incumbent to have scooped over 80% of the vote, with Tikhanovskaya claiming less than 10%. There is substantial anecdotal evidence suggesting that poll workers were coerced into obfuscating or amending votes to ensure the presidency was delivered to Lukashenko once more. According to one particularly damning report from the Guardian, 40% of eligible votes had already been cast before polling stations had even opened and several polling stations appeared to surpass 100% turnout.

European policymakers have been even more concerned by the fallout from the elections. Understandably aggrieved at the grave iniquities perpetrated by Lukashenko’s government, Belarusians have taken to the streets in droves, with over 100,000 demonstrators protesting for the ninth week running in the capital Minsk. The regime’s response has been as brutal as it has been uncompromising; more than 10,000 individuals have been detained amid widespread reports of beatings, brutality and sexual assault in captivity. Hundreds have been injured and at least two are dead, prompting independent investigations into alleged human rights’ abuses from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Condé clinging on

It’s hoped that those inquiries will help to address the desperate injustices and inexcusable cruelties being carried out in Belarus. Similar atrocities, however, could be in the pipeline for Guinea unless the EU and other human rights defenders urge Condé’s government to allow free and fair elections and refrain from cracking down on protesters and the opposition.

Since his initial election in 2010, Alpha Condé has taken a sharp turn towards authoritarianism and has seen his reputation tarnished by a number of corruption scandals. His tenure was due to come to an end this October, given that the country’s constitution only permitted a two-term maximum, but Condé forced through an amendment—against the will of the Guinean people, 82% of which declared in a survey that they supported the existing term limits—allowing him the opportunity to stand once more.

The dubious legality of the move prompted a lukewarm rebuke from the EU and mass demonstrations from the Guinean people. As in Belarus, these were met with implacable violence from Condé’s staunch supporters and from the very security forces charged with keeping the peace. The bloodshed has resulted in at least 50 deaths between October 2019 and July 2020, with reports suggesting that at least one was burned alive.

In response to Condé’s uncompromising stance, a potent challenger has surfaced in the form of ex-Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo. Within just a few days of announcing his candidacy, Diallo commanded the vociferous support of thousands of his countrymen, leading Condé to use ethnic divisions to polarize opinion and inflame tensions in the volatile country. Amnesty International has also found evidence of intimidatory tactics being used by Condé’s camp, while he has closed borders with both Guinea-Bissau and Senegal in an attempt to disfranchise the high number of Diallo-supporting expatriates in both countries, seized Diallo’s campaign materials and apparently interfered with the electoral roll itself. The playbook of tactics is as conniving as it is comprehensive.

Europe must intervene

In the face of such flagrant skullduggery, it’s vital that external powers do more than just express the “deep regrets” conveyed by the EU when Condé first attempted to bend the constitution to his will. After two terms of the strongman in power, Guinea has fallen to a lowly 174 out of 189 countries in the Human Development Index. If he is allowed an illegitimate third stint at Guinea’s helm, the impoverished African nation is only likely to sink even lower.

Given that President Trump has apparently abdicated the USA’s mantle of global leadership, it’s now more important than ever that the EU stands up for democracy around the world. The results of what happens when it is trampled underfoot are currently playing out in Belarus; a similarly rigged election, followed by a brutal clampdown on peaceful protests, could be on the cards in Guinea too. The time to prevent such a nightmare scenario from repeating itself on African soil is now: the EU, Guinea’s most important trade partner, must act decisively and expeditiously if it is to avoid Guinea becoming another Belarus in just a few weeks’ time.

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