Thanks to Tinubu and many others who worked silently behind the scene to make sure democracy not only grows but also survives in a country like Guinea, Nigeria’s neighbour. Tinubu seems to be about the business of installing presidents across Africa. But beyond that he is more about ensuring democracy thrives and good governance is enthroned in Africa. Nigeria under the current leadership now has the moral and political leverage to support and lead other African nations on this path.
Though the October 11, 2015 presidential elections in Guinea Conakry have come and gone, not many would forget in a long time the key role played by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. And just like he did in the Nigerian situation serving as the catalyst, the fulcrum alongside others and perhaps the “babalawo” that brought the opposition to power and chased away the PDP after 16 years in power, Asiwaju Tinubu has helped retain a trusted friend and pan-Africanist in power. Professor Alpha Conde, the first democratically elected president of Guinea, is back for a record second term of five years after a commanding first round victory of 58 percent of total votes cast.
The victory that came when the final results were announced was reward for handwork and a campaign that was on message. The political campaign of the incumbent president got a bite when Tinubu moved in to help his friend, a brother and a true African leader. The journey for Alpha Conde’s re-election began sometime in May 2015 when he came to Nigeria for the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari. President Conde not only met with Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, but also with other African leaders. He described his meeting with Buhari as very useful and insightful. President Conde in several conversations maintained that Africa has found in Buhari the leader it needs to lead it and move it forward. He said Buhari is best suited to lead Africa where Goodluck Jonathan failed.
On that same May trip, he also met with Tinubu to learn more about Nigeria’s political and election experience. He also discussed the political situation in Guinea and the Presidential election ahead. I recall that the President also met with the governor of Lagos State, Akinwumi Ambode.
After the initial May visit, Tinubu in June 2015 visited Conakry to further assess the country’s political terrain and the direction of the presidential campaigns. Soon after, Tinubu moved into Conakry personally with his team. The Tinubu election strategy and planning team comprising of six people quickly settled down to work with barely 60 days to the election.
Embedded within the Alpha Conde campaign organisation, the Tinubu team worked on political messaging, speeches, social media interventions, election monitoring and countering the opponents and a day-by-day review of the campaign. Perhaps, the most the defining aspect of the presidential campaign was the ROBO call element, which was used for the first time in any election in Guinea. The ROBO call involved the sending out of an automated message recorded by President Conde to about 6 million voters asking for their support and telling them he was their best choice. At least one in every 4 Guinean received such a direct phone call from the president. It soon became the talk of town as the president’s message in four languages went out to the electorate. It was out in French, Fular, Malinke and Sousou. The social media also went abuzz discussing the timely direct voice messages from the president to the people.
But back to the dynamics of the politics in Guinea. The last presidential election had some strong candidates in the opposition who were backed by big money and were armed to ensure they either win or create problems. The toughest challenger to Alpha Conde was the Fula leader and former Prime Minister, Ciello Djallo, who had a strong 40 percent support from his economically powerful Fula tribe. Several weeks to the election, the calls for the postponement were rife coming mainly from the opposition. They hinged their calls for postponement on the non-preparedness of the electoral body in the issuance of voter cards and the fear that the election would be marred by violence. However, they had a game plan. Their game plan was to force a second round ballot in which situation they would have a very good chance of unseating the president. They failed in their attempt to postpone the election. They however did not fail to generate some violence. The final campaign by Djallo turned out very violent. Five deaths were recorded. Tension rose. It was a day before Alpha Conde’s final rally for the RPG party.
The campaign organisation had to re-strategise quickly. If the president went ahead, there would be violence and that would play into the script of the opposition to have the election postponed. The president took the hard decision with his team to cancel his final rally. It turned out to be a very smart political decision. It brought down the tension and calmed nerves. The opposition bit their fingers.
The president went on ROBO calls to millions of Guineans asking them to remain calm. Not to burn Guinea but to build Guinea. He asked them to come out and vote peacefully on October 11. The decision not to postponement election was a tough one. Asiwaju Tinubu played a key role in advising the President to stick to the date, October 11. He provided context for the President by letting him into the experience Nigeria had during the last presidential election. This insight along with the understanding of the dynamics of the Guinean political situation helped the President Conde not to postpone the election. The electoral body also stuck to its gun that it was ready to conduct the election. Perhaps the most important voice was that of the diplomatic community that rang out in unison that Guinea was ready for the October 11 Presidential election and that the talk of violence was perhaps exaggerated. Muhammad Ibn Chambas, the head of the UN delegation played a bit of shuttle diplomacy within Guinea nudging the diplomatic community to speak with one voice. He worked through the ranks of the presidential candidates urging them to shun violence by speaking to their supporters to participate fully in the process.
Fortunately, Election Day came on October 11, 2015 and there was no single act of violence or voter intimidation. Polls were extended from 6pm to 8pm to accommodate all the voters. At the end, the people of Guinea demonstrated their love for democracy and peaceful elections. The United Nations in fact adjudged the presidential election in Guinea as one of the most credible and peaceful in Africa.
The people of Guinea were patient enough for the electoral body, SENI, to compile all results from across the country. It took about a week. But by the time 70 percent of the results came in, the excitement began to build because Alpha Conde was in the clear lead and a first round victory was suddenly within reach. Sensing defeat, the other candidates quickly held a press briefing to reject the results and ask for cancellation. It was a last ditch effort that failed. There was no way they could cancel the wish and the votes of nearly six million of their countryfolk.
Alpha Conde went ahead to win and earn another five years in power. But after the celebration of victory, he must settle down to govern and place Guinea on the path of accelerated development. The Kaleta electricity project that was the corner stone of his performance and electoral success must be expanded quickly to generate more power beyond its present 240-mega watts. The roads need attention, more foreign direct investments are needed, urban renewal, job creation, education must be subsidised and programmes to reduce poverty must be rolled out. Therein lies the only way he can reward the electorate for trusting him to be their leader for another five years.
The Nigerian experienced rubbed off. Thanks to Tinubu and many others who worked silently behind the scene to make sure democracy not only grows but also survives in a country like Guinea, Nigeria’s neighbour. Tinubu seems to be about the business of installing presidents across Africa. But beyond that he is more about ensuring democracy thrives and good governance is enthroned in Africa. Nigeria under the current leadership now has the moral and political leverage to support and lead other African nations on this path.
Sunday Dare is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s Chief of Staff and Media Adviser.