It’s not a piece of cake these days for leaders of African countries plotting to rewrite their constitutions and give themselves another decade or two in power, frustrating efforts by citizen groups to give other leaders a chance to rule.
That’s the endgame facing Guinean President Alpha Conde who is poised to approve a new constitution favorable to extending his stay in power.
But to his discomfort, a people’s movement of opposition has turned out every Thursday in Conakry, the Guinean capital, according to media accounts, with some hundreds of thousands of citizens saying “no” to a constitutional rewrite for a presidential third term.
YouTube videos show marchers filling the streets, waving signs reading “Alpha Conde dictateur”, “2020 – someone else!” and “Two terms is enough!”
“If Alpha persists in changing the constitution against the will of the Guinean people, there is a clear risk of confrontation that could lead to violence that threatens peace and stability in Guinea,” said Cellou Dalein Diallo, whose own bid for president was defeated twice.
Conde’s election in 2010 was faulted by the Carter Center which noted several irregularities in voter registration, vote counting and the loss of nearly one million voters from the final count.
Condé, 81, has thus far not declared publicly his plans for a third term but he has backed a new constitution that would allow him to do so. And a billboard hoisted outside Guinea’s National Assembly reads: “Yes to a referendum. Yes to a new Constitution. We support you for life.”
In the meantime, a court in Guinea handed down jail terms to five opposition and civil society leaders for organizing protests against a possible change to the constitution.
Complicating matters further are the outside influencers – the U.S. and Russia – injecting their political biases into the mix. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently tweeted that there’s a “critical need for regular democratic transitions of power for a thriving democracy” while former Russian ambassador to Guinea Alexander Bregadze expressed strong support for changing the rules. “Constitutions are not dogma, the Bible or Koran,” he said, adding “as the popular Russian saying goes, you don’t change horses at a river crossing.”