by Guido Talarico
For Associated Medias, the Man of the Year 2021 is Alpha Condé, the Guinean President deposed on 5 September by a military coup d’état and still held incommunicado. Our choice is based on the qualities of the man, whom we have had the opportunity to meet and interview several times, and on his personal and political history, which we will tell you about here, but it is also a choice with a strong emblematic value. We have in fact chosen Condé as the personality of the year just ended because, beyond his person, he is in some way the symbol of countries in the grip of forgotten conflicts. He is the symbol of those democracies that end up in the shadow of international organisations, superpowers and therefore the international press, as soon as they cease to represent any economic or geopolitical interest for the world’s great powers.
Alpha Condé is our personality of 2021 because this former Sorbonne professor, student leader, refugee and persecuted person and, in the end, the first elected president of Guinea, is the clean and at the same time tragic face of those developing countries that are struggling to find the road to democracy and social and economic growth and that too often, despite the enormous progress made, such as that achieved in the last decade by the Conakry government, are abandoned by the international community for lack of interest in their fate. In short, Condé represents the tragedy of the Guinean people, but at the same time, and just to give an example, it cannot but remind us of what is happening at the moment in Somalia, a country that in the general disinterest risks balkanisation due to the bloody divisions between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as Farmajo, and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble who, supported by various factions, is trying to seize power.
Not to mention the civil war unleashed in Ethiopia by the Tigrinya minority, which, pushed in some way by the Americans in an anti-Chinese key, has attempted to destabilise the entire Horn of Africa, fortunately without success. If it had not been for the firmness of the Ethiopian Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Mohamed and his ally Eritrea, this area too would have ended up crushed by wars between gangs and ethnic groups. Then there is Sudan, now on the brink of collapse after General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al-Burhan had Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and several other ministers arrested. Since then, street demonstrations in favour of a return to democracy have been repressed, often with the use of violence. A real disaster. Then there is Chad. Here last April, a few hours after winning the elections, President Idriss Déby went to the front line where his military is fighting various militias, starting with the FACT (Front for Change and Concord in Chad), considered “rebel” forces. During the visit, in confused and unverified dynamics, he was killed. From that moment on, Chad, already unstable due to splits and contrasts between different but all well-armed militias, plunged into chaos and violent guerrilla warfare between gangs. Here too, the international community has been careful not to intervene. Not to mention Libya which, despite Italian and French interests and Turkish activism, and despite Europe’s words of interest and willingness, has remained a country at war for 10 years, divided and torn apart by clashes between opposing factions. Elections were supposed to take place in December but were cancelled.
But there is not only Africa. In Myanmar, too, the situation is dramatic. In the 2020 elections, the military only took a few seats. The majority went to the coalition led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. After contesting the vote, the military carried out a classic putsch, arresting members of the government, starting with San Suu Kyi herself. This was a very serious but not the most violent act. The chronicles report mass torture of civilians and peaceful demonstrations drowned in blood. The international community condemned the military coup, but in fact no one did anything about it. The UN Security Council actually proposed a motion to condemn the coup, but China and Russia made it clear that they would not approve sanctions against those responsible. The country is still at the mercy of the military, and no one at international level is interested in the dramatic requests for help from the population, despite the many difficulties.
And we could talk about the Kurdish question and that of Syria or Yemen. Or of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, which has passed from silence to international indifference, despite the burden of injustice and violence that the population, orphaned by Western protection, is suffering. We could also dwell at length on conflicts that have remained latent but never dormant, such as the Nagorno Karabakh dispute that has pitted Armenia and Azerbaijan against each other for decades, with Russia in the middle acting as referee, engaged more than anything else in the ancient Roman game of “divide and conquer”.
A narrative that could go on and on, referring to all those other disputes that take place in the ‘backyards’ of the super powers. The Ukraine for Russia, Taiwan for China, just to give two of the most macroscopic examples. But we will stop here, certain that we have already given an idea of why, in our opinion, the symbol of the past 2021 is Prof. Alpha Condé. In our opinion, the deposed and forgotten President of Guinea is the perfect synecdoche: the one who represents all those situations we have been talking about.
Let’s get to know Prof. Condé better in order to better understand the reasons for our choice. His story is a rare one: newly elected, after decades of dictatorship and ethnic wars, an economics professor comes to power in a torn Guinea. Not even enough time to settle in and the Ebola bomb explodes. A devastation that kills, further impoverishes and isolates Guinea. A succession of events that would have defeated anyone. Condé rolled up his sleeves and did what only he could do. He reassured the population, used his knowledge of economics, which he had been teaching for a long time, and activated his excellent international relations. With Romano Prodi, when he was President of the European Commission, with François Hollande, with Barak Obama and so on. Step by step he rebuilds the country economically, launches a profound and delicate reform of the armed forces, strengthens the infrastructure, works generously to pacify the different ethnic groups, fights corruption. He deals with every single dossier with incredible energy and the results come.
The incredible defeat of Ebola and the country’s economic rebirth, visible even to the naked eye, brought him international praise and recognition. The most important came in 2017 when he was elected president of the African Union. A post that, despite his age, he holds with his usual energy and efficiency, and which he once again puts at the disposal of his country. It is undeniable that since his presidency of the African Union, Condé has managed to forge relationships that have favoured the arrival of international investors in Conakry. International financiers, both public and private, have trusted this cultured and determined man, giving him political and economic credit. This is how Guinea got back on track.
But time passed quickly and the end of the second presidential term was fast approaching. It was here that Condé, despite many doubts, took the step that many reproached him for and which most believed had triggered the military coup. He held a constitutional referendum (a constitution that the country had never approved in its young history) to put a series of reforms to the people, including one that allowed him to run for a third term. His explanation is simple: ‘I have received from the international community trust and funds to give Guinea a future,’ says the President, ‘so I feel the duty of a third term in office to have the time that Ebola has taken away from us, to complete the work that I have started and thus give the country a future. The opposition rose up, but the referendum was a resounding success for Condé, who thus had the way cleared for a new candidacy. The subsequent presidential elections were also a plebiscite for the old Mandinga lion. There were a few street demonstrations and many protests, but then everything went smoothly until the coup on 5 September.
Condé has a cinematic life. He showed his leadership qualities as a young man and they were already evident during his time in Paris, where within a few months he became one of the leaders of the French African brotherhood. Then came his long political commitment against the bloody dictatorships in his country. This commitment cost him exile and even prison. As soon as he was re-elected, he miraculously survived an attack. In 2011, a group of armed men approached his residence and fired rockets and grenades into his bedroom. Condé is old but still very agile. He managed to slip away at the first sound and escape to safety. The people love him, the oppositions of course do not. The referendum, as we have said, exacerbates tempers and creates the right mood for the coup. The leader of the coup is a former protégé of Condé’s, 41-year-old Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, a former French legionnaire who returned to Guinea three years ago and was put in charge of the Special Forces by the President.
The leader of the Guinean opposition, Cellou Dalein Diallo, who was defeated by Condé in the last elections in October 2020, immediately came out in favour of the coup. Interviewed by the BBC, he explained that the putsch “is a historic act that completes the struggle initiated by the democracy movements. An opportunity for a new beginning for the country”. Since 5 September, to Diallo’s credit, democracy in Guinea has been suspended, Alpha Condé remains in isolation, the opposition is out of the game, the elections are a promise for the future and investors are waiting, but increasingly cold on this small country that had managed to raise its head again.
There are few heads of state in Africa who can present the achievements of Alpha Condé as a record of their work. From a heavily indebted country with very little international credibility, the former Sorbonne professor managed, despite the Ebola tragedy, to turn his Guinea into a hub for many multinationals, creating infrastructure and development. A road still to be travelled to the end, but well marked out. Only those who know the difficulties encountered in those latitudes can truly understand what a miracle Condé has achieved in just a few years. This is why we identify him as International Personality of the Year 2021. And with him, returning to the synecdoche, we also indicate all those leaders who, with genuine passion and ability, dedicate themselves, and sometimes sacrifice themselves, to improving the fate of their people. And by pointing to him, we also highlight the short-sightedness of the international community, which is incapable of far-sighted and far-reaching foreign policy actions in the absence of strong interests. The theme of borders, of dominance, of conquest is still much debated among scholars. The basic question that still remains is what is the alternative to imperialism, to the hunger for power and wealth that characterises the human race. There is still no clear, convincing, possible answer. Perhaps we could start by ensuring that a president who won the referendum and the elections in a less contested manner than the last ones held in the United States of America should be immediately put back in his place or at least set free. Freeing one to give confidence to others, a way of saying that even today no alternative has been found to the democratic system.
(Associated Medias) – all rights reserved