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Guinea's Conde emerges from the shadows

CONAKRY (Reuters) - After more than 50 years in the shadows of Guinean politics, veteran opposition leader Alpha Conde has emerged into the spotlight, winning the West African country’s first free presidential poll since independence.

Conde, 73, a former assistant professor at the Sorbonne, won an upset victory over ex-premier Cellou Dalein Diallo in a November 7 run-off which he entered as the underdog, according to provisional results announced on Monday.

The results must be validated by the Supreme Court, to which the Diallo camp may take its allegations of electoral fraud.

Conde has weathered many storms as chief critic of past governments: exile and a death sentence under former dictator Sekou Toure, prison under General Lansana Conte, and insults under former junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara.

As Guinea’s next president, the challenges he faces include a military in need of reform, an ethnically divided population, limited basic infrastructure, and an outdated mining code.

It was only after the Ouagadougou accord signed in January 2010, transferring power from junta leader Camara to General Sekouba Konate and paving the way for elections, that Conde was able to wage his third campaign for president, after losing to Conte in 1993 and 1998.

“We can say many things about Conde, but alongside his opposition comrades Siradiou Diallo and Mamadou Ba -- both now deceased -- he can truly claim to have won the battle for multiparty politics and democracy in Guinea,” said Kalifa Gassama Diaby, a human rights professor in Toulouse.

Conde’s political career began in the 1950s when, as head of the Federation of Black Students in Francophone Africa, he campaigned for independence from France, a drive that bore fruit in Guinea in 1958.

He soon became an enemy of Toure’s government, which saw him as a radical and sentenced him to death after Guinean dissidents supported by Portuguese soldiers attempted a coup. He spent years in exile in France, starting in the 1960s and became an assistant professor of human rights at the Sorbonne.

A new era began in 1984 when Lansana Conte came to power in a coup after Toure’s death. The change led to ethnically based conflict within the military.

Conde created the political party RPG in 1987 and returned to Guinea four years later.

“He organized a meeting in Coleah stadium that was banned by authorities and he was forced to flee to the Senegalese embassy to avoid being deported,” a Guinean politician told Reuters.


In 1993 Conde ran for president, but Conte was declared the winner after authorities nullified the votes from Conde’s strongholds. In the 1998 elections, Conde was arrested on the eve of the vote, accused of plotting to overthrow the government and jailed for the next two years and three months.

After Conte’s death in 2008, army captain Moussa Dadis Camara took power in a coup. Conde initially backed Camara for promising new elections, but became a critic when Camara started backsliding on his promises.

In September 2009 security forces massacred more than 150 people protesting against junta rule in a stadium. In December Camara was shot in the head and gravely injured and was replaced by his deputy, General Sekouba Konate, who arranged new polls.

Conde, a Malinke, took 18.75 percent of the vote in the June 27 first round, and won the November 7 run-off against his Peul rival Diallo in a race marked by ethnic clashes.

Described as impulsive and radical by critics, and brilliant by his admirers, Conde has been tested by 50 difficult years in the shadows of previous governments.

“His main qualities are the respect he has earned and his sense of leadership,” said one of his personal advisors.

“If he is to succeed, he will need to bridge the ethnic gap that has grown since the election between the Malinke and the Peul. He’ll also need to improve management of the country on all fronts,” said a political analyst.

Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Tim Pearce