Alpha Condé, Guinea’s first-ever freely elected president, has recently become one of the faces of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The embattled leader faces the difficult task of attempting to contain the virus and protect citizens while providing necessary services and ensuring the country continues to function. Guinea is the world’s top bauxite exporter. Here are 10 things you didn’t know about Guinean President Alpha Condé. –
1. Condé completed the majority of his studies in France
At the age of 15, Condé left for France to attend high school at the Sciences Po Paris, and later university at Sorbonne. He then earned his Ph.D. in public law at the Law Faculty of Paris, Pantheon, where he began working as a teacher and member of the Faculty of Law and Economics department.
2. He helped organize the country’s first multiparty elections in 1993
Following his exile from Guinea under the reign of President Sekou Touré, Condé returned to Guinea in 1977 and began to help organize the Naitonal Democratic Movement, an opposition party that would eventually undergo several transformations to become Condé’s current party, the Rally of the People of Guinea (RPG). He then played a crucial role in imposing an area multiparty system that would allow for opposition parties in the country, resulting in Guinea’s first multiparty election in December 1993. Condé, however, was reelected amidst widely accepted allegations of fraud.
3. Condé’s wife, Djene Kaba Condé, also completed her studies in France
The First Lady of Guinea, Hadja Djene Kaba Condé, studied at the University Paris VII in France, earning a master’s degree in information science and communication, along with a degree in sociology. Condé has several ex wives including Mina Kone and Nènè Kanny Diallo, and has one son, Alpha Mohammed Condé.
4. He was charged with trying to destabilize Lansana Conté’s government following the 1998 presidential election
In 1998, Condé placed third in the presidential election, receiving 16.6 percent of the votes. Lansana Conté, the second president of Guinea who had been president since a bloodless coup in 1984, was reelected with 56.1 percent of the vote amid allegations of fraud. Two days later, Condé was arrested and charged with trying to leave the country illegally and attempting to recruit forces to destabilize the government. Along with 47 co-defendants, he was charged with hiring mercenaries, planning an assassination attempt, and upsetting national security. Following a lengthy trial, Condé was sentenced to five years of jail time but was pardoned in May 2001 by President Conté, on the condition he not engage in political activities.
5. Condé disengaged from politics until Conté’s death in 2008
Following his release from prison, Condé left Guinea for France, where he stayed until July 2005. Many speculated that he had plans to organize his party, the Rally of the Guinean People (RPG), for the municipal elections in late 2005, but he announced that he would be boycotting them. It wasn’t until Conté’s death and the subsequent military coup in 2008 that Condé publicly stepped back into the political arena, eventually entering and winning the 2010 presidential election.
6. Condé’s election in 2010 rekindled ethnic tensions
Condé hails from the Malinke ethnic group, which makes up 35 percent of Guinea’s population. His opponent in the 2010 presidential election, Cellou Dalien Diallo, is a member of the Peul ethnic group — 40% percent of the nation’s population. Diallo, along with many of his constituents, accused Condé of sidelining the Peul people. Violence erupted after Condé’s election, in which security forces clashed with protestors, resulting in several deaths and multiple injuries.
7. Condé survived an assassination attempt in July 2011
In July 2011, armed men attacked Condé’s residence in Conakry, Guinea, partially destroying the building by shelling it. A presidential guard was killed, and two others were injured. Condé managed to escape unharmed. A former Army chief and a member of the presidential guard were arrested shortly after the attack, and 38 soldiers were arrested three days later in conjunction with the assassination attempt. Many of the alleged contributors had ties to the country’s previous military rulers.
8. Condé was accused of attempting to rig parliamentary elections in 2011
In the days before the December 2011 parliamentary elections, Condé’s opponents accused the president of trying to rig the vote, as well as refusing to consult the opposition about the date of the vote. Condé tried to resolve the dispute by agreeing to delay the vote and hold “an inclusive dialogue” with the opposition, and the vote was held in 2013. The RPG won 53 out of 114 seats, and the opposition parties’ continued allegations of fraud were later rejected by the country’s Supreme Court.
9. He tried calling up Guinea’s retired doctors to help against Ebola
In late October 2014, Condé publicly called on the nation’s retired doctors to help fight the worsening Ebola outbreak. He pointed to their collective experience in educating other health workers, as well as the sheer numbers of medical personnel needed to help combat the spread. Likening health workers to soldiers, he solicited them to join the war against Ebola out of duty to the country, but he has also threatened to make it compulsory. He said, “I am recalling you and most of you are heeding that call. But for those of you who resist, you will be forced to join the Ebola fight.”
10. Condé recruited local leaders to help convince Guineans to change their traditions to curb the spread of Ebola
Due to the highly contagious nature of Ebola and its spread by contact with bodily fluids, traditions such as bathing the dead and comforting or caring for sick family members have exacerbated the outbreak. Condé recognized the difficulty in asking people to change everyday habits and ancient customs, but recognized the necessity. In an email interview with “Ebola Deeply,” he said, “Every Guinean must know that Ebola is a very serious threat, but that it is not necessarily a death sentence. We need to convince Guineans to take key measures to prevent infection…But we are fighting against fear, against traditional beliefs and practices, and even against irresponsible behavior by some.”