The West African nation of Guinea has held its first free presidential election since it became independent more than 50 years ago. The vote yesterday comes just months after Gubiea was shocked by a deadly crack-down on pro-democracy demonstrators. Anchor David Baron speaks with Richard Moncrieff, West Africa Project Director for the International Crisis Group.
DAVID BARON: I'm David Baron and this is The World. The small West African nation of Guinea has seen a dramatic change of fortune. Just nine months ago the country was in shock. Soldiers in Guinea's capital fired into a crowd of pro-democracy protestors. More than 150 died in the massacre. Many women were raped. Today Guinea is celebrating. Yesterday the country held its first free Presidential election since it became independent more than 50 years ago. Richard Moncrieff is the West Africa Project Director International Crisis Group. He's in Dakar, Senegal. Now Richard, you were in Guinea just last month. What was the mood then? Were people hopeful that these elections would go peacefully?
RICHARD MONCRIEFF: I think people were very hopeful and there was a positive mood. There was some nerves and I think a little bit of pessimism that comes from having lived under a dictatorship for 50 years, but in general it was a very, very positive mood. The feeling was that the population's desire to make these elections work was going to prove stronger than the desire of some of the hard core political supporters to make sure their candidate won at any cost.
BARON: And tell us very briefly, how did Guinea go from those deep, dark days of just nine months ago when things were falling apart to now, free elections?
MONCRIEFF: Well you know David, I think it surprised everybody and it surprised some of the most astute observers. We have to go back, of course, to the beginning of December last year when the Junta leader, Dadis Camera was shot in the head by one of his own henchmen. What happened next is that another member of the Junta, General Sekuba Canate, took over. I think he surprised quite a few people and pleasantly surprised them by calling and end really to military rule, putting the military back in the barracks, reinstalling discipline within the Army, pushing away some of Dadis Camera's henchmen, they've been pushed out into the countryside, and moving forward to elections and he's not been a candidate. I think that's also important, that the current sitting President is not a candidate in these elections. I think that's vital. I think that the Guinean population looked over the abyss in 2009. They know all about the wars in the 1990's in Liberia and Sierra Leone. They experienced the refugees that came to Guinea and they didn't want to go down that path.
BARON: Now there were many, many candidates in this election, 24 civilian candidates for President. How did the election go?
MONCRIEFF: Well, as far as we understand, the election went pretty well. There were a few technical problems, mainly in - - as far as I understand at the moment. But overall, the election went pretty well. Now we've got to wait a couple of days for the results, and of course announcing results in a situation like this is always a tense moment. So we're going to have a little bit of tension there.
BARON: Well the election has been praised by international observers. It seems things went pretty smoothly. Is the sense in West Africa that this country has really turned the corner?
MONCRIEFF: Well I think it is. If things are fragile in a country like Guinea, that has lived under a dictatorship, things are always fragile. Things change very, very quickly. And take people by surprise very quickly and I really think that's a product of living under a dictatorship. But, having said that, I do think that people in Guinea and all over this region are very, very hopeful that this is the start of a genuinely new era for that country.
BARON: Richard Moncrieff is the West Africa project director for International Crisis Group. He is in Dakar. Thank you Richard.
MONCRIEFF: Thanks very much.