On October 11, 2015, Guineans across the country gathered their voting cards and made the trek to the nearest polling booth to participate in the country’s second-ever free presidential election. “Before, I didn’t consider the right to vote. It’s because of the Tostan session on democracy that I knew that voting is my right. That’s why I took a motorcycle taxi to come vote in Soulemaniya [10 km away from my village],” explained Tostan participant Sayon Camara. Many other community members made the same trip; some even crossed the distance on foot.
Why is this so important? In 1958, Guinea declared its independence from France after more than 60 years of colonial rule. The country’s new president and his followers led a single-party government, right up until his death in 1984—in other words, just shy of 30 years. Just before an election was to be held for his replacement, two military leaders took control in a violent coup. Their newly formed political party ruled unilaterally, with increased resistance, until the president’s death in 2008. After a quick seize of power in a subsequent military coup, the government was run precariously until a six-month transitional system was put in place in 2010. It was only then, finally, that Guinea held its first free and fair presidential election.
While Guinea’s history has been tumultuous, this most recent election went smoothly. Men and women alike journeyed to the poll booths. Although lines were quite long, “The election this year was characterized by calmness and respect for one another. In Konkofaya, everyone waited in line without disruption or conflict,” recounted Ibrahima Touré, another Tostan participant. Binta Cissé, a member of Tostan’s classes in Sambouya, was reassured because: “Thanks to the Tostan program–which addresses the right to vote without any outside influence–we voted with no difficulties. And the community mobilized itself to go vote.” Voting in private may be taken for granted in some places, but this was a great success for Guinean citizens during this election.
Democracy, within the context of human rights and the accompanying responsibilities, is a focus of the first five months of Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP). CEP participants work through exercises that explore their roles in the community and as a world citizen, what it means to take part in the democratic process, and how they can affect change through local politics. Noumousso Traoré, a CEP participant in Santiguiya stated, “Before Tostan’s arrival in Santiguiya, voting wasn’t a concern for our community.” In this 2015 presidential election, many Guineans voted for the first time. Noumousso was one of these proud voters.
Other factors contributed to conditions that encouraged high voter turnout. For example, voting office workers were at the polling stations as early as 6 am. Voting centers were accessible, and even though some citizens had to travel to larger nearby communities to vote, there was strong motivation amongst voters. Although casting one’s vote can be a confusing process, many voters felt well-prepared. Sayon Faro, an ‘adopted learner’ of a Tostan participant proudly described his experience: “I voted to elect my leader without pressure…when I was called to the office [from the line], I handed in my voter ID card for verification and I took a ballot with an envelope. I went to the voting booth to make my choice and then place it in the box. Next, I dipped my finger in the ink [to prove that I’d voted]. Thanks to the Tostan program, I knew all the different steps of voting.”
Because of the approximately four million people (or nearly 70% of registered voters) who voted to make their voices heard, incumbent President Alpha Condé was re-elected for his second term. Regardless of political allegiances, the participation of Guinean citizens in this democratic process marked an incredible success for the entire country.
Written by Ashlee Sang with contributions from Mouctar Oularé