He was once considered one of Africa’s brightest new hopes, feted by Tony Blair as a model new leader for the continent. Yet eight years after being elected, President Alpha Conde of Guinea is falling somewhat short of his pledge to be “both the Mandela and the Obama” of his nation.
This Sunday, at the age of 82, he will contest elections for yet another five years in office, his party having scrapped rules that banned him serving more than two terms. The move has already sparked deadly protests in Guinea and criticism internationally – although these days, Mr Conde no longer worries too much about upsetting the likes of Mr Blair.
Instead, he has cultivated other friends in high places: notably Russia’s Vladimir Putin, whom he has visited twice in the last two years. Guinea was a Soviet client state during the Cold War, and Mr Putin is keen to woo Mr Conde as part of his bid to revive Kremlin influence across Africa.
Last year, Russia’s then ambassador to Guinea, Alexandre Bregadze, even made a televised speech advising Guineans to back the ageing Mr Conde for a third term. “Do you know many presidents in Africa who do better?” he asked bluntly.
Guineans may think he has a point. For if they look around their neighbourhood, there are not many inspiring examples. At the end of this month, the Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara in Côte d’Ivoire, 78, will likewise seek a third term in office, once more amid violent protests. And in August, Mali’s president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, was overthrown in an army coup, adding yet more problems to a country already reeling from jihadist violence. Some detect a drift back to the bad old days of military strongmen and leaders well past their sell-by date.