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 new president and his followers led a single-party government, right up until his death in 1984. Two military leaders then took control in a violent coup, their newly formed political party ruling unilaterally, with increased resistance. After a quick seize of power in a subsequent military coup in 2008, the government was run precariously until 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, in her view, “Tostan’s program addresses the right to vote without any outside influence and we voted with no difficulties. 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 stated that “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 and 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. Although casting a vote can be a confusing process, many voters felt well-prepared. Sayon Faro, proudly stated that “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.