At 68, Cellou Dalein Diallo is running for the third time in a presidential election in Guinea. This former technocrat, follower of compromise, once Prime Minister of former President Lansana Conté, has become one of the main opponents of the government in power. He hopes, this time, to win the ballot against the outgoing head of state, Alpha Condé, whose candidacy for a third term is contested.
“I am a liberal, I can not refuse you anything”, says Cellou Dalein Diallo when he complies, all politeness and courtesy, during the interview. Even his most fervent opponents admit it: the main Guinean opponent of the decade is a man of polished manners.
Originally from the Fouta-Djalon region, in central Guinea, he studied accounting and management in Conakry, then perfected in France where Bah Oury, founder of his party UFDG (Union of democratic forces of Guinea) , remarks: “Cellou was one of the brilliant young executives and pampered by the regime.”
He rose through the ranks to the post of Director General of Economic and Monetary Affairs at the current Central Bank, before being appointed to the Administration of Major Projects by former President Lansana Conté. Transport, Telecommunications, Tourism, Public Works, Environment, Fisheries, Dalein is the longest-lived minister under the Second Republic. He became prime minister in 2004, preceded by his reputation as a meticulous technocrat.
A liberal convinced at the time of structural adjustment plans, his opponents accuse him of having participated in the bankruptcy of the national telephone operator Sotelgui and of the company Air Guinea, in the sale of the railway as well as the painful eviction of the Kaporo Rails district, in the suburbs of the capital Conakry. “They have so far presented no evidence”, responds the person concerned.
In response, his supporters decline the list of roads and bridges built as well as economic clean-up measures and the resumption of relations with donors. Relations interrupted following the military coup of 1984 which brought Lansana Conté to the head of the country, on the death of the father of independence Sékou Touré.
“The first thing I said to him? I want to get involved in politics, but I don’t trust you, because I hold you responsible for this assessment,” recalls Souleymane Thianguel Bah, who will become his communications advisor.
In 2001, he defends the constitutional reform which will allow General Lansana Conté to remain in power. When in 2019 Cellou Dalein Diallo joined the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution to try to prevent Alpha Condé from running for a third term, his opponents had a great time. “The 2001 referendum was justified, because Lansana Conté was a good president,” he said on France 24 before resuming himself a few days later on the TV5 Monde antenna: “Conté had changed the Constitution. everyone knows it. There has been violence, death.
“Made by the circumstances”
Before being dismissed from his post in 2006 by a sick and weakened President Conté, Cellou Dalein Diallo represented Guinea in the summits, met heads of state and international institutions and built a solid network of influential figures. A decisive argument when the dean Bah Mamadou chose him in 2007 as president of the UFDG, until then led by Bah Oury, perceived as more radical. “He had the advantage of knowing the administration by heart and we thought he could be the hyphen we needed to broaden the party’s base,” admits the latter. The technocrat becomes a politician, future candidate for the presidential election, “made by circumstances”, analyzes Souleymane Diallo, editor-in-chief of the satirical newspaper Le Lynx.
“I am confident, I know that there is no risk for me to lose this second round”, declared Cellou Dalein Diallo, September 2, 2010. He has indeed just arrived at the head of the presidential election with 43 , 69% of the votes. Against all expectations, however, he lost two months later to the historic opponent Alpha Condé, who obtained more than 52% of the vote, after a particularly chaotic in-between rounds. “Fires, machine thefts, all these signals would have alerted even someone who was not very vigilant!”, Storm Bah Oury. Cellou Dalein Diallo admits his defeat and accepts the results. To avoid a “new bloodbath”, he explains.
Did the image of the UFDG leader “candidate of his community” play against him? On the campaign posters, he then appears as a family, sporting the traditional Fulani headdress. “A label that sticks to his skin,” his collaborators concede, but “made from scratch,” according to Thianguel. “His government was more ethnically balanced and he did more for Upper Guinea than for his home region.”
Cellou sits in the chair of the leader of the opposition at the end of the legislative elections of 2013. The following years are punctuated by countless demonstrations, on the sidelines of which more than 200 people, mainly teenagers, would have lost their lives, according to the count of his party. “Martyrs of democracy” for the UFDG, “manipulated delinquents” for the government who denounces a “strategy of tension” aimed at “discouraging investors”. “He is not cynical enough for that, answers Thianguel. I have already seen him lose his means at the sight of an open wound on the leg of a young injured. He will always favor negotiation over confrontation” .
Until what point ? Criticized for his “softness”, his “naivety” by the hard wing of his party which does not digest compromises, Cellou Dalein Diallo prides himself on never having refused dialogue. For the 2015 presidential election, he reached an agreement with the former head of the junta, Moussa Dadis Camara. An alliance with the devil, when many of his activists lost their lives and he himself was injured in the massacre of September 28, 2009.
“Alpha is a better politician than me”
2013, 2016, 2018… At the end of repeated political crises, Cellou Dalein Diallo signs agreements with the authorities, the content of which is legal “contortionism” and will only be partially respected. “It gives the impression of being constantly rolled in flour and going back to the baker!” Exclaims a journalist. “Alpha is a better politician than me,” he concedes in an interview with Le Monde on March 3, 2019.
If he loses, will he accept a new deal with power? In the offices of the RPG, we are already betting on a government of national unity or a possible dissolution of the National Assembly after the re-election of Alpha Condé. “Cellou is the useful opponent, Alpha’s best asset,” pleaded a former member of the UFDG, “one wonders if he really wants power.”
Does he pretend naivety to keep his position while biding his time? In front of the photographers, Cellou points to his watch. “It’s time” is now his slogan. “2020 will not be 2010, let alone 2015,” he promises his activists who have just nominated him for the presidential election against the advice of the FNDC. “Cellou candidate for the third defeat”, headlines the following day the satirical newspaper Lynx.
Did he have a choice? “By refusing to go to the legislative elections of March 2020, the UFDG lost its seats in the Assembly as well as the platform, the salaries and benefits that go with it. His party risked imploding after this political error”, analyzes a Diplomat.
“He is a legalist who is waiting to be given power. But in Guinea, power is taken! Judge an observer. Cellou has founded too many hopes in an external intervention, from the international community or from the army, a deus ex machina which does not exist “.
Behind his affable appearance, some in his party describe an “authoritarian” management. “He carries this duality within him”, analyzes Thiangel. “He can be very gentle or extremely brittle. He may be a weak conqueror of power, but he will be a great president.”
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