Economist Shakes Up Guinea’s Male-Dominated Leadership Race

It’s rare for women to run for president in Guinea, where the last two elections were dominated by the same men who are vying for the presidency on Sunday.

That hasn’t stopped Makalé Traoré, 59, from trying to persuade voters to back her campaign, which has won praise locally for its clear policy proposals to reduce the uneven distribution of wealth in a country with some of the world’s largest iron-ore and bauxite reserves.

“I bring a credible governance program to the table,” Traoré said in an interview. “Women have held important positions throughout our country’s history and the fact that I’m a woman –- a competent woman — is not an obstacle for voters.”

While Africa has a greater proportion of females on company boards than all other regions, women remain grossly underrepresented in politics. Forty-six of the continent’s 55 countries have never been led by a woman.

Some nations have introduced quotas to boost gender equity including Ivory Coast, which requires that women hold at least 30% of the seats in parliament. Last year, Guinea adopted a parity law reserving half the positions on candidate lists for elective positions for women.

Traoré is the better known of the two women who are among 12 candidates contesting the presidency. The other is Makalé Camara, a former foreign affairs minister.

An economist by training and head of the Guinean umbrella group of women’s associations, Traoré has pledged to bring Guineans together across lines of ethnic affiliation. Her proposals include improving access to credit for women and increasing the minimum wage.

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She’s also a former ally of President Alpha Conde, having helped steer his 2010 electoral campaign to victory. She’s since turned against him.

Tension has run high in Guinea this year. After brushing aside mass protests against constitutional changes, Conde, 82, pushed through an amendment before announcing in September he would run for a third term. His main rival is former Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo, 68, who lost the vote in 2010 and 2015.

A poll published by research company Afrobarometer in September shows that 76% of Guineans favor limiting a president’s tenure to two terms. Even so, as the incumbent and backed by Russia, Conde is the front-runner with the best access to campaign funding.

The two main parties have tapped into age-old divisions in the country with two predominant ethnic groups. While Conde represents the Malinke people, Diallo has rallied support from the ethnic Fulani.

‘Endless Conflict’

“They spend their time attacking each other,” said Traoré. “We’re really tired of this endless conflict between the two big men. It’s time they retire.”

Conde won the 2010 vote under an interim government put in place after an assassination attempt incapacitated then-military leader Moussa Dadis Camara. That election was hailed as a return to democracy after decades of strongmen rule that gutted the economy and eroded most state institutions, but an ensuing mining boom has yielded few benefits for the poor, and strikes and protests have left dozens dead in recent years.

“As we say here, you can’t eat growth,” Traoré said. “People need to eat, go to school, be able to get a job, have access to medical care. We can get by with the money we earn, our national budget is sufficient. We just need to spend it more equitably.”

— With assistance by Gina Turner

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