(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Reining in ethnic violence

Guineans waiting to vote, Hamdallaye neighbourhood of the capital Conakry
Nancy Palus/IRIN

In Guinea, religious and traditional leaders, youth groups and citizens are scrambling to contain ethnic unrest after clashes between the two main groups, Malinké and Peulh – rivals in an upcoming second-round presidential election.

The run-off candidates, Alpha Condé, a Malinké, and Cellou Dalein Diallo, a Peulh, were to have toured the country together last week to call for calm, but Condé supporters told him not to participate, saying they wanted answers about the alleged poisoning of followers by members of his opponent's party.

Tensions were already high and the alleged poisoning incident triggered attacks in the week of 18 October, according to a resident of the northern town of Siguiri - a Condé stronghold. "People here said enough is enough," he told IRIN.

Since independence in 1958, Guinea has had Malinké and Soussou presidents, then one year with a military ruler from the Forest Region. Many Peulh, the majority ethnic group, insist it is "our turn now".

In the most recent violence, Malinké youth destroyed shops belonging to Peulh in several towns, according to witnesses, including Malinké residents of their native Siguiri; in some cases people attacked Peulh residents with clubs and iron bars, according to one man who said he saw such attacks in the southeastern city of Kissidougou. Hundreds of Peulh have now fled homes and businesses in predominantly Malinké cities in the north.


Youths in Siguiri told IRIN they do not want to fight with the Peulh - they simply want the government to shed light on alleged attacks by Diallo supporters and condemn any wrongdoers.

Many of the displaced have fled to the mostly Peulh Fouta Djallon region. Their arrival itself threatened to trigger fighting when Peulh in the central city of Mamou wanted to retaliate upon seeing injured people among the displaced.

Healing message

Religious leaders in the main Fouta city of Labé quickly dispatched a letter to traditional leaders in Kankan, Kissidougou, Siguiri and other towns asking them to avoid ethnic conflict.

“We told them to avoid attacks on Peulh in their towns and that here in Labé, Peulh would not attack Malinké,” El Hadj Badrou Bah, the imam at Labé’s main mosque, told IRIN. “We are all Guineans; we are all one another’s sons and brothers – this is the message we sent out.”

He said Peulh living in the clash-hit areas also sent delegations to Labé, urging Peulh not to attack Malinké, for fear of reprisals in southeastern and northern towns, where Peulh traders have lived and worked for generations.

Bah said Labé residents of the city were collecting money to provide food to the displaced, mostly children.

In the final days of campaigning for Guinea's 27 June presidential election. Conakry. June 2010

In the final days of campaigning for Guinea's 27 June presidential election. Conakry. June 2010...
Friday, June 25, 2010
Reining in ethnic violence
In the final days of campaigning for Guinea's 27 June presidential election. Conakry. June 2010...

Photo: Contributor/IRIN
Supporters of presidential candidate Alpha Condé in the final days of campaigning for the 27 June presidential election

Guineans in several main cities said as of 31 October things were calmer and they hoped stability would prevail, but that the fear of more and worsening clashes remains.

“This is a problem that is enormously difficult to manage, because it has become purely racial,” said Alpha Oumar Baldé, who fled Kissidougou – where he has a store – and joined his wife and children in Labé.

“Please tell the international community to watch this closely. The situation is critical. Everyone fears civil war.”

Baldé has returned to his family in Labé but left his livelihood behind. Asked how he would now support himself and his family said: “It’s only God who will come to our aid now. Everything’s at a standstill. There are [displaced] families who have no idea how they’re going to find enough to eat.”

He said displaced Guineans wonder how they will be able to vote in the second-round poll, set for 7 November.

Guineans were cautiously hopeful after the 27 June first round that the country was finally seeing the beginnings of a transition to stability and civilian rule, but violence has marred the political process since. More than 1,000 people have been injured, three women raped and at least 17 people killed in unrest since campaigning began for the first round, according to a health sector crisis committee led by the World Health Organization and the Health Ministry.

“We take one step forward and five steps back,” said Thierno Baldé, head of a youth association, who since before the first round has travelled around the country talking to youth about how to avoid conflict.

He finds hope in the fact that not all young people want to fight. A vendor in Mamou who preferred anonymity said: “I and my friends didn’t want to take revenge against the Malinké, so we didn’t.”

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