The burning down of the warehouse at Camp Samory military barracks in Guinea where voting materials for the upcoming second round presidential elections were being stored threatens to spark ethnic clashes in a country that has struggled with autocratic governments since its independence.
Supporters of leading presidential candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo accuse the government of sabotage and of attempting to disrupt the second round elections which has been postponed multiple times since the first round of presidential elections on June 27.
The accusation of sabotage stems from the fact that the parties of the two candidates are divided along ethnic lines: The Peul who are the country’s largest ethnic group but who have never had one of their own in power, against the Malinke, the ethnicity of the current military general overseeing the transition to civilian rule whose members are well represented in the army.
“Is there such a thing as a place that is more secure than Camp Samory, which houses the chiefs of staff of the army? And you tell me that in this highly secure site, it is only the voting materials that caught fire? And you want me to believe that this is an accident?” the spokesman for the Alliance Cellou for President, Mamadou Bah Baadikko was quoted.
“That’s especially hard to do given that they have done everything in their power to once again push back the vote,” Baadikko added.
Before the alleged fire accident that has disrupted the electoral process in Guinea, Cellou Dalein Diallo-a Peul — got 44 percent of the vote in the first round of elections, defeating second-place finisher Alpha Conde, a Malinke, who received 18 percent, by about 26 percent of the votes.
Observers say the ballot storehouse had been burning for more than 40 minutes before the first firetruck arrived and a fireman forced a hose over the wall.
As a result of the alleged fire accident that consumed voting materials, Sunday’s vote has been postponed: “There will be no election on Sunday. The vote will be delayed by at least two weeks, maybe three,” the head of communications of the National Independent Electoral Commission Thierno Ceydou Bayo told reporters on Thursday.
Also, voter ID cards ordered from a printer in South Africa had not yet arrived the Electoral Commission said.
According to experts, the delay is likely to intensify tensions in the capital city of Conakry, where campaigning was temporarily suspended after violent clashes erupted last week between supporters of rival political parties.
Tension remains between the two groups are especially high after the 1-year-rule of erratic Captain Dadis Camara– the army captain who seized power in a 2008 coup, and stacked the government with his relatives and tribal allies from the Forestier and Malinke ethnicities.
Eyewitness reports have indicated that the situation appears to have worsened ethnic divisions that have long been lurking underneath the surface of Guinea’s political life.
Last weekend, supporters of the two candidates threw rocks at each other, killing one person and injuring 54. Witnesses say that instead of political slogans, the clashing sides yelled racial names.
The international community and Guineans alike had hoped the vote would mark a turning point for the troubled nation of 13.7 million that has known only authoritarian rule since independence from France in 1958.
Guinea, a mineral rich country with the world’s largest bauxite reserves, including iron ore, gold, diamonds, uranium, despite its potential wealth is among Africa’s poorest.