WASHINGTON - As Guinea's president visits the U.S. preaching economic development, a debate rages back home about term limits.
President Alpha Conde spent the week visiting U.S. diplomats, granting interviews and meeting with business leaders. He said his goal is to attract investment and transform his country's economy, which historically has been heavily dependent on mineral extraction.
"Guinea has potential. We don't want to be providers of primary materials. We want businesses to come here, work here and create value," he told VOA's French to Africa service. "My dream is that Africa [becomes] not only a factory for Africa but a factory for the world."
Voices of concern
But observers are voicing concern about the state of Guinea's young democracy. Conde was elected in 2010 in the country's first free and fair election in nearly 50 years. According to Guinea's Constitution, he must leave office next year after his second term expires. But a campaign has emerged, believed to be supported by Conde and his allies, to strike down the term limits restriction. Conde instructed Prime Minister Ibrahima Kassory Fofana to travel the country and gather opinions about the amendment.
"Changing those term limits requires writing a completely new constitution and submitting it to parliament for approval and then submitting it for a popular referendum for approval," said Alix Boucher, an assistant research fellow at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington. "So the current situation is that the administration seems to be wanting to work towards taking those steps."
The move has provoked a backlash. According to a 2018 poll by Afrobarometer, 82 percent of Guineans support a two-term limit. Additionally, more than 70 percent prefer democracy to single-party rule.
"Guineans really don't seem to like that idea. They think democracy is preferable. They don't want single-party rule. They don't want one man rule," Boucher said.
For his part, Conde is keeping an arm's length from the question of the constitutional amendment. He told VOA, "I did not come to discuss politics, I came here for business."
But when asked directly how long he intends to stay in power Conde said: "Only God knows and the people of Guinea. It is normal. The people are sovereign. I want to remind you that the United States has changed [its] constitution 27 times, so it is normal that we ask the people. The world evolves."
Guineans in the diaspora are expressing their opposition. On Sept. 11, Guineans living in the U.S. held a protest outside the State Department. Opposition members urged U.S. leaders to question Conde on his aspirations to extend his time in office.
"Alpha Conde is not here just for the United Nations. He is here to campaign for getting a third term, in direct violation of Guinea's Constitution," Talibe Bah, vice president for foreign relations and communications of the opposition Liberal Bloc Party told VOA's Daybreak Africa.
Bah also said Guinea was scheduled to hold legislative elections earlier this year, but none have taken place. This, he said, is further evidence of Conde's tightening control over the country's political process. The national election commission recently announced that the delayed elections will take place on Dec. 28.
"The legislative election was supposed to be held back in the beginning of this year - the first trimester of the year 2019. That has already passed. At this time, the legislative officers are there illegally," Bah said.
But Conde said he is not concerned by the criticism, particularly that coming from people living outside the country. "Guinea is independent and sovereign, therefore Guinean affairs are discussed in Guinea, not outside," he told VOA.