Russian Diplomat’s Praise of Guinean Leader Sparks Outrage

(Bloomberg) -- Russia’s ambassador to Guinea praised President Alpha Conde as “legendary” and said constitutions can be changed, outraging the opposition and fueling speculation that Russia supports plans for Conde to stay in power after his mandate ends next year.

“Do you know many countries in Africa that do better? Do you know many presidents in Africa who do better?” Alexander Bregadze said in a speech broadcast on state TV late Wednesday. “Dear Guineans, you can and must reinvigorate your beautiful country under the leadership of your legendary president.”

Guinea is among several African countries with vast mineral wealth where Russia has pushed to expand its military and political influence in recent years. The West African nation, which holds the world’s largest bauxite reserves, is the single largest supplier of the ore for Russian aluminum giant United Co. Rusal.

While Conde is due to step down in 2020 after two five-year terms, his refusal to address any questions about his intentions has fueled concerns he may try to extend his mandate. Guinean opposition parties said two years ago they’ll unite against proposals for changes to the constitution that will allow him to stand for a third term. The sudden removal of the head of the Constitutional Court in September raised suspicions even further.

Third Term

Bregadze said the principle of alternation that dominates constitutions worldwide isn’t always advantageous and sometimes leads to violence. “Constitutions aren’t dogma, the Bible, or the Koran. Constitutions adapt to reality, it’s not realities that adapt to constitutions.”

The speech interferes with Guinea’s domestic politics, Cellou Dalein Diallo, a former prime minister who heads the country’s biggest opposition coalition, told reporters Thursday.

“The Russian ambassador has shown himself an advocate of a third mandate,” Diallo said. “We’ll try to speak to the Russian government about this declaration, which is contrary to Russia’s traditional relationship with African countries and particularly with Guinea.”

Opposition spokesman Faya Millimouno said earlier Thursday it may mobilize supporters to hold a protest.

“The opposition demands he withdraws his remarks otherwise we will hold a sit-in protest at the Russian Embassy in Conakry and ask for his recall.”

Bregadze’s speech was part of a traditional ceremony to issue New Year’s wishes to the head of state. He’s the longest-serving foreign ambassador in the country, having arrived in 2011.

Conde was first elected in 2010 in a disputed vote organized by the then military junta. The advertising and media consulting company that ran his campaign is owned by French billionaire Vincent Bollore, who was taken in for questioning by French judicial police last year as part of a probe into the possible use of bribes to obtain a port contract from Guinean officials.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.