Guinea election observation

  • January 20, 2014
Guinea election observation

Beatrice Bianchi was political analyst in the core team of European Union monitors who observed the September 2013 elections in Guinea.

Political parties and politicians in Guinea should take a series of measures to restore public faith in democratic processes and in particular avoid ‘political nomadism’ which undermines political representation as well as distrust in government, according to a report by EU election monitors published this week.

The widely contested legislative elections that took place last September are seen as a vital indicator of the country’s socio-political stability in the run-up to presidential elections in 2015, and the ratification of the results have done much to redress the country’s long history of political and military turmoil.  In what has been seen as a sign of both political strength and adherence to democratic mechanisms, President Condé, last week, asked Guinea’s prime minister to step down in order to form a new government in light of the election results.

The report contains two major political recommendations, which are the work of Gates Cambridge Scholar Beatrice Bianchi, who was responsible for political analysis in the core team of observers based in Conakry during the three-month observation period.

Beatrice, who was the youngest member of her team and had only finished her MPhil at the University of Cambridge the year before, was selected because her studies have given her unique opportunities and insights into the political process in the country.

Based on her observations of the electoral process in Guinea, the first recommendation proposes that politicians should not be allowed to change party once elected to avoid the kind of ‘political nomadism’ that has undermined public trust in parliamentary representation. The second recommendation concerns the huge raft of fraud allegations that dominated political relations during the voting. The report recommends that political parties allocate adequate resources to the training of their representatives who are sent to monitor polling stations on the day of voting. It says this would promote wider acceptance of electoral results by citizens and political actors.

Beatrice, who made a presentation at the UK Foreign Office about the role of International Electoral Monitoring last week, applied to be a part of the European Unions Electoral Observation Mission after starting her own consultancy firm following her studies at Cambridge. Although she had spent much of her student life focused on Africa, it was Guinea that captivated her attention shortly after first visiting the country during her undergraduate degree. She slowly built up a strong network of contacts so that during her masters studies in France, and shortly after the 2009 military coup in Guinea, she was able to return and carry out research on the socio-political situation in that country at a time when most international experts could not.

In 2013, she felt she wanted to return as part of the monitoring team because, she says, “it was the end of a process I had witnessed from the beginning”. There were huge political tensions in Guinea in the month leading up to the vote, as the opposition was stronger and people were poorer than they had been in 2010. There were fears of a civil war. Beatrice’s knowledge of the country was helpful to the overall success of the Observation Mission, as she knew most of the political actors personally.

“[Ultimately,] we hope the political actors will consider the recommendations in the monitoring report a helpful tool for establishing a positive dialogue with each other and improve their the electoral process overall,” says Beatrice.
 
Background
Beatrice [ [2011] was born in a small village in northern Italy, but had always longed to travel. Her major inspiration was her grandmother who was well travelled and even lived in Chile when she was 20. Another influence was her mother, a lawyer, and her father, who is a teacher at a music conservatory. They were “really interested in discovering the world”.  The village she lived in also made an impact. “The mentality was very closed and there was some racism against immigrants,” she said.

Beatrice took languages in high school so that she would be able to travel. “I wanted to see countries outside of Europe, work in developing countries in Africa, and most of all help improve the lives of others,” she says.  

Every summer in high school, she travelled to England or Ireland to learn English.

At 18, when she was in high school, she volunteered to work in a hospital in Ethiopia. At the time she was hoping to become a doctor. “I saw a child die in front of me. I could see that it was not the hospital that was the problem, but the mismanagement of the hospital. I felt my skills were in international relations rather than health care, and that the real problem was organisational and not the lack of resources,” she adds. She, nevertheless, helped raise additional funds and returned to the hospital the following summer.

Initially, she studied International Relations at the University of Genoa then moved to the University of Naples where the focus was on African and Asian Studies. During that course she spent a year in Paris on an Erasmus exchange. She wanted to improve her French as she thought that in addition to English, it was a requirement for working in Africa. As part of her course she also went to Guinea for three months in her last year. She lived with a local family in the suburbs of Conakry. “There was no water and no electricity. I understood how people lived every day and what poverty was, and how different our lives are in the West,” she says. “I also realised how important it was for me to keep working on African issues.” 

At the end, she did her dissertation on European cooperation in Guinea between 2004 and 2006. She subsequently applied to, and received and offer from the Sorbonne to do a two-year masters course. The first year was in political science and international relations and the second in African politics. During the summer of 2008, Beatrice worked for the Italian Cooperation Office in Burkina Faso on women’s issues and organised a regional conference on literacy and gender.

In December 2008 the former president of Guinea, Lansana Conté, died, ending 24 years of dictatorship. Shortly afterwards there was a military coup and, driven by her passion for Africa, three months later Beatrice decided to head back to Guinea for a month to observe the ongoing changes in both social and political terms. “It was incredibly interesting and frightening. Relations between the international community and the junta were very bad. I was privileged to not have any diplomatic restrictions, and at the same time, I benefited from the good networking I had done the first time around. I was able to meet key ministers and military officials. Our conversations at this difficult time allowed us to develop a relationship of trust that continues today,” she says.

Analysis

Shortly after finishing her dissertation, she was called in by the French foreign ministry to address a conference about her work. “For the first time, I realised that my research on African politics could be of interest to others and influence the decision-making process of governments,” says Beatrice.

In September 2009 there was a big massacre after the military opened fire on political protesters in Conakry. Beatrice travelled to Guinea again to monitor the situation and interview witnesses and survivors of this event.  This research became the basis for her dissertation on the massacre and its consequences. She also wanted to widen her knowledge and re-focus her work at a regional level. She carried out two different internships for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime for six months. The experience took place in Austria where she was assigned to the counter-piracy programme in Somalia.

Her other internship was in Kenya and entailed writing and publishing an overview of all counter-terrorism, criminal justice and health-related programmes under the purview of the African Regional Office of the UNODC. Beatrice also contributed to a project that evaluated prison conditions in Kenya, focusing her research on the pre-trial incarceration of suspects.

She applied to the University of Cambridge while she was in Vienna because she wanted to broaden her knowledge of sociology, anthropology and law. She did an MPhil in African Studies in 2011/12. “I felt you could not work on politics if you did not fully understand the culture of an entire region,” she says. Two periods of fieldwork in Africa were supported by both the Gates Cambridge Trust and Peterhouse, her Cambridge college.

While still finishing her thesis, Beatrice was contacted by the World Bank who wanted her to provide an analysis of the ongoing security sector reforms in Guinea. She started work the day after she finished at Cambridge. Since then she has taught courses in France for SciencesPo and did some consulting for the organisation Control Risks and was eventually selected for the European Union Electoral Observation Mission for the Guinean legislative elections.

She is now in the process of looking to do more EU electoral monitoring work and is building her own consultancy firm. She has recently moved to Paris where most of the consulting work on West Africa is based.
 

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