, CONAKRY, Dec 3 – Alpha Conde\’s lifelong battle against a series of despotic and military regimes has landed him in exile and in prison, but now a final push for power has led the 72-year-old to the nation\’s top job.
The veteran opposition politician was on Friday announced the winner in Guinea\’s first democratic election since gaining independence from France in 1958. He won 52.52 percent of votes in a tight race against former premier Cellou Dalein Diallo.
Conde, a slender man who walks with a slight limp, is certainly articulate, even if he remains closed-mouthed with the press.
Both allies and critics alike acknowledge his charisma and intelligence, but some also describe him as authoritarian and impulsive, someone who rarely listens to others and often acts alone.
His supporters however consider him untainted, a "new man" who has never had the opportunity to "participate in the looting of the country."
Born on March 4, 1938, in Boke in Lower Guinea, Conde comes from the Malinke tribe mostly found in the Upper Guinea.
After a first round of voting Conde was in the run-off with ex-prime minister Diallo, from the Fulani tribe, pitting the country\’s two ethnic majorities against each other.
However the change in the race, and new alliances, appeared to have gone in Conde\’s favour, after his rival was initially declared the poll favourite having won 43 percent to his 18 percent in the first round.
Conde left Guinea for France at age 15 to study, later graduating with degrees in economics, law and sociology. He went on to teach at the prestigious Sorbonne University in Paris.
In his biography he describes how he first supported the "revolutionary" Ahmed Sekou Toure, Guinea\’s first president after independence from France in 1958.
But in the sixties he denounced the concentration of power in the hands of one man and one clan. He ran the Federation of Black African students in France and led a movement opposing Sekou Toure\’s regime.
Sekou Toure condemned Conde to death in absentia in 1970.
During some 30 years of exile, Conde nourished ties with several personalities including Bernard Kouchner, the founder of Doctors Without Borders who until last month was France\’s foreign minister.
Conde returned to Guinea seven years after Sekou Toure\’s death in 1991.
President Lansana Conte, who seized power in a coup, legalised political parties, allowing Conde to take part in elections in 1993 and 1998, both widely criticised as being rigged.
However Conde was officially credited with winning 27 percent and 18 percent of votes in the respective elections.
The founder of the Rally of Guinean People (RPG) was arrested just after the 1998 election and sentenced in 2000 for "undermining the authority of the state."
But following international pressure, he was "pardoned" in 2001.
Exiting prison he said his "model" had been Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned by South Africa\’s apartheid government and went on to become the country\’s first black president.
"It is necessary to be like him, to forgive, but never forget," said Conde.
In 2003 he joined other opposition parties in boycotting presidential elections.
After the death of Conte and the 2008 coup, he called for elections and was one of the first to hold the head of the junta responsible for the September 2009 massacre of over 150 protesters in a Conakry stadium.
Conde has been married three times and has one son.