Passport

Guinean junta drew lots to decide who became president

Via Chris Blattman and Global Dashboard, this AP story reveals the strange behind-the-scenes story of how Guinean President Moussa Camara took power in a miltiary coup late last year. Turns out he just picked the right piece of paper out of a mayonnaise jar.  Or did he? Hardly anyone had heard of Camara, an army ...

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Junta leader, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, attends a meeting on December 27, 2008 at Camp Alpha Yaya Diallo military camp in Conakry. Guinea, the world's top bauxite exporter, will renegotiate all mining contracts and freeze gold extraction until further notice, the leader of a junta that took power in a recent coup said. Camara spoke at a meeting with about 1,000 in attendance, including representatives of political parties, unions and religious groups. The junta led by Camara took power in a coup that followed longtime leader Lansana Conte's death on December 22. More than a third of the world's bauxite reserves are located in Guinea, making it the second-largest producer internationally after Australia and the world's biggest exporter. It also has large reserves of gold, diamonds, iron and nickel, while uranium deposits were found at various sites in 2007. AFP PHOTO / SEYLLOU (Photo credit should read SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images)

Via Chris Blattman and Global Dashboard, this AP story reveals the strange behind-the-scenes story of how Guinean President Moussa Camara took power in a miltiary coup late last year. Turns out he just picked the right piece of paper out of a mayonnaise jar.  Or did he?

Hardly anyone had heard of Camara, an army captain in his 40s, until Dec. 23, when his men broke down the glass doors of the state TV station. He announced that the constitution had been dissolved and that the country was now under the rule of a military junta.

Via Chris Blattman and Global Dashboard, this AP story reveals the strange behind-the-scenes story of how Guinean President Moussa Camara took power in a miltiary coup late last year. Turns out he just picked the right piece of paper out of a mayonnaise jar.  Or did he?

Hardly anyone had heard of Camara, an army captain in his 40s, until Dec. 23, when his men broke down the glass doors of the state TV station. He announced that the constitution had been dissolved and that the country was now under the rule of a military junta.

Locked inside their homes, Guineans frantically called each other, trying to learn what they could about the unknown officer. When state TV read out the names of the 32 members of the junta, Camara topped the list, ahead of far better-known figures. Sekouba Konate – a colonel who headed an elite unit of specially trained commandos – did not even figure on the list.

Soon after his announcement, a brawl broke out at Camp Alpha Yaya Diallo, the capital’s main barracks, according to a witness who was present but asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Konate’s men demanded he be put in charge, the witness says. To settle the matter, Konate, Camara and a third officer agreed to draw lots. The word “president” was written on a piece of folded paper and dropped inside an empty mayonnaise jar along with several pieces of blank paper.

On the first try, Camara drew the winning ticket. Konate’s men demanded a redraw. Again, Camara pulled out “president.”

Konate is now a vice president, leaving the country at the mercy of a fragile alliance between armed men with big egos. There are whispers that Camara – whose men stood guard next to the mayonnaise jar – had come to the draw prepared with his own piece of paper already labeled “president.”

SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

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