So Guinea’s ex-junta leader was weird. And?

I just finished reading Jon Lee Anderson’s piece in the latest New Yorker, "Downfall," which profiles Guinea’s ex-junta leader, Moussa Dadis Camara. Maybe I’m just picky, but I was a bit disappointed. The point of the piece seems to be: Dadis was quite a mad hatter. Period.  The piece is at its best when it’s ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
STR/AFP/Getty Images
STR/AFP/Getty Images
STR/AFP/Getty Images

I just finished reading Jon Lee Anderson's piece in the latest New Yorker, "Downfall," which profiles Guinea's ex-junta leader, Moussa Dadis Camara. Maybe I'm just picky, but I was a bit disappointed. The point of the piece seems to be: Dadis was quite a mad hatter. Period. 

The piece is at its best when it's narrating scenes with Dadis -- his relationship with the current junta leader, Sekouba Konate, his narcissistic (yet paranoid) mannerisms, and the way that he transformed Conakry into a idol-worship site for his person. But that's also the downfall of the piece (bad pun, sorry): there's not much depth to depicting the madness. So Konate and Dadis had a tense relationship? Certainly it's not everything, but there's a deep ethnic dimension to that tension -- and other junta internal turmoil -- that isn't just explained by a madman's jealous power struggles.

So opposition demonstrators were killed in a Sept. 28, 2009 massacre by the military. One reason that demonstration had been so monumental in the first place -- before the violence -- was because it was one of the first times the fractured opposition got its act together and joined forces. So the military was undisciplined. Did the reporter see any signs of the ethnic militias that Dadis was cultivating in the city slums? So the Chinese signed a mining deal with Guinea. Actually, that had been in the works for a while, and had little to do with Dadis.

I just finished reading Jon Lee Anderson’s piece in the latest New Yorker, "Downfall," which profiles Guinea’s ex-junta leader, Moussa Dadis Camara. Maybe I’m just picky, but I was a bit disappointed. The point of the piece seems to be: Dadis was quite a mad hatter. Period. 

The piece is at its best when it’s narrating scenes with Dadis — his relationship with the current junta leader, Sekouba Konate, his narcissistic (yet paranoid) mannerisms, and the way that he transformed Conakry into a idol-worship site for his person. But that’s also the downfall of the piece (bad pun, sorry): there’s not much depth to depicting the madness. So Konate and Dadis had a tense relationship? Certainly it’s not everything, but there’s a deep ethnic dimension to that tension — and other junta internal turmoil — that isn’t just explained by a madman’s jealous power struggles.

So opposition demonstrators were killed in a Sept. 28, 2009 massacre by the military. One reason that demonstration had been so monumental in the first place — before the violence — was because it was one of the first times the fractured opposition got its act together and joined forces. So the military was undisciplined. Did the reporter see any signs of the ethnic militias that Dadis was cultivating in the city slums? So the Chinese signed a mining deal with Guinea. Actually, that had been in the works for a while, and had little to do with Dadis.

The piece also fails to really explain what happened in that Sept. 28, 2009 massacre — and who know what when — which seemed to be its intention from the offset. The closest it gets is a price quote from the military leader in charge of antinarcotics, who claimed that the demonstration was in fact a planned coup: "Their plan was to go from the stadium to the city center and release the narcos and others from prison, but it didn’t happen, thank God, because Guinea loves God."

Part of the trouble is that Anderson came to Guinea under Dadis’s wing, and so I imagine that his ability to report outside of his minders’ view was probably limited. That was the case in his last piece on Somalia, as well (though in that case, it was also security that would prevent any street-level reporting.)  

But the other disappointment is simply this: Guinea’s troubles go far deeper, and are far more serious, than one man’s ludicrous antics explain. Dadis was probably a symptom of that more than anything — but we see him portrayed as the disease. I’m still waiting for a piece that explains the backstory behind what has happened in Guinea, because this is not it.

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

Tag: Guinea

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