Africa’s new Big Man shows his true colours

Back in December, when Moussa “Dadis” Camara seized power in Guinea in a bloodless coup, he promised to hold elections and return his country to democracy after decades of hardline dictatorship. His people welcomed this approach and hailed the young and previously unknown army officer as a breath of fresh air. When he pledged not to stand in the elections, his popularity grew still stronger.

Sadly, those who were taken in hadn’t been studying their post-colonial African history. Like many before him, far from bringing change and cleaning out a corrupt system, Camara has turned out to be yet another brutal, power-hungry Big Man. Not long ago, he banned public demonstrations. Then he did an about-turn on his election promise (although he says he hasn’t decided whether or not to take part in the upcoming poll in January, a new party has sprung up saying he will represent it and few doubt he will stand).  And yesterday, he demonstrated the lengths he will go to to cling onto power by violently quashing a protest against his candidature in the capital, Conakry.

157 people died as troops opened fire on demonstrators. Many were bayoneted to death. And in a scary echo of neighbouring Sierra Leone’s vicious civil war, soldiers used sexual violence to make their point too. An eyewitness from a local human rights group “saw soldiers strip women naked, spread their legs and stamp on their privates with their boots.”

France, the colonial power, has suspended military aid to the country (why were they giving arms to an unelected dictator in the first place, you might wonder). It is reconsidering its development aid. Whether this will have any effect is uncertain, however. As Camara recently pointed out, there was widespread international criticism when Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz took power by ejecting an elected president in a coup in Mauritania last year, but when Aziz won a subsequent ballot, the complaints rapidly subsided. Camara is counting on the same thing happening with him.