Guinea – Conakry: A view from Dadis Camara’s lounge

Reading time 5 min.

It is nearly dusk in Conakry and a convoy of journalists including’s special envoy to Guinea has just arrived at the very heart of the famous Alpha Yaya Diallo Camp, the present headquarters of the Guinean presidency. For two days, businessmen, journalists, communication experts … from Paris, attending an employment, training and vocation forum have been waiting to meet President DADIS Moussa Camara. From an obscure corner, we can see him sitting in his comfortable presidential lounge. Could the hope of meeting him be wishful thinking? Time will tell…

The great hall at captain DADIS Moussa Camara’s residence, situated within the confines of the Alpha Yaya Diallo Camp, is swarming with people in the early evening of Wednesday 27 May. Among those present are ministers, businessmen, journalists … I find it particularly difficult to move and mingle in the crowded space. For the Presidential guards, this is a difficult situation. They seem to be pulling every trick they have up their sleeves to bring order to the room before the arrival of the grand master, who I hear will receive the delegation including “All uninvited persons are kindly requested to leave the room with immediate effect!”. Journalists are to present their IDs. Even after the first selection, the lounge remains crowded and there are not enough seats for everyone. It is proving to be a real headache for the soldiers. More chairs are sent for. It is 8 PM now. Everyone should be seated by now. Comfort is assured for everyone who comes to meet DADIS. “Fortunately, it is not the same crowd every day,” says a young green-beretted soldier with a near angelic face.

“You! get up!! Over there!!!”

Somehow, the soldiers manage to find a seat for everyone. The group of journalists from the delegation, usually on the springboard of garrulity, are disquietedly calm. This highly militarized atmosphere is no place for idle talk. “You! get up!! Over there.” Are these really orders from the soldiers to those personally invited by the president? The tension settles with time. But, don’t get me wrong, anyone can be asked to leave at any time. Some cameramen manage start a joke about a speech Dadis Camara had given the day before at the University of Lansana Conté Sonfonia. In an improvised speech, DADIS Moussa Camara had said that imperialism is also African. The joke here is to call any member of the delegation an “imperialist”… The ministers look more relaxed. They are undoubtly very used to this whole thing.

All the thirty or so people crammed into the room are seated in front of a door that opens to the president’s great hall. A soldier, brandishing an AK-47 rifle, is posted at the entrance, his inexpressive eyes watchful of the slightest suspicious move. On his left hand side, a huge plasma TV set is transmitting the President’s state address in the news. Hang above this already large TV screen, is an equally large wall photograph of President Dadis Camara, dressed in military fatigues, as usual, with his inseparable Defense Minister Konaté Sékouba (aka El Tigre) by his side. In Guinea, it is rumoured that it is he who has the real power, and that he is feared by the President Moussa Dadis Camara.

“You need to exercise patience to meet with the President”

Hours later and no one has been called. Meanwhile, the previous audience has ended. It is 9 PM. Looking into the other room from my vantage point, I see a young soldier cleaning the coffee table and carefully placing an ashtray and a pack of paper handkerchiefs. The President is likely to appear at any time, we conclude. TV reporters begin setting their cameras in order to have a good viewing angle. But they are mistaken… the wait continues. A couple of people who are not members of the delegation are called for from the other side of the hall. The President wishes to receive them.

For the delegation, the wait continues unabated. Again, another young military woman, seemingly the president’s favourite selection, comes around serving soft drink to visitors. Due to their proximity, the military guards and visitors eventually engage in amicable interactions. Suspicion gives way to openness. We even get together to smoke cigarettes on a small terrace reserved for the presidential guard. There, one of the presidential guards tells us: ” You need to exercise patience if you want to meet with the President. He works all night and schedules his audiences until 8 in the morning. Then he goes to bed until 1PM before resuming his activities. All those who come here to meet him in the mornings never get to meet him… So, you, when do you sleep?” he asked a journalist “We do not need much rest,” the journalist replies. “a few hours of sleep is enough.”

The long wait continues. It is endless. Hunger begins to ravage the team. The day has been long. Hardly any member of the delegation has had anything to eat today. At this very moment, when our stomachs are thunderously demonstrating for their daily due, the guards wheel in a pile of pizzas, apparently ordered from downtown, accompanied with a bottle of champagne. In the other room, we can see a rather epicurean dinner being prepared for the Head of State and his guests. Enough royal spectacle for the day. Members of the delegation cannot stay any longer. The meeting with the President will be for another time. It is almost 11 PM.

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