Ahh, Africa — the dark continent. I know, I know, I should be more politically correct. But not a week goes by without a story reminding us that Africa is a sprawling realm of utter human misery, despair, and chaos. One nation that we rarely read about in the news, but which Kaplan briefly mentioned in his article The Coming Anarchy, is Guinea. Not to be confused with neighboring Guinea-Bissau (which is also a complete mess), Kaplan described Guinea in 1994 as such:
I got a general sense of the future while driving from the airport to downtown Conakry, the capital of Guinea. The forty-five-minute journey in heavy traffic was through one never-ending shantytown: a nightmarish Dickensian spectacle to which Dickens himself would never have given credence. The corrugated metal shacks and scabrous walls were coated with black slime. Stores were built out of rusted shipping containers, junked cars, and jumbles of wire mesh. The streets were one long puddle of floating garbage. Mosquitoes and flies were everywhere. Children, many of whom had protruding bellies, seemed as numerous as ants. When the tide went out, dead rats and the skeletons of cars were exposed on the mucky beach. In twenty-eight years Guinea’s population will double if growth goes on at current rates.
Guinea actually survived the past fifteen years without a fullblown explosion of violence ala Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, or Liberia. Instead, the collapse in Guinea has been quiet, avoiding headlines perhaps because it lacked such colorful characters as Liberia’s General Butt Naked.
But this may be changing. A year ago, a military coup brought a little-known military corporal Moussa Dadis Camara to power. At first glance, Camara had the resume to suggest he could be the best leader the country could hope for. He served in the UN mission in pacifying Sierra Leone and was later trained for eighteen months at the Bremen Military Management School in Bremen, Germany. This is the type of character that Kaplan said we needed in his chapter on Chad in his recent book Imperial Grunts — a military commander with the discipline and international background and training to steer the country in the right direction.
If only. Following the coup, Camara immediately cancelled the Constitution and declared the establishment of a military junta government. He said elections would be held shortly but then refused to hold them, causing violence to break out that resulted in his government cracking down on the opposition, followed by nasty tales of violence such as murder and videotaped gang rapes.
It also turns out that Camara was shot in the head, either during the coup, or in the violence that followed, or just days ago (reports vary wildly). Whether or not this is affecting his mental condition is unknown, but the stories we read coming from Guinea suggest a James Bond-esque mad villian — he sleeps all day and emerges only after dark, broadcasts rambling tirades on the radio that last for hours, and has his official guests wait to meet him in a gallery adorned with life-size portraits of himself. Camara is currently in Morocco seeking medical treatment, and we can only hope that this cures him of the megolomania that reminds us of the golden days of North Korea and Turkmenistan.
As it happens, Guinea sits on top of Saudi-esque riches in the form of diamonds, gold, iron and half the world’s reserves of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum. Camara has signed a major deal with Chinese mining interests to exploit the resources. Hopefully they’ll get a chance to exploit that before the country falls into complete chaos.