mercredi 30 septembre 2009
African ruler grills his people on live television about cocaine
As his nightly viewing figures show, his record in taking on the unaccountably rich and powerful is second to none
By Colin Freeman in Conakry
Published: 9:00PM BST 12 Sep 2009
Capt Dadis's rants against the trade have gone down well with ordinary Guineans
Yet Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, star interviewer on Guinean state television, has one crucial advantage over such fellow inquisitors as Jeremy Paxman.
His day job is as Guinea's new military ruler, and if his screaming, hectoring interview technique doesn't loosen tongues, the sight of scores of Kalashnikov-carrying bodyguards in the studio around him surely helps.
"The problems with the corruption drug trafficking that I have discovered in the former government have helped to destroy this country," he snarled last week, launching into yet another televised tirade against the misdeeds of Guinea's previous regime. "But now we will fight it - no drug cartel can buy me."
So begins another episode of the "Dadis Show", which has transfixed Guineans since its presenter-in-chief, known mainly by his middle name, seized power following the death of the west African nation's ageing dictator, Lansana Conte, last December.
The confessions Dadis extracts from his VIP guests are no ordinary chat show fare, however, nor are they of concern just to a Guinean audience. Previous episodes have revealed in shocking detail how the country's previous government was "bought" in its entirety by Latin American drug barons, for whom West Africa is now a key transit point in their bid to flood Europe with cocaine.
Night after night, members of Conte's own family, along with senior figures in the police, army and customs, have gone on the show to confess their involvement in what amounted to the world's first-ever "cocaine coup".
A special airstrip was built for cartel planes to land in the north of the country, complete with a hotel for smugglers to stay in. When visiting cartel members from Colombia and Venezuela stayed in the capital, Conakry, they were entertained in a house belonging to the former first lady and escorted by presidential guards. Cocaine packages were even sent to Europe using diplomatic pouches.
At the heart of it all, meanwhile, was no less a figure than the late president's own eldest son, Ousmane, who would personally clear shipments as they arrived at Conakry airport in a plane marked with "Red Cross" symbols.
"I acknowledge that I was in the drug business, and I regret it," he told the nation in a taped confession, in which he begged for forgiveness. Along with two of his brothers and the former chiefs of the army and counter-narcotics police, he is now among more than 20 once-feared figures from the old regime who are facing trial, many of them after undergoing live "interviews" on the Dadis Show.
In one dramatic session, Capt Dadis flew into a rage with Bakary Thermite, the former head of the country's anti-drug unit, as he tried dodge claims that he-resold confiscated contraband.
"Answer me!" screamed his interlocutor. "If not, I think we're going to pass the whole night here." Presumably the nation would also have been treated to an all-night television session.
Yet while some of the confessions resemble the "show trials" of opponents staged by previous Guinean rulers, diplomats say there is no doubt that tons of the drug really were being given safe passage through Guinea, passing on across the Sahara to Europe in the cocaine equivalent of the Paris-Dakar rally.
The Dadis Show has merely exposed what was long an open secret in Conakry, as shown by the large numbers of Hummers, BMWs and other luxury cars that cruise what are otherwise some of the poorest streets in the world. Until recently, many were to be found in the car park of the counter-narcotics squad, where the scope for backhanders used to be so great that it was inundated with transfer requests from other $100-a-month police departments.
When one foreign diplomat attended an official burning ceremony of a police "seizure" of a ton of cocaine, the packets turned out to have substituted with a fake white powder.
"Cocaine smuggling in Guinea has become a major concern, both in terms of the supply to Europe and the corrupting impact it has one Guinea's governmance and law enforcement agencies," said one Western official.
The growth of trafficking in Guinea and neighbouring west African states such as Guinea Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone began around four years ago, when smuggling direct to Europe across the Atlantic became harder in the wake of increased maritime security. Latino cartels, facing an already saturated market in the US, used Nigerian middlemen to scout for contacts region-wide, and found perfect business partners in the politicians, police and generals of West Africa's bankrupt, war-ravaged coastal capitals.
An estimated 50 tons of cocaine are now estimated to pass through thr region every year - much of it ending up in bars, clubs and crack dens in Britain, the second biggest user of cocaine in Europe after Spain.
Capt Dadis's rants against the trade have gone down well with ordinary Guineans, for whom the sight of Latino drug barons drinking and whoring with government figures in Conakry nightspots was just the latest chapter in half a century of misrule since independence from France.
A string of sad paradoxes tell the tale: despite being the world's biggest exporter of bauxite, the main ore of aluminium,
Guinea's 10 million citizens remain among the poorest in Africa. The capital, a vast, coastal sprawl of shanty towns and derelict public buildings, has only three proper roads, and while there is a railway for bauxite, no trains for people have run since 1995.
Demands for change, meanwhile, have always been put down brutally – in 2007, more than 100 people were shot dead in anti-governnment demonstrations.
"Guinea is like hell," said DVD vendor Diallo Ibrahim, 26, whose stall inside a shabby corrugated iron lean-to includes a "Best of the Dadis Show" box set. "Often we can sit for three days without earning the smallest coin, and there is not even electricity or water at home."
So when Capt Dadis's faction first stormed the state television studios after Conte's death and announced a government of transition, most welcomed it as a break from the past. Although he was little-known at the time - rumours abound, denied by him, that he was chosen ahead of other junta contenders after lots drawn in a mayonnaise jar - his promises to hold free and fair elections by 2010 saw him feted on the street. Videos of the coup day show his tanks driving through town to music and dancing, with soldiers playing air-guitar on their Kalashnikovs.
Since then, though, progress seems to have stalled, and not just because of reports that junta has run up an unpaid bar bill of more than $1 million with the local brewery. Critics say that Capt Dadis is also showing classic signs of becoming a "Big Man" himself. Posters of him are now all over Conakry, and radio phone-in shows where listeners can criticise him have been banned.
At his side are a number of sinister "enforcer" figures, such as Lt Claude Pivi, a man named in human rights reports as a torturer and reputed by Guineans to be bulletproof. And two weeks ago, Capt Dadis performed a U-turn on a promise to a joint European and African diplomats and donors not to stand in the elections himself, raising fears that he will instead fix the contest to remain in power.
"We appreciate his approach against drug trafficking and corruption, but we all want a civilian to come to power and for free and fair elections, not a soldier, because we know the international community will only support a civilian," said Mr Ibrahim.
Diallo Abdullah, 30, who bears a bullet wound in his stomach from the 2007 crackdown, added: "If he doesn't hold elections as he promised, people will take to the streets again, and I fear it will be bloody."
Moreover, for all the razzmatazz of his television shows, none of the accused men have yet gone before a court - allegedly, say critics, because of what they might say about members of Dadis's own camp suspected of complicity in the drug trade. Indeed, some fear the arrests marked not an end to trade with the Colombians, but simply a renegotiation of terms.
"Guinea was on way to becoming another Colombia, and it seems the army were doing their best to change that situation," said Abubacar Sylla, an opposition leader and newspaper owner. "But until the trials go ahead, I will be a bit dubious."
To ask him about his anti-drug crusade, The Sunday Telegraph joined last week's studio audience for the Dadis Show, in which guests are invited to raise issues. Taking part in Guinean junta's answer to Question Time is not something for anyone who suffers from studio nerves: with his dark glasses, military uniform, and fierce scowl, its leader is a far cry from the late Sir Robin Day. And his response contained a hint that despite the pressure from the outside world, he has no plans to step down soon.
"I say to the Englishman that we will never step back in the fight against drug trafficking," he told the audience. "But people should know it is a dangerous business, and while the army junta can do it, it will be a difficult job for civilians. If people Europe don't understand that, they should try supporting the opposition, and see how they get on."
Shortly afterwards, he swept out of the studio again, his entourage of bodyguards taking him back the barracks where he works by night and sleeps by day. Word has it that this is to guard against a coup being launched against him in the hours of darkness - backed, he fears, by the same drug barons who bankrolled his predecessors. Whatever happens, future episodes of the Dadis Show may continue to be compelling viewing.
Le grenier ou la cave
- ▼ septembre 2009 (4)