The Dadis Show

The most lasting legacy of Guinea's just deposed recent military leader, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, was his media tactics.

Captain Moussa Dadis Camara holding court.

I was a bit surprised today to read that Guinea-Conakry’s military leader, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, generally known as Dadis, has agreed not to return to Guinea and that a transitional government will organize elections without him.  He will hang out in Burkina Faso with Blaise Compaore, Burkina’s equally unpopular military ruler, in power since 1987.  This all is dramatic, since only a few months ago it seems that Dadis wasn’t going to go away.

Camara took control in a coup in April 2008 while the country’s president, Lansame Conte, lay dying. Guineans appeared to welcome it. Conte had been in power since 1984, via a military coup and had ruled via corruption and repression. At first Dadis said he organized the coup to bring democracy after decades of one-party rule. So when he changed his mind this Fall, thousands of people turned out to protest. At a peaceful rally at the national stadium, soldiers fired on the protesters killing 157 people. At the time a UN investigation conclulded, “…  there are sufficient grounds for presuming direct criminal responsibility by Captain Camara for that killing.”  Of course Camara and his soldiers acted like that did not matter and went on with their lives. It appeared like that would be the end of that and that the dictatorship would just get back to “normal” relations with France and the US governments and whatever multinational corporations or their agents operated there.

Then about a month ago the chief of Camara’s presidential guard shot him in the face. It emerged that the officer was mad at Camara for trying to get him (the officer) to take the fall for the September killings.  At first the junta tried to lie about the extent of Camara’s injuries, but then Camara turned up in Morocco for treatment. He was injured so much that he could not continue governing.

Sadly this will mean the end of Camara’s famous live, multi-hour, TV performances (more like rants). People in Guinea called his press conferences, “The Dadis Show.” Hugo Chavez is the one other leader that uses TV like this. Chavez’s “Alo Presidente,” would run for hours or days on end. (The American public TV network, PBS, released a documentary film on Chavez’s use of media, “The Hugo Chavez Show,” in 2009.) Of course the practice of heads of states giving weekly TV or radio addresses are not unique to the third world; think the American president’s weekly radio, and now web, addresses dating back to Franklin Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” on the radio in the 1930s or Ronald Reagan’s command of television. But the American version was tightly choreographed. “The Dadis Show” was something else.  Unplugged, on the fly and playing to his audience.

Blogger Third Rate in the Tropics‘ described the The Dadis Show  thus: “… The Dadis show is unscripted, eerily brilliant and frightening in its madness, with derision, words flung around the room, in cataclysmic effect, hailing youth, deriding demagogary, putting on a show trial of televised populism to great effect.”

In one case, summarized by Third Rate in the Tropics, the German ambassador, who identifies himself he is a friend of Dadis and is married into a Guinean family, says he is concerned at rumors that Dadis may run in presidential elections in 2010, after promising repeatedly, he would not. Dadis suddenly shouts at him, all captured live on television in front of a packed hall:

I am Guinean. I am a president. Respect my authority. I’ve been to Germany. I respected German authorities (…) Don’t take me for your little boy. I am the president of Guinea. I want to save my people, and I am starting to understand it’s not your vision. You are speaking to a president. I am not a criminal. (…) I have sacrificed a lot for my people.”

In another case,

‘… [Dadis] calls out several government officials live on public television, who dared to speak out against him, saying they will all be replaced by younger, less corrupt Guineans. Two of them are brought to the podium, and sheepishly answer they are just a few years from getting full retirement benefits, to which Camara decides on the spot … “early retirement, it is!” to a scatter of applause, some no doubt, incredulous.  At 2:18: “Look at the portrait of Lansana Conte!” The two officials are forced to look, just a few seconds after having been forced to face the crowd. “Is he alive today? No one remains eternal on earth.” … ‘

Guineans can now switch off for a while, we hope.

Further Reading

Between two evils

After losing its parliamentary majority for the first time, the African National Congress is scrambling to form a coalition government. The options are bleak.

Heeding the call

At the 31st New York African Film Festival, young filmmakers set the stage with adventurous and varied experiments in African cinema.