The massacre of protesters rallying Monday against the current president in Guinea stoked international outcry against and scrutiny of the coastal West African nation. But outside of Guinea, few knew much about the target of the protests: military junta leader Cpt. Moussa Dadis Camara, who came to power in a bloodless coup in December. He had promised to hold elections to transition to civilian leadership. Reports that he was planning to run in January elections sparked public anger.
In the capital city, Conakry, an estimated 50,000 protesters gathered in a stadium in opposition to the planned bid. The UN says more than 150 people were killed when soldiers fired on them, though the Guinean junta says most died from the resulting stampede out of the stadium. (How did Guinea erupt into violence? Read more here.)
Laura Derby, a junior at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., sat down for an interview July 25 with the Guinean leader in military camp Alpha Yaya Diallo in Conakry. They discussed Guinea's drug trafficking, its lacking infrastructure, and signs of the Guinean people's waning confidence in his rule. She was spending the summer as an intern with the US Department of Defense's HIV/AIDS program, teaching English to doctors at Camp Samory – the hospital where the injured from Monday's events were taken. Captain Dadis Camara told her at the time that she was the only American to have a personal interview with him.
Derby: How do you propose to deal with the potential threats posed by drug traffickers?
Camara: I start first of all by saying that the drug traffickers' threats, their capacity for sabotage, assassination, corruption, is unknowable; we don't ever know how they will strike, or in what manner. I am not afraid of threats. I am only afraid of not being worthy of the confidence of the people. I have the confidence of the Guinean people because of my fight against drugs, as well as the confidence of the powers of the world, internationally and in Africa. The fight against drugs is my first priority. There is no dialogue in the fight against drugs. There is no dialogue for this. The Army is also implicated in drugs. We need direction from the international community on how to eliminate the threat of drugs. It is a universal problem and requires the cooperation of the international community.
The President of the United States, Barack Obama, during his speech to the parliament and the president of Ghana on July 11, said that is it time for Africa to put aside her tribalism and regional differences and to elect officials based on their merit. How do you propose to accomplish this in Guinea?
Barack Obama's election was something historical, so if President Obama said to put aside tribalism, he represents an example of that. What the United States has done, Africa needs to do as well. The people of the United States didn't take into account color or origin, otherwise Obama would never have been elected. We have to thank the American people. Color doesn't exist for Americans. You are a white girl, I am a black man. You didn't consider color when you wanted to interview me.
There is not blue blood, red blood, chocolate blood, yellow blood, there is only human blood. He [President Obama] made an impression on the world.
Tribalism, regionalism, nepotism, ethnocentrism, favoritism, religion, none of them are conducive to democracy.
I am from the forest. I don't hold any account with tribalism, regionalism, religion, nepotism, favoritism. That's why Guinea put me at the top, because I don't recognize the differences. And the Army doesn't, either.
I am not the most extraordinary man, nor the highest-ranking, but I am very hostile to tribalism and regionalism. These things are the destroyers of society. I am allergic to it. The Guineans have faith in me because of this.
Guinea is a country very rich in natural resources and has exported them for years. But in actuality, the majority of industry is dominated by international companies. Do you have a plan to put these industries in the hands of Guineans?
Conakry is the only capital in the world that doesn't have electricity.
The old regimes abused the country; they threw the country into misery.
Contracts were poorly officiated; they took many royalties and raped the country.
It was a savage state, barbarous; everyone looked out for his or her own interests and they were egotistical.
What we need now is transparency, to proceed through dialogue and create a win-win situation.
Right now, I want to prove to international companies that my new government won't do that. I want to build relationships with them. It was Guineans who made contracts to their own advantage and weren't good for the international companies. It is our own fault. Guinea could be the Châteaux of Gold of Africa.
But now people search day by day for a way to live. It's a daily struggle.
The international community turned its back. We are in the process of erasing our faults.
We are in a progressive revolution. And we will succeed because Guineans have faith in me.
The people do not have a source of constant electricity, nor potable water, nor a system of education that is universally affordable. How do you propose to satisfy all the promises you made to your citizens of Guinea to furnish them with a functioning state where a child can receive an immunization, an education, and can eventually nourish their own family?
[Electricity goes out in military camp.]
It is not my fault; I inherited this from the old regime, the lack of water and electricity.
We need to make a program of electricity to take the capital out of the dark.
In the near future, the government will be able to continue in its quest for water and electricity. The system of education right now is disagreeable. But we cannot change the system of education right now. It is not high on the list of priorities
Right now, we need to focus on having a "state of rights," eliminating corruption, putting in order the finances, the social fabric, make the people understand that they have a strong state with a people who understand their rights.
We need to have a strong new generation, with agriculture, but we need financing.
We need to make sure that the new generation doesn't succumb to drugs, that they have reliable infrastructure, that they are not lazy.
Drugs first, then corruption, eventually a good system of education.
The consumption of narcotics makes children lazy and sick.
Prostitution is also a problem.
On the radio, the Guinean people have expressed their discontent with the CNDD [National Council for Democracy and Development, the ruling group Dadis Camara leads]. People have said that the CNDD never inspired confidence, that everyone is worried, and that they had no respect for democracy. If you could respond to these reproaches, what would you say?
I let the people speak because that is one of the tenets of democracy: freedom of speech. If it were a dictatorship, I wouldn't allow public radio stations. That being said, even crazy people can speak out on the Internet, on the radio, on television. They were manipulated; they don't know what they want. I am not a prophet. They are just being silly.
I will quit if the people don't trust me. I believe in freedom of expression because I believe in democracy. We are in a liberal state. It is natural to have people not like you, even when you die. But this is a positive reaction because people are exercising their rights.
It is the people who have faith in me. Have you ever heard that they do not want President Dadis? If they did, I would step down. Never [have you heard that].
They are jealous.
You propose to organize multiparty elections in one or two years. How do you propose to do this with your current prefectures [counties]? And a near complete lack of infrastructure?
The international community is cognizant of the current state of affairs.
The people wanted me; I don't have a choice. It is for the people to say when the elections will happen. If they want it tomorrow, it will happen tomorrow. The people from the interior, Guineans who are abroad; the power is with the people.
I am but an infinitesimal part of the people. If they judge it necessary to have elections I must listen.
The CNT [The Transitional National Council] functions like a parliament, like an exploratory group, to determine when elections will be possible.
We are an ad hoc community. The people need to achieve their destiny, but I will not abandon the people when they are not ready.
[Editor's note: This interview was conducted in French. Ms. Derby provided the translation.]