The Dadis Show
Guinea, in West Africa, is the only country which said no to France in post-colonial arrangements.
When I went to report there last year, it struck me as full of courageous intellectuals.
In just a few hours, after arriving in the capital Conakry, I crossed paths with a policeman who gave a lecture after stopping a speeding truck carrying soldiers, a fisherman who spouted against Asian pirates and their big nets decimating stocks out at sea, and a courtyard woman who pleaded for youth while standing at the spot where her studious son was killed by a stray bullet in anti-goverment protests.
All of them spoke French, usually their second, third or even fourth language, with eloquence, flourish and humor.
Long time president Lansana Conte, in his final years, suffered with diabetes and could barely walk, so much so that in the last of the elections he rigged for himself, he voted without bothering to get out of his car.
He mostly smoked and sat under trees in his home village of Wawa. But he also kept a tightened grip on his Mafia-like, and union-driven, decrepit and wondrous country until his death last year.
I feared his, now convicted for drug-dealing, son, Ousmane Conte, would take over. He had once led a group of Guinea-Bissau mercenaries block a group of protesters advance on the presidential palace, and shot a boy point blank when he had stopped in front of his four by four.
But instead, it was to be Capitaine Moussa Dadis Camara, known to other soldiers as brash and passionate, and now slowly becoming a YouTube sensation.
First some background on the coming of age of the first reality Internet show of a young African despot in the making.
There had been a generational struggle among the young and old in Guinea's army, powerful, even if undisciplined, having kept for years the armed groups of Charles Taylor at bay, and even helped defeat him, by supporting rebels in northern Liberia.
Camara was slowly rising through the ranks, was sent for 18 months to train in Germany, was given a few leadership posts, and then when Conte died, he quickly became involved in negotiations for an army coup.
He represented the junior wing, which had made itself heard as more righteous in recent years. Conte's death was announced in the early hours of December 23, 2008, by the president of the national assembly, who was constitutionally mandated to take over. But that morning, there were a few firefights in barracks and some confusion as to who was really in charge, meaning in control of the army and Guinea's territory.
Six hours later, Camara announced on behalf of a group called the National Council for Democracy and Development, a typical post-coup smokescreen, he was dissolving and suspending everything.
It was his first grand appearance on national television. In the next few days, he sent out his loyalist soldiers to parade in the streets, to see how they would be welcomed, calling for a clean-up and youth movement, and the crowd's reaction was positive enough.
Conte's funeral was quickly arranged, and dealt with, and Camara showed in the 2009 New Year's address he was firmly in control.
After a presenter's introduction, and the national anthem, he painfully begins reading his script at 1:30.
But this is not the Dadis show.
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 demagogery, putting on a show trial of televised populism to great effect.
The sad reality is he actually speaks a lot of truths in what he says, but his cloak sends shivers, and madmen, whatever their shade, usually have a poor record when they assume too much power.
Camara always wears his tight fatigues and red beret, clearly not yet a military man trying other costumes. He likes to swipe off his sunglasses, or theatrically puts them back on before a loaded silence, his guards menacing with their weapons in the background.
Here after a lengthy diatribe in broken French with distorted microphones, the German ambassador, who says he is a friend of Dadis, and also has Guinean relatives, says he is concerned at indications Dadis may, surprise, surprise, run in presidential elections in 2010, after promising repeatedly, he would not.
The Dadis show begins at 3:00. Excerpts ... "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 this next installment, he 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..."
The biggest Internet hit so far concerns a dressing down he gives to a Ukrainian businessman who became very rich during Conte's time, and had a hand in many business transactions.
At 1:00, Anatoly Patchenko is called over to sit next to Dadis, who explodes, calling him many names, including "international fraudster."
This whole episode, set off by a worker's strike, concerns the Friguia mine, which had been sold to the Russian company Rusal in 2006, when Cellou Dalein Diallo, who appears to be Camara's only political adversary, was prime minister. You can see where this is going.
After the video was aired, Patchenko, who was Rusal's representative in Guinea took refuge in the Russian Embassy in the capital, Conakry, and then left the country.
Underneath all his venom, theatrics and heavy-handed tactics, Camara has a point, Friguia was grossly undersold.
It also shows that many hands are dirty among elites in Guinea, and Camara, like many other leaders, whatever their costumes and style and how they got to be in power, is making sure the dirty hands of those who don't applaud him are at the very least exposed.
Time will tell, what happens next. Even the great anti-establishment reggae star Tiken Jah Fakoly, who met with Dadis after the coup since the Guinean strongman is a fan, says he is reserving judgment for later.