It has taken much time and effort to find just the right words to encapsulate the true essence of this country and after much consultation of dictionaries and thesauri, contemplating adjectival comparisons and literary metaphor I believe I have captured concisely the quintessential Guinea: absolutely fucked.
For a nation that hasn’t suffered war it suffers a level of decrepitude rarely matched in African nations. If you have not had the opportunity to become a connoisseur of relative levels of fuckedupness (this is my opening bid for the word’s inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary) in Africa you may not appreciate the distinction between countries, as Guinea suffers from much the same problems as elsewhere, just more so.
Maybe you are unfamiliar with the country as Guinea doesn’t exactly have the highest news profile in the West, which in one sense is a good thing, because it means there hasn’t been a war or famine. Good news in Africa is largely relegated to the media margins and then often only appears because some nice white people have turned up to help the poor Africans.
Its problems started on independence when they had the audacity to choose total separation from France, unlike other francophone, West African countries, which meant the former masters chose to make life as difficult as possible – If you want an insight into France’s appalling meddling in Africa check out Al Jazeera’s excellent three-part series The French African Connection, banned in France so it must be true www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufIoM2ZCxSk
Like so often in Africa, the first president Sekou Toure started off well with socialist values of equality but eventually decided that staying in power was more important than anything else and lost the plot leaving a wake of victims behind him. Instability has ruled ever since, consequently very little stuff gets done: like finding some power stations that work or repairing the road system. If you are lucky power will come on for a few hours in the evening. The roads have degenerated to trump even the legendary worst road in Togo – https://insideotherplaces.com/2013/08/28/rubbish-roads/ One stretch of 145km took 5 hours to negotiate and there are worse ones but this was the principle route through the centre of the country. The handful of truck drivers, which represent the last vestiges of an internal economy must have attained zen like degrees of calm to cope with the job.
The sole function of the police and army on these roads is to extort money from road users, at times probably to compensate for the government not getting round to paying them very often but it has become endemic and reviled by one and all. This could be seen to be an improvement on the part of the army which was usually led by some general/president who decided once in a while that just what the country needed was shooting a lot of people who expressed any dissatisfaction with the service they were receiving, then maybe raping a few women just to get their point across. A grim example of their earlier efforts along the same lines were pointed out by our kindly taxi driver one day: four ropes hanging from the underside of a bridge, where those deemed sufficiently undesirable were hanged.
The police also supplement their income by taking money from street vendors for a “licence”. Thousands of women sell food and drink on the street, while men sell all kinds of goods, popular examples being phone credit or accessories. These may simply be a person standing on the pavement, an impromptu cafe, or a small shack but are always a significant proportion of business in any town and a way for the poorer people to build up a business. No doubt the police have found numerous other ways of relieving people of their hard-earned money.
If one encounter I had at an army checkpoint is anything to go by it would seem that intelligence is not at the top of the recruiting requirements for soldiers. Whilst waiting for the taxi driver to be conned out of more of his wages I thought I would take a picture of myself with the goat that had been tied to the roof rack along with all the luggage. Of course taking pictures of anyone in uniform is strictly a no no in these kind of places but I could not have made it more obvious what I was doing. This prompted one of the muscled goons at the check point to storm over and unleash a repetitive barrage of questions along the lines of “what do you think you are doing”, to which I could only repeatedly answer I was taking a picture of me and the goat, which didn’t seem to register in his peanut brain as he was enjoying shouting too much. Ordering me over to the shack which probably was meant to be an office, his questioning continued along the lines of, “would you do that kind of thing at home”, “yes” I replied, “it’s not a problem”, confident that in my absence from the UK David Cameron is unlikely to have outlawed taking photos of goats, not that it’s stopped him from enacting equally cretinous measures. When he had run out of pointless things to shout about he asked to see the photo, which of course showed precisely what I had said: myself and bemused goat. Surprisingly I was released without even a “fine”, so I can only assume that shouting at a foreigner was sufficient stimulation for him for the day.
All this means that Guinea features somewhat poorly on the list of top tourist destinations, to the extent that in my first week I didn’t even see another white person, which of course equates with boundless friendliness from the locals. In any more out of the way place, almost without fail you can walk up to anyone, say “bonjour, ca va” and have a conversation. In the same way English always have the weather to talk about, Guineans always have the subject of how fucked up the country is, but they tend not to be quite so crude with the langauge as I am.