As he scribbled in pencil in his sketchbook, Lieutenant Paul Mattei’s gaze wandered over the bustling streets of Osu, Accra’s cosmopolitan district. Seated in the front of this French military vehicle, he was on his way to Kotoka and let his thoughts wander, punctuated only by the hubbub of this city inhabited by almost five million people, and which had grown too fast. Stationed in Ghana for six months, awaiting promotion to the rank of captain, he had been detached from his special forces regiment and assigned to the DGSE as an embassy and liaison officer, a position he owed to his repeatedly demonstrated capacity for analysis and diplomacy.
Enlisted at the age of 23, following a family tragedy, he took part in a large number of missions over a five-year period. Since then, he had been relativising his supposedly unshakeable belief in his ability to contribute to an ideal world. He felt, once again, a mixture of disillusionment and powerlessness pushing him towards a kind of emptiness he hadn’t anticipated. His upbringing should have given him a benevolent outlook on life, with the ambition to elevate himself through his own success and hard work, whereas the reality of recent years had shown him nothing but the suffering and horror that only human nature is capable of engendering. The time had come for difficult introspection.
As he watched these men, women and children struggling through the streets of this burning African capital, happy in their relative misery, he sensed that this premature disappointment would lead him to question the durability of his commitment. It was 3:30 p.m., and he had only thirty minutes left to reach the airport. He had received his instructions that very morning from Commandant Amaury de La Barre, the embassy’s defense attaché and head of cooperation, with orders to take in a young American FBI agent and ensure her protection during the few weeks she would be there, with the consequence of distancing her from her current mission.
In 1990, Ghana was emerging from a long period of unrest. The country had experienced a military putsch in 1981, followed by a series of abortive coups and civil unrest, and was working towards a major political transition with the adoption of a new constitution, to see the emergence of a democratic government in the next multi-party elections scheduled for 1992. This tense context and the social situation had largely filled the agenda of Lieutenant Mattei, who had tried to explain his discontent, only to accept his superior’s orders.