LABE REGION, Guinea (Reuters) - In a living room bare but for a few family photos and Islamic texts, the African man who says he is the brother of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s accuser says he has not slept or eaten properly for days.
“I heard the news on the radio and honestly I do not know what happened. I want to speak to my sister,” the man, called Mamoudou, told Reuters at a village in the Labe region of Guinea, a hard day’s drive north of the capital Conakry.
Mamoudou, whose family name and home village are withheld to protect the identity of the alleged assault victim, said he had not heard from his younger sister for several years. But he had no doubt that she was the 32-year-old Guinean widow who filed the complaint in New York. Her name has appeared in local media.
In the community of devout Muslims, religion provides solace for those with troubles far away, and for poverty at home.
A hamlet of 20 dwellings lost in the rural depths of this impoverished West African country, Mamoudou’s village is a world away from the luxury suite of the Times Square Sofitel where the now former chief of the International Monetary Fund and French presidential contender is accused of trying to rape the maid.
There is no electricity or mains water and the village is accessible only on foot through dense forest. A few scattered agricultural tools and cows point to the subsistence farming that allows the residents of the hamlet to eke out a living.
“In our family, we are above material things,” said Mamoudou, who is aged about 50.
“Even if you are a billionaire, we don’t care. The most important thing for us is how you follow God’s path.”
Following up on details of his client given by U.S. lawyer Jeffrey Shapiro, Reuters spoke to people in the Guinean expatriate community in New York and, to people in Conakry with roots in the Labe region to trace Mamoudou and his family.
Sitting with his half-brother Aboubacar, he points to a slightly out-of-focus photograph on the living room wall of a young woman in traditional West African dress looking at the camera, with little expression.
“After the death of her husband ... she left the village because none of his brothers was old enough to marry her,” Mamoudou said of his sister, referring to common local practice for widows to marry a brother of their late husband.
As the eldest of their parents’ six children, it fell to Mamoudou to ensure his younger sister was cared for: “That’s when I took her to Bambeto to learn to sew,” he said. Bambeto is a suburb of the capital and offered the young widow the chance to learn a trade that could feed her and her child.
“(She) never created any problems for this family,” Mamoudou said. “She was the quiet one. That’s how she was brought up.”
From Conakry, his sister made her way to the United States some years ago. Her lawyer has said her daughter is now aged 15.
Few Guineans have seen much benefit from the country’s role as the world’s top exporter of the aluminum ore bauxite. Per capita average annual income is $407, or just over a dollar day.
It was last year before Guinea held its first democratic election after a half a century of independence from France that has been marred by coups, corruption and oppressive misrule.
Religion loomed large in the family under his father known locally as an Islamic scholar, Mamoudou said. That background, he said, made it hard for them to relate to the world of global finance, luxury hotels and allegations of sexual misconduct in which his sister has found herself embroiled:
“We have trouble understanding all this because it is not something we are used to,” he said. “If my sister is saying what she is saying, given how she was brought up, I believe her.”
Writing by Mark John; Editing by Alastair Macdonald