This tribute to Victor David Du Bois acknowledges the pioneering work by an American Fulbright student about the fledgling Republic of Guinea. In 1962 he presented his Ph.D. thesis entitled The independence movement in Guinea: a study in African nationalism to the Faculty of Princeton University, Department of Political Science, international law and relations. In the following decades he published articles and wrote book reviews dealing with Guinea.
Located at Tulane University, New Orleans, LA, the Amistad Research Center holds the Papers of Victor Du Bois “anthropologist, educator, political scientist, and art collector”, for the period 1957-1970. The Center is the nation’s oldest, largest and most comprehensive independent archive specializing in the history of African Americans and other Ethnic Minorities. An exhibition named “Empowered Women: Fannie Lou Hamer, Clarie Collins Harvey, and the Mississippi Freedom Movement” is on display from September 16 to December 19, 2014. The show commemorates “the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and Freedom Summer.” It “highlights the participation of women in the Civil Rights Movement by drawing on the papers of Mississippi activists Fannie Lou Hamer and Clarie Collins Harvey.
The thesis of Victor Du Bois points to the clouds darkening the country’s horizon already in 1959-60. In 1965 he authored a series of papers titled “Guinea: The Decline of the Guinean Revolution.” Subsequent developments confirmed Du Bois’ early predictions.
Today, Guinea is a failed state, as materialized by the explosion of the Ebola epidemics. Applauding Dr Greg Spencer’s humanitarian work in Guinea, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center institutional reminded the world that Ebola hit “desperately under-served populations.” Indeed, through 60 years of dictatorship, Guineans have been forsaken by the successive regimes. Du Bois correctly diagnosed the situation and he laid the culprit on the first leader when he wrote:
« No one is more responsible for the present chaos than the President of the Republic. For all his admitted qualities as a shrewd and loquacious politician and a militant African nationalist, Sékou Touré has been, and is, a monumentally inept Chief of State. He has ruled Guinea by whim and impulse, using his country as a laboratory to try out experiments of social and economic development whose grave implications he only vaguely understands, and whose negative results he is insensible to, even when they inflict severe hardship on his people.»
Guinea became “sovereign” more than a century after Liberia. In 1958, it was the first French colony to gain “independence.” Yet, with Sierra Leone, these neighboring countries epitomize the failure of the post-colonial state. They suffered the plight of dictatorship and state terrorism, or the ravages of civil war and genocidal politics. In the process the population have become disenfranchised and left to fend for themselves alone. Compounding the poverty induced by a subsistence economy, the authorities let citizens languish and wither in illiteracy and ignorance. Worse, they neglect or compromise the education system. Meanwhile, corruption, oppression, repression and impunity are rampant. Depending on foreign handouts, the “national elites” think that the foreign exploitation of mining resources will bring about miraculous development and easy prosperity!…
From 1958 to today, that’s exactly what Sékou Touré and his four successors (Lansana Conté, Moussa Dadis Camara, Sékouba Konaté, Alpha Condé) have done to Guinea,
Du Bois’ thesis was not perfect. None is. Did he plan to review and improve it for publishing? We may not know because, unfortunately, he died at the age of 51. But his work still reads as a descriptive, informative and analytical opus.
After a brief evocation of the challenges Bois faced in his fieldwork, I point out, in this first part, a couple of misses and lift an ambiguity about the Fuuta-Jalon. Next, in the second and final part, I highlight the author’s foresight and insights.
Du Bois lists the obstacles of his field research in Guinea. For instance, he found “certain peculiar difficulties” in some primary sources. The official materials proved “in many ways unsatisfactory”. And, oddly, he lamented about “the ungrammatical French in which many of the documents were written!”
His research was bound up by the state of publishing and knowledge at the time of writing. Hence Du Bois peruses George P. Murdock’s compilation Africa. Its Peoples and Their Culture History. Dedicated “To Americans of African Descent” the volume is now disputed in academic and library circles. However, I don’t think it should be discarded altogether.… Integrated with other data sources and knowledge bases, its content has its place on my webAfriqa network and its fairly Google-ranked online library.
Open Source technologies and platforms allow the processing and distribution of massive amounts of data, information — written and audiovisual. The “pope of African oral tradition”, Amadou Hampâté Bâ called passionately for the preservation of Africa’s cultural heritage. Unfortunately, ethnological and anthropological training and research have considerably receded in recent decades. And Africa’s is lagging in the digital revolution, in spite of the efficiencies and unique opportunities it represents for documenting the continent’s history, climate, environment, fauna, flora, etc.
Misses and errors
Twice, the thesis misplaces the habitat of the Coniagui people. They are successively mentioned as inhabitants of Guinée-Maritime and Guinée Forestière. Actually, they live in the sous-préfecture of Youkounkoun (Koundara) in northern Fuuta-Jalon and on both sides of the Guinea-Senegal border. Read Monique de Lestrange, Les Coniagui et les Bassari (Guinée française).
Undoubtedly, Cardinal Robert Sarah is the most distinguished and very honorable son of the Coniagui.
Cardinal Sarah holds a unique record: to each of Guinea’s first three dictators he courageously told the truth. Thus, one after the other, he reminded Sékou Touré and Lansana Conté that absolute power corrupts absolutely. With Sekou Touré, Mgr. Sarah’s move was risky and bold, given the dictator’s repressive reflex and murderous instinct. After all, Mgr. Raymond Tchidimbo had been tortured and jailed nearly 8 years at Camp Boiro. He was the predecessor of Robert Sarah and the first Archbishop of Conakry.
As for Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, Cardinal Sarah flew specially from Rome with a special message for the head of the 2008-2010 military junta. Three times during their meeting at the Camp Alfa Yaya barracks he told him: “Do not kill!” Dadis nodded at each utterance of the injunction. It was in August 2009. A month later, the same captain sent his troops massacred hundreds of peaceful and joyful protesters at the sports stadium. The military and miicia also raped dozens of women in broad daylight. Political parties had gathered theirsupporters to voice their opposition to Dadis’ plan to confiscate power. Upon taking over in 2008, he had pledged to be a caretaker and transitional head of state.
Besides Cardinal Sarah’s domestic and international standing, the other notable Coniagui individuals are:
- Tiala Gobaye Mountaye
Pioneer member of the Parti démocratique de Guinée-Rassemblement démocratique africain (PDG-RDA) in the late 1940s. He became an active political leader and held provincial administrative functions. A close ally to Saifoulaye Diallo, he ended up in Camp Boiro. Exhausted and aging he lives in Labe and gives personal and press interviews. In 2004 I had a productive conversation with him during which he shared with me postcards and a letter Saifoulaye wrote him in 1956, while staying in Paris as one of the three deputies of French Guinea to the National Assembly (Palais Bourbon).
- The late Dorank Assifat Diassény. He was my classmate at the Faculté des Sciences Sociales (Kwame Krumah class, 1972). In January 1970 we were arrested and incarcerated 4 months at the infamous Escaliers 32 of the Camp Alpha Yaya military barracks. With nine other members of the student body (Conseil d’Administration), we had written a speech denouncing the failings of the revolution in presence of Sékou Touré. The “Supreme Responsable of the Revolution” had invited us to participate in the second session of the National Council of the Revolution. With the audacity and the “foolishness” of the 20-something generation, we criticized publicly the contradictions and the demagoguery of party leaders and the shortcomings of the education system. Sékou Touré did not take it kindly. He reacted with anger and he accused us of being manipulated —he was wrong— and that leaders of the May 1968 movement in Paris (Daniel Cohn-Bendit, et al) had written our speech. He was wrong again. In reality, as the first education and cultural affairs secretary — Assifat came second in that function — I and others had drafted, discussed and agreed on the final version of the speech. We were up until 4am that night in December 1969 on the second floor (engineering) of the main building of the Institute. In 1971, Prime minister Lansana Beavogui told the graduating Soundiata Keita class that some members of the government wanted dead by firing squad, under the pretext of an attempted evasion on our part.… Perhaps, Sékou Touré, himself, had that idea but was dissuaded by others! Assifat, other fellows and myself we taught at the university for a decade before we started branching out. Upon heading the chair of the philosophy, he became director of Press Bureau at the Presidency of the Republic during the final years of Sékou Touré. Later on, he became a decade-long cabinet member in successive governments under Lansana Conté. His appointments ranged from junior portfolios (youth and sports) to senior, sensitive and lucrative positions (energy, territorial administration and decentralization, defense). But he remained welcoming even at the peak of his rise. When I visited him in 2002 at his sprawling, landscaped and developed property —with some five villas— at the foot of the impressive Mount Maneah (Coyah), he proudly shared with me that the Sose populations in the neighborhood call his compound ministriyah,i.e., the minister’s place, in the local language (Sosokui)…
I never figured out though why him and the now Cardinal let Tiala Gobaye live old, destitute and lonely in Labe.
Présence Africaine published a review of Assifat’s study “Les fondements philosophiques de la problématique culturelle et politique de Cheikh Anta Diop.” (1989/1-2. N° 149-150)
But contrary to Du Bois’ statement, Samory was not “betrayed by one of his own people.” His domestic and external policies did him in.
Internally, his rule became intolerant and repressive in response to the threat posed by colonial troops. In previous negotiations he had sent his eldest son, Djaoulen-Karamo, as a goodwill ambassador to Paris. But later on, the Emperor ordered the execution of the son after he felt betrayed by the excessive French sympathy of Djaoulen-Karamo.
It turned out that Djaoulen-Karamo was right: Samory’s army was no match to the French war machine. After a string of military defeats, he decided to evade engagements with the French troops. He abandoned the territory of his original Empire and began an eastward march of conquest. Practicing scorched-the-earth methods, he left a trail of misery behind and mounting opposition to his reign.
Du Bois’s thesis was prepared nearly six years before the release of Yves Person’s encyclopedic Samori. Une révolution dyula (1968). — The table of contents alone counts some 11 pages. Otherwise, Du Bois would have probably acknowledged Person’s finding that Samori ruled successively two Empires. The first existed between 1861 and 1893. It was contained mostly in today’s eastern and southeastern Guinea. The second Empire lasted from 1894 to the end, in 1898. It was situated outside Guinea, and in today’s centtal Cote d’Ivoire and southern Burkina Faso.
It was during his forced migration that attacked two of his prominent neighboring rulers. First, he defeated Tieba, king of Kenedugu (Mali). However, his campaign against Babemba, king of Sikasso (also in Mali), was a war of attrition. The fortified town proved an impregnable citadel. And it inflicted heavy losses on Samori. Kemè Brèma, the Emperor’s junior brother, head of the armies and commander of the elite cavalry, was killed at Sikasso. Samori was forced to lift the siege and to move on into unknown lands and hostile populations.
Samori’s victor, Captain Gouraud, provides an account of the arrest and long escort, on foot and horse-mounted, to the French headquarters in Kati (Mali).
Fuuta-Jalon: Islam, nationhood, education, literacy, literature
To be continued…
Tierno S. Bah