Titled “Genocide, hegemony and power in Nigeria” Obadiah Mailafia’s paper is a case study of pseudo-historical rambling and misguided political activism. From the title to the last line it is filled with false assumptions, malicious accusations, and malignant statements. The article illustrates the confusion sowed by “educated” and “elite” individuals and groups among the peoples of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The propagators of the growing discord are a heteroclite bunch. For instance, they include Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka as well as heretofore unknown individuals, such as Mr. Obadiah Mailafia. I re-post his paper here in the Documents section. The tract is replete with vile insults, ignorant statements, absurd allegations, vitriolic partisanship, fallacious claims and laughable distortions of history. The author refers to the Hausa-Fulani peoples as “a new mongrel race.” How low can someone who considers himself an African be so rude and stoop so low against fellow Nigerians and other Africans? How can hurl on the Web such a derogatory and vulgar term? How can he so gratuitously and readily commit such a despicable and outrageous offense! In this blog, I denounce, rebut, recuse and refute some of the most egregious passages of Obadiah’s inflammatory article.
The domestication of the bovine constituted “one of humanity’s first leap forward” (Anselin 1981). It was a watershed achievement that spurred humans’ march into civilization. In parallel with other groups in Asia, America, Africa, ancient Fulɓe partook in such an accomplishment.
In “Cattle Before Crops: The Beginnings of Food Production in Africa,” a remarkable research paper, Fiona Marshall and Elisabeth Hildebrand argue that, contrary to the other continents, domestication of plants came after that of animals. In other words, pastoralists preceded agriculturalists in “the development of food production” aimed at meeting “the need for scheduled consumption.” Thus, while their prehistoric neighbors figured out plant cultivation, ancient Fulbe were a step ahead in taming the wild ancestor of the bovine. In so doing, those pastoralists and agriculturalists forebears became, metaphorically, the pollinators of Africa. Which, in turn, as we all know, is the cradle of humankind. It is appalling that Mr. Obadiah Mailafia chose to waste his time assaulting one of Africa’s indigenous peoples.
War mongers instead peace makers
Big problems and serious contradictions —legitimate or fabricated — strife and tensions have plagued the Federal Republic of Nigeria since its founding in 1963. And in recent decades its middle section, bad blood has opposed Muslim Fulɓe (Fulani) cattle herders to Christian agriculturalists. Such hostilities are neither new, nor specific to Nigeria. Thus, Ireland is still recovering from a lengthy and bloody civil war between Protestants and Catholics. Likewise, in the tinderbox region of the Balkans, in southern Europe, peace remains fragile as new countries continue to cope with the collapse and splinter of Yougoslavia.
Back in the Middle Age, France and England fought the Hundred Year’s War. It pitted Catholics against Protestants and, among other atrocities. Joan of Arc life was engulfed by fire at the stake, reducing her body in ashes. In this 21st century the world watches the Rohingya’s plight and flight from persecution by Myanmar’s Buddhist extremists… Nigeria’s Muslim/Christian divide is deep-seated in history. But they can —should and must — be negotiated amicably and resolved in peace. Unfortunately, instead of seeking positive solutions to the feuds, militants and agitators — like Obadiah Mailafia — who are recklessly bent on fanning the flames of hostility and hatred. Instead of being peace makers, they demonize their neighbors and sound like war mongers. Such a dangerous behavior must be stopped.
Obadiah Mailafia writes:
Gramsci invented the notion of “hegemonia” (hegemony) to explain the structure and anatomy of domination in political society
Error! The editors of Wikipedia would beg to differ with Obadiah Mailafia. They, who pinpoint that Gramsci studied the cultural aspect of hegemonic power, i.e., not hegemony, by and large, but one aspect of its aspects. Other manifestation of supremacy rule include the economy, warfare religions, science…
I find this concept of hegemony so relevant with what is going on in relation to the genocide being perpetrated by the Fulani militias in the Middle Belt of our country today.
Obadiah is entitled to his opinion, but not to the facts. First, he fails to cite any external references or sources. Then, he does not care to provide evidence of ongoing genocide in Nigeria. We know that such tragedy befell the country during the Biafran War. Then, genocide stroke in Rwanda. But here, my view is nothing demagoguery brings Obadiah to claim that the recurrent attacks and retaliations in Nigeria amount to genocide.
Historians the world over agree that the original home of the Fulani people is Futa Jallon (also known in the French as Fouta Djallon) in the Upper Guinea highlands of the West African Republic of Guinea.
Wrong! Fuuta-Jalon (not Futa Jallon, or Fouta Djallon!) is one of the many regions the Fulɓe call home in 21 Africa countries. But it is certainly not their birthplace. In reality, pushing their cattle herds out of Takrur (southern Mauritania-northern Senegal), they began migrating to the region back in the 12th century C.E.. Takrur existed since the 4th century. Although it has fallen into oblivion, it was a lasting and glorious experiment that forged a new people (the Takruri) out of a melting pot of Soninke, Serer, Wolof, Mande, Fulɓe communities. And, significantly, around the 9th century Takrur became the first sub-Saharan state to adopt Islam as its official religion. However, it conquest by Emperor Sunjata Keita sealed its demised. Fulbe had been leaving the areas for quite some time. But the destruction of Takrur accelerated their exodus. They moved south toward what is today’s Fuuta-Jalon. They also headed east into Maasina, Jelgoogi, Sokoto, Adamawa, etc. In The Fulani Empire of Sokoto, historian H.A.S. Johnston indicates that Fulbe herdsmen begun settling in the Sokoto region as early as the 12th century.
Also known as Fula, Fulbe or Pullo, the Fulani are thought to have emigrated from North Africa and the Middle East in ancient times, settling in the Futa Jallon Mountains and intermarrying with the local population and creating a unique ethnic identity based on cultural and biological miscegenation.
It’s other way around, the indigenous pair (Pullo, singular / Fulɓe, plural) provides the basis for the various names given to the Fulɓe . For instance, they are called Takruri (Moors), Fellasha (Arabs), Peul (Wolof), Fula (Mande), Fulè (Sose, Jalunka) Fulani (Hausa), etc.
The Malian writer and ethnologist Amadou Hampaté Ba famously described Futa Jallon as “the Tibet of West Africa”, on account of its surfeit of Muslim clerics, Sufi mystics, itinerant students and preachers.
Correction: Amadou Hampâté Bâ was no ordinary writer and ethnologist. He was a leader of Pulaaku, the Fulbe way of life. He coined the phrase: “In Africa, when an elder dies, its a library burning down.” Thanks to serendipity, he had received in 1953 an initiation in the sacred rite of Geno and by-gone fulɓe spirituality built around the bovine. In 1961, he teamed with Germaine Dieterlen, a noted ethnologist of religions and the author of Essai sur la religion bambara. The pair co-edited the French version of Kumen, the bible of Fulbe pastoralists. In his review of the book, ethnologist fell in aw with “La poésie saisissante de ce récit [qui] évoque les plus belles pages de la Bible”. Amadou Hampâté Bâ once declared: “I love Fulfulde, my language. I am proud to be a Pullo poet.” For his tireless advocacy for the continent’s verbal heritage, Ivoirian writer Isaac Biton Coulibaly bestowed upon A. H. Bâ the title of “pope of African oral tradition.” Bâ lived his life as a disciple of Tierno Bokar Salif Taal, a tijaniyya sufi master who taught Islam and tolerance … Never mind, displaying his bellicose mindset, Obadiah seeks to tarnish “the Tibet of West Africa” homage with the epithet “surfeit.” Again, Gilbert Vieillard must be turning in his grave. For he asserted that Fuuta-Jalon was the Dar-al-Islam (Door of Islam) of western Africa. And in his book The Holy War of Umar Tal: the Western Sudan in the mid-nineteenth century Prof. Robinson concurred in these terms:
« Fuuta-Jalon was much more than an Almamate dominated by a Fulɓe aristocracy. It was a magnet of learning, attracting students from Kankan to the Gambia, and featuring Jakhanke clerics at Tuba as well as Fulɓe teachers. It acted as the nerve centre for trading caravans heading in every direction. The more enterprising commercial lineages, of whatever ethnic origin, established colonies in the Futanke hills and along the principal routes. It served their interests to send their sons to Futanke schools, to support the graduates who came out to teach, and in general to extend the vast pattern of influence that radiated from Fuuta-Jalon. »
Such were, among other things, the facts that prompted A.H. Bâ to label Fuuta-Jalon, a spiritual stronghold akin to Thibet.
The second traditional home of the Fulani is Futa Toro, by the banks of the Senegal River in the current nation of Senegal.
Wrong! Fuuta-Tooro was located in the direct sphere of influence of Takrur. Therefore Fulbe lived there, first, and centuries before the headed down south toward Fuuta-Jalon.
Over the centuries the Fulani converted to Islam and some of them became zealous Muslim clerics and itinerant proselytisers. Through war and conquest they formed several kingdoms, among them Tukolor, Massina, the Caliphate of Usman Dan Fodio and Fombina in the early nineteenth century.
Dans First Ambassadors: Cuba’s Role in Guinea-Bissau’s War of Independence Piero Gleijeses, professeur à SAIS (School of Advanced International Studies, Washington, DC) se réfère à Patrick Chabal (1951-2014) comme le principal biographe d’Amílcar Cabral. Effectivement l’auteur offre une explication solide des causes et conséquences de la mort violente de Cabral.
Tout ce qui touche Cabral, concerne la Guinée-Conakry et la Guinée-Bissau. Et cet ouvrage l’illustre abondamment. Patrick Chabal souligne que la recherche pour le livre surmonta partout de formidable difficultés pratiques et politiques. Sauf en Guinée-Conakry ! Cette impossibilité n’est guère surprenant si l’on tient compte de la stratégie de la terre brûlée de Sékou Touré. Faisant table rase du passé et déformant le présent, le premier président ravala un pays jadis prometteur au rang de lanterne rouge d’Afrique, s’agissant en particulier de l’intelligentsia et de l’éducation.
L’introduction et le premier chapitre présente la vie familiale, l’influence parentale, les cycles scolaire et universitaire exceptionnels, la brillante carrière de l’ingénieur agronome Cabral. Vient ensuite l’entrée en politique, qui culmine avec la création du PAIGC par Amílcar. Les derniers chapitres présentent, d’abord, le contexte socio-historique de la Guinée-Bissau et du Cap Vert, et, ensuite, les réflexions de Chabal sur la pensée et de l’héritage politiques de Cabral.
Côté présentation, le livre contient quelques cartes, mais pas d’illustrations autre qu’une photo de Cabral. J’ai pu constituer cependant l’album photo ci-dessus à partir des archives de Casa Comum. Quant au contenu, il s’agit ici du travail d’un politologue. Et l’ouvrage en porte le sceau. Mais l’historien et l’anthropologue restent sur leur faim. A cause de lacunes sur l’histoire, la composition pluri-ethnique et la diversité culturelle de la Guinée-Bissau. L’auteur ne semble pas non plus percevoir les différences de personnalité fondamentales entre Sékou Touré et Amílcar Cabral.
Le livre survole deux points critiques, qui méritaient pourtant davantage d’attention :
les rumeurs impliquant président Sékou Touré dans l’assassinat
Les Fulas (Fulɓe) et les nationalistes
Chabal écrit : « It is clearer why the Fula opposed the nationalists in Guinea: they had done so elsewhere in West Africa. » (Il devient plus clair pourquoi les Fula s’opposèrent aux nationalistes en Guinée-Bissau: ils l’avaient fait ailleurs en Afrique de l’Ouest.) Mais il aurait dû dire où. Car un opinion lapidaire est insuffisante sur une question aussi épineuse que celles des rapports entre trois périodes historiques et trois formations étatiques : pré-coloniale, coloniale et post-coloniale.
Sékou Touré, impliqué ou disculpé ?
Chabal rejette l’hypothèse d’une implication de Sékou Touré dans l’assassinat de Cabral. Mais il souligne à plusieurs reprises les tensions entre les deux dirigeants. Et il mentionne les visées hégémoniques de Conakry sur la Guinée-Bissau (Sékou Touré’s alleged ambition to control Guinea-Bissau at independence).
Traitant de la mort violente du héros, Patrick Chabal s’appuie sur les faits et les témoignages pour présenter une explication cohérente et logique de l’assassinat de Cabral à Conakry, le 20 janvier 1973. Je traduis ici des passages de la section intitulée “Cabral’s assassination: faits et implications”, qui ouvre le chapitre 5.
Chabal cite peu de sources sur la Guinee-Conakry. Pour toute “disculpation” de Sékou Touré dans la mort de Cabral, il ne cite qu’une publication du président, intitulée “Crime crapuleux de l’impérialisme”. Patrick aurait pu élargir l’horizon en faisant état des meurtres massifs perpétrés en janvier 1971 par le régime de Conakry. Parmi les accusés — sans preuves — et les tués — sans raison —, il y avait Barry III, ancien rival — vaincu et rangé — de Sékou Touré. Chabal aurait pu ainsi constater des similitudes entre Barry III et Amílcar Cabral : intelligents, universitaires, dynamiques, charismatiques, progressistes, etc. Le 25 janvier 1971 Barry III — et des dizaines d’autres Guinéens — fut pendu sur ordre de Sékou Touré. Le “responsable suprême” enviait ces deux cadets à lui. Il jalousait leur formation plus avancée et leurs diplômes.… Après avoir assassiné Ibrahima, pourquoi n’aurait-il pas trouvé un mobile pour perdre Amílcar ? Plus fondamentalement Chabal aurait dû traiter du “Complot Permanent”, des purges cycliques, des violations et crimes des droits de l’homme de la “révolution” guinéenne. Hélas, il est muet sur ces questions, qui sont pourtant plus vitales que tout autre concept ou théorie. La même remarque vaut pour Cabral et le PAIGC, qui restèrent impassibles et silencieux face à la descente de leur pays-hôte aux enfers. Mais qu’auraient-ils dû et pu faire. La question reste posée… et sans réponse ! Quoiqu’il en soit, l’assassinat de son fondateur par des dirigeants du parti, marqua le début de la fin pour le PAIGC. Dans l’immédiat le parti évita la cacophonie et l’effondrement ; il maintint l’ordre et la cohésion. Les comploteurs furent jugés et exécutés. On procéda ensuite à la proclamation de l’indépendance de la Guinée-Bissau, que le Portugal finit par reconnaître. Mais le poison de la discorde et de la désunion avait été consommé. Son effet se répandit graduellement et finit par balayer les idéaux de Cabral. Après le coup d’état de Nino Vieira contre Luiz Cabral en 1980, la Guinée-Bissau et le Cap-Vert se séparèrent en deux républiques. A Bissau la guerre civile éclata entre frères (les généraux Nino et Ansumane Mané) du combat anti-colonialiste. Président Nino Vieira prévalut. Toutefois il fut éventuellement contraint — ô paradoxe — au refuge et à l’exil à Lisbonne en 1999. Il y retrouva Luiz Cabral ! Nino rentra à Bissau en 2005 avec l’appui de son vieil ami et business partenaire, Lansana Conté. Mais il fut assassiné à son tour, le pays s’étant mué en narco-état. Incapable aujourd’hui de surmonter les tiraillement politiciens, il patauge dans une absurde paralysie au sommet…
En filigrane ce livre révèle la différence fondamentale entre la personnalité de Sékou Touré et celle d’Amílcar Cabral : on a, d’un côté, un tueur impulsif et récidiviste, de l’autre, un humaniste, qui croyait en la rédemption de l’être humain.
Mon souvenir d’Amílcar
Dernier point et non le moindre, je voudrais évoquer mon souvenir personnel, positif et ému, d’Amílcar. Il s’agit de mes rares contacts avec Amílcar entre 1968 et 1972. C’était à l’occasion de séances annuelles de projection de films documentaires sur la guerre de libération du PAIGC. Les sessions étaient organisées par le Ciné-club de l’Institut Polytechnique de Conakry, dont les animateurs étaient Thierno Mamadou Sow, Mamadi ‘Mam’ Camara, Teliwel ‘Cochran’ Diallo, Hady Diallo, moi-même, etc. Nous bénéficions de l’encadrement volontaire de professeurs français et belge : feu Michel Faulcon (mathématiques) et sa femme, Ms. Annette (génie-civil), Ms. Claire van Arenberg (linguistique), des passionnés du cinéma comme nous. Invités d’honneur de ces rencontres, Amílcar et Aristides Pereira rehaussaient les cérémonies de leur présence. Ils participaient brièvement aux débats qui suivaient la projection, et les élevaient. Après avoir gracieusement signé le cahier des visiteurs sous les vivats d’une salle archi-comble, ils serraient des mains enthousiastes et étaient raccompagnés jusqu’à leur modeste Volkswagen Coccinelle par leurs nombreux admirateurs.
In his will Kwame Nkrumah designated June Milne as his literary executrix. But it took the Guinean authorities fourteen years (from 1972 to 1986) to relinquish Osagyefo’s papers to her. I present here excerpts from Kwame Nkrumah The Conakry Years. His Life and Letters, the book edited by Ms. Milne. She used primary sources generated by the late president. This publication includes only the Foreword and the Introduction. Yet, the challenges and dilemmas of life in exile in Conakry are clearly exposed. Likewise for the ways in which Ghana’s first president tried to overcome the predicaments of his downfall, or his stoic stance in the face of adversity. The book’s limitations reflect the incompleteness of the material. The editor points to regrettable gaps and losses in collecting and preserving documents and artifacts. Nonetheless, June Milne’s work is informative and revealing. In addition, it gives context and weight to Victor Du Bois’ paper “The Death of Kwame Nkrumah.” That said, for readability sake, I have partitioned the 17-page Introduction into eight subtitled segments. Last, the book confuses two separate diplomatic incidents. They opposed Guinea, on the one hand, and Ghana and Ivory Coast, on the other. The first one involved PAN Am Airlines in 1966 in Accra. See André Lewin, Chapter 61. La chute et la fin de l’ami Nkrumah. On October 30th 1966 President Sekou Toure ordered the house arrest of Robinson McIlvaine, the US ambassador in Conakry. The restriction lasted less than 24 hours.… The second incident concerned KLM Airlines, in 1967 in Abidjan. It stemmed from the love-hate relationship and the cyclical feuds between Houphouët-Boigny (the master) and Sekou Toure (the disciple). Curiously, in both instances Lansana Beavogui, minister and futur prime minister, led the confined delegation.
June Milne, ed. Kwame Nkrumah. The Conakry Years. His Life and Letters. Panaf. 1990. 416 pages
President Kwame Nkrumah, who was the first person to lead a colony in Sub-Saharan Africa to independence, was forced into exile in Guinea Conakry following the coup in Ghana on 24 February 1966. He arrived in Guinea in March and was destined to remain there until August 1971 when ill health compelled him to seek medical treatment in Romania. He died in Bucharest on 27 April 1972. During his stay in Conakry he wrote many books, and as his research assistant and publisher I was in close touch, making sixteen visits to Guinea and three to Bucharest. In his will he appointed me his literary executrix, and for years after his death I made attempts to recover his library, papers and files of correspondence which I knew were still in Villa Syli, his residence in Conakry. However, it was not until August 1986 that I was finally able to visit Conakry and obtain these papers, the bulk of which I have now deposited in the Moorland-Spingarn Research Centre at Howard University, Washington DC. As so little is known of Nkrumah’s life and work during the years he spent in Conakry, I have compiled this record from primary source material comprising the 43 Conakry files of correspondence, more than 350 letters and innumerable cables addressed to me, and from notebooks I kept during my visits to Conakry and Bucharest. The excerpts from my notebooks are included since they were written at the time of my visits to see Nkrumah, and not with hindsight. However good one’s memory, remembered conversations and remarks are suspect, and have no place in this book. It has only been possible to include a selection of the interesting letters and papers in the Conakry files. Nkrumah published in his book Dark Days in Ghana some of the letters and cables he received during the early years of his stay in Conakry. These are not reprinted here. Neither are there excerpts of his broadcasts to the Ghanaian people, nor other matter which has been published elsewhere. There were many whose loyalty and friendship were expressed verbally and remain unrecorded, but who played an important role in helping to sustain Nkrumah during the Conakry years. Never to be forgotten was the unfailing devotion of members of his Ghanaian entourage, particularly the tender care of Quarm and Nyamikeh in Bucharest during the last months of his life; the steadfastness throughout of Camara Sana, the Guinean protocol officer at Villa Syli; the innumerable thoughtful little acts of the many Africans and others who visited Nkrumah in Conakry, and who talked with him, from young students such as Lamin who travelled from Gambia to be with him and whom Nkrumah tutored for several months, to freedom fighters of the stature of Amilcar Cabral, who was a frequent visitor and with whom Nkrumah had long discussions. Sadly, there are no records of these. Similarly, there exist no written records of the visits of the many foreign envoys in Conakry, notably those from African countries, from Cuba, China, the USSR, North Vietnam and North Korea. President Fidel Castro supplied molasses and black beans through his embassy in Conakry. The Chinese ambassador brought books and silk shirts, personal gifts from the then prime minister Chou en-Lai. North Korean and Vietnamese diplomatic personnel regularly gave film shows for Nkrumah and his entourage at Villa Syli. During most of his stay in Guinea, a Vietnamese doctor attended to any medical problems at the Villa, while a Soviet dentist gave his services, bringing with him a portable dental chair for treatment to be carried out on the open seafront terrace adjoining Nkrumah’s office. The scope of these and other examples of the continuing support received by Nkrumah after the 1966 coup may to some extent be realized from references in the letters and other written evidence here published. There are, for example, references to the work of Douglas Rogers, editor of the magazine Africa and the World, and of Ghanaians who kept alive the Overseas Branch of the Convention People’s Party (CPP), an organization still in existence today and which issues The Dawn, a journal founded by Nkrumah and the CPP Overseas Branch. In a special category, but also largely unrecorded in the Conakry files, are Nkrumah’s friendship and shared Pan African objectives with President Sekou Toure, Madame Sekou Toure and the people of Guinea. Madame Sekou Toure on many occasions personally cooked meals for Nkrumah, delivering them by hand to him at Villa Syli. The visits of Guineans to the Villa, ·and the spontaneous cheering and waving of the ordinary people of Guinea whenever they saw Nkrumah, touched him deeply. As also, the special ovation from the huge crowds for himself and his entourage whenever they appeared at state functions in Conakry. The letters written by Nkrumah to me, and much of the other correspondence and documents here reproduced, are edited, mainly for reasons of space, but also because to print them in full would not contribute significantly to the picture they give of Nkrumah’s life during the Conakry and Bucharest periods. The editing has simply involved the omitting of certain passages. Nothing has been added. I have not indicated where omissions have been made, in order that the text should not appear unnecessarily disjointed. There have been many coups in Africa both before and after that of 1966 when Nkrumah ‘s government was overthrown—but none which has had greater impact on the course of Africa’s history. After a coup, little is usually heard of the deposed head of state. After the initial glare of media publicity the norm is for him to be of no further interest. With Nkrumah this was not the case. Far from sinking into obscurity, Nkrumah’s political stature grew, and continues to inspire Africans and people of African descent worldwide. The words inscribed in Guinea on his coffin provide a verdict on his life and work: “The Greatest African”.
President Kwame Nkrumah was on his way to Hanoi with peace proposals for ending the war in Vietnam when the 24 February 1966 coup in Ghana overthrew his government. The constitution was suspended and a National Liberation Council (NLC) established. It consisted of six members of the army and six policemen, with General J.A. Ankrah as chairman, and Police Commissioner J.W.K. Harlley as deputy chairman. Nkrumah had almost reached Peking, the furthest point of his journey, when the coup took place. He was informed of the news by the Chinese ambassador in Accra who had gone ahead to Peking to greet Nkrumah and to escort him during his stay in China. Nkrumah’s first reaction was to return immediately to Accra. If the VCIO of Ghana Airways had not been left behind in Rangoon, he would have embarked at once. “I knew that to avoid unnecessary bloodshed I would have to be back in Ghana within 24 hours, and this was clearly impossible. I decided, therefore, to make an immediate statement to the Ghanaian people, and to fight back on African soil just as soon as my hosts could make the necessary travel arrangements.” 1 At this time, many cables were sent by Nkrumah to heads of state, to Ghanaian diplomatic missions and to friends. Among the first was a cable to the Ghanaian embassy in Cairo:
Confirm Immediately That Ghana Airways Vcio En Route From Rangoon Has Been Instructed To Stand By In Cairo With Its Security Passengers Stop Send Your Message In Care Of Ghana Embassy Peking 2.
On the same day, 25 February, messages were sent to President Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea, President Modibo Keita of Mali and to President Nasser. The following message to President Sekou Toure is typical. It was in response to a message dated the day before from the Guinean president.
My dear Brother and President I have been deeply touched by your message of solidarity and support I have received today. It is true, as you say, that this incident in Ghana is a plot by the imperialists, neo-colonialists and their agents in Africa 3. As these imperialist forces grow more militant and insidious, using traitors to the African cause against the freedom and independence of our people, we must strengthen our resolution and fight for the dignity of our people to the last man and for the unity of Africa. It is heartening to know that in this struggle we can count on the support and understanding of Africa’s well-tried leaders like yourself. I know that our cause will triumph and that we can look forward to the day when Africa shall be really united and free from foreign interference and intrigues and saboteurs and puppets. I am safe and well here in Peking and I have sent my special emissary who will deliver this message to you to let you know the plans I am making for my early return to Africa. I trust that you will give him every possible assistance for the fulfilment of his mission. I shall visit you in Guinea soon 4. With sincere and brotherly affection. Kwame Nkrumah
With messages for Nkrumah pouring into Peking from Africa and many other parts of the world, and with all the work of acknowledging them, Nkrumah did not forget to cable those whom he knew would be anxious about him. Among cables and messages sent on 26 February were those to personal friends . The cable I received read: Take Heart I Am Well And Determined. In Peking, the Chinese government went ahead with plans which had been made for Nkrumah’s visit, treating him as an honoured head of state. On the evening of the 24th a banquet was held in his honour, at which a leading government official, Liu Shao-chi, spoke of the operations of neo-colonialist forces in Africa, mentioning specifically the USA, and quoting from Nkrumah’s book Neo-colonia!ism. In his speech, Nkrumah attacked imperialism and neocolonialism and American aggression in Vietnam. “On 24 February 1966, Ghana was forced one step backward. We shall take two forward,” he said. Listening to him on that occasion were members of his government and other officials who had accompanied him on the peace mission. According to Nkrumah, “most of them were frightened… Their obvious dismay was in striking contrast to the calmness and courage of the 66 other personnel — the security officers and members of my personal secretariat.” 5 Nkrumah left Peking on 28 February in an aircraft provided by the Soviet Union. Flying by way of Irkutsk, he and his entourage arrived in Moscow on 1st March. He telephoned me shortly after his arrival. He told me that he was on his way to a destination which I would doubtless hear about on the radio in due course. He said that he had instructed his foreign minister, Alex Quaison-Sackey, to go to Addis Ababa to represent the constitutional government of Ghana at the OAU Council of Ministers meeting. I had heard, however, on the BBC World Service that very morning that Quaison-Sackey had not gone to Addis Ababa, but had travelled to Accra. I told Nkrumah. He seemed shocked. For a moment he said nothing. Then he abruptly changed the subject and asked if I had heard about the defection of J.E. Bossman, the Ghana High Commissioner in London, news of which had been conveyed to Nkrumah on his arrival in Moscow. A few minutes later the call ended with Nkrumah’s assurance that I would hear from him soon after he reached his “destination”. A few of Nkrumah’s government colleagues had left Peking before him. Others travelled with him to Moscow. Kwesi Armah and other officials left Moscow to deal, as they said, with “urgent private matters”. The plan was for them to carry out their tasks and then to return to Moscow to join Nkrumah and travel with him to Guinea. But when Nkrumah learned of the defections of Bossman and Quaison-Sackey he delayed no longer, and decided to go to Conakry at once with members of his personal staff, security personnel and a number of Ghanaians who had been studying in the Soviet Union and who wished to join him.
Co-president of Guinea
It was no surprise that Nkrumah chose to accept the invitation from Guinea. He would also have been welcome in Cairo because of his friendship with President Nasser. It was there that Nkrumah’s Egyptian wife, Madame Fathia (Rizk) and the three children, Gamal, Samia and Sekou, had taken refuge 6. But Guinea under the government of President Sekou Toure and the Guinean Democratic Party (PDG) had become a stronghold of the African Revolution. Sekou Toure and Nkrumah shared the same ideas on liberation, social justice and the unification of Africa. In 1958, when Guinea made history by becoming the only state among France’s African colonies to give a decisive Non to General de Gaulle’s referendum about joining the French Community, Nkrumah’s government made £10 million available to the newly independent Guinean government to help it surmount some of its most pressing economic problems. Sekou Toure and the people of Guinea never forgot this generosity, and Nkrumah always received a tumultuous welcome whenever he visited the country. Then in 1961, Ghana and Guinea formed a Union, later extended to include Mali, which was intended to form a nucleus around which the African unification process could develop. A further factor which influenced Nkrumah’s decision to accept Sekou Toure’s invitation was the geographical consideration. Guinea was only some three hundred miles from Ghana. For Nkrumah was determined to return to Ghana to carry on the African revolutionary struggle, a resolve which never faltered during the whole of the time—more than five years—that he was destined to spend in Guinea. The first I knew of Nkrumah’s arrival in Conakry was when I saw an Evening Standard placard on a news-stand in Piccadilly, London: “Nkrumah arrives in Guinea to a 21-gun salute”. It was a relief to know that he was safely on African soil again and among friends who shared his political ideals. The aircraft carrying Nkrumah and his entourage had touched down briefly in Yugoslavia and Algeria, finally reaching Conakry during the afternoon of 2nd March. The following day, at a mass rally, Sekou Toure proclaimed Nkrumah head of state of Guinea. “The Ghanaian traitors have been mistaken in thinking that Nkrumah is simply a Ghanaian,” he declared, “he is a universal man.” It was an unprecedented expression of Pan Africanism. At the time, Nkrumah did not realize what Sekou Toure, speaking in French, had said. He thought the cheering of the crowd was in response to the Guinean president’s welcome to his distinguished guest. When later he learned the truth he was very moved but agreed only to become co-president of Guinea.
Settling down in Conakry
For the first few weeks, Nkrumah and his entourage were housed in Belle-Vue, a government guest compound situated on the coast a short distance from the centre of Conakry. During this time, at Nkrumah’s request, more modest accommodation was prepared for him at Villa Syli, an old colonial-style residence built on the seashore in the direction of the airport. It was a long, low white concrete building constructed on two levels, the lower part of which jutted out on to the beach. At high tide, the sea lapped against three sides of it. The upper part of the villa became the office area, while the lower level contained private and domestic quarters. To the rear was a secluded area shaded by mango and flamboyant trees. During the hottest months, Nkrumah would have a table and chairs carried out to “under the trees”, as he called it. But for the most part he spent his time in the office, a recessed room open at the front to the long verandah and the sea. The speedy organizing and equipping of his office was made possible by Sekou Toure’s closure of the Ghanaian Embassy in Conakry immediately after the coup. An inventory was made of all property at the embassy and at the vacated Ghanaian envoy’s official residence. Everything was put at Nkrumah’s disposal. Tables, chairs, beds, cupboards, shelving, typewriters, stationery and so on, and also the envoy’s Mercedes Benz, were transferred to Villa Syli. Within days of moving in, Nkrumah was at his desk establishing an office routine, and dealing with the flood of letters, cables and messages which poured into the Conakry post office for him from all parts of the world. Sekou Toure appointed Camara Sana, an experienced career diplomat who had served in Ghana and had a good knowledge of English, to act as Nkrumah’s protocol officer and interpreter. He was of great assistance to Nkrumah during the whole of the time he spent in Guinea. He supervised the administration of the villa, acted as liaison officer between Ghanaian and Guinean security personnel and undertook many other duties. Some of these were of a very confidential nature, concerned with attempts to restore Nkrumah to Accra. Sekou Toure and his ministers kept in close personal touch with Nkrumah, but it was Camara’s responsibility always to see that decisions were acted upon. I never knew him to have a holiday or even to take a day off. He would arrive early from his home some miles away and seldom return home before 10 or 11 p.m., after Nkrumah had retired to his room for the night.
During the early months of 1966 it was Camara who arranged for an electric generator to be installed in the compound so that the life of the villa could proceed despite the almost daily electricity cuts which the people of Conakry suffered.
Another priority which Nkrumah required was the setting up of an efficient radio station at the villa, and again it was Camara who arranged for the work to be done.
Down but not out
Throughout the years which Nkrumah spent in Guinea he was able to be kept informed of broadcasts from Ghana, and of confidential army and police messages. Each day, reports of these broadcasts and messages were placed on his desk by members of his entourage whose job it was to monitor them. In this way, Nkrumah was able to obtain insight into what was happening in Ghana, and did not have to rely solely on reports of Ghanaians and others who either travelled to Conakry to see him, or who wrote or sent messages. Right from the start of his stay in Guinea, Ghanaians loyal to his government got in touch with him. For a time, one of them openly cabled news from the Foreign Affairs Department in Accra. Others, among them members of the staff of the Ghanaian Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone, sent him copies of reports and instructions received from the NLC in Accra. They signed themselves “Your secret agents”. While much of the information they sent was not of great significance, it was nevertheless a useful supplement to information from other sources. Within six weeks of his arrival in Conakry, Nkrumah tried to organize a conference of the militant states of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), to meet in Bamako, Mali on 29 May. The idea for such a conference had first been mooted by Sekou Toure in a message to Nkrumah shortly after the coup, when Nkrumah was still in Peking. The Guinean president said that his government had decided “after a thorough analysis of the African situation following the seizure of power by the instruments of imperialism… to call on all progressive African countries to hold a special conference and take all adequate measures. We think that the time factor is vital here, since it is important to make a riposte without further delay, by every means.” 7 In Conakry, Nkrumah drafted a letter of invitation to be sent to the twelve heads of state considered at the time to be militant. They were Egypt, Guinea, Ghana (CPP government) 8, Mali, Somalia, Algeria, Uganda, Mauritania, Tanzania, Congo-Brazzaville, Sudan, Sierra Leone. The letters were to be signed by the three presidents of the Ghana-Guinea-Mali Union of 1961, Nkrumah, Sekou Toure and Modibo Keita. The invitations, dated 25 April 1966, were to be sent first to Modibo Keita requesting him to sign them and to return them to Conakry for the signatures of Nkrumah and Sekou Toure. There is no evidence among the files and papers which Nkrumah kept in Villa Syli that the conference ever took place. Such a conference so soon after the Ghana coup would surely have attracted media attention. There were no reports of it. However, Nkrumah, Sekou Toure and Modibo Keita kept in close touch and met frequently. There was a time when Nkrumah considered moving to Bamako because of its proximity to Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) and the latter’s common frontier with northern Ghana. An opposition politician from Burkina Faso, whom Nkrumah knew from pre-coup days, visited him in Conakry and led him to believe that there might soon be a political change in his country which would provide favourable conditions for cross-border contact between Nkrumah’s supporters outside Ghana and those within. A move to Bamako would make such a possibility easier to accomplish, Mali and Burkina Faso sharing a common frontier. The coup of 19 November 1968 which overthrew the government of Modibo Keita ended any chance of such a move.
For the first six months or so, Nkrumah was content to monitor events in Ghana without too much concern about the effect the coup in Ghana would have on the African revolutionary struggle. But as the months passed he became anxious about the time factor, fearing that irreparable damage might be done to Ghana’s infrastructure. It was not that he wanted a restoration of his pre-1966 political position, but that he found he could not pursue his Pan African objectives adequately from Guinea. He had to return to Ghana because the infrastructure was there. On his return, others could direct the domestic administration of the country, leaving him free to devote his whole attention to organizing the Pan African struggle for the total liberation and unification of the Continent. This was not a new idea he had dreamed up in Conakry. Some time before the coup Nkrumah was thinking along these lines, as Erica Powell, his private secretary from 1955 to 1964 has confirmed in her book. Nkrumah told her before she finally left Ghana in 1965 that “he wished he could resign the presidency and devote his time to African unity.” 9
After the coup, as he was no longer president of Ghana, the idea seemed possible to realize once he had returned and could make a fresh start. He intended to establish a freedom fighter headquarters, similar to something he had seen in China when visiting Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. It would be situated not far from Accra, hidden from aerial attack in the hilly forested area of Aburi. From there he would develop the military and political structures outlined in his book Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare: A Guide to the Armed Phase of the African Revolution10. During one of my visits to Guinea, Nkrumah sketched in pencil a rough plan of the small building he would require. It consisted of two bedrooms with bathrooms, and a central room for meetings. He marked the position of doors, and the driveways leading to the entrance of the cave-like building, remembering to make a circular part where vehicles could turn.
Nkrumah’s firm belief that he would return to Ghana was strengthened by the flow of mail and messages of support he received. An indication of the extent and variety of these communications can be gathered from the files of correspondence and cables which he left behind in Villa Syli. Furthermore, throughout the Conakry years, there were numerous visits from Ghanaians and others who claimed to be organizing a counter-coup to restore him to Accra. Nkrumah suspected that some of those who claimed to be working for his return were dishonest opportunists. But lacking the intelligence facilities he had had in Ghana, he could never be sure of a person’s integrity. If it had not been for his determination to get back to the country in order to carry out his Pan African objectives, he would, I believe, have shown no interest in any scheme to accomplish his return by force. But as time passed, and the infrastructure in Ghana deteriorated, he became more vulnerable to those who approached him with so-called plans for his return. Several times he was told of an actual day when he could expect to hear good news. At other times he would be informed to expect action between certain dates. There was one occasion when the Guinean government itself was so sure of a particular plan that Nkrumah was persuaded to spend the night at Sekou Toure’s residence so that he could be ready to broadcast and to make a quick return to Accra. Always, when the expected dates passed and nothing happened, excuses would be made that something or other had unexpectedly happened to necessitate a postponement.
Camara became increasingly cynical. By the time Nkrumah had eventually to leave Conakry for medical treatment in 1971, Camara was prepared to believe that no Ghanaian could be trusted, except for those of the entourage whom he had come to know well. I sometimes wonder what Camara would think if he knew of the subsequent boasting of some of those who visited Nkrumah at the villa, claiming to have been constantly at the great man’s side, rendering him help in time of need, when in fact they let him down. Most of these braggarts were only briefly there. Others not at all.
One of the worst aspects of the dreary process of deception and disappointment was financial. For, so often, those who visited Nkrumah claiming to be working for his reinstatement in Ghana asked for cash, ostensibly to buy arms and support. The limited funds supplied initially by friendly Eastern bloc and African governments were soon exhausted. Much against his inclination, Nkrumah had to seek further financial help. He loathed the very notion of asking for support, and found it extremely distasteful to hand out cash to dubious characters whom he would not have tolerated for a moment in his presence had he not been in such a critical position, with, as he thought, the future of the African Revolution at stake. He was not prepared to let slip any opportunity which might have resulted in a return to Accra. Each time he was approached he faced the dilemma of wondering whether, if he failed to give help, he might be jeopardizing the one real chance of success. He said that all would be thoroughly investigated when he got back to Ghana. Those who had deliberately deceived him would have to explain themselves to the people, because it was the people, and not him personally, they had betrayed.
Doubtless, some of those who sought to take advantage of him in this situation had been taken in by Western media reports at the time of the coup that Nkrumah had vast sums of money deposited in Swiss banks. Even those who were skeptical about this knew that Sekou Toure strongly supported Nkrumah and was anxious to see him return to Ghana. The Guinea government could be expected to provide funds if need be. There was even speculation that Sekou Toure had repaid Nkrumah the £10 million which the Ghana government had lent to Guinea in 1958. The air around those who intended to exploit Nkrumah’s predicament was filled with rumour and innuendo. The fact is that, apart from the small royalty account in London and the funds supplied occasionally by friendly governments, Nkrumah had no money on which he could draw 11. He used to keep a certain amount of cash, mainly dollars and pounds, in a suitcase in his bedroom, some of this having been brought into Guinea in diplomatic bags. It was probably reports of the availability of cash from this supply which encouraged unscrupulous individuals to dream up ways to obtain some of it. This is not to suggest that all those who got in touch with Nkrumah in Conakry with plans to organise his return to Ghana were self-seekers, though many undoubtedly were. Within weeks of his arrival in Guinea, Nkrumah was hearing from men and women, some of whom had worked in Ghana before the coup, who had either chosen to leave or been forced to go. Among them were people he knew. Others he had never met or heard of. There was also mail from acquaintances and from organizations whose connections with Nkrumah dated back to his student days in America. Often pseudonyms were agreed between Nkrumah and those with whom he kept in touch. All mail and cables had to be sent through the main Conakry post office which, in spite of precautions, was not proof against security risks. Several times during the early days of the Conakry period, the envelopes of letters exchanged between him and myself bore unmistakable signs of having been opened and clumsily resealed. Time and again, Camara was sent to try to find out whether the mail was being interfered with in Conakry. It was impossible to discover. It was agreed that I should address envelopes to “Camara Sana” and use the PO Box number 834. On each of my visits to Guinea we used to decide new code names and phrases, in what must have seemed to any professional intelligence organization a very amateurish attempt to establish some degree of confidentiality in our letters and cables. Though there was nothing secret about what we said, we usually sealed our letters with red or green wax. I possessed two silver rings, decoratively engraved. We used one each to stamp the wax. In this way we thought we would know if the seal had been broken. In cables to me, Nkrumah would sign himself “Sana” if no reply was needed, and “Sophie”, the name of Camara’s wife, if he wanted me to reply. Sometimes in cables he would use printing or publishing terms. For example, “Galleys corrected” meant that he had received encouraging news about a counter-coup. In confidential cables with Ghanaians and others, he frequently used pseudonyms such as “Saidou” or “Amadou”. In cables to me during the last months of his life he used the name “Diallo”. However, in most of Nkrumah’s correspondence and cables no use was made of coded phrases or pseudonyms. He was addressed usually as Osagyefo 12 or Dr Nkrumah, and on rare occasions, Francis 13. Nkrumah usually in his replies signed himself Osagyefo or Kwame Nkrumah. A prolific writer was Julie Medlock. She had been director of an organization called “The Accra Assembly: the World Without the Bomb”. She was one of those who had been compelled to leave Ghana after the coup. She asked for Nkrumah’s advice and help in establishing a new headquarters for the Accra Assembly. As late as 22 April 1971 she was writing “My dearest Osagyefo… the Accra Assembly is still alive.” 14 There were many long letters from Shirley Du Bois, widow of the celebrated Afro-American campaigner W.E.B. Du Bois15. For a time after the coup, Shirley lived in Cairo, where her son David worked as a journalist and radio commentator. Later, Nkrumah arranged for Shirley to work in Peking with the Afro-Asian Writers Bureau. She visited Conakry on more than one occasion. Another who wrote at length to Nkrumah during the first few years of exile was Pat Sloan. He had been in Ghana at the time of the coup and had had to leave soon after. He wrote a detailed account of what happened at the Winneba Ideological Institute, where he had worked as senior lecturer in the Political Science faculty. The students, he said, seemed utterly confused. During the course of a protracted correspondence, Pat Sloan suggested changes in the curriculum at Winneba which should be made when Nkrumah returned to Ghana. In England, he kept Nkrumah informed of the activities and opinions of Ghanaians in London, making particular reference to the activities of the CPP Overseas and the Committee for the Defence of the Revolution 16 headed by Ekow Eshun, who before the coup had worked in the Ghana High Commission in London.
Writing and publishing
The centre of CPP Overseas activity in London at this time was the 89 Fleet Street office of the magazine Africa and the World, edited by Douglas Rogers 17. Before the coup the magazine, first published in 1964, had been financed primarily by the Ghana Government through the Bureau of African Affairs in Accra, and later by the Publicity Secretariat. The magazine’s printer was John Marshment, and the accountant and auditor was Roland (‘Roley’) Davenish Randall 18, who was instrumental in forming Panaf Publications Ltd. to publish the magazine. It was Nkrumah’s idea to have a magazine published and distributed from London, the main purpose being to publicize African affairs (and in particular the policies of the Ghanaian Government) to the world and to the large African community in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. By the time of the 1966 coup, the magazine had become well known and respected for its progressive reporting and its support for the CPP government’s radical and Pan African policies. Not surprisingly therefore, after the coup the NLC ended the funding of the magazine, and the company’s account with the Ghana Commercial Bank in London was frozen. As a result of quick action by Roley Randall, the company’s funds were rapidly switched to another bank, and the magazine carried on for a time, without missing an issue, assisted by funds from Nkrumah 19. Randall played a significant part in the success of Panaf Publications Ltd., the company which was formed for Africa and the World, and in the company Panaf Books Ltd. 20, founded in 1968 to publish the books written by Nkrumah in Conakry. On several occasions when a crisis of one kind or another occurred, his expert advice and experience resolved the difficulty. Initially when Panaf Books was formed, I worked at 89 Fleet Street in the room occupied by John Marshment, who allowed me to use part of his desk. Later, Douglas Rogers arranged for space to be made available for me in the large room at the top of the building where his secretary sat and from where Africa and the World was packaged and despatched. Rogers and Marshment were among the first to visit Nkrumah in Villa Syli. They went there in April 1966 to discuss the future of the magazine and to arrange other ways in which they could assist him to get his voice heard in Ghana. It was not long before the team of Africa and the World were publishing posters and “minimag” editions of the magazine which could be secretly infiltrated into Ghana. It was during this visit also, that on 12 April Nkrumah gave the one and only press interview of his entire stay in Conakry. Rogers’ questions and Nkrumah’s answers were published in the May 1966 issue of the magazine. There had at this time been rumours that Guinea might intervene militarily to restore Nkrumah to power in Ghana. Rogers put the question: — “Are you planning an invasion of Ghana?” The reply was: — “No. I appreciate the feelings of my brother and Comrade Sekou Toure, and I know the people of Guinea are in a militant mood about the events in Ghana. They feel, quite rightly, that this is part of a general assault upon the peace, unity and independence of Africa, and that a halt must be called to it. We have had a series of military usurpations of power, and constant international intrigue against governments which are trying to give some real economic meaning to their political independence.” He went on to say that while he understood the reaction of Guineans to the coup, he nevertheless believed it was a problem that must be resolved by Ghanaians. Nevertheless the NLC took the possibility of military intervention from Guinea seriously, raising the matter at the United Nations. During the first few years, Nkrumah was constantly being asked to receive newspaper reporters and radio and TV representatives. He refused all requests from Western media sources. He was not prepared, he said, to waste time answering questions from those who had gloated over his government’s overthrow. His political record was known. If they wanted to question him about his thinking in Guinea, they could read his books. Apart from the visits of those who had positive, constructive reasons for seeing him, and a few personal friends, no one from outside Guinea had access to Nkrumah. Both Guinean and Ghanaian security screening was very thorough. I recall what happened when a group of Afro-Americans connected with the Black Power movement arrived uninvited from Algiers and without the required entry documents. The Guinean authorities, who were suspicious of their intentions, refused permission for them to see Nkrumah. They were promptly obliged to leave in the private jet which had brought them. But in April 1966 when Flight Captain Hanna Reitsch, the well-known flying ace who had established a flying school in Ghana at Afienya, arrived unexpectedly at Conakry airport she was permitted a short visit. The Guinean authorities were uneasy about admitting a German who had achieved great distinction as a test pilot in the Second World War, and whom they regarded as a Nazi. But they gave permission when her true identity and the purpose of her visit were checked with Ghanaian security men of Nkrumah’s entourage. The hesitation of the Guinean officials was understandable, since Hanna had flown to Conakry in disguise, wearing a wig and using a false name. Hanna had been at Afienya when the coup took place, and she wanted to tell Nkrumah what had happened there, and to offer him any help she could provide. Hanna told me when I first met her in Frankfurt in 1968, that when the coup occurred she feared that Nkrumah might try to return to Ghana immediately. In which case she was convinced he would direct the pilot of his aircraft to land on the airstrip at Afienya, counting on her still being in control there, whereas the coup-makers had in fact compelled her to leave. In Conakry, Hanna warned Nkrumah against contemplating an early return to Accra, giving him lurid descriptions of the “jubilation” of Ghanaians at his overthrow. She had been horrified at what she regarded as spontaneous demonstrations against Nkrumah and the CPP government. Accounts of what she had seen at Afienya and in Accra before she left Ghana exasperated Nkrumah and members of his entourage, since they seemed to imply that she believed the people of Ghana as a whole supported the coup, whereas in fact the ordinary people took no part in it. Hanna was no diplomat. Nor did she have a great deal of political knowledge. She did not appear to allow for the external and domestic underlying causes of the coup, and the organizing of it. If she was convinced of anything, however, Hanna would vehemently and repeatedly express her views, which could be tiring as well as irritating. But when she committed herself to any person or to any project, her loyalty and courage were limitless. If Nkrumah had asked her to fly him to Accra when she visited him in Conakry, she would gladly have faced the extreme danger. As her friend Erica Powell once said to me: “If I was stranded at the North Pole, Hanna would come and get me out.” Hanna only visited Conakry once. She wanted to return, but was told that the Guinean authorities would not readmit her, because of her former association with Nazi Germany. This explanation failed to convince Hanna or her close friends, one of whom, Father Volkmar, later wrote to Nkrumah expressing Hanna’s dismay at not being allowed to visit Guinea again, and her disappointment that Nkrumah made no mention of her 1966 visit in his book Dark Days in Ghana . While the Guinean authorities strictly controlled the entry of all visitors to their country and were particularly protective of Nkrumah, it was unlikely they would have refused entry permission to anyone he invited. Throughout the Conakry years, Hanna and Nkrumah wrote to each other. In addition, Hanna sent many food parcels. It was she who sent the rose bushes which bloomed in the large concrete pots lining the verandah at Villa Syli. It was typical of Hanna to think of sending rose bushes knowing the pleasure Nkrumah had derived from his rose garden at Flagstaff House in Accra. Although to some, Hanna might have seemed a severe woman, obsessed with duty and discipline, she was I believe at heart a romantic. Unfortunately, the Conakry correspondence files contain only one letter and a postcard written by Hanna to Nkrumah during the Conakry period, and no copies of the letters which Nkrumah wrote to her. After Hanna’s death in 1979, her brother, Commander Kurt Reitsch, informed me that not one was found among Hanna’s papers in her Frankfurt apartment. Yet less than a year before she died, Hanna had shown me a pile of them, handwritten on the familiar blue airmail paper Nkrumah used in Conakry. I can only surmise that she destroyed the letters herself, or arranged for them to be destroyed after her death, probably by her faithful housekeeper and secretary Fraulein Walter. I was not surprised to find in the Conakry files so little evidence of Hanna’s lengthy correspondence with Nkrumah. For Nkrumah kept personal letters himself, and from time to time burned them. He destroyed all but a few of the hundreds of letters which I wrote to him in Conakry. The few he retained he kept along with other papers in the small steel deed box which he stored, locked, in his bedroom. All my letters to him were handwritten and I did not keep copies. But I retained every one of the hundreds of handwritten ones he wrote to me. He asked me once if I was keeping them, and when I replied “Yes”, he smiled. He was amused on many occasions at my reluctance to part with anything which might one day be of interest to students of African history. Sometimes when Nkrumah had been working on a typescript, and his secretary, Sarfo, had typed an amended version, Nkrumah would tear up the original and throw the scraps of paper into the waste paper basket. When I protested and said that the hand-altered original should be preserved because one day students would be interested to see the changes he had made, he explained that he had learned from hard experience not to keep unnecessary papers. On the occasions when he had been arrested in the years before political success, police had seized all his personal papers. At the time of the coup, his office in Flagstaff House had also been ransacked and some very confidential papers taken. Like a freedom fighter in the forest he had learned to travel light.
Life at Villa Syli
The organization and the general atmosphere prevailing at Villa Syli, especially during the first few years, seemed to me to resemble that of a freedom fighter base. It was a spartan, disciplined, all-male environment. Uniformed and armed Guinean soldiers and militiamen guarded the gates of the villa and patrolled the grounds and seashore. For a time, sentries were stationed on the verandah leading to Nkrumah’s office, as well as at other strategic points inside the villa. The impression given was of great activity and purpose, as though there was an imminent battle to be won. Each member of Nkrumah’s entourage had specific duties to perform according to their training and skills. They formed committees to organize and oversee the various activities within the villa. During 1966 the 13-member Political Committee examined the 24 February coup in Ghana and the external and internal factors relating to it. A report was drawn up, typed and bound, and presented to Nkrumah. This project was only one among many which kept Nkrumah’s Ghanaian entourage busy while in Conakry.
Soon all, including Nkrumah, had undergone military training with members of the Guinean militia.
Throughout his stay in Conakry, Nkrumah kept to an ascetic, strict routine. A typical day in his life is described in the biography Kwame Nkrumah 21. He would rise early and spend an hour or so doing yoga-type exercises in his room. Breakfast consisted of a grapefruit and perhaps a little cereal and honey, or an egg. He would usually be at his office desk by 9 o’clock and would often work through until about 2 p.m., with only a fruit drink to sustain him, or a cup of herbal tea. There would sometimes follow a game of chess with a member of his entourage… Then would come the main meal of the day, a simple two course meal of meat, chicken or fish followed always by fruit salad. His favourite food was the traditional stew and foufou of Ghana, and in Conakry this was cooked for him on certain days of the week by members of his entourage. After lunch, if there were no more visitors to see, or any more office work to attend to, he would retire to his bedroom for a short rest. He would read, and sometimes sleep for a little while, but often his rest was interrupted by the arrival of one or other of his staff with a cable, letters or a message. The evening meal was little more than a snack, and afterwards Nkrumah would talk with Sekou Toure or his ministers, or with some other visitor to the villa. Members of the various political organisations of Guinea were frequent visitors, as were the ambassadors of socialist embassies in Conakry. Then there were the visits from members of the liberation movements … Before retiring for the night Nkrumah would take his final exercise. This was usually a walk round and round the compound, sometimes ten or more times at a blistering speed which often left anyone accompanying him breathless trying to keep up.
Amilcar Cabral, president of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and the Cape Verde Islands (PAIGC), was a frequent visitor. Whenever the sentries at the gates of Villa Syli recognized Cabral’s jeep approaching, they quickly flung the gates open so that the driver would scarcely need to slow down before sweeping up the drive to the doorway of the villa. Cabral made a point of calling to see Nkrumah whenever he was about to leave Conakry for the war zone 22 or for travel to seek support for the PAIGC liberation struggle. On his return to his Conakry headquarters he would promptly visit Nkrumah again. They used to talk in the privacy of Nkrumah’s office sometimes for an hour or more. Nkrumah was particularly interested in what Cabral told him of PAIGC administration of the liberated areas of Guinea-Bissau, since this would form the pattern for the government of the whole country when it had been liberated from Portuguese rule. It would, Nkrumah believed, be the kind of society based on socialist principles and committed to African unification, which he had been working to build in Ghana. Most probably, Nkrumah discussed with Cabral the Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare on which he was working. Nkrumah, when writing a book, discussed it whenever possible with anyone whose opinion he valued, or whom he thought might be able to provide additional material. He would give them sections of his manuscript to read and comment upon. Knowing his high regard for Cabral as a freedom fighter engaged in precisely the kind of armed liberation struggle about which he was writing, it would have been entirely out of character for Nkrumah not to have discussed the book with him.
Notable among many others who visited Nkrumah in Villa Syli in 1966 were Julia Wright and Henri Herve. They had been working in Ghana when the CPP government was overthrown. At that time, Henri, a Frenchman, was editor of Etincelle, the French edition of The Spark 23; while Julia, the daughter of the eminent Afro-American writer Richard Wright, was assisting me in establishing Nkrumah’s research office in Accra. This was located in the bungalow which had been the home of Dorothy Padmore, widow of George Padmore. Julia and Henri, after considerable harassment, managed to leave Ghana after the coup and travelled to Conakry where they hoped to be of help to Nkrumah. Henri joined Nkrumah’s entourage at the villa for a short time. Julia helped with office work. One of her tasks was to go through Guinean periodicals and newspapers, selecting items which she thought would interest Nkrumah. She translated them from French into English, abridging where necessary, and afterwards presented Nkrumah with a well-ordered set of clippings. In addition, Julia was sometimes called upon to translate letters and messages sent to Nkrumah in French. However, not long after his arrival in Guinea, Nkrumah arranged to have French lessons from a Conakry teacher. Her instruction, supplemented by a Lingua phone French course, soon resulted in Nkrumah becoming quite proficient in the language, though I never heard him speak French fluently. Henri for a time had, I believe, connections with those trying to organize a counter-coup in Ghana. During one of my visits to Conakry in 1966 he left on what I understood to be a secret mission inside Ghana. Knowing the danger he faced, Julia was proud of him at that time. Nevertheless, some months later, it was clear that Nkrumah had lost confidence in him. Henri had never been very popular with Ghanaians of Nkrumah’s entourage. He now incurred the mistrust of Camara. It was decided that Henri should not return to Conakry. Nkrumah therefore advised Julia that her duty lay in returning to Paris to look after her young daughter Ama, who had been put in the care of Henri’s mother. Nkrumah was sorry to lose Julia, but as long as Julia remained in Guinea it would have been difficult to deny Henri permission to return to be with his wife. Julia, and occasionally Henri, continued from time to time to communicate with Nkrumah while he was in Conakry. But they never saw him again, though both attended his funeral in Conakry in May 1972.
On 10 June 1966 I set out on my first visit to Conakry. There were three main reasons for going. The first was to finalize corrections to the galleys of Challenge of the Congo; the second to discuss arrangements for a Freedom Fighters’ Edition of Axioms; and the third to achieve a final text of the new preface which Nkrumah had been preparing for Challenge of the Congo. He considered a new preface necessary in view of the coup in Ghana. As far as Axioms was concerned, Nkrumah was disappointed at the size and expensive format of the Nelson edition. He had envisaged a cheaply produced, pocket-sized book. Furthermore, he wished to make changes in a Freedom Fighters‘ edition. For example, he decided to omit the section on Non-Alignment, and to add six new sections on Black Power, People’s Militia, Revolutionary War, Propaganda, The Role of Women and “Third World”. He added axioms to the sections on Imperialism, Independence, Nationalism, Neo-colonialism, People and Racialism. The Freedom Fighters’ Edition of Axioms, first published by PanafBooks in 1968, was a small plastic-covered book which could easily be fitted into a pocket. As subsequent editions of the Panaf edition were published, quotations were added from the books Nkrumah wrote in Conakry. The Nelson edition of Axioms, apart from its format, had the disadvantage of only containing quotations from writings and speeches up to 1966. It did not sell well, specially after the Panaf Freedom Fighters’ Edition was published. Nelson remaindered the book and sold their stock to Panaf Books. Travelling by way of Amsterdam and Las Palmas, Peter 24 and I arrived at Conakry airport during the evening of the 10th of June. We were met by Ghanaians of Nkrumah’s entourage and taken to the nearby Gbessia airport hotel. The following morning a car was sent to convey us to Villa Syli. It was almost six months since I had seen Nkrumah, shortly before he left Accra on the peace mission to Hanoi. I noticed no change in him. Wearing a short-sleeved white 25 collarless drill suit, he looked extremely fit and was in his usual high spirits. He told us that arrangements had been made for us to stay in a government guest bungalow in the diplomatic quarter of Conakry, where we would be private and more comfortable. There followed a busy twelve days spent working with Nkrumah on the galleys of Challenge of the Congo and arranging the Freedom Fighters’ Edition of Axioms. We worked usually until about 2 p.m., when a table on the verandah would be prepared for lunch, Camara always joining us for the meal.
It was during this visit that I first met President Sekou Toure. It was in the grounds of Belle Vue, where Nkrumah had invited Peter and myself to meet him late one afternoon, the time when Nkrumah sometimes took exercise. On this particular day, he was having a driving lesson in the grounds of Belle Vue. When he drove up to greet us, Nkrumah had only had a few lessons, and did not seem very confident. He quickly alighted from the car and suggested we walk round the extensive grounds of Belle Vue. We had not gone far when Sekou Toure drove up at the wheel of his black Citroen. He stopped for a few minutes while Peter and I were introduced to him. On this my first visit to Conakry, I made only short entries in the notebook I took with me. These were mainly remarks made by Nkrumah which I wished to remember. I would jot them down as soon as I could, while I remembered the actual words. I also wrote brief impressions of life at the Villa, and noted down items which Nkrumah wished me to send him on my return to London. Later, as time passed and it became clear that Nkrumah might be in Conakry for some years, I felt a responsibility to record in more detail in my notebooks.
The final two years
The presence of Nkrumah in Guinea was thought by Camara, and other Guineans with whom I spoke, to strengthen Sekou Toure’s position, since they considered it unlikely any coup could succeed against him while Nkrumah lived in Conakry. Their optimism proved to be well founded. The few attempts at destabilization which took place during Nkrumah’s stay in Guinea failed. It was not until the Portuguese-led invasion of the country in November 1970 that Sekou Toure’s government was for a few days seriously threatened. However, by the time Nkrumah arrived in Conakry in March 1966, the socialist policies of Sekou Toure’s government, and the support given to the PAIGC, had already aroused the hostility of internal and external forces which Nkrumah’s presence further exacerbated. Nkrumah, far from lying low, right from the start of the Conakry period made it clear that he intended to continue the African revolutionary struggle as best he could from Guinea. Within a few days of his arrival he was broadcasting to the Ghanaian people on Radio Guinea’s “Voice of the Revolution”. This first broadcast was made on 6 March, the ninth anniversary of Ghana’s independence. Between March and December 1966, Nkrumah made fifteen broadcasts to Ghana, his purpose being to expose the true nature of the coup and to encourage resistance. In addition, he quickly set to work on writing books and pamphlets, all of which were designed to project his African liberation and unification policies. Far from being silenced, he was showing every sign of continuing to be a thorn in the flesh of the same forces, domestic and international, which had combined to overthrow his government. For them, Nkrumah and Sekou Toure were a formidable combination.
In Ghana, the NLC did not underestimate the challenge. The Ghanaian security men at Villa Syli, and Guinean military and security forces, were constantly alert for any attempt to harm Nkrumah, or to kidnap him. Naval patrols guarded the foreshore, stopping and searching any vessel which aroused their suspicion. On more than one occasion, a fishing boat with Ghanaian crew members was escorted into Conakry harbour for thorough investigation.
On 29 November 1966, the Daily Graphic, a Ghana newspaper, printed on its front page the headline “Nkrumah And Three Others Wanted For Murder” 26. A reward of £10,000 was advertised for their return to Ghana “dead or alive”. In a letter to me dated 4 December 1966, Nkrumah wrote: “What fools they are… they are at their wits’ end and in such a panic.”
In November 1966 the NLC had detained in Accra a Guinean delegation en route to an OAU meeting in Addis Ababa, during what was intended to have been a brief stop-over. The Dutch KLM aircraft had been scheduled to land in Abidjan, but had been diverted to Accra “because of bad weather”.
The NLC in detaining the Guinean delegation declared that they were being held because Ghanaians of Nkrumah’s entourage were being kept in Guinea against their will. After much diplomatic wrangling, the OAU was asked to send a mission to Conakry to discover whether in fact the Ghanaians were being forced to stay in Guinea. The OAU mission was greeted at Conakry’s Gbessia airport by demonstrating Ghanaians carrying placards expressing their loyalty to Nkrumah. During the visit, each member of the entourage was interviewed separately and the OAU delegation left Guinea to report that there was no truth in the NLC allegation. The NLC then released the Guineans held in Accra. They returned to Conakry to a heroes’ welcome. Meanwhile, Sekou Toure had refused to attend the OAU meeting, and had openly accused the USA of masterminding the kidnapping of his delegation.
The US ambassador in Guinea was put under house arrest, as were other Americans living in Guinea. They were only released after the NLC freed the Guinean delegation. All members of the Peace Corps were ordered to leave Guinea. As a result of Sekou Toure’s anti-American actions, Pan Am removed Conakry from their flight schedules.
It was shortly after these events that I travelled to Conakry for the third time in 1966. I took with me advance copies of Challenge of the Congo. But the main purpose of my visit was the two books which Nkrumah was working on at that time,Dark Days in Ghana and the Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare. Notes for the Handbook which had been prepared before the coup, had been left behind in Ghana when Nkrumah departed for Hanoi. They were among documents which he said were handed over by the NLC to Western intelligence organizations. In Conakry, Nkrumah set to work on a new manual for African freedom fighters, and it was this new Handbook which was published by Panaf Books in 1968.
Notes 1. Dark Days in Ghana, Panaf Books, London, 1968, p. 10. 2. Conakry File 26. 3. Involvement of the CIA in the 24 February 1966 coup in Ghana is now generally accepted. See In Search of Enemies by John Stockwell (New York 1978) in which this former CIA officer discloses (p .201, note) that the CIA station in Accra “was given a generous budget, and maintained intimate contact with the plotters as a coup was hatched. So close was the station’s involvement that it was able to coordinate the recovery of some classified Soviet military equipment by the United States as the coup took place.” Stockwell continues: “inside CIA headquarters the Accra station was given full, if unofficial, credit for the eventual coup.” After the coup the CIA station chief in Accra, Howard T. Bane, was promoted to a senior position in the Agency, (New York Times, 9 May 1978). See also pp. 223-225 The CIA: A Forgotten History by William Blum (Zed Books, 1986), Chapter 32, Ghana 1966: Kwame Nkrumah Steps out of Line. 4. This sentence was handwritten after the message had been typed, indicating the strict security measures adopted in Peking, and the need to protect himself from further betrayal by keeping his plans secret. ( Conakry File 43) 5. Dark Days in Ghana, op. cit., p. I I. 6. Nkrumah’s son Gamal Gorkeh Nkrumah, then aged seven, remembers every detail of that traumatic day. Before the fighting at Flagstaff House began, he had been woken early by the roaring of unfed lions in the zoo a short distance from the house. Soon, the whole family was awake. Gunfire from the direction of the airport was heard, and then the broadcast of the coup leader, Colonel E.T. Kotoka announcing the coup. Fathia at once phoned the Egyptian Embassy telling them to contact Nasser to ask him to send an aircraft at once to Accra to rescue them. Her call was just in time. Minutes later, the telephone was cut off. The family took refuge in the Egyptian Embassy until the afternoon when the aircraft sent by Nasser arrived. On the drive to Accra airport their car was stopped by tanks and troops at an army road block. Fathia and her three young children were ordered out of the car at gunpoint. Fathia showed no fear, declaring her anger at the treatment of her husband who had done so much for them and for Ghana. Clearly taken by surprise at being confronted with Nkrumah’s family, the officer in charge was at a loss to know what action to take. With loaded guns still pointed at them, Fathia and the children waited at the roadside while the officer radioed for instructions. Eventually, the family was allowed to continue to the airport, and finally make their escape to Cairo. The family remained in Cairo and were never to see Nkrumah again though they kept in touch using diplomatic channels. 7. Dark Days in Ghana, op. cit., p. 15. 8. Convention People’s Party, led by Kwame Nkrumah. 9. Private Secretary (Female) Gold Coast, Christopher Hurst, London. 1984, p. 219. 10. Dedicated “To the African Guerrilla,” this book was published by Panaf Books m 1968. 11. His account in an Accra bank, into which his salary as president had been paid, had been frozen by the NLC. 12. An Akan name meaning “victorious leader”. The title was conferred on him by the CPP in recognition of his winning of independence for Ghana. 13. The name by which Nkrumah was known during his student days in the USA. and which some of his Afro-American friends continued to use. 14. Conakry File 6. 15. One of the most outstanding of the Afro-American civil rights leaders at the beginning of the 20th century. Went to live in Ghana at Kwame’s invitation in 1961. Elected a Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts in 1961, and awarded a doctorate in Literature by the same university in 1963. Died in Accra on 29 August 1963 where he had become a Ghanaian citizen. 16. A CPP support organization set up in London after the coup. 17. A journalist and editor who had worked in Ghana at the Guinea Press. From 1964 to 1971 he was Editor of the magazine Africa and the World. 18. Marshment and R. D. Randall had both worked in Ghana at the Guinea Press, the former as general manager, the latter as accountant and auditor. Nkrumah often referred to Marshment by the pseudonym “Max”. 19. Nkrumah had no private means to draw upon, apart from modest funds in his royalty account at the Bank of Scotland in London, which his publishers, Thomas Nelson and Sons, opened for him after the coup. 20. It had become necessary to form a company to publish the books Nkrumah wrote in Conakry, and to keep the ones he had written before the coup in print, because neither of his previous publishers, Thomas Nelson and Sons and Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., were prepared to publish them after the fall of his government. The only exceptions were two books published by Nelson in 1967 which were contracted before the coup. These were Challenge of the Congo and Axioms. PanafBooks Ltd. was active until 1987. In that year the Nkrumah copyright was leased to Zed Press Ltd., who took over the responsibility of keeping all the books written by Nkrumah in print. 21. Panaf Great Lives Series. Panaf Books. London. 1974. pp. 221-2. 22. In Guinea Bissau, where the PAIGC was engaged in a liberation war to end Portuguese colonial rule. 23. A radical newspaper published in Ghana during the period of the CPP government. 24. My son, then aged 21. 25. Throughout the years Nkrumah spent in Conakry he always wore white. 26. The others were Ambrose Yankey Sr., M. A. Mensah and Boye Moses.
Dianne White Oyler’s article on the N’ko Alphabet includes my contextual annotations and corrections. The paper appeared in 2001, four years before the same author’s book named The History of the N’ko Alphabet and Its Role in Mande Transnational Identity. Words as Weapons. I focus here on the article below, which Dianne wrote based on her fieldwork in Conakry and Kankan, back in 1994. As the saying goes one is entitled to one’s opinion but not to one’s facts, lest they are the “alternative facts” per Ms. Kellyanne Conway now infamous TV statement. In this case, it is normal and routine to study and even support cultural activism and language revival efforts around the world. However, does such an activity and commitment permit to publish fabricated facts or falsifications of the historical record? I don’t think so. Dianne correctly points out that “Sékou Touré’s archival documents, including personal papers and correspondence, were either destroyed or hidden after his death. Consequently, there are no currently existing archives of the First Republic and the papers that are hidden are inaccessible.” However, it is counterproductive to try to fill in that void with superficial documents and inaccurate information. Such a shortcut circumvents academic deontology. Worse, it ends up hurting the cause championed, here the N’ko Alphabet. And it lowers considerably the quality and the value of the output. That explains —but does not justify— why Dianne’s article “A cultural revolution in Africa: literacy in the Republic of Guinea since independence” is replete with errors and exaggerations. Again, I react contextually below on those shortcomings. That said, and for the record, my track record in the Guinea national language debate dates back to the mid-1970s. I was then a young faculty in the Linguistics and African Languages department of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. I also headed the Pular section of the Academy of National Languages, in close collaboration with a competent and elder deputy in the person of the late Mamadou Gangue (a survivor of the “Teachers Plot”). The work environment was quite collegial, and I was great professional rapport with the head of the Sosokui section, the late Kanfory Bangoura. In 1975 I wrote a lengthy descriptive and analytical paper titled “La politique linguistique du Parti démocratique de Guinée,” in Miriya, Revue des Sciences économiques et sociales, of which I was co-publisher with Bailo Teliwel Diallo. My article generated positive verbal comments from my colleagues, Yolande Joseph-Nöelle, for example, and from her husband, Senainon Béhanzin, the de facto intellectual guru of Sékou Touré During the 2010 presidential election campaign, relying heavily on the Maninka electorate of Haute-Guinée, the RPG candidate, Alpha Condé, vowed his support for the ongoing N’ko campaign. He subsequently “won” the second round. But his regime did little to translate the promises into funded programs. Having managed to gain a second term in 2015, Mr. Condé does not give cultural activities the priority they deserve. His former deputy, the late Ahmed Tidiane Cissé, lamented the lack of governmental support for his ministry of culture.… In sum, N’ko has not fared well under any of the three Maninka presidents of Guinea: Sékou Touré, Sékouba Konaté and Alpha Condé. Ditto for the heritage of each of the other 15 ethnic cultures of the country. See also my article “The cultural policy of the PDG.” and “Are Fulɓe Disappearing? And Is Adlam Their Savior?” Overall, I was an active participant-observer of cultural life under the dictatorship of Sékou Touré. For instance, I was a prominent member of the National Film Censorship Commission (1971-1981). We screened, discussed, authorized or rejected movies imported for distribution around the country. Given the nature of the police-state the pro-bono function was not risk-free. Thus, in August 1978 Sékou Touré admonished the sub-commission I led was on the air waves of the Voice of the Revolution. For what reason ? We had signed our names for the approval of the film Midnight Cowboy. Unfortunately, the regime’s secrete police filed a report slamming the content of the R-rated movie. Subsequently, when I visited him with the late Zainoul A. Sanoussi, President Sékou Touré somewhat downplayed privately his public communiqué blaming us by name on the radio. It was a meager consolation for us, and particularly for our families and friends. They had been alarmed by the fact that Sékou Touré and the Bureau politique national of the PDG decided to disavow our official action so openly. They did not even watch themselves the incriminated movie, in the first place ! Although a screening session was held after the facts, in presence of Mamadi Keita, member of the Politbureau, and Senainon Behanzin, memer of the Central committee. The two officials acknowledged that despite its implicit sexual content, the film had artistic and substantive quality.… After all, it won the Motion Picture Academy Best Picture award for 1969. Another record worth mentioning, from 1975 to 1977, I was, first co-host then sole host, of a radio show called “Voyage à travers la Guinée”. Still teaching at the University, I decide to explore radio-broadcasting. My mentor was veteran journalist Odilon Théa. We featured a different region each week, presenting its history, culture, economy, touristic potential, etc. And we had fun preparing and airing the weekly (every Tuesday) program. For nearby Dubréka, I recall that we rented a cab and visited the town to collect information from residents. Later on, Marcelin Bangoura joined us. And, feeling confident in my performance, Odilon graciously bowed out and let me do the show alone. There too, an incident reminded of the peril involved in living and working under Sékou Touré. Having scheduled the town of Boffa (northwestern coast) I produced the show by going to the archives. There I dug out files about Nyara Gbèli, a mulatto female slave-trader. I aired selections of her biography and historical record. It turned out that Sékou Touré and all members of the Politbureau were tuned in. At the end the show, some were not please to hear about the slavery piece of the show. They suggested that I be summoned for explanations. Luckily, Sékou Touré agreed with those who opposed the idea, arguing that it would not be a boost to my confidence in exploring the country’s past. How did I know what happened in the higher echelon of the government? Well, Léon Maka, National Assembly president attended the meeting. His daughter, Madeleine, was a colleague and a good friend of mine at Voix de la Révolution. He told her about the discussion they had had. And she, in turn, shared with me, saying: “Tierno, careful! Last you were nearly dragged before Sékou Touré and the Bureau politique!”
Tierno S. Bah
Dianne White Oyler A cultural revolution in Africa: literacy in the Republic of Guinea since independence The International Journal of African History. Vol. 34, No. 3 (2001), pp. 585-600
At independence most African nations attempted a process of decolonization in the three spheres of European imperialism: political, economic, and cultural. While progress in the political and economic arenas is apparent decolonization of the cultural area is much harder to define because European cultural impositions had usurped the areas of language, socialization through education, and technology from simple writing to electronic media. However, the approach of the Republic of Guinea to cultural decolonization can be analyzed in light of the more formal “Cultural Revolution” launched by its independence leader Sékou Touré in 1958 as a policy of the First Republic.
Erratum. — That program’s official name and acronym were “La révolution culturelle socialiste” and RCS, respectively. And it was not launched in 1958. To the contrary, it was declared ten years later at the improvised Conseil national de la révolution held in Kankan in 1968. — T.S. Bah
Touré’s objective was to validate the indigenous cultures that had been denigrated by the Europeans while at the same time creating a Guinean national consciousness 1. In other words, Touré launched a countrywide campaign to recapture indigenous culture by formally focusing on language and education. His specific intent was to validate indigenous culture by using maternal language education to achieve better control of European science and technology. This action, he believed, would lead Guinea into creating global economic partnerships within the modem world’s economy.
An unanticipated consequence of Touré’s campaign, however, was the cultural awakening of the Maninka speakers who consider themselves to be the direct descendants of the ancient empire of Mali. Although dispersed through the countries of West Africa (including Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Burkina Faso, Benin, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria), the Maninka speakers constitute roughly 40 percent of Guinea’s population. Many of them live in the region of Haute-Guinée, which makes up about two-fifths of Guinea’s territory.
Errata. — (1) Ms. Oyler shows here the first sign of her sole reliance on verbal informants at the exclusion of available written sources. Thus it is plain wrong for her and her informers to state that Sékou Touré did not anticipate a “Maninka cultural awakening.” Actually, he was an hands-on president who exhausted himself micro-managing every aspect of social and, indeed, family and personal life. Accordingly, it’s just valid to speak of a social movement like the N’ko, that he would not have predicted, and more or less tolerated. (2) In percentage the Maninka demography comes second to the Fulɓe (Peul, Fula, Fulani) in Guinea. The former stands at approximately 35% of the population while the Fulɓe actually hold 40%. Given their respective size, the two groups weigh heavily in the political sphere. — T.S. Bah
The Maninka cultural revolution that began within Touré’s larger “Cultural Revolultion” continues today in the Second Republic of Lansana Conté, which began in 1984. The cultural revival of the Maninka language, its oral literature, and its connection to the heroic/historic past has been juxtaposed to any official policy of creating a Guinean national consciousness since 1958.
Note. —Guinea’s quest for “national consciousness” in the wake of the independence declaration stemmed from the heritage of all 16 ethnic communities, not that of the Maninka alone, especially in the first decade of the republic. Take for instance, the various musical traditions — either from sizable groups, like the Kisi of Forest Guinea with the Kebendo danse and song (see my review of Sia Tolno’s My Life album, or fom minorities, such the Koniagui (Unyëy) of Koundara with the rhythm Sampacthe. Everyone contributed and enjoyed the celebration of the birth of the new nation. Alas, the euphoria lasted no more than two years! — T.S. Bah
This article specifically addresses Guinea’s internal revolt against European cultural imperialism as evidenced in the issues of language and literacy that have dominated the political landscape in post-1958 Guinea 2.
Note. — This passage reads like a militant statement. But it lacks a specific to lend it credence. Where, when, how, and who staged the so-called revolt? How was it actually expressed? — T.S. Bah
It further addresses the concept of maternal language learning that became central to decolonization, and particularly the policy Sékou Touré developed and implemented with the support of UNESCO—the National Language Program (1968-1984) 3.
Erratum. — Beginning in the late 1960 UNESCO assisted the cultural policy of the Sékou Touré regime. However, the first illiteracy campaign was supported by the government of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, in 1964-66. — T.S. Bah
More importantly, however, the article documents one result of Touré’s program that has acquired a life of its own outside government control, a grassroots literacy movement that centers on an alphabet called N’ko. The dissemination of N’ko shows the growth of a literacy movement that is currently spreading across international boundaries throughout West Africa. A salient aspect of the issue of language and literacy was the involvement of Souleymane Kanté (1922-1987), a Maninka-speaking “vernacular intellectual” who invented the N’ko alphabet in 1949. Souleymane Kanté was born in Soumankoyin-Kölönin about thirteen kilometers from Kankan. He was the son of the famous Quranic school teacher Amara Kanté. When Souleymane had finished his Quranic school education, he could read and write Arabic and translate Islamic texts. After his father’s death in 1941, Kanté left Guinea for Côte d’ Ivoire to make his fortune as an entrepreneur in a more cosmopolitan urban setting. Becoming an autodidact there, he read extensively, learned other languages, and became renowned as a scholar.
Guinea and Decolonization
Under Sékou Touré’s leadership, the Republic of Guinea ended political imperialism in 1958 when 95 percent of the voters cast a “No” vote in a referendum addressing the country’s wish to join the “French Community.” Thus began a real struggle for autonomy in the political, economic, and cultural spheres of national life. At that time the reality of political independence meant indigenous leadership; in Guinea’s case, it also meant an inexperienced leadership. Sékou Touré’s experience offers a salient example of the under-preparation of emerging African leaders.
Note. — There is no such thing leadership preparation for independence. Colonialism meant hegemony, domination, exploitation, racisme, alienation. The colonizer did not —and would never— intend to genuinely associate the colonized in power-sharing. Read Albert Memmi’s Portrait du Colonisateur. — T.S. Bah
Possessing an eighth grade, French-style colonial education, plus a bit of training supplied by French communist trade unionists, and the experience of ten years in governmental service, Touré deliberately created an eclectic form of government that drew upon the strengths of his equally eclectic education. In the Cold War period Touré chose the political path of African Socialism and the diplomatic path of nonalignment. The type of government he called “positive neutralism” allowed him to open Guinea to all manner of foreign investment without committing himself to any specific ideology 4. Inherent in the political independence of Guinea, however, was the problem of a revenue shortfall; France had withdrawn both its economic aid to Guinea and also its trade partnership. At the same time, Guinea lost its trade connections with many of France’s trading partners, especially among France’s NATO allies. Guinea’s sister colonies within French West Africa (AOF) continued to trade with her unofficially, however. As a Third World country producing raw materials to supply the First World industrial complex, Guinea produced many of the same products as other Third World nations that were constantly being encouraged to increase production. One result was a decrease in Guinea’s share of the world market, forcing the new nation to find alternative markets. With its doors closed to Western capitalist markets, Guinea became a trading partner with the Eastern bloc nations. Trade with Second World nations, however, exacerbated Guinea’s economic shortfall, as these nations were unable to purchase Guinea’s raw materials with foreign exchange, substituting instead manufactured goods. They then sold Guinea’s raw materials on the world market, thus gaining foreign exchange that improved their own economies to the detriment of Guinea’s. Although Guinea received Second World technology, she never did receive the support system that would have allowed her to maintain and expand upon that technology.
Today Guinea is one of the poorest nations in West Africa.
In the cultural sphere of Guinea’s national life, Sékou Touré opted to keep the French language; all documents would be written in French in the Roman alphabet, Guinea’s official language. It seems that Touré chose the colonial language with an eye to national unity in order to avoid the conflicts that would arise over choosing one of the twenty ethnic languages as the country’s official language. French also served Guinea in the international marketplace where buyers and sellers were not likely to learn an African language. Guinea also continued to use the French system of education. However, university training for Guineans was now sought in First and Second World countries. Students received scholarships in the United States as well as a “free” education in the Soviet Union.
Although Touré had earlier implied that Guinea would be an Islamic state after independence, he imposed religious toleration instead in a country of Muslims, Christians, and African traditional religions; this eclecticism became one method of promoting national unity.
Note. — Since the above assertion provides no reference to written sources, or to verifiable quotes, it appears pretty much groundless. — T.S. Bah
Nevertheless, in the years following Guinea’s political independence, a large segment of Guinea’s Maninka-speaking population has tried to return the cultural initiative to African hands by utilizing an indigenous alphabet created by an indigenous scholar and cultural leader named Souleymane Kanté. While Sékou Touré, a Maninka-speaker himself, had encouraged Kanté in this initiative, he preferred not to allow the use of the writing system known as N’ko as a national language/writing system. Ultimately, though, Kanté’s research and promotion of learning in the maternal languages may have directly influenced Touré, who had addressed the issues of indigenous languages/writing systems as a way to reclaim African culture by implementing a National Language Program (1968-1984).
Notes. — (1) The above paragraph is too general and vague. How does the expression “large segment” translate numerically, statistically? (2) It is hypothetical to write Souleymane Kanté “may have directly influenced” Sékou Touré’s language policy. Adverse, one can argue, the former did not inspire the latter. In the absence of any evidence from the author, I am enclined to think that Guinea’s adventurous linguistic initiatives had little to do with the efforts of Souleymane Kanté. — T.S. Bah
The N’ko Alphabet
According to informants, Souleymane Kanté created the N’ko alphabet both in response a media-based challenge 6 that Africans have no culture because they have no indigenous system of writing, and because of his growing realization that foreign writing systems could not fully express the meaning of such tonal languages as Maninka, his maternal language. Kanté responded to the allegation that “Africans have no culture” by creating an alphabet that would transcribe the twenty languages of the Mande language group as well as other tonal languages. Thus, in his role as a “vernacular intellectual,” 7 Kanté campaigned against ignorance and illiteracy by providing a writing system that would allow his countrymen to acquire knowledge without having to depend upon outside interpretation. According to informants, he expressed the idea that Africans needed to learn their own maternal languages first, because learning in a second or third language often obfuscated the cultural meaning of the text 8. The potential for indigenous literacy would enable illiterates to read and write, even though they had been excluded from the colonial education system. Kanté devoted four years (1945-1949) to research and application, trying to write the Maninka language first in Arabic script and then in the Roman alphabet. In both cases he found that foreign alphabets could not transcribe all the tones produced by the spoken Mande languages. While still living in Cote d’Ivoire, he thus embarked on an entirely new project—the creation of a writing system that would reflect the specific characteristics of Mande languages, especially their tonality. The result was the N’ko alphabet. Having developed the alphabet, he called together children and illiterates and asked them to draw a line in the dirt; he noticed that seven out of ten drew the line from right to left 9. For that reason, he chose a right-to-left orientation. In all Mande languages the pronoun n- means “I” and the verb ko represents the verb “to say.” By choosing the name N’ko, “I say” in all Mande languages, Kanté had united speakers of Mande languages with just one phrase.
Furthermore, all Mande speakers share the heroic past recounted in the tale of Sundiata, an epic of Mande history—reflecting the cultural dominance of men of valor who say “N’ko,” the clear language of Mali (Niane, 1989:87) 10. After Souleymane Kanté had perfected his alphabet, informants recall his becoming absorbed in creating reading materials in the N’ko script. Kanté’s lifelong passion then became the production of N’ko texts to highlight knowledge that should be written in the maternal language. Kanté worked assiduously after returningt o his native Guineai n 1958. He translated and transcribed Islamic texts and also works of history, sociology, linguistics, literature, philosophy, science, and technology. Then he wrote textbooks for teaching the N’ko alphabet, and, like Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster before him, he created a dictionary for the written form of the Maninka language. There are no dates for the translations of any of the above mentioned texts. Other than the fact that religious works were translated and transcribed first, informants are not aware of the order in which other texts were renderedi n N’ko. After hand-writing these texts, an arduous task in itself, Kanté would then create copies to give as gifts to teachers, thus encouraging N’ko literacy within the Mande community. Teachers then made these texts available to students, who in turn reproduced additional books by copying them. Consequently, Kanté directly touched the lives of many of those who became literate in N’ko, and he was the prime mover of a type of cultural nationalism that gave people the pride of sharing a language that could stand in words and script alongside any other.
Guinea’s Cultural Revolution
When Sékou Touré called upon all Guineans to return home to help build the new nation after Guinea achieved independence in 1958, Kanté returned from Côte d’Ivoire to a new social order 11.
From the 1940’s through the 1960’s, Guinea was in the process of reinventing itself politically and culturally at the local, regional, and national levels 12.
In the midst of this cultural upheaval, nationalist leaders professed a desire to shed colonial trappings and to tap into their heroic/historic African past. Since the ethnic groups within Guinea’s national borders had never before been joined together, a nationalist rhetoric was developed that sent mixed messages about loyalty to the past. Harking back to the grandeur of an African heritage, however, also tempted each group to focus their allegiance internally rather than to a greater Guinean nationalism. At the national level, the Partie Democratique Guineen (PDG) agitated for a Guinean “national consciousness,” 13 while local ethnic groups continued the cultural re-identification process that had begun in the mid-1940s 14.
The Maninka speakers of Haute-Guinée, for example, had established the Union Manden in 1946 as a voluntary mutual aid association organized around a linguistic, ethnic, and regional base 15. That action kindled interest in the glorious Mande past.
This mutual aid association had been founded by such Maninka speaking political activists as Sékou Touré and Framoi Bérété. The association had also served as a regional political party with the ability to launch candidates in national elections, something the Maninka speakers had been unable to do in the 1945 elections.
Despite the desire of the Union Manden to give national expression to Mande discontent, it never developed beyond its regional, cultural base 16.
The conflict between Guinean nationalism and regional, ethnic/cultural nationalism continued to manifest itself throughout the First Republic, particularly in the implementation of the National Language Program (1968-1984).
The Role of Literacy in Cultural Revolution
Souleymane Kanté introduced Sékou Touré to the idea of maternal language literacy and education in 1958 17. Although Sékou Touré had praised the Mande styled alphabet, he rejected the idea of its becoming the national alphabet of Guinea 18 because he believed it could not improve written communication among Guinea’s ethnic groups, and he knew that it would also obstruct communication with the outside world 19.
Nevertheless, Touré rewarded Kanté’s scholarly achievement by honoring him with a 200,000 CFA gift from the Guinean peoplefor indigenous excellence 20. But he still refused to support or promote the alphabet unless Kanté could prove that more than half the population of Haute-Guinée used the technology 21. Touré further requested that Kanté and his family return to his home country 22.
Answering the call, Kanté went to the area of Treicheville in Abidjan, where he was met by a military truck sent overland by Touré to collect the Kanté family 23.
The Kanté family moved to Kankan where Souleymane Kanté then became a merchant who taught N’ko on the side 24. Interestingly, however, the alphabet preceded Kanté’s arrival in Kankan; many of the initial students of N’ko had been merchants who had carried the new alphabet with them along trade routes throughout Mande-speaking West Africa 25. Informant family members reminisced that Souleymane had visited them in Guinea, and that they had visited him in Côte d’Ivoire. He had taught them the alphabet, and they in turn had taught their neighbors.
Although Sékou Touré had rejected Kanté’s Mande-styled alphabet as the national alphabet, he did eventually accept the concept of maternal language education 26.
Touré is reported to have introduced Kanté to his national education minister, Barry Diawadou, and to his minister of national defense, Fodéba Keita 27.
Touré excluded Kanté from policy making sessions, however, as he worked together with his minister of ideology and information, Senainon Béhanzin, to produce the model for a maternal language program that would accommodate Guinea’s multilingual society 28. Touré’s final proposal was then submitted to the rank and file of the PDG membership at the cell level within villages and urban districts 29.
One informant from Haute-Guinée had participated as a member of the party cell at the village level voting on the proposal for teaching in the maternal language. A teacher who had also been involved in standardization the Maninka language in the Roman alphabet, this informant explained that in 1958 Guinea was struggling to regain its political, economic, and cultural independence. The country chose to free itself culturally through a National Language Program: Congress established a National Education Commission to formulate government policy, and teachers were called upon to contribute to the effort in two ways-to standardize their specific, spoken language in the Roman alphabet and to translate into the national languages modem scientific knowledge that had been written in French. Finally, the government intended to use its publishing house, Imprimerie Patrice Lumumba, to print textbooks for the project 30.
Informants who had participated in implementing these educational reforms reminisced about the rationale behind the new policy. Literacy acquisition in French had been discarded as too complicated a procedure, as students would have had to learn both a new alphabet and a new language. The process would be simplified if people first learned a new alphabet to which they could apply the familiarm aternall anguage 31. The government established two autonomous agencies to deal with the National Language Program, the Institut de Recherche Linguistique Appliquée (IRLA) and the Service National de l’Alphabétisation (SNA) 32. Eight of the twenty different languages spoken in Guinea were selected on the basis of the numbers of people using them as a primary or secondary language:
Maninka, Susu, Pular, Kissi, Guerzé (Kpelle), Tome (Loma), Oneyan, and Wamey.
Each either was or would become a lingua franca in its region or sub-region. Although Mande languages were widely used in all four regions, the Maninka form was selected to be the dominant language to be taught only in Haute-Guinée. According to the National Language Program, an illiterate adult Mande-speaking family in Kankan would be taught the Maninka language written in the Roman alphabet; adults would be taught at work while children would be taught at school. Likewise, a Pular-speaking family living in Kankan would have the same experience; even though they were non-Mande speakers, the language of instruction would be Maninka 33. Financial constraints delayed the immediate implementation of the National Language Program 34. The regional education directors for Haute-Guinée believed that the infrastructure did not exist for a massive assault on illiteracy; despite the government’s commitment to provide free public primary education, it had failed to anticipate the additional funds necessary to generate materials written in the newly formulated and standardized national languages 35. Teachers themselves had to finance the standardization of the national languages by giving their time to the endeavor. In 1965 Touré applied for and received UNESCO funding for a maternal language education program called “Langue Nationale,” which the government implemented in 1967 36. UNESCO sent experts to assist the Guinean government in standardizing local languages in the Roman alphabet 37. Although the preparation for the National Language Program had begun in 1959, the actual campaign for adults did not begin in 1967, and in 1968 the campaign entered the schools. Both programs were associated with Sdkou Touré’s larger social program, “La Révolution Culturelle Socialiste.” 38 The reforms implemented in 1968 consisted of two coexisting educational tracks—one for schools and one for adults and school leavers. From 1968 to 1984 students in the public elementary schools were taught all subjects in the maternal language 39. During the First Cycle, in grades one through three, the language of instruction was the maternal language 40. At grade four, they were introduced to an academic course in French, which they continued each year through grade six. Academic subjects were still taught in the maternal language. In the Second Cycle, affecting the lower secondary grades seven through nine, students continued the program with an academic course in French and with the maternal language as the language of instruction. To advance to the upper secondary level, students had to pass an exam, the Brevet Elémentaire du Second Cycle Technique. During the Third Cycle, students experienced a change in the language of instruction, and the language of instruction at the lycée gradually became French 41. To be admitted to the university level—the Fourth Cycle—students had to pass the exam for the Baccalauréat Unique.
In 1973 the Ministry of Education added a thirteenth grade that bridged the third and fourth cycles, and exams were administered at the end of the thirteenth level 42. The second track consisted of adults and school leavers who were given the opportunity to acquire literacy (alphabétisation) by attending literacy programs in the maternal language before or after work either at their places of employment or at schools after the normal school day 43.
In preparation for the 1968 implementation of the National Language Program, each ethnic group was charged with standardizing the spoken language into a written form in the Roman alphabet. Educators in Kankan, the capital of Mande-speaking Haute-Guinée, looked for people who possessed a rich vocabulary and who were generally well informed who could participate in translating the diverse curricula into the maternal language.
It was then that the committee invited Souleymane Kanté to participate in the standardization process 44. They considered him an expert because while inventing the N’ko alphabet he had spent years trying to find the best way to write the Mande languages in the Roman alphabet. Kanté agreed to participate unofficially in the project.
Souleymane Kanté’s Indigenous Approach to Literacy
Although Souleymane Kanté assisted the government with the standardization of his maternal language, Maninka, he did not abandon his own literacy program. Kanté disapproved of Touré’s National Language Program because it depended upon a foreign alphabet and on foreign constructions. In fact, he held that if there were to be a cultural revolution that drew upon the African past, then African cultural forms should be its foundation. Kanté’s goal was to control Mande and modern knowledge through the use of a Mande language and literacy program. He thus offered an indigenous alternative to the official National Language Program. The two literacy initiatives, he believed, were not mutually exclusive. Touré’s state-funded literacy campaign dominated the formal education scene, drawing upon the existing infrastructure, its curricula and its personnel. Kanté is remembered as having taught N’ko in the marketplace. He had taught the members of his own extended family and had recommended that others do the same 45. The “each one teach one” policy was actually a recommendation for each person to teach at least seven others. Informants recalled that Kanté attracted many followers by demonstrating N’ko at social functions, such as funerals, where he opened his Qur’an written in N’ko and read the Word of God 46. Kanté suggested that everyone should learn N’ko and that those who refused would later regret their error. Kanté’s literacy movement slowly gained support as it operated on the fringes in an informal educational environment that paralleled Touré’s state system. Kanté’s movement possessed no infrastructure, enjoyed no financial assistance, had no texts except the ones students copied for themselves. The engine that powered the movement was a person’s desire to repossess Mande culture by controlling knowledge through Mande language and literacy. Teachers were the key to this grassroots movement. Some teachers were drawn from the existing state-funded pool of personnel. Others were businessmen and workers who taught N’ko at their businesses or in their homes. Most in the N’ko teaching force contributed their time without remuneration. In some cases the students’ families gave gifts to their teachers at the end of the service in order to help support the teacher or the school. The process of learning N’ko took about four months. Each N’ko teacher could teach three groups per year. In the beginning, students were mostly adults, who later saw to it that their children were also educated in N’ko. Armed with a blackboard, a tripod, and a piece of chalk, the N’ko teachers employed a methodology similar to that of Quranic school—memorization, imitation, and utilization. Students would congregate at the compound of a teacher where they would copy the alphabet on slate or paper and then would use oral recitation as a tool for memorization and reinforcement. The teacher conducted the class, but students, regardless of age, had the responsibility for leading the recitations. Students who were quick and adept were recruited as assistants and eventually became teachers themselves. Students copied the texts that Kanté had translated and transcribed to produce personal or family copies. Those who became N’ko literate were well equipped to read the literature Kanté had generated, were able to communicate with others literate in N’ko, and could keep records and accounts for their businesses. Some students undertook the task of recording the oral histories of older members of their families to preserve in writing first-hand knowledge 47.
The Contest: Sékou Touré vs. Souleymane Kanté
An informal competition over the recasting of Mande culture developed as Sékou Touré and Souleymane Kanté seemed to wrestle with each other for the number of Mande speakers in Haute-Guinée who acquired literacy in the maternal language.
Maternal language literacy was the goal, but the choice of alphabet seemed to become a personal issue. Touré appeared to have the advantage because his program was heir to the already existing state program. His selection of the Roman alphabet was prudent because the alphabet was already used throughout much of the world, and local typesetting existed and was in place. While a few maternal language textbooks were published, the translation and publication of other works in the maternal languages never materialized 48. Kanté worked at a disadvantage. From the standpoint of infrastructure and funding, he lacked resources, and N’ko required an innovation in typesetting that was not locally available. Yet he continued to produce handwritten translated texts in the N’ko alphabet. These translations systematically spread throughoutt he Mande-speaking community as students hand copied them so as to have their personal copies for reading and teaching.
The two Mande-speaking competitors had developed opposing teaching methodologies. Sékou Touré imposed the Roman alphabet upon children and adults through the state-supported literacy program. The concept of a National Language Program had been supported by the PDG rank and file. But some educators observed that the program had a negative effect on learning French as an international language of diplomacy and economics 49. Because the educational system was universal only at the elementary level, students who failed the exams at the end of the Second Cycle never had the opportunity to continue French language instruction. In addition, adults who were acquiring literacy through the program never had the opportunity to learn French because they were limited to the maternal language. The goal was national literacy, and children and adults were becoming literate in the maternal language, limiting them to regional participation. By using the educational process in this manner, the government had effectively restricted the numbers of participants in the national arena, and, by so doing, restricted access to full knowledge of the French language itself. On the other hand, Souleymane Kanté had attracted students by focusing upon Mande culture. Adults and children learned the alphabet voluntarily because it was culturally important to them. Having learned the alphabet, students used it for correspondence and business, and they amassed handwritten translations of religious, historical, and modem scientific texts. The significance of N’ko literacy led to a personal understanding of a wide variety of knowledge. Learning N’ko became a form of self-improvement because it was not promoted as the acquisition of knowledge for advancement in the political or economic structure of the nation. Touré had clung to a limited vision—that of the European—conceived nation-state that while striving for a Guinean national consciousness could not leave the designated borders of the Guinean nation. Kanté’s arena had been regional; he created a Mande consciousness that eventually drew together Guinea’s resident Mande speakers of Haute-Guinée and Guinée Forestière, and, more importantly, ultimately connected all the Mande speakers in West Africa. Although Touré’s motives cannot be wholly known 50, in formants have characterized his relationship to Kanté based on conversations with either or both men and through the events the informants themselves witnessed.
It appears that in the 1960s Touré had hoped to isolate Kanté from his work by coopting him into the National Language Program. Kanté would not abandon his own work, however, and continued teaching the N’ko alphabet and translating texts into N’ko. Informants relate that Kanté wrote out texts by hand and used a Renault duplication machine capable of producing books of ten to twenty pages. In 1971 when the machine broke down, he journeyed to Conakry to ask the government for financial assistance in establishing a larger-scale print shop capable of duplicating works such as the N’ko version of the Qur’an 51.
In Conakry, Al-Hajj Kabiné Diané helped Kanté as much as he could by printing small runs at this Arabic printing press 52. Touré did nominate Kanté to the Conseil Islamique National (charged with defending Islam and its principles in Guinea) 53, but Kanté declined the appointment, saying that the committee meetings would interfere with the time he needed to translate texts into N’ko 54. Making his home in Conakry in the early 1970s, Kanté continued to write documents by hand; then he took them to Al-Hajj Kabiné Diané for printing 55. Kanté sold the printed manuscripts for a small sum in order to promote further literacy in N’ko in all segments of the community 56.
His family and friends reported that the relationship between the two men continued to deteriorate until Sékou Touré’s death in 1984. Thus, from the late 1970s through mid-1980’s, Kanté was forced to leave Guinea on several occasions and to reside in neighboring countries under the threat of being arrested or killed by Touré’s government 57.
During this self-imposed exile, Souleymane Kanté continued to translate works into N’ko and to compile a text of Mande healing arts 58.
Sékou Touré’s National Language Program from 1968 to 1984 had produced people who were literate in their spoken maternal language.
Under the leadership of Lansana Conté, the Second Republic implemented a new language program: French became the single national language and the language of literacy. Although maternal language radio programs occurred during the Touré regime, the new government has systematically supported learning in the maternal languages by producing radio and television programs of cultural and news content spoken in only three of Guinea’s maternal languages—Susu, Maninka, and Pular.
After his return home to Guinea in 1985, Souleymane Kanté lived in Conakry teaching his alphabet until his death from diabetes in 1987 59.
Statistics on the number of adults and children who know how to read and write N’ko have not been established.
Under Kanté’s direction, his disciples established the Association pour l’Impulsion et la Coordination des Recherches sur l’Alphabet N’ko (ICRA-N’KO) in 1986. ICRA-N’KO was officially sanctioned by the government in 1991 as a non-governmental organization (NGO) 60. Only since then has the group actively begun to compile statistics based on the current number of students enrolled in N’ko classes. Each teacher turns in a list of students to the local ICRAN’KO association, which records the numbers and sends them on to the Service National d’Alphabétisation to be included in the year’s literacy statistics.
By looking at the numerical fragments, it can be seen that the number of students in N’ko classes had steadily increased from 1989 to 1994; however, it is not possible to say whether or not this was the result of an increase in the number of students or the result of better record-keeping.
A literacy survey of Kankan I conducted in 1994 presents the first literacy statistics for the city 61. Canvassers interviewed each household about the languages spoken and about the alphabets used to transcribe those languages. One would expect a competitive percentage of those who were able to read and write the Maninka language in the Roman alphabet after sixteen years of Touré’s National Language Program.
The results of the survey are enlightening because they show that only 3.1 percent of the 128,000—plus indigenous inhabitants (men, women, and children above the age of five) knew how to read and write in French, while 8.8 percent knew how to read and write N’ko 62.
Other figures show that among the people of Kankan, 8.5 percent could read Arabic and 14.1 percent could read and write French. The “langue nationale” appears to have been discarded, while the N’ko alphabet appears to be blossoming.
Kanté’s N’ko seems to have become more widely accepted in Kankan. Thus the ultimate advantage seems to lie with Kanté’s approach rather than Touré’s.
Since independence the Maninka speakers of Guinea have struggled against what they perceived to be Western cultural imperialism in the area of language and literacy. As a conflict within the nation-state, it reflects the ongoing struggle for autonomy. Being literate in N’ko has become an important part of the current Mande cultural revival because the possession of N’ko signifies the reclaiming of the area’s cultural integrity.
The N’ko alphabet has offered Maninka speakers a renewed capacity to make culturally significant choices, and they seem to have chosen N’ko as an indigenous alternative to the education of language/literacy promoted by the Western-influenced Mande speakers who have controlled government and religion since Touré’s time.
Persons seeking to learn N’ko have steadily created enthusiasm and support for learning the alphabet, which has spread from Mande-speaking Kankan both to other Mande speakers throughout Guinea and also to Mande speakers residing in neighboring states.
* This article is based on the research in Kankan, Republic of Guinea in 1991, 1992-1993, and 1994, with the assistance of a Fulbright Dissertation Research Scholarship for 1992-1993 and a West African Research Association Fellowship for the summer of 1994.
Notes 1. In the same year in the British colony of Nigeria, Chinua Achebe also validated indigenous culture by writing his classic novel, Things Fall Apart (1958). 2. It is difficult to divorce the broader issues of Guinea’s “Cultural Revolution” from ethnic ones, however, particularly the view that during the Touré and Conté periods (1958-1984 and 1984 to the present, respectively), Maninka speakers may have been progressively disfranchised from the nation’s political process. Touré did not empower all Maninka speakers but gave preference to the ones from his own area of Faranah. Conté is a Susu speaker who has systematically alienated the Maninka speakers since taking power in 1984. However, his support of the Maninka based grassroots literacy movement might be an attempt to change this. 3. Sékou Touré’s archival documents, including personal papers and correspondence, were either destroyed or hidden after his death. Consequently, there are no currently existing archives of the First Republic and the papers that are hidden are inaccessible. With regard to the personal relationship between Sékou Touré and Souleymane Kanté, interviews provide some insights. 4. André Lewin, La Guinée: [Que Sais-je?] (Paris, 1984), 67. 5. By 1990 there were approximately 16 million speakers of the 20 languages classified as Mande, radiating out from the Mande heartland across the borders of ten West African countries. The Maninka speakers of Guinea reside in the region of Upper Guinea adjacent to the Mande heartland, which lies just across Guinea’s border with Mali. 6. Informants explained that Kanté accepted a 1944 challenge posed by the Lebanese journalist Kamal Marwa in an Arabic-language publication, Nahnu fi Afrikiya [We Are in Africa]. Marwa argued that Africans were inferior because they possessed no indigenous written form of communication. His statement that “African voices [languages] are like those of the birds, impossible to transcribe” reflected the prevailing views of many colonial Europeans. Although the journalist acknowledged that the Vai had created a syllabary, he discounted its cultural relevancy because he deemed it incomplete. Personal Interviews 08 in Karifamoriah, 46 in Kankan, and 70 in Conakry, 1993. To protect the identity of the informant or informants, interview citations include only the interview number, date, and location. The informants are equally divided between N’ko practitioners and those outside the N’ko community, some of whom have never heard of the alphabet. All interviews took place with the author and research assistant in in Guinea unless otherwise indicated. Interviews were conducted randomly as informants were available, or as travel arrangements could be made I have in my possession the audiotapes in Maninka and the written translations in French. 7. See Steven Feierman’s stimulating use of the term in Peasant Intellectuals: Anthropology and History in Tanzania (Madison, 1990). 8. Group Interview 18, 5 April 1993, Balandou, Guinea. Kanté emphasizes the integration of local knowledge with foreign knowledge by preserving both in the maternal language in a script that he himself creates. For that reason, one should characterize him as a vernacular intellectual. 9. Interviews 62 (14 July 1993) and 70 (18 July 1993), in Conakry, and Interview 09, 11 March 1993, Kankan. Souleymane Kanté’s experiments, reinforced by his acquisition of Arabic literacy as an Islamic scholar, were responsible for the selection of this right to left orientation. It might also have been a political statement rejecting African deculturation by Europeans. 10. Interview 70, 8 July 1993, Conakry. It is evident that this informant associates Kanté with his own ethnic pride in the heroic/historic Mande past as descendants of the ancient kingdom of Mali. 11. Odile Goerg, “La Guinée,” in Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch with Odile Goerg, L’Afrique Occidentale au temps des Français Colonisateurs et Colonisé (c. 1860-1960) (Paris, 1992), 365. 12. R.W. Johnson, “Guinea,” in John Dunn, ed., West Africa States, Failure and Promise A Study in Comparative Politics (Cambridge, 1978), 38. 13. Defined by Victor Du Bois as “a feeling among the citizens of the young republic that their destiny is somehow linked to that of other peoples with whom in the past they have never shared a sense of kinship or identity.” Du Bois, “Guinea,” in James S. Coleman and Carl. Rosberg, Jr.,e ds., Political Parties and National Integration in Tropical Africa (Berkeley, 1964), 199. 14. Ibid., 186. 15. Ruth Schachter Morgenthau, Political Parties in French-speaking West Africa (Oxford, 1964), 224. 16. Jean Suret-Canale, La République de Guinée (Paris, 1970), 144. 17. In Interview 60, 9 July 1993, in Conakry, the informant said that as a Mande speaker himself, Sékou Touré sincerely admired Kanté’s invention but that he was a political man wanting to promote national unity. In Interview 80, 20 July 1994, in Conakry, a personal friend of Touré said that the latter wanted to support N’ko but that the other members of the Political Bureau, and his cabinet, did not. 18. Choosing Mande as the national language or even institutionalizing the Mande-styled alphabet for orthography would have caused dissension between Mande speakers and the other ethnic groups in Guinea. Furthermore, while Mande speakers could write the Mande language in N’ko, Susu speakers could write the Susu language in N’ko, and Pular speakers could write the Pular language in N’ko, they would not be able to read each other’s texts; although the script was the same, the languages would not be mutually intelligible. The former regional director of education in Kankan commented that the rejection of Kanté’s alphabet was divisive among the leaders of Touré’s government. Interview 64, 64, 15 July 1993, in Conakry. 19. Interview 09, 11 March 1993, in Kankan; Interview 60, 9 July 1993, in Conakry; Interview 68, 7 July 1993, in Conakry; Interview 80, 20 July 1994, in Conakry; Interview 59, 28 June 1993, in Kankan; and Group Interview 84, 15 August 1994, in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. 20. In Group Interview 43, 18 May 1993, in Kankan, one informant stated that Sékou Touré had promised Souleymane Kanté that he would build a school for N’ko. 21. Interview 51, 22 June 1993, in Djankana; Interview 59, 28, June 1993, in Kankan. 22. There is some confusion about the manner in which this occurred. Some informants have said that Sékou Touré sought out Souleymane Kantd in Abidjan after hearing about the alphabet through the grapevine. Interview 51, 22 June 1993, in Djankana. Others insisted that Souleymane Kanté went on his own to Conakry to present the alphabet to Touré. Interview 59, 28 June 1993, in Kankan. One informant claimed to have taught Sékou Touré N’ko, after which Touré told the informant to invite Kanté to visit him in Conakry. Interview 80, 20 July 1994, in Conakry. Regardless of who initiated the interview, informants concur on the rest of the story. In Interview 81, 9 August 1994, in Conakry, the informant reasserted the claim that the informant in Interview 80 had in fact taught N’ko to Sékou Touré, but that Sékou abandoned his studies when the political arena heated up. In Group Interview 84, 15 August 1994, in Abidjan, we visited the house where the Kanté family shared a room and spoke with neighbors who witnessed the military truck moving the family back to Guinea. 23. Interview 51, 22 June 1993, in Djankana. 24. According to the informants in Group Interview 08, 8 March 1993, in Karifamoriah, at the time only Maninka-speaking long-distance traders were merchants in Abidjan. When the exploitation of the Sefadou diamond mines in Sierra Leone began, many of these merchants carried the ability to write and teach N’ko with them into the new marketplace. 25. Prior to independence, many Guineans were dispersed throughout West Africa. Some were employed by the French as bureaucrats, teachers, or as railroad transportation workers. Others, such as a large number of Maninka speakers, were dispersed along West African trade routes. For example one informant’s father had been the railroad station-master at Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, in 1944. Interview 07, 6 March 1993, Kankan; Niane, Sundiata, 93. 26. Sékou Touré, “Débat culturel: Le Chef de l’Etat sur les langues africaines,” Horoya 2889, 25-31 Octobre 1981, 13-16. 27. Interview 68, 17 July 1993, in Conakry. 28. Interview 64, 15 July 1993, in Conakry. 29. Johnson, “Guinea,” 55. In Touré’s attempt to reconnect to the African past, he organized the party structure to imitate the organization of village councils. The system appeared to consult the common man on every major government decision. Ideally, the idea originated at the cell level and gained acceptance as it moved to the high-ranking leaders of the Bureau Politique National (BPN). In this case the idea originated at the top and was presented for approval to the Comités d’Unité de l’Education. Du Bois describes the organization of the PDG in his political commentary, “Guinea,” 200-205. UNESCO, The Experimental World Literacy Programme: A Critical Assessment (Paris, 1976), 26-30. 30. Interview 34, 10 May 1993, in Kankan, and Interview 55, 24 June 1993, in Kankan. 31. Interview 64, 15 July 1993, in Conakry; Interview 60, 9 July 1993, in Conakry; and Interview 55, 24, June 1993, in Kankan. 32. Interview 66, 16 July 1993, in Conakry. The informant was a Directeur Régional de l’Education in Kankan. 33. Mohamed Lamine Sano, “Aperçu Historique sur l’Utilisation des Langues Nationales en République de Guinée,” unpublished paper (1992), 3-4. 34. Interview 64, 15 July 1993, in Conakry. 35. UNESCO, World Literacy Programme, 42. 36. Interview 64, 15, July 1993, in Conakry. 37. UNESCO considered its program separate from the government’s national campaign. Interestingly enough, the UNESCO funds were not used for a pilot project in Haute-Guinée. The program targeted 3,500 illiterate and newly literate industrial workers in Conakry and 75,000 illiterate farmers living in lower Guinea (the Susu language), middle Guinea (the Pular language), and the forest region (the Kissi, Guerzé, and Toma languages). UNESCO, World Literacy Programme, 42-43. 38. Interview 64, 15 July 1993, in Conakry; Group Interview 46, 19 June 1993, in Kankan; and Interview 55, 24 June 1993, in Kankan. See Ministère du Domaine de l’Education et de la Culture, La Reforme de l’Enseignement en Republique de Guinée Novembre 1958-Mai 1977 (Conakry, 1977), 6-8. 39. Kamori Traoré, “Guinée,” in Alfâ Ibrâhîm Sow, ed., Langues et Politiques de Langues en Afrique Noire: l’Experience de l’UNESCO (Paris, 1976), 265. 40. Interview 60, 9 July 1993, in Conakry. 41. Ministry of Education and Culture, Cultural Policy in the Revolutionary People’s Republic of Guinea (Paris, 1979), 36. 42. Ibid., 9-10. 43. Interviews 34 and 55, 10 May 1993 and 24 June 1993, respectively in Kankan were with one informant. 44. Interviews 34 (10 May 1993) and 55 (24 June 1993), in Kankan. 45. Souleymane Kante’s recommendations were that each person should teach seven other people. Group Interview, 08, 8 March 1993, in Karifamoriah. In Interview 05, 3 March 1993, in Kankan, the informant said that the instructions were to teach the family, so he taught all of his children. 46. Interview 60, 9 July 1993, in Conakry. 47. Those who were literate in N’ko were spoken of as preserving for posterity the oral histories of elders. Interview 05, 3 March 1993, in Kankan. 48. Secretariat d’Etat à l’Idéologie-Service National d’Alphabétisation, Sori ni Mariama (Teheran, n.d.) and Académie des Langues Conakry, Maninkakan Sariya, Grammaire Maninka 2e et 3e cycle (Conakry, 1980) are examples of texts produced for the literacy program. 49. Interview 66, 16 July 1993, in Conakry. 50. According to this informant, the government could not fight the N’ko alphabet directly. It was necessary to formulate a political strategy to eliminate N’ko, either to isolate the creator so that he would abandon it or to exile him so that the population would forget about it. Interview 59, 28 June 1993, in Kankan. In Interview 68, 17 July 1993, in Conakry, the informant stated that the government used Kanté in the National Language Program because he was the only one who could translate all of the necessary terminologies. 51. A local merchant, Sékou Diané, is remembered as having given Souleymane Kanté money to buy this machine in Abidjan. Interview 29, 3 May 1993, and Interview 49, 20 June 1993, in Kankan; Interview 68, 17 July 1993, in Conakry. 52. Interview 82, 10 August 1994, in Conakry. El Hadj Kabiné Diané was a prominent businessman from Kankan who also owned a business in Conakry and was a part of the National Islamic Council. 53. In Interview 09, 11 March1 993, in Kankan, the informant established the date as 1973. 54. Interview 62, 14 July1 993, in Conakry. 55. Ibid.; and Interview 32, 8 May 1993, in Kankan. 56. Interview 32, 8 May 1993, in Kankan. 57. Interview 80, 20 July 1994, in Conakry, the informants described Touré as being troubled by leadership problems he was experiencing with Guinea’s intellectuals. In Interview 59, 28 June 1993, in Kankan, the informant told a story he heard from Souleymane Kanté: The government had supplied Kanté with transportation to Romania for treatment of his diabetes in 1974. Assisting the Guinean government, th e Romanian government institutionalized Kanté in a psychiatric facility, where an attempt was made on his life by lethal injection. Kanté refused the treatment and escaped death. Kanté convinced the doctors to release him, since, in the end, his condition itself was a death sentence. Later in Conakry he met the person who had been the Guinean ambassador to Romania at the time of his incarceration, wh o thought that Kanté was deceased. Interview 31, 8 May 1993, in Kankan, Interview 62, 14 July 1993, in Conakry and Group Interview 46, 19 June 1993, in Kankan. 58. Interview 31, 8 May 1993, in Kankan, Interview 51, 22 June 1993, in Djankana; Interview 62, 14 July 1993, in Conakry; Interview 59, 28 June 1993, in Kankan; Group Interview 30, 4 May 1993, in Bamako. Group Interview 84, 15 August 1994, in Abidjan, the informants recalled that Kanté told them that he had returned to Côte d’Ivoire in political exile and said that Touré was jealous of his invention. Theye estimated that he spent eight years with them in Côte d’Ivoire, two years in Bouake and six in Abidjan, interspersed with trips to Bamako. 59. Interview 62, 14, July 1993, in Conakry. 60. Interview 68, 17 July 1993, in Conakry, and Interview 69, July 18, 1993, in Conakry. 61. Literacy Survey of Kankan, 4 August 1994. There are no complete literacy statistics at any level. The numbers represented in the survey offer a beginning point at which literacy statistics can be assessed and can be later measured in percentages. I conducted another Literacy Survey of Kankan in July 2000. When I have finished entering the data, I will be able to determine growth in the numbers who are literate in N’ko over the last six years. 62. The literacy survey showed that 14.1 percent of the population knew how to read and write French, 8.5 percent of the population knew how to read and write Arabic, 8.8 percent of the population knew how to read and write [the Maninka language] in N’ko, and 3.1 percent of the population knew how to read and write [Maninka] in the Roman alphabet [Langue Nationale].