Guinea. Problems of Independence and Decolonization

Victor D. Du Bois
The Problems of Independence. The Decolonization of Guinea
American Universities Field Staff Reports. West Africa Series
Vol. V No. 8 (Guinea), pp. 1-18

Conakry, November 1962

Victor David Du Bois (1932-1983)
Victor David Du Bois (1932-1983)

Guinea’s formal accession to independence on October 2, 1958, gave the party elite the long- awaited opportunity to dismantle the colonial structure which had dominated the territory for more than 60 years. Decolonization meant something much more fundamental than merely the achievement of national independence and the transfer of authority from the European colonial power to the Africans. As Sékou Touré explained, it signified a basic reorientation in the thinking and habits of men:

« When we say “Decolonization,” we mean we want to
destroy the habits, conceptions and ways of conduct of colonialism. We are determined to replace them with forms that are Guinean forms, conceived by the people of Guinea. Decolonization consists in detecting all that remains of the colonial system and finding a Guinean solution for it. Decolonization consists in liberating the civil servant from his enslavement to the colonial conception, to the colonial mentality. Decolonization is the reconversion of colonial mentalities into Guinean mentalities. Decolonization must put an end to injustice and ensure the reconversion of these various evils, of these diverse practices of division and opposition, into practices of unity and cooperation. 1 »

Sékou Touré’s goal was to make of Guinea as African a country as Kwame Nkrumah had made of Ghana, and this he and his party (Parti Démocratique de Guinée) set about to do. Decolonization necessarily implied nationalism and nationalism therefore became the hallmark of all changes that followed. The object was twofold: to do away with what remained of colonial power in Guinea, and to imbue the citizens of the new state with an awareness and enthusiasm for the independence and sovereignty which now were theirs. Once the French had relinquished authority, Guineans lost no time in initiating decolonization procedures widely.

Women in great numbers have been recruited into the political process. Shown here are members of various village committees of the P.D.G. (Photo courtesy Ministry of Information, Republic of Guinea)
Women in great numbers have been recruited into the political process. Shown here are members of various village committees of the P.D.G. (Photo courtesy Ministry of Information, Republic of Guinea)
Mobilization of the youth: a J.R.D.A. group parading before President Sékou Touré of Guinea and President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. (Photo courtesy Ministry of Information, Republic of Guinea)
Mobilization of the youth: a J.R.D.A. group parading before President Sékou Touré of Guinea and President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. (Photo courtesy Ministry of Information, Republic of Guinea)

With the departure of the French Governor, his palace became the Présidence, official residence of the Guinean head of state.  The Chamber of Commerce Building was preempted to house the newly established Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the old Institut Français d’Afrique Noire (I.F.A.N.) was re-baptized the National Museum. Statues of former French colonial officials were removed from their pedestals in the center of Conakry and exiled to a lonely peninsula on the edge of town where to this day they look out to sea. Names of streets were changed as were those of public squares. The former monument aux morts became the monument aux martyrs du colonialisme, and the buildings along Conakry’s beautiful corniche, one by one for the first time were occupied by Guineans. Anxious to impress both on Guinean citizens and on the outside world the seriousness with which independence was regarded, Touré and the Political Bureau of the P .D.G. allowed only a minimum of festivities and immediately set about putting everyone to work .

Nothing less than a complete revamping of the state was envisaged. From top to bottom, all political, economic, social, and cultural institutions of Guinea were to be Africanized. No exceptions were to be made. What could not be Africanized today for want of an adequate Guinean substitute would be Africanized tomorrow, next month, next year, or at such time as a Guinean substitute became available. But it would be done. Decolonization was not only the result of a desire to remove the last vestiges of colonial influence, it was also a protest, a Guinean rejection of the European’s efforts to mold the African after his own image:

« The colonial regime had attempted to assimilate us to a civilization which, even if it was positive and humanistic, had not been thought out by us, was not at all the fruit of our own experience; a civilization which did not express our own proper values, and consequently, was not conformable to our national ethos.
To this colonialist determination to assimilate us we opposed a fierce affirmation of the African personality.
To the colonialist assertion of a lack of any moral, positive, cultural value in the history of the African peoples we oppose our personality, we maintain we had our own civilization, our own culture, our own values…
… Examining objectively the situation of our country at the time of its withdrawal from the colonial regime, we recognized that all the economie, administrative, political, judicial, and military structures were not conformable to the best conditions for the development of our national society, and we decided to transform them by adapting them to the necessities of our evolution… 2 »

Individuals no less than institutions were urged to “decolonize,” to purge themselves of what Sékou Touré called “the colonialist mentality.” To emphasize the acknowledgment, the reassertion of their négritude, national leaders forsook Western dress for their native clothing.

The people’s response to President Sékou Touré’s exhortations to “decolonize” was spontaneous. For the overwhelming majority it posed no great problem: they had never really be en Gallicized to begin with. Aside from the amenities of modern civilization which France had brought them, the laws which it had imposed on them, and the taxes it had exacted from them, most Guineans had remained by and large untouched by the influence of the présence française, even after 60 years’ rule. But for the few thousand in the country who formed the nation’s elite —those who had received the benefit of a French education, had had extensive contact with Westerners, or at least had learned the French language— the process was somewhat more difficult. French influence had left its imprint on this group. For many of these people, French really had become the lingua franca. Their standards of judgment, even their moral values were conceived within a French context and these were things not susceptible to change overnight. The question which inevitably if only tacitly had to be faced was, “How Guinean should one be?” Or, to put it another way: was the new nationalism to be so militant that it would endeavor to obliterate all traces of the colonial heritage, whatever the se might be?

Sékou Touré’s statement of the problem of decolonization, as it presented itself in Guinea, in no way precluded the retention of things French which experience had shown to be wise, beneficial, or necessary to the country. Some social institutions (e.g., the judicial system, military rules and regulations) learned or developed under the French, were retained virtually in toto with relatively few adaptations to Guinean circumstances. Other institutions (e .g., the labor unions and youth groups) were radically altered to complement national organs which the party was developing—organs aimed at consolidating the party’s nationwide control and at mobilizing the population for the attainment of national objectives.

In both cases Sékou Touré has shown himself to be eminently eclectic. His discourses on the subject of decolonization and reconversion show his clear awareness of the fact that Guinea can never obliterate completely all traces of colonial influence in its social and political institutions. What is important is that those things which cannot be changed in structure of function at least develop a new sense of morality, a Guinean morality:

« Our new state, in its outward form, has replaced the colonial state, but, in order not to continue the practice of the former system we must analyze the old ways of doing things so that we can improve on them. We must analyze them in relation to our major objectives… 3 »

In all cases a cardinal principle has been that the reconversion of an agency or an organ of government lead to its complete integration into the national system. The concept of independent regulatory agencies, left free to function as watchdogs over the actions of government, are viewed as irrelevant in a society where these functions are assumed by the party. Sékou Touré has made it clear that non-integrated institutions and agencies, or social actions of any kind which might escape control by the state, not only are not to be tolerated, but are to be actively resisted :

« We, as totally dedicated militants, solemnly affirm that
everything, every phenomenon, will have no value in our eyes save to the extent that it tends toward our final goal. Thus, all opposition, all attempts to divert our attention, necessarily end by strengthening our struggle for emancipation. Those who willingly shut themselves up within the framework of the colonial system will never be able to make us slacken our pace … We must not consider economic, social, and cultural phenomena in isolated fashion. We must consider them in relation to our policy, our national existence, and the highest interests of the people of our country. The country being an indivisible entity, we shall not favor any one sector or any one project. 4 »

One of the chief problems which immediately confronted Guinea was to determine the extent to which reconversion could or should be carried out and where this might most profitably be done. Might not reconversion in one area (e .g ., in education), if carried out too peremptorily, impede or retard progress in ether areas?

Africanization also presented difficulties of quite another sort. What form should the desired Africanization of a particular institution or convention take? Should it be Soussou, Foulah, or Malinké? The problem posed to those advocating reconversion could not be underestimated. A wrong choice—one which unduly favored the cultural form of one ethnie group over those of other groups— might run the risk of reviving ancient enmities. Such a mistake could damage the delicate strands of unity so painstakingly woven by the party since independence. However deplorable “the colonial way,” one undeniable advantage it had was that through the common adherence to colonial laws and conventions which it imposed on its subjects, it did tend to de-emphasize ethnic, linguistic, and regional differences among the indigenous peoples. For administrative purposes, the colonial regime treated the peoples of the territory as a unit rather than as distinct ethnic groups. It created among them, however inadvertently, a certain sense of union—even if it was only what Sékou Touré later referred to as a “union de misère.” The P.D.G. profited from the experience.

Looking at it in the perspective of four years of independence, the Guinean experience has shawn that what actually was meant by decolonization and reconversion was not the wholesale abandonment of those institutions and conventions which 60 years of French colonial rule had bequeathed to Guinea. Above all, decolonization has not meant an indiscriminate return to archaic, precolonial African institutions, however much these may once have been revered, or performed a useful and necessary function in society. Decolonization has meant adopting those institutions and conventions of the former colonial society which the government and the party have deemed useful or essential to the efficient functioning of a modern national state and the integration of its peoples. It has meant reforming and adapting the se institutions to be used by Guineans for Guinean purposes. Guineans have been among the most willing to recognize the utility of such European inherited institutions as the mass political party, labor organization, and a modern, reform-oriented government. They have also been among the !east desirous of seeing a resuscitation of one of the oldest of African institutions —the chieftaincy—which they (along with a good many other Africans) now regard with abhorrence.

Similarly, Africanization means not merely the understandable desire of Africans to see Africans themselves rather than whites or other aliens hold the reins of power and authority in the government, the public services, and the private enterprise of the country. It means also a firm resolve to devise among themselves and in concert with other Africans, a common approach to problems with which they must all cope. It signifies a re-evaluation of what it me ans to be African.
The ideal no longer is to be a black Frenchman but to be an African, and an African primarily. It was the realization of this belief, first in Guinea and later in other parts of French West Africa, that marked one of the milestones in the social evolution of the French Negro territories.

Building a Guinean Nationality

Welding a nation out of the many different ethnie and cultural elements of Guinea was a problem of staggering proportions. The creation of a national consciousness and a spirit of unity depended largely on the P.D.G.’s success in minimizing points of conflict among Guinea’s three major tribal groups—the Foulah, Soussou, and Malinké—so that they might work together in constructing the new nation. Their imbalance in number and distribution, their ethnic and cultural dissimilarities, and the animosities that for centuries had divided them—all these were formidable obstacles to rapid consolidation.

The situation was further complicated by the existence of a host of smaller ethnic and tribal groups many of whom were as irreconcilable as the Foulah-Soussou-Malinké triad. There were the Baga, the Nalou, and the Landouman peoples in Lower Guinea; the Tenda, Bassari and Coniagui in Middle Guinea; and a plethora of tribes in the Forest Region, among them the Manons, the Guerzés, the Kono, and the Kissi, ethnically linked with peoples of the neighboring Ivory Coast. Each of these groups possessed its own language, traditions, and forms of social and political organization. Their response to the demands of changing times was conditioned by the varying degrees of contact they had had with the French. Those concentrated along the coast such as the Soussou, had dealt with the French since earliest times and, hence, had become the natural recipients and agents of change. Others, such as the Coniagui, living in the remote area of Younkounkoun, remained until recent times practically untouched by modern civilization (sic! —T.S. Bah).

The task which confronted the P.D.G. in creating a modern, unified nation was essentially one of reconciliation. A formula had to be found by which the barriers dividing Guinea1s peoples could be replaced by bonds of union and a feeling of kinship. Nationalism thus had to compete with ancient loyalties to tribe and region. The adversary with which it had now to come to grips was not an outside force against which all popular sympathies could easily be mobilized. It was the dead weight of indigenous habits and institutions, deeply and universally revered, but heavy with an innate conservatism, which seriously impeded genuine national union.

The party pursued its goal with characteristic zeal. It adopted a flag 5 and a national anthem 6 for the new nation; national youth and women’s organizations were founded; a national orchestra was assembled; and everywhere patriotic songs were learned and sung 7. Curricula in the schools were revised so that now, for the first time, Guinean children began to study Guinean history, Guinean geography, and Guinean languages. Native folklore was revived, and the party encouraged inter-regional and national competitions in native songs and dances, sports, and voluntary public -works projects (investissement humain). Those who excelled were hailed not only as local champions from Mamou or N’Zérékoré or whatever their native region, but as Guinean champions. Guineans thrilled to the sight of a Guinean army marching down the main thoroughfares of Conakry under the command of Guinean officers. The air was charged with excitement and everyone imbued with a deep sense of pur pose. Within a remarkably short time, the people of the former French territory began to think of themselves less as Soussou, Foulah, or Malinké than as Guineans. Ethnocentric attitudes tenaciously clung to over the centuries began to give way to the new sense of nationhood.

The party’s task was facilitated by one curious and noteworthy factor: the lack of irredentism among the Guinean tribes. Although the Foulah and Malinké peoples and those of half a dozen other smaller tribes are ethnically and linguistically related to peoples straddling Guinea’s frontiers (most notably the frontiers with the Ivory Coast, Mali, and Senegal), there is little sentiment among the Guineans for union with their cousins across the borders. Long distances and the rigors of travel, added to the artificial frontiers which the white man had imposed in Africa for several generations, have discouraged such tribal nationalism. Neither Sékou Touré nor any other leader of the P.D.G. is anxious to see this situation altered, save within the context of a greater Pan-African union.

A tremendous help to the party is the extraordinary adulation in which the people hold Sékou Touré. No other leader in Guinean history—not even the venerable Samory—ever evoked from the people such a lavish outpouring of affection and esteem. His portrait is seen everywhere in the country, in every office, in every school, in the remotest village. It appears in murals in public buildings 8, on currency notes, and even as a print on the cotton dresses worn by Guinean women. Much of this adulation is contrived and encouraged by the party, but much also is due to Touré’s charismatic hold on the people. He elicits an enthusiastic response not only from his own Malinké people, but from the Foulah, the Soussou, and other Guinean ethnic groups. The courtesy and attentiveness with which visiting deputations from the interior are received at the Présidence in Conakry, the frequent trips Sékou Touré takes throughout the country to give an account of his mandate to the people, and the impartiality he has shawn in distributing government funds and allocating welfare projects among Guinea’s four regions all have contributed greatly to the unparalleled prestige he enjoys.

Simultaneously with its promotion of Guinean nationalism, the party has sought to encourage nationalism on a Pan-African basis. Dissident independence movements from different parts of Africa—many disowned by the legitimate African governments in power—have sought and received haven in Conakry. Radio Conakry’s “Voix de la Révolution” in the early days of independence became an important source not only of anti-colonialist but also of anti-Western propaganda. Touré hailed the Guinean independence movement as the first great step taken to emancipate all of French Black Africa. Because they had gained national independence by the unspectacular means of the ballot box rather than by re sort to arms 9, Touré and ether party leaders sought to imbue their party with an intense revolutionary zeal. National enthusiasm had to be kept at high pitch to carry out party programs on the domestic scene, and to push Guinea to the forefront of nationalist movements in Africa.

The unification of Guinea-despite its impressive progress during the first four years —has not been achieved without difficulties. Some of the se stemmed from the fact that in Guinea, as in other African countries, certain elements actively resisted or passively obstructed the work of national consolidation-or so party leaders felt. Certain groups, because of their composition, background, or activities, were suspect. This was the case, for example, with certain intellectuals and “unenlightened” labor leaders. In ether cases, the obstructive elements were not specific individuals or groups but social institutions which the party regarded as archaic or bent on blocking plans for unification and modernization. One such example was the institution of the chieftaincy and another was the Roman Catholic Church. Whatever the obstruction, it was firmly and severely dealt with by the party. Nothing was allowed to stand in the way of unification.

The party saw that its position would be insecure unless it could accomplish three tasks:

  1. prevent the possible rise of an opposition, particularly among the Foulah
  2. contend with the divisive tendencies almost inevitable in a nation composed of several major ethnie groups, each pulling in a separate direction
  3. mobilize the youth and women in the country to aid the party 1 s cause.

Prevention of a Foulah Opposition

Locked in their mountain fastness of Fouta-Djallon, the Foulah peoples of Middle Guinea for centuries before the colonial conquest successfully repelled the incursions of neighboring tribes. This aggressive and warlike people succeeded in enlarging their domain at the expense of other tribes, most notably the Soussou, whom they frequently enslaved. Aristocratic and intensely Islamized, they prided themselves on their great herds of cattle and their exploits as soldiers of Muhammad. The political organization of the Foulah was retained virtually intact by the French for the purpose of indirect rule. The most important prerogative the French exercised was naming the almamy (the Foulah equivalent of emir) who exercised supreme jurisdiction over the far-reaching Foulah “empire.”

Although for centuries the Foulah, the Soussou, and the Malinké had been rivals, the Foulah, for the most part, were spared the ravages of the armies of Samory 10 which swept over northern Guinea and into the arid plains of the French Soudan. Under French rule, the Foulah expanded into the coastal areas as far south and west as Conakry, where they began to compete with the Soussou for what few employment opportunities existed. The decision of the French after the death of the last almamy in 1906 not to appoint a successor, their suppression of slavery, and their gradual disavowal of the chiefs greatly weakened the political stability of the Foulah and in time rendered them vulnerable to the blandishments of native local politicians. Foulah cities such as Labé, Mamou, and Pita became important centers of socialism in Guinea, and it was in these centers that the P.D.G. later encountered its most determined opposition.

When Guinea became independent, the Foulah, numbering almost one million, constituted the largest single ethnie bloc. No Guinean government could hope to succeed unless it enjoyed their support. And in the early days of independence it was common to hear it said wistfully by some of the French that “Touré will not dare do anything here in Conakry without the accord of the Foulah. If he tries, the Fouta 11 will move.”

Reasons were not wanting for questioning the loyalty of the Foulah to the new government. It was the Foulah city of Labé which had registered the strongest vote against Guinean independence. And it was commonly believed that die-hard French colonialists were conspiring with the Foulah to overthrow the government of the young republic. Visitors to Guinea, particularly the more knowledgeable foreign journalists, frequently alluded to a supposed Foulah opposition which resented being dominated by a Malinké politician (Touré) and stood ready to seize control of the government at the first opportunity.

Once Guinea achieved its independence and the French departed, the way was open for the creation of a genuine national union. With valuable assistance from Diallo Saifoulaye, Vice-President of the new republic and himself a prominent Foulah, Touré moved quickly to bring the redoubtable Foulah into line. As Vice -President of Guinea and Political Secretary of the P .D .G., Diallo symbolized the inter-tribal unity which was to characterize the new nation.

(Erratum. — Saifoulaye had no executive role. Instead, he presided over the National Assembly. Also, he carried on his political secretary function that dated back to 1948, when Sekou Touré occupied a less prominent position in the comité directeur hierarchy. See Composition du Comité directeur du PDG au 30 juin 1948, quoted from André Lewin’s Ahmed Sékou Touré (1922-1984). Président de la Guinée de 1958 à 1984. Volume 1, chapitre 9, annexe deux— Tierno S. Bah)

Foulahs, along with Soussous and Malinkés and members of Guinea’s numerous ether ethnie groups, were brought in large numbers into the government or given prestigious jobs in the party 12. Foulah youth were brought into the J.R.D.A., the newly created national youth organization, and Foulah women were given an active and important role to play in political affairs. Foulah accomplishments in art, music, and literature were acclaimed as glories of the nation, and Foulah warriors venerated as Guinean heroes. In allocating government funds for welfare projects, Touré scrupulously awarded the Foulah their full share, and his solicitous attitude toward the Foulah won him much support among this initially skeptical people.

The party practice of sending children of one ethnic group away to school in parts of the country inhabited by members of another ethnie group to acquaint them with their compatriots has also helped to break down the barriers that once separated Guinea’s peoples. Very important has been the action of prominent Foulahs, such as Barry III, who were formerly associated with the opposition but now have joined forces with the P.D.G. The adherence of such leaders resulted in large numbers of the Foulah rallying to the national cause. The P.D.G.’s system of administrative controls under which each region is assigned an “alien” (i.e., someone from an ethnic group ether than that predominant in the area) as regional executive (commandant de région) is designed to inhibit the formation of any sort of opposition under the old ethnic banners.

These factors, as well as the absence of any feeling of irredentism among the Foulah toward their brothers in Mali, Senegal, and Portuguese Guinea, have reduced the supposed danger of Foulah opposition to the present government. Many believed that the government never could or would undertake militant action against the Foulah because it feared their massive strength.
This belief was shown to be false when at the time of a so-called anti-government plot in May 1960, the Foulah leader, Diallo Ibrahima, allegedly implicated, was arrested, tried, condemned, and tortured. The often-voiced claim that the Foulah would “move into Conakry” had been proved groundless. Touré’s hold on the Guinean people, including the Foulah, was far greater than anyone had imagined.

Recruitment of Women into the Political Process

Women’s organizations had existed in Guinea for sorne years before independence. The Malinké, Foulah, Baga, Toucouleur, and the Sarakole tribes all had active women’s groups, founded largely on the basis of region, ethnic group, or even religion. Protestant and Catholic women in the territory also had their own organizations. Most of these groups shared the detriments of haphazard organization and a fluctuating membership. For the most part, they limited themselves to organizing village and tribal celebrations in which they indulged in rival displays of finery. Their political influence was virtually nil. The various conditions attached to the women’s vote in French West Africa at the time permitted few to exercise the franchise; consequently, the overwhelming majority were remote from political affairs.

The appearance of the R.D.A. in 1946 and the formation of its Guinean branch, the P .D.G., one year later opened the way for change. Women were encouraged to be active in politics. A small number joined the party, but their membership was on an individual basis and their influence remained minor. Gradually, however, those women who had a strong interest in civic matters began to organize, first in N’Zérékoré and later in Macenta. When their groups prospered, the P.D.G. lent them active support and encouraged women in other areas to follow their example.

The achievement of national independence has in no way lessened the party’s interest in women as a group. President Sékou Touré has made it abundantly clear that the party is pledged to correct social abuses against women and to as sure them their rightful share in the direction of national affairs:

« Our determination to free the Guinean woman from unjust constraints and from certain often humiliating practices, rises out of a deep concern for social justice and also from our determination to ensure the full participation of our sisters in the building of the new African society of the Guinean nation. 13 »

The party has not been remiss in keeping its pledge. It has introduced women into the highest councils of government (two are members of the National Political Bureau) and constantly strive s to improve their social position. With the party firmly behind them, women have succeeded in raising the legal marriage age for females from thirteen to seventeen, an achievement which ranks as a major reform. The number of employment opportunities available to women has widened, and in many instances they are challenging men for positions of leadership in the party itself. Today women occupy positions of authority and importance throughout Guinea. Many are mayors or presidents of village councils, teachers, midwives, or exercise other functions directly beneficial to the community.

President Touré seizes every possible occasion, especially in speeches to the nation or addresses to the party and the National Assembly, to praise the selfless devotion of Guinean women to the cause of independence. He has given them, as it were, an official mandate to work hard, and on a par with men, in the great popular movement to develop a vigorous national consciousness. He has made of one woman—Camara M’Balia—a Guinean heroine 14.

In Guinea women no less than other members of the social group have been imbued with a revolutionary spirit. The more educated and articulate among them stand in the vanguard of party militants, ready and willing to help educate their less fortunate sisters. They demonstrate an eager interest in politics and participate actively in civic and national affairs. Along with the youth of the country they invariably are the first induced to answer the party ‘s frequent calls for volunteer workers.

As more and more of them acquire an education and assume positions of responsibility throughout their country, they are coming to feel a deep sense of obligation toward women still living under repressive and archaic conditions in other parts of Africa. They have indicated great readiness to join forces with them to pursue their goals on a continent-wide scale. At a conference in Conakry held in the summer of 1961, a Council of West African Women was organized and it set up a permanent secretariat at Ibadan, Nigeria.

Independence has brought advantages both to the party and to Guinean women. The former has found an important new source of voting strength; the latter, a powerful political force to supportits demands for basic reforms. In return for the support it has received from the women, the party resolutely champions the ir cause. With their country undergoing a profound social revolution, and aware for the first time of the important part they can play in this revolution, women constitute one of the most dynamic social forces in present-day Guinea.

Mobilization of the Youth

Under the French, youth activities for the most part had been loosely organized and confined principally to Conakry and ether urban centers in the country. Youth in rural areas were almost totally neglected.
Activities for the young people had been confined mainly to sports and to inter-regional competitive events of various kinds. Thus, although the colonial administration concerned itself somewhat with the youth, its offhand treatment of them resulted for the most part in the formation of little more than a multitude of tiny groups, none of which had any distinctive character or provided any real outlet for expressing youth’s aspirations. Given no opportunity for constructive expression, youthful energies were expended on unproductive or pointless activities.
When Guinea became independent, this situation was drastically
changed. The P.D.G. considered the reorganization of the youth as one of the great needs of the new nation. Accordingly, it set about devising plans for bringing youth into the political system as an active participant.
After studying youth activities during the colonial period, the Political Bureau of the party called a national conference which met in Conakry, March 26-29, 1959, to discuss the future of Guinean youth and the role they should play in the social revolution engendered by Guinea’s independence. It was decided at this conference that a national organization to be called the Jeunesse Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (J.R.D.A.) should be set up which would include all of Guinea’s youth. This organization was not to have an independent existence but was to function as an arm of the party, under its supervision and enjoying its full support. On this point, Touré was very specific:

« The interest we take in the youth arises out of our fundamental principle of harmonization and unification of the efforts of all the classes of the people to ensure the triumph of the people’ s cause…
… We are led by an essential principle to which the Party has never ceased to grant a tremendous importance. It is the absolute necessity to frame the action of the young, their national action, within the limits of the general action of the Party. Youth must become an active part of the nation; they must realize their responsibilities and be ready to play the dynamic role we want to allot them. » 15

The J.R.D.A. and National Unification

Of Sékou Touré’s many efforts to weld the Guinean peoples into a single nation, the most rewarding have been his efforts among the youth. With them he has known an unqualified success. Understandably and predictably, in Guinea it is the youth who have been the most responsive to the party ‘s desire to see national fraternity replace the ancient rivalries and enmities. Unlike their elders, many of whom (despite the party’s efforts) still retain their old doubts and distrusts about other ethnic groups, Guinean youth believe implicitly what President Sékou Touré tells them: that the old hatreds can and must be buried. Recognizing youth as an important ally in his work of constructing the nation, Touré has assured them of every assistance.

In order to obtain absolute fidelity to its cause, the P.D.G. long ago decided that separatism among the youth, whenever and however it may manifest itself, must be forcefully resisted. The party considers that the youth of Guinea should make an active contribution to the nation. It encourages their efforts by imbuing the youth with a sense of purpose:

« The Democratic Party of Guinea has never concealed its absolute opposition to every movement that might result in dividing the population or confiscating the interests of the whole for the profit of a minority.
Our relentless struggle against ethnie groups has thus done away with all the organizations of youth founded on race or region.
For the Democratic Party of Guinea, the deep meaning of African unity implies, at the heart of the Movement, the most rigorous fight against all tendencie s of division, all factions of self- interest.
The leaders of the Party never stopped proclaiming that for the R.D.A. [i.e., the P.D.G.], youth for the sake of youth did not exist. The Party places youth at the core of the concerns of the nation, within the frame work of the building up of the nation by means of the combined efforts of all. 16 »

To engender an esprit de corps among the young people, the party has accorded them a place of very real significance in the direction of national affairs. Members of the National Council of the J.R.D.A. are treated with the dignity a c corded cabinet ministers; young men and women, officiais of the J.R.D.A., frequently represent Guinea at important international conferences of a cultural nature ; they are called upon to give their views, and those of the young people they represent, on matters of national policy. Such important questions as the dowry practice and the conditions of marriage are regulated by the young themselves at the level of the administrative section.

A natural by-product of the confidence which the party has placed in its youth has been youth’s trust in the party. They are today its most enthusiastic supporters.

The extraordinary success which the party enjoys among the young of the country (and, increasingly, among the young of many other parts of Africa) is largely due to its having won a reputation as the most extreme and revolutionary political movement in Africa today. This label has conferred upon it an immense prestige with African youth, prone as they are to political extremism . The more extreme the P.D.G. becomes, and the more its actions are reviled in “colonialist” quarters, the more Sékou Touré’s stature and that of the party grow in the eyes of African youth. As Touré’s charisma extends itself over ever greater numbers of people, many far distant from his own shores, the fame he enjoys abroad becomes both a source of national pride and a unifying influence among his own people.

The J.R.D.A. as an International Youth Movement

Using the J .R.D.A. as an instrument of national policy, Sékou Touré has kept it in the forefront of international attention. He has made it the avant-garde of youth movements in French-speaking Africa, and so successful has it been as an instrument of national unification that other African leaders have taken it as a model for similar organizations in their own countries 17. As a member of the Conseil de la Jeunesse d’Afrique, one of the principal international youth organizations in French-speaking Africa, the J.R.D.A. has openly declared its intention to carry on everywhere the struggle against continued colonialist activities . As an outspoken foe of “Western imperialism,” the J .R.D.A. has been warmly received by members of the Communist camp. Its leaders have been both delegates and hosts to important international youth conferences in which the Communists have played a dominant role.

That the J.R.D.A. has tended to lean strongly toward the East rather than the West is not surprising in view of the militantly anti-colonial position constantly maintained and affirmed by the P.D.G. This inclination toward the East is due partially to Guinea’s unfortunate experiences under French rule. But it is due even more to the fact that the often radical and revolutionary schemes of social and economic reorganization which the P.D.G. continually espouses and in which the youth of the country are called upon to play a significant role find a more sympathetic ear among the revolutionaries of the East than among the moderates of the West, advocates of change through an orderly and evolutionary process. Moreover, the lack in most Western countries of anything even remotely resembling the national youth organizations of the East or of Guinea, either in breadth of national membership or in scope of activity, renders most unlikely any genuine rapport between the youth of the two camps. Because of the political temper of the times and a natural feeling of sympathy with other underprivileged peoples, the natural inclination of Guinean youth is toward the extreme left. It is in this direction that it is inexorably moving.

National Unification, a Balance Sheet

Some of the things which have been done in Guinea over the last four years to create a sense of nationhood among its people may appear harsh to Western eyes, accustomed to seeing nationality emerge as the end product of years of orderly historical evolution. The relentless zeal with which the P.D.G. has gone about its task may even appear to some a little frightening, subordinating, as it does, the individual to the point where his value is measured only in terms of the contributions he is able to bring to the larger social group personified by the state. But in Guinea, as in many other African states, it is felt that the problem of internal dissensions is such that national unification will be achieved only if firm and drastic action is taken at the initial stages of independence while the people are still fired with the idealism of their newly won independence. Too moderate or lenient an approach to this basic problem, it is argued, ends up only in debilitating the state and perpetuating ethnic antagonisms. The example of the former Belgian Congo has lent added weight to this view both in Guinea and elsewhere on the continent. Today, virtually every country in Africa is confronted with the same problem which Guinea has had to face: how to create a national consciousness, a sense of nationhood, from a multiplicity of peoples. The problem remains perhaps the most crucial for Africa. Guinea has provided one approach to its solution.

1. Sékou Touré, Toward Full Re-Africanisation (Policy and Principles of the Guinea Democratic Party) [English text, Paris, Presence Africaine, 1959, p. 40
2. République de Guinée, Conférence Nationale (de planification économique), Kankan, les 2, 3, 4 et 5 avril 1960. Rappport d’orientation du Bureau Politique National du Parti Démocratique de Guinée {Sékou Touré}, Conakry, Imprimerie Nationale, 1960, pp. 38-40.
3. Sékou Touré, La Guinée et l’émancipation africaine, Paris, Présence Africaine, 1959, p. 213.
4. From a speech delivered by President Sékou Touré before government functionaries of the circumscription of Kankan, February 23, 1959, ibid. , p. 118.
5. A tricolor of three vertical bars, red, yellow, and green. The red symbolizes the blood shed by anticolonialist martyrs in their struggle for freedom; the yellow, the color of Guinea ‘s gold and of the African sun; the green, the color of Africa’s vegetation. The colors were deliberately chosen to correspond to those of Ghana’s flag. They have since been adopted by a number of other African nations.
6. “Liberté,” composedby Keita Fodéba, former Minister of the Interior, and Jean Cellier, a Frenchman living in Guinea who is instructor to the national orchestra.
7. One of the interesting things about many of these songs is how gently the French are treated in the lyrics, a fact all the more curious considering the vehemence with which they are stigmatized in Sékou Touré’s speeches. In one youth song called “Faransi Siga” (“The Departure of the French”), the lyrics go:

“Sékou Touré, so this is the way the French leave us,
Without saying farewell
What shame
So this is the way the French leave us
Without even saying good-by
What shame, by Allah
The French have gone without saying farewell.”

In another youth song entitled “Wongè segè” (“Good-bye Europeans”), the words go:

“Good-bye Europeans
And without a grudge
I, myself, am not offended
Good-bye, everyone to his own home
Without any fuss
Good-bye provided you disturb us no more
Let him follow you
He who believes you indispensable.”

For other examples, see Djibril Tamsir Niane, “Some Revolutionary
Songs of Guinea” [special edition on Independent Guinea], Paris, Présence Africaine, n.d., pp. 10 1- 115.
8.  One of the most interesting sets of murals is that in the centre culturel of the city of Mamou, painted on cloth by members of Guinea’s youth movement, the Jeunesse du Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (J.R.D.A.). One mural depicts Guinea “as it used to be”: a white woman being borne on a sedan chair by four Africans while her husband struts alongside. A second mural shows Touré, mounted on a white stallion and garbed as St. George, slaying the dragon of colonialism.
9.  Sékou Touré once estimated that if Guinea had had to fight for its independence, some 200,000 Guineans probably would have died fighting the French. See Sékou Touré, “Voter ‘Non’ c’est faire l’économie d’une guerre,” L’action politique du Parti Démocratique de Guinée pour l’émancipation africaine, Tome 3, Année 1959, Conakry, p. 452.
10.  See Guinea: The Years Before World War II (VDB-5-’62), an AUFS publication.
11.  Abbreviated form for Fouta-Djallon, the region in central Guinea occupied by the Foulah peoples.
12.  It is interesting to note, however, that at its inception, only two Foulahs were made members of the all-important National Political Bureau, the highest policymaking body in the P.D.G. In 1962 the National Political Bureau has:

  • Eleven Malinké
  • Three Soussou
  • One Toma
  • Two Foulah

13.  Sékou Touré, op. cit., note one, p. 71.
14.  On February 9, 1955, a district chief (presumably an African) in an altercation with a pregnant village woman, Camara M’Balia, stabbed her. Madame Camara’s baby was stillborn and she herself died shortly afterward from her wounds. She has since been hailed as a Guinean martyr of anticolonialism.
15.  Sékou Touré, op. cit., note one, pp. 80, 83.
16.  Ibid., p. 81.
17.  Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Modibo Keita of Mali, and even Félix Houphouët-Boigny of the Ivory Coast.