Victor D. Du Bois
The Rise of an Opposition to Sékou Touré
“Part V: The Formation of a Common Front Against
Guinea by the Ivory Coast and Ghana”
American Universities Field Staff Reports. West Africa Series
Vol. IX No. 5, (Guinea), April 1966, pp.1-14
The political storm which broke in a fury over West Africa during the first two months of 1966 sent reverberations across the length and breadth of the continent. On January 1, 1966, President David Dacko of the Central African Republic was ousted from power in a military coup d’état; and the powers of the presidency were taken over by Colonel Jean Bedel Bokassa, the commander of the nation’s armed forces. Then, two days later, on January 3, Sékou Touré‘s bitter enemy, Maurice Yaméogo, President of the Upper Volta [Burkina Faso], was forced to resign from office as a result of labor unrest that rocked his capital city of Ouagadougou following his decision to reduce the salaries of all civil servants by 20 per cent in order to help balance the budget. Lieut. Col. Sangoulé Lamizana, commander of the army, took over the government.
When news of these army coups in the Central African Republic
and the Upper Volta reached Guinea, President Sékou Touré and other militants of his ruling Parti Démocratique de Guinée (P.D.G.) could hardly contain themselves. Radio Conakry exulted:
« The events which have just taken place in the Central African Republic and the Upper Volta are a striking illustration of Africa’s will to decolonialize.
A great enemy of Africa [Maurice Yaméogo] has just paid the price of his treason to the higher interests of his people and his country. Yaméogo has been removed from office. So have the valiant Voltaic people decided 1. »
Scarcely two weeks after Yaméogo’ s downfall, another and far more furious tempest roared down on West Africa. On January 16, elements of the Nigerian Army mutinied against their government, spreading violence and death in the country’s Northern and Western Regions. A number of Nigeria’s highest officials, including Federal Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, and Chief Samuel Akintola, Prime Minister of the Western Region, were massacred.
The world of President Felix Houphouët-Boigny of the Ivory Coast—the world of l’Afrique modérée et réaliste as he was fond of calling it—which just a short time before had seemed so secure, so promising, suddenly appeared to be collapsing. Within the brief period of two weeks, three African heads of state with whom he was on excellent terms had been removed from power. The Organisation Commune Africaine et Malgache (O.C.A.M.), which Houphouët and other moderate leaders of French-speaking Africa had founded just a year before to check the aggressiveness of the so-called “revolutionary” states (Guinea, Mali, Ghana, Tanzania, and the United Arab Republic, i.e. Egypt) had already been weakened by the military coups that had occurred a short time before in Congo Léopoldville and in Dahomey. Now the O.C.A.M. was further shaken by the events that had taken place in the Central African Republic and in the Upper Volta.
President Houphouët himself was for a brief time menaced by internal unrest. His people became anxious and restive when they saw that he was about to implement his proposed plans to establish a dual nationality between the Ivory Coast and the other states of the Council of the Entente (Dahomey, Niger, and the Upper Volta) and also with Togo. Fearing that their country would once again be flooded with émigré Dahomeans and Togolese who would take away jobs which they felt should belong to them, Ivoiriens openly voiced their hostility toward the impending measure. For a tense day or two it even looked as if they might take to the streets.
Houphouët managed to extricate himself from this difficult situation, but only at the price of backing down and shelving the dual-nationality project. This, in turn, brought down upon him the wrath of the Dahomeans and Togolese, who saw themselves the victims of the Ivoiriens’ discontent.
The gales of unrest that swept West Africa in the early part of 1966 were not confined to the moderate states. On February 24, 1966, Africa and the world awakened to the startling news that President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana had been ousted from office in a coup d’etat executed by military and police officers. Nkrumah, who was in Peking at the time, tried hard not to show his utter disbelief at what had happened; but it was soon clear to him, to the Chinese, and to the rest of the world that this was an event of signal importance whose repercussions would be felt across Africa.
The Reconciliation Between Ghana and the Ivory Coast
One of the first acts of the new military regime which came into power in Ghana was to heal the breach that had developed under Nkrumah’s regime between Ghana and its French-speaking neighbors. Lieut. Gen. Joseph Ankrah, Ghana’s new ruler, promptly sent good-will missions to the Ivory Coast, Togo, and the Upper Volta.
The mission to the Ivory Coast was headed by William Bedford
Vanlare, a former justice of Ghana’s Supreme Court, and when it arrived in Abidjan, it was accorded an exceptionally cordial welcome by Houphouët and other Ivoirien leaders. Mr. Vanlare brought with him assurances from General Ankrah that the new government would no longer allow Ghana to be used as a base for subversion against fellow African states. As a token of General Ankrah’s good faith, Vanlare produced the leaders of the so-called Sanwi Group, an outlawed separatist movement from the western Ivory Coast. The Sanwi leaders had been granted refuge and support by Nkrumah, but after the coup, they were apprehended by Ghanaian military authorities. With Kwame Nkrumah no longer in power, and a new friendly government in his place, there was no longer any obstacle to a reconciliation with Ghana. With amazing speed, the two countries forgot their past quarrels and pledged themselves to follow a new policy of friendship and co-operation.
The Reaction to Nkrumah’s Downfall in Guinea
Nowhere was Nkrumah’s downfall taken so hard as it was in Guinea. Guinea’s leaders, and especially Sékou Touré, were stunned. They could not believe that the Ghanaian people would willfully sanction the overthrow of a man whom they and millions of other Africans had come to regard as a sort of super-hero— someone whom they had believed to be virtually invincible.
The world press and radio were full of stories reporting the joy with which Nkrumah’s ouster was being celebrated throughout Ghana. “The dictator is gone! The dictator is gone!” shouted Ghanaians as they danced in the streets of Accra. None of these stories appeared in the Guinean press, nor were they heard over the Guinean radio. Sékou Touré could not believe that the elation which surged over Ghana was genuine. It was the result of machinations by “imperialist, colonialist, and neocolonialist forces,” he reasoned, and nothing could shake him from this stubborn conviction.
More serious than Touré’s refusal to accept the genuineness of the Ghanaians’ repudiation of Nkrumah, was his determination to oppose it. Touré invited the “Osagyefo” to come to Guinea. When Nkrumah accepted the invitation and arrived in Conakry some days later, Touré emotionally proclaimed that he was resigning the presidency of Guinea in order to turn the office over to Nkrumah. Guineans heard Sékou Touré’s announcement in utter consternation. One can easily imagine them asking themselves, “Can it be true? Is he really going to give up power?”
They soon had their answer. Only a few hours after President Touré had made his startling announcement, spokesmen representing him hastened to add that the President hadn’t exactly meant what he had just said: that is, he wasn’t really resigning from office. He merely meant that henceforward Kwame Nkrumah would be considered, alongside himself, to be “Co-President” of Guinea. The fact that the nation’s constitution had no provision for such a peculiar office, nor gave the incumbent President the authority to create it, mattered little to Sékou Touré. Nkrumah, he said, would be qualified “to speak for Guinea” at all international conferences.
Sékou Touré took this unprecedented step entirely on impulse and without the slightest pretense of either weighing its legality or consulting his people beforehand to sound out their feelings about such a move. An announcement over Radio Conakry on March 4, 1966, justified Touré’s decision in the following words:
« President Nkrumah is more than a Guinean: he is an African, and that is why he is at home in Guinea. That is why he is assuming today, in the name of the revolutionary people of our country, the highest functions of the party and of the state. »
Without the slightest sign of embarrassment, the broadcast concluded:
« This decision, taken by the people of Guinea, is the expression of their absolute confidence in the victorious outcome of the struggle of the people of Ghana 2. »
Meanwhile, in Addis Ababa, Guinea’s roving ambassador, Mr. Abdoulaye Diallo, blandly announced to the Organization of African Unity (O.A.U.) that “President Touré has done this not for the sake of Nkrumah personally, but for the sake of the people of Ghana. 3” Mr. Diallo insisted that Guinea would not attend further meeings of the O.A.U. so long as representatives of the new Ghanaian regime were recognized: “We do not want to sit next to representatives of imperialism,” he said 4. With unabashed effrontery, Diallo declared that, having received a mandate from Nkrumah, he considered himself the legal representative not only of Guinea, but also of Ghana!
Touré’s Threat to Invade the Ivory Coast and Ghana
Touré pushed his position to absurd lengths by declaring two days later, on March 6,1966, that he would raise an army of 300,000 and send it to Ghana “to liberate the Ghanaian people from the dictatorship of the military traitors 5.” Touré based his right to intervene in Ghana on the claim that a pact of union had been signed between Guinea and Ghana back in 1960. The facts that the Ghana-Guinea Union (which later was expanded to include Mali) had remained a dead letter almost since the day of its inception, that its provisions had never been implemented, and that Ghana’s
new rulers not only denounced the juridical validity of the pact but formally disengaged their country from it, made no difference to Sékou Touré. Fanatically, self-righteously, he continued to cling to the thesis that the two countries were one and the same:
« You may be certain that in the military convoys that go to aid the Ghanaian people there will be women at the side of the men, because in going to do battle in Ghana, we will be fighting on our own soil 6. »
Touré’s claim that he could raise an army of 300,000 was so unrealistic, so far-fetched, so utterly and patently ridiculous, that it taxed the credulity of even his most devoted followers . The Guinean army, at its maximum, numbered less than 8,000. The army was not particularly well trained or equipped, and, if anything, it enjoyed a poor reputation as the result of its one near-combat experience 7. Even for this small force, however, Touré would be hard put to provide adequate logistic support for any sort of offensive operation. But above all—and this Touré did not stress to his people—was the fact that between Guinea and Ghana lay more than 300 miles of Ivoirien territory. Nor did Touré tell his followers that, even if he could as semble such an army, it would be necessary either to obtain permission from President Houphouët to allow the army to cross the Ivory Coast to reach Ghana or, in the event such permission was denied, to force its way across the Ivory Coast through an aroused and hostile population.
On March 7, 1966, the two “Co-Presidents” of Guinea boarded a plane for Bamako to enlist the aid of their “brother revolutionary,” Mali’s President Modibo Keita. The trip to Bamako was shrouded in secrecy, and no prior mention of it was made in either country. On their arrival in Bamako, Touré and Nkrumah were met by President Keita who promptly whisked them off to his palace on Kolouba Hill. What happened during this meeting was not divulged. No communique was issued to the press, and Touré and Nkrumah returned to Conakry the same day. It is likely, however, that the major topic discussed was how far Modibo Keita would be willing to go in supporting Nkrumah’s return to power.
That Keita was at least willing to give verbal support to such a cause was shown three days later, on March 10, when his foreign minister, Ousmane Ba, during a visit to Paris, declared that the Malian government would continue to give Kwame Nkrumah its total and unreserved support. He said:
« We are not ready to swap a man of Mr. Nkrumah’s value—a man whom even those who have little sympathy for him regard as a giant in African revolutionary thinking—for a so-called committee of liberation which is the issue of a facile action 8.
Houphouët’ s Reply to Touré’ s Threat
The war of words between Guinea, the Ivory Coast, and Ghana increased in intensity during the early part of March 1966, following Touré’s threat to attack Ghana. Both Abidjan and Accra were alive with speculation as to what would come of Touré’s threats. Although Houphouët openly expressed his doubts that Touré would carry them out, he nevertheless took all necessary precautions. Ivoirien military posts on the Guinean frontier were reinforced, and the several hundred French troops still stationed in the Ivory Coast were kept on alert. An agreement was reached with Ghana to co-ordinate the military action of the two countries in the event that either was attacked by Guinea. Houphouët in order to show Modibo Keita that he was angry with him for having given even verbal support to Nkrumah, quietly closed the border between his own country and Mali. It was a gesture calculated to remind Keita that Mali was heavily dependent on the Ivory Coast for use of its port facilities and the transit of its imports and exports.
On March 16, 1966, President Houphouët called a meeting at the
National Assembly of the nation’s civil and military leaders. At this
meeting, Houphouët openly expressed his concern that Touré was no longer sane. “We have grounds for believing,” he said, “that reason no longer inhabits Mr. Sékou Touré. Because of this fact, Mr. Touré has become dangerous not only to himself but to the martyred people of Guinea 9.” Houphouët warned Touré against proceeding with his plans to arm his people:
« When one arms an oppressed people against a pretended enemy from the outside, the people who up until then were resigned, will seize the opportune moment to overthrow the abhorred regime and punish the tyrants. Mr. Touré, more than anyone else , knows how unhappy his people are. Let him therefore arm them against Ghana and the Ivory Coast. But out of charity we say to him that he is
courting certain suicide 10. »
Houphouët scathingly denounced Touré’s reason for wishing to
start a war:
« Mr. Sékou Touré wishes to go to war with his friend Kwame Nkrumah against the new rulers of Ghana on the false pretext that the “Osagyefo,” the “saviour,” the “redeemer,” the “divine,” was overthrown only because he was away from his country … 11 »
President Houphouët then warned both Touré and his people that
they would do well to think twice before making a miscalculation that could lead to tragedy:
«… Mr. Sékou Touré and the Guinean people, who are running the risk of letting themselves be led into a fatal adventure, must realize that we Ivoiriens, although we love peace, are not pacifists ready to accept dishonor. Our dignity commands us to oppose with every means at our disposal the passage of the Guinean hordes across our country… 12 »
To drive home to Touré the point that he would be letting himself in for very serious trouble if his troops should attempt such an invasion, Houphouët stressed that the Ivory Coast was linked not only to the other Entente states but also to France by common defense agreements. And he made it unequivocally clear that he would not hesitate to invoke these agreements in the event of a Guinean attack. Houphouët also put Touré on notice that any aggression by Guinean forces would most assuredly be repelled by the Ivory Coast’s army, and that when this army counterattacked it would not stop at the Guinean frontier but carry the fight all
the way down to Conakry.
When Houphouët had finished speaking, the Prefects of the Ivory Coast’s principal regions took to the floor to reaffirm their support for the chief of state. They were followed by Colonel Thomas d’Acquin Quattara, the commander of the Ivoirien army, who expressed to Houphouët the readiness—indeed, the eagerness—of his troops to meet Touré’s forces on the field of battle. Spokesmen for the nation’s labor unions expressed their support as well. Finally, a leader of the Guinean community in the Ivory Coast assured Houphouët that in the event an armed conflict between the two nations should come about, he could count on the Guinean exiles in the Ivory Coast to take up arms alongside their Ivoirien
The first reactions from Guinea to Houphouët’s speech were predictable enough, and they were not long in coming. That very same evening, on March 16, 1966, Radio Conakry delivered another violent diatribe against the President of the Ivory Coast, claiming that at that very moment, French troops were landing in his country:
« New troops of the French colonial reconquest are disembarking steadily in the Ivory Coast. The last contingent to land numbered more than five thousand men …
… For several days now, the traitor Houphouët-Boigny has been massing Ivoirien troops all along the Guinean frontier. These troops are, of course, commanded by French officers 13. »
Touré was convinced that French intelligence agents were out to get him. This belief was reinforced by the visit to Abidjan on March 9 and 10, 1966 of Jacques Foccart, the French Minister of African Affairs and reputed boss of the Deuxième Bureau, France’s C.I.A. Although the official explanation for Foccart’s visit was to render Houphouët a visite d’amitié, the feeling was strong in some quarters in Abidjan that the real reason was to have a first-hand look for De Gaulle, to see how serious the conflict between the Ivory Coast and Guinea actually was, and to assure Houphouët of French support in the event that Touré should launch an offensive against his country. There were also some persons who insisted that Foccart and, through him, French intelligence actually were involved in the abortive plot against Sékou Touré which was to have taken place in October 1965. This view was shared by some quarters in France itself 14.
Commenting on Foccart’s visit to Abidjan, Radio Conakry charged
that the French Minister had come “to study at first hand, ways of initiating new actions against African revolution and liberty 15.” It described Foccart as “the principal co-ordinator of the French intelligence services for subversive activities in Africa 16.” Sékou Touré charged further that the French had drawn up a secret plan, the main provisions of which were to see to it that the present Guinean government was overthrown and that he himself was assassinated before October 16, 1966 17.
Tensions continued to rise during March 1966 following this exchange of charges. In both countries feelings ran high, and many people thought that a clash of some sort between the armed forces of the two nations was imminent. Although Houphouët had pointed out in his speech of March 16 that Touré had neither ships, planes, nor trucks enough with which to transport this “army of 300,000” to the border, it was also known that just a few days before (on March 12, 1966) the U.S.S.R. [Soviet Union] had made Guinea a gift of two AN-24 transport planes. The planes were medium-range turboprops capable of carrying fifty passengers (or fifty soldiers, as the case may be) at a speed of 500 kilometers an hour. These transport planes, in themselves, of course, were scarcely sufficient to carry out Touré’s threats of launching an all-out invasion of the Ivory Coast or Ghana. Nevertheless, the presence of the new planes in Conakry—added to the twenty planes which Guinea reportedly already possessed—gave rise to some uneasiness in Abidjan. Many Ivoiriens felt that Touré’s megalomania at this point was such that he might do anything, from dropping paratroopers in some remote part of the country in order to sabotage vital installations to attempting an air raid on Abidjan or Accra. The disquiet in Abidjan was heightened by the fact that the U.S.S.R.’s choice of this particular moment to make such a gift was interpreted in some circles as a hint that the Soviets might be preparing to back a more ambitious venture by Touré and Nkrumah, thereby opening the way to a confrontation of the major powers in West Africa.
By March 18, when nothing had yet happened, this initial uneasiness began to give way to cockiness on the Ivoiriens’ part. The National Political Bureau of the P.D.C.I. (Parti Démocratique de la Cote d’Ivoire) issued a communique which spared no words in denouncing Touré’ s empty threats:
« Mr. Brawler [Sékou Touré], the Ivoirien people, always attentive, were at the appointed place to keep the rendez-vous which you made. It did not find you there. It appears that you were detained. The Political Bureau of the P.D.C.I.-R.D.A. now knows that you are very prodigious in words but not in deeds. If, however, the idea should occur to you to train the brother and martyred people of Guinea to follow you in your insane plan, then take care that the armistice or the peace does not get signed on the other side of the border of the Ivory Coast [i.e., in Guinea]… 18
Radio Conakry replied that evening with another attack on Houphouët:
« Houphouët-Boigny, unworthy chief of state of the Ivory Coast, through a vast operation of calumny, is carrying out in Abidjan a new anti-African mission entrusted to him by French imperialism … It is to turn away the attention of the African people, and especially of the Guinean people, from the monstrous crimes of international imperialism. Houphouët is giving his French masters a new opportunity to intervene openly against the indominatable Guinean Revolution 19. »
Seeing that his bluff had been called and that neither the Ivoiriens
nor the Ghanaians showed the least sign of panic over his threats, Touré was forced to back down. At first, he sought a dignified way out by denying that Guinea had ever threatened to attack at all. On March 21, 1966, Radio Conakry in an abrupt change of tone announced:
« President Sékou Touré never had the intention of attacking the brother people of Ghana. The military measures that were taken were only destined to confront a probable aggression from imperialism 20. »
To salvage some shred of self-respect from Touré’s former position
the announcer direly warned that “the Guinean people are in a state of general mobilization to lend their support to the valiant people of Ghana and their glorious President Kwame Nkrumah so that the new regime in Ghana may be overthrown 21. »
Such explanations fooled nobody. Touré’s extravagant but empty threats, and his clumsy later attempts to deny them, made him the laughingstock of the world. Gleefully calling attention to the difference between what Touré said he would do, and what he actually did, Abidjan’s newspaper, Fraternité-Matin, entitled a lead article in one of its editions, “When the Pot Boils for Nothing.” 22
Having been warned in advance by nearly everyone (including Houphouët and General Ankrah) that he would be a fool to issue such a challenge, Touré nevertheless went ahead and boldly flung it down. Some days later, after he had already made the threat to send an army to reimpose Nkrumah, President Tubman of Liberia offered Touré a face-saving way to retreat by inviting him to come to Monrovia to discuss matters. Tubman went so far as to assure Touré that Nkrumah would also be welcome at the talks, even though Liberia had already recognized Ghana’s new military regime. However, Touré scornfully turned down the invitation. Four days later, on March 25, 1966, Radio Conakry claimed that Nkrumah’s commandos (“fighters for liberty”) were in Ghana and had already succeeded in carrying out sabotage operations against the new regime 23. The announcer made no mention of where or when the alleged operations had occurred, and neither the Ghanaian nor the foreign press reported any such incidents as having taken place.
As the new regime in Ghana consolidated its position and it became increasingly clear that Nkrumah’s chances of regaining power were dim, Touré reacted with unrestrained fury. In one of the most reckless statements of his career, Sékou Touré invited his countrymen to be prepared to massacre the whites living in Guinea in the event an attempt should be made against his government:
« If a coup d’état should occur in [Guinea] against the will of the people, they should immediately defend themselves. Without waiting, they should eliminate all of the agents of imperialism. If such a coup d’état were to occur, take your machetes and your knives at once and cut the throats of all the imperialist agents in the hotels, in houses, wherever they may be found. 24 »
Perhaps suddenly realizing the incredible irresponsibility of the remarks he had just made, and the fear and protest to which in all likelihood they would give rise among the resident European and diplomatic communities in Guinea, Touré added as an afterthought:
« Not all of the whites are necessarily imperialists. There are some who are even more revolutionary than the blacks. 25 »
During the remainder of March and all through April 1966, tension
continued to mount between the Ivory Coast and Guinea. Both countries now had troops along the border, and each had sought support from the outside world. On the side of the Ivory Coast were France, the other states of the Entente, and—now that Nkrumah was gone— also Ghana. Guinea tried to rally the “revolutionary” states of Africa to its crusade of restoring Nkrumah, but its efforts were in vain. More and more, Guinea was isolated.
Sékou Touré had crawled out on a limb and did not know how to
get back. When at least he began to realize how untenable his position really was, it was a lready too late. He had gone too far. This time he had antagonized the French, Houphouët, and other African leaders so much that probably nothing less than his own downfall would satisfy them. His backing of Nkrumah and his ranting and raving about launching an invasion of the Ivory Coast and Ghana had led these two former enemies to forget their differences and form a common front against Touré and Nkrumah, the two men who were now unquestionably their worst enemies.
Nkrumah’ s overthrow had removed the man who had been the Entente’s bitterest foe. In his place now stood Sékou Touré . Although none of the Entente chiefs of state or the French said so publicly, it was plain that the only way Sékou Touré could be dealt with effectively was to lay the basis for removing him from power by one means or another. But how was this to be accomplished? And by whom? To be effective, Touré’s removal would have to be carried out by Guineans themselves. In posing the question, the answer also became clear. The time had come to activate the tens of thousands of Guineans living in exile.
1. Afrique Nouvelle (Dakar), No. 962, January 13-19, 1966.
2. Le Monde (Paris), March 6, 1966.
3. New York Herald Tribune (Paris edition). March 4, 1966.
4. Agence France Presse dispatch from Addis Ababa, March 4, 1966.
5. Le Monde (Paris), March 12, 1966.
7. Major General E. K. Kotoka of the Ghanaian army, who commanded a United Nations contingent of African soldiers sent to the Congo in 1960, said of the Guinean troops who were in Léopoldville: “They were not even capable of assuring the protection of their own embassy.” Jeune Afrique, April 3, 1966.
8. Le Monde (Paris), March 12, 1966.
9. Fraternité-Matin (Abidjan), March 17, 1966.
13. Le Monde (Paris), March 18, 1966.
14. The most vocal proponent of this view was the French journalist, Claude Bourdet. In reference to French involvement in the alleged plot against Sékou Touré, Bourdet wrote in Le Monde: “Like many other people in France and, no doubt, in Africa, I didn’t take seriously… the accusations made by the Guinean Chief of State … but on my return to France a friend of mine, a high functionary in whom I have the most complete confidence, certified to me that one of the heads of the French secret service in Africa, to his stupefaction, vaunted in front of him the organization of this plot and described it to him in detail, citing the number of agents sent to Africa for this purpose. The appropriate French ministers and, in particular the Quai d’Orsay, were certainly aware of this curious initiative on the part of our remarkable secret services.” Quoted from Le Monde (Paris), March 13, 1966.
15. Reuters dispatch from Abidjan, March 12 , 1966
17. Le Monde (Paris), March 29, 1966.
18. Fraternité-Matin (Abidjan), March 18, 1966.
19. Le Monde (Paris), March 20, 1966 .
20. Le Monde (Paris), March 23, 1966.
22. Fraternité-Matin (Abidjan), March 25, 1966 .
23. UPI dispatch from Abidjan, March 26, 1966.
24. Le Monde (Paris), March 29, 1966 .