Guinée — Etats-Unis d’Amérique
John H. Morrow
First American Ambassador to Guinea.
New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 1968. 291 p.
It was understood that I would present my letters of credence to President Sékou Touré at the first propitious moment after his return to Conakry from a trip to Liberia. I was to become accredited a week after my arrival in Guinea, or just three days after the President’s return. This promptness in receiving me stood in sharp contrast to the delay in allowing some diplomats, including the Chinese Communist Ambassador and the second British Ambassador, to present their credentials. I had been at our chancery only two days when I had to make my first decision involving protocol. A telephone call on Friday afternoon, from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Fodé Cissé, invited my family and me to travel with him to Kindia (some one hundred miles from Conakry) on Sunday
to meet President Touré on his way back from Liberia. This most unusual invitation created a problem because I had not as yet presented my credentials and had no authority to travel around the country in an official capacity. I conveyed this as politely as I could to Secretary Cissé, but could sense from the tenor of his reply that he had not anticipated a negative response. I told him that my family and I would be delighted to make the trip. He agreed to call for us at the Hôtel de France on Sunday morning at 7:30.
The Embassy officer who had been serving as interim chargé d’affaires and was due to return shortly to the United States, was quite taken aback by my acceptance of the invitation. I assured him that this would probably not be the only time that protocol would be thrown out the window during my stay in Guinea-and it wasn’t.
Even before we got up on Sunday morning, we could hear the rain beating against the glass panes in the doors that opened out on a balcony overlooking the ocean. There seemed little likelihood that the storm would let up. Secretary Cissé appeared promptly at 7:30 with a chauffeur-driven Peugeot. The two-and-one-half-hour journey to Kindia along the winding but fortunately paved road was made in a rainstorm. Although we did not express the thought aloud, my wife and I wondered how the reception for the returning President would be staged under such conditions.
Neither the storm nor the deeply flooded spots at intervals along the road served to slow down the young Guinean chauffeur, who drove at an excessively rapid rate. I felt somewhat more at ease after Secretary Cissé cautioned the driver, in a mixture of French and Soussou, against “breaking the necks” of his American passengers, not to speak of his own. The pace slackened slightly.
The rain stopped the moment we reached the outskirts of Kindia. It became necessary to move extremely slowly because the streets were thronged with Guineans in a festive mood.
The women and girls were dressed in multicolored materials with matching kerchiefs on their heads. The men and boys wore long robes called boubous with flowing sleeves, that were in some instances richly adorned. Some men wore cloth hats of different colors that resembled the hats worn by U.S. sailors; others wore the astrakhan hats which were fast becoming the distinguishing feature of government officials and members of the Parti Démocratique de Guinée. The crowds made it impossible to get any farther by car, so the car was parked not far from the railroad station.
We went to the station on foot, taking in the sights and sounds. The people were singing freedom songs in Soussou, Fulah, and Malinké. Some were dancing to music by an intercsting assortment of instruments, including flutes, xylophones, stringed instruments, and African drums. Acrobats were performing before applauding onlookers, who urged them on to attempt the impossible.
Word was passed around that the train bringing the President and his party to Kindia was going to be late, apparently because the train was stopping at stations along the way where crowds had gathered. This train trip suggested the whistlestop campaigns of American presidential candidates.
Guinean officials present at Kindia decided to serve lunch to the personnel of some of the embassies waiting for the presidential party. As my family and I took seats in the restaurant of the railroad station, I noticed that a group of five men moved over as a body and took the remaining seats at our table, passing by a table with available places.
The youngest member of the group, a ruddy, round-faced youth of medium height, sat down next to me and said in French, “Have you been in Guinea very long?”
I thought that I recalled seeing him at the airport on the day of our arrival, but I replied, “We have been here only a few days and we feel at home already.”
“How do you like this Guinean climate?” he continued.
“We are finding it quite livable. In fact, it’s neither hotter nor more humid than Washington was in early July. How do you folks like this change from the snows of Moscow?”
“Oh, it’s not too bad,” he countered, “but a few at the Embassy are finding it a little troublesome. However, when I leave soon for Moscow, it’s only because I am going back for an appendicitis operation. It will not be on account of the climate.”
“I had much more foresight than you,” I said, “for I saw to it that my appendix was removed last April in North Carolina so that I could travel lighter.”
I became aware that this young official was the only one of his party at the table who was making any attempt to talk to me or the members of my family. I noticed also that he was being closely watched by a tall blond Russian whom I dubbed the political commissar of the group. The other members of the Soviet delegation were content to speak in Russian and concentrated on the food. I passed on the word to my family that our luncheon “guests” probably spoke English. As I recall, no Russian Embassy official ever spoke a word of English to me during my entire stay in Guinea. My daughter reported later. however, that Ambassador Daniel Solod spoke to her in English as she was boarding a boat for the Los Islands, several months after Solod’s arrival in Guinea.
“Would you have any objection,” I asked, “to pointing out some of the diplomatic personnel here in the restaurant?” I knew that the first Soviet Chief of Mission had returned to Moscow because of illness and had been replaced by a chargé d’affaires. I had heard also that the Bulgarian Ambassador had been absent from his post for a long time because of illness.
The Soviet Embassy officer pointed out individuals from the Bulgarian and Czechoslovakian Embassies, and from the East German trade commission. He then wanted to know if I had asked to be assigned to Guinea and how long 1 intended to stay there. I told him that I was in Guinea because I had been sent there by the State Department at the request of the President. I said that I would be in Guinea longer than he would, especially since he was returning to Moscow to lose a prized possession, his appendix. I concluded by telling him that I was sure that he was looking forward to a speedy return to the sunny shores of Guinea. He smiled somewhat wryly but did not attempt to answer. On several other occasions before his departure, this young man attempted to strike up conversations with me, and it was clear that he had been assigned to this task. He and I knew that he was wasting his time, for all he had to report were generalities about the Guinean climate, swimming in the ocean, and appendicitis operations.
Lunch had been over almost forty minutes when a Kindia official came to announce that the train was due in a few moments. Our host, Secretary Cissé, reappeared and said that the Guinean notables wanted my family and me to be in the receiving line on the station platform. Soon two passenger coaches and an engine that had seen better days came into view. Ten months from this day, this antiquated equipment would be replaced by new coaches and a sleek-looking diesel engine from the Federal Republic of Germany. As the train came to a halt, a young man with strikingly chiseled features, wearing a long white boubou, a gray astrakhan hat, and white sandals, stepped off the second coach, followed by a number of Africans and three Europeans. I knew without being told that this was President Touré.
Secretary Cissé had seen to it that my family and I had places near the beginning of the receiving line, and he stood close by to introduce us to his President. As Touré approached, he could be heard addressing congratulations and thanks to the town officials and party members of Kindia for their well-planned welcome. The Guinean leader was possessed of great poise and dignity. Secretary Cissé made the introductions and said that he had brought us to Kindia as his guests. President Touré smiled broadly, gave us a very warm welcome, and expressed the hope that we would have a very enjoyable stay in Guinea. In reply, I expressed thanks for the warm welcome, and said that I was looking forward to the establishment of closer and friendlier ties between my country and his.
After meeting President Touré and some of the members of his Cabinet, I was introduced to the Czechoslovakian Ambassador, the Bulgarian Ambassador, and the Liberian Ambassador. I discovered that the three Ambassadors, at the invitation of the Government of Guinea, had traveled to the Guinean-Liberian border to accompany President Touré on his return to Conakry. The third European in the party was a Frenchman, Jean Boyer, who served as President Touré’s press secretary and idea man.
During the reception later in the day at the huge residence of the Commandant of the Region, we had the opportunity of meeting and talking with the charming and talented young wife of President Touré I was introduced to Dr. Félix Moumié, leader of the dissident Cameroons political party (UPC), who divided his time between Cairo and Conakry. Dr. Moumié seemed to be on excellent terms with President and Mrs. Touré as well as with the various Guinean officiak present.
With the approach of evening, the welcoming ceremonies were moved to the local stadium, equipped with electric lights for the occasion. We were fortunate enough to have seats on the speakers’ platform from which to watch the three-and-one-half-hour program. The first hour and a half consisted of a series of presentations by dance groups and acrobats in front of the platform.
I got the impression that President Touré was not so much bored with the proceedings as that he was beginning to show the wear and tear of his visit to Liberia, the long return jotirney, and the activities of the day. When the young Afrian leader got up to speak, however, he seemed to become a new person. His excellent speaking voice electrified the crowd that was jammed, standing, into every inch of the stadium. President Touré, speaking in Soussou, reviewed the accomplishments of the Republic of Guinea since its independence. Secretary of State Cissé gave me a running commentary in French as President Touré cited the number of schools, dispensaries, and roads constructed by the Guineans themselves. The President stressed the valuable contribution made by the voluntary labor of the people, known as investissement humain. He exhorted his rapt listeners to maintain the same spirit and vigilance which had brought Guinea its liberation, and he urged them to work diligently to free all Africa. He was interrupted frequently by thunderous applause and shouts of approval. The applause continued at the conclusion of the speech, and did not cease until Touré and his party left the platform ten minutes later.
During the infrequent lapses in conversation on our return trip to Conakry, I turned over in my mind what I had seen, heard, and experienced that day. I sensed that the Guineans, while genuinely proud of their leader, were drawn by his magnetic charm and crowd appeal. Touré, young, strong, articulate, the epitome of the self-made man, seemingly had much to offer his eager people. The question that persisted was whether or not this man, who had led his country to independence, would be able to exercise the kind of leadership necessary to preserve it in the face of serious economic and social problems. I had seen the much-talked-aboutSékou Touré in action, and what I had seen had been indeed impressive.
On the third day after President Touré’s return to Conakry —July 30—I presented my credentials to him. The Chief of Protocol called for me at the Hôtel de France at 10:00 A.M. in the ubiquitous Cadillac, preceded by a police escort mounted on Czechoslovakian motorcycles. After informing my deputy that he was to ride in a second car, the Chief of Protocol telephoned the Présidence to announce our departure. The police escort and the two cars pulled away from the hotel and moved slowly down the broad boulevard leading to the Présidence. It had stopped raining shortly before we left the hotel, and the sun was shining brightly as it had on the day of my arrival in Guinea. As the cortege entered the gates to the Présidence, the colorfully dressed guards standing on both sides of the entrance stairs came smartly to attention, their drawn swords glistening in the sun. The Secretary of State, waiting at the entrance, greeted me and escorted me to the upstairs office of the President. He nodded to the guards stationed outside the office, and one of them stepped forward and ushered us inside.
President Touré, dressed in a European business suit, smiling affably, rose and came to meet us. After shaking hands he motioned us to seats across the room where a young Guinean radio reporter stood waiting with a portable tape recorder. It was then that I realized that the four of us were to be the only participants in the ceremony. The three Guineans neither spoke nor understood English, so French became the order of the day.
President Touré began by expressing the hope that better understanding would be established between the United States and Guinea. He recalled that the United States had not recognized his Government at the outset, and he expressed the deep disappointment he had experienced when the United States had not answered his urgent request for small arms for Guinean Security Forces. He cited some of the problems facing Guinea in its struggle for independence and stressed the point that his country intended to be friendly with all nations that wished to be friendly and recognized Guinean sovereignty.
I presented my letters of credence to President Touré and conveyed to him the cordial best wishes of President Eisenhower for his personal health and happiness and for the peace and prosperity of the Guinean people. I told him that President Eisenhower was looking forward with great pleasure to his official visit to the United States scheduled for October 1959, and that the American people had followed with great interest the development of the Guinean Republic since its independence. I expressed the hope that Guinea would continue along the road to peace and national well-being, and assured President Touré that I intended to do my utmost to promote relations between his country and mine based upon mutual respect and confidence.
An informal period followed the presentation of credentials, and President Touré ordered champagne for me and fruit juice for the others. Remembering the advice of Guinean Ambassador Telli Diallo, who had said that President Touré would appreciate some personal remarks after the formalities were over, I told President Touré how much my family and I had enjoyed our visit to Kindia and our opportunity of meeting and seeing him in action. I ventured to tell him that my own advanced age, forty-nine, made it possible for me to advise him—such a youthful President, thirty-eight—about taking good care of his health, and about conserving his strength so that Guinea would have the full benefit of his leadership during its formative years. The President and his Secretary of State laughed heartily at the reference to our age difference, and they seemed pleased at the advice. I learned some time later that President Touré had been impressed not only by the interest I had shown in his health, but also by the fact that I had brought my family to Guinea and that we had traveled up to Kindia to meet him upon his return from Liberia.
As I studied the face of this handsome African leader, whose finely chiseled, ebony-hued features were lighted up from time to time by a very engaging smile, I wondered how it had been possible for him to lead his people to independence virtually under the very noses of the French administrators. I decided that this labor leader must possess some unique qualities to have been able to accomplish such a feat.
It was well known that Touré’s move to achieve immediate independence had won for him the admiration, respect, and even the awe of young people of North and sub-Saharan Africa. For these youths, Touré personified bold, fearless action in the face of overwhelming odds. There were those who opposed Touré’s break with France and predicted his failure. Everybody agreed, however, that this young leader had grit and determination.
Touré’s disdain for the difficult and his propensity to move into situations considered by others to be dangerous or impossible stemmed from the fact that he was a self-made man.
Since his youth he had met with situations in which failing meant dying either physically or politically. The almost total lack of formal education proved no handicap to such an ambitious young man, who used his native intelligence, leadership, and gift for speaking eloquent French as well as at least two Guinean dialects to move from the office of Secretary General of the Postal and Telecommunication Personnel Union (1945) to that of Mayor of Conakry in 1955, Guinean Deputy to the French National Assembly in 1956, Secretary General of the 700,000 member African trade union (Union Générale des Travailleurs de l’Afrique noire) in 1957, and President of the Republic of Guinea in 1958.
It was significant for the future of Guinea that Touré’s political party—Parti Démocratique de Guinée (PDG)—wing of the African political party, the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain, of which Touré was a vice-president—had won an overwhelming victory in the local elections of 1957. This had been the first election in French Africa under universal suffrage, and many Guineans had voted for the first time in their lives. Touré, an astute, farseeing politician as well as a natural leader, had appealed particularly to the women of Guinea to exercise their franchise and play a more important role in the affairs of Guinea and of Africa. Touré pressed for the building of more dispensaries and championed the cause of improved education throughout Guinea. He urged the construction of additional schools. He talked about the redistribution of land and opposed openly the system of chieftains or village headmen.
It soon became apparent, even to Touré’s strongest political opponent, Diawadou Barry (well-educated son of a Fulah chieftain and leader of the political party, the Bloc Africain de Guinée), that it was time to join forces with Touré. This decision on the part of Diawadou Barry meant that on the eve of the September 1958 Constitutional Referendum sponsored by the De Gaulle Government, Sékou Touré had already at his disposal, a smoothly functioning political machine.
Prior to the Constitutional Referendum, Touré’s party alluded to his possible kinship with Samouray [Samori] Touré, the Guinean warrior who had fought so fiercely against the efforts of the French to take over Guinea between 1891 and 1898. Samori Touré had resisted the French until the very end, when he was betrayed, captured, and deported to Gabon, where he died in captivity in 1900. Sékou Touré’s resistance against the French in 1958 was compared to that of Samori Touré some sixty years earlier, and it provided a rallying point for Guineans during the crucial weeks that preceded the Referendum.
Throughout all Guinea, songs were composed and sung in the dialects Soussou, Malinké, and Fulah, pointing out the similarity between the exploits of Samori Touré and Sékou Touré, and lauding the efforts of the latter to put the French out of Guinea forever. The songs compared Sékou Touré to the elephant, Syli, an animal of great strength and one most difficult to handle when aroused. These songs were heard day and night over the radio, in the city squares, and in the village streets.
Women as well as men traveled over the paved and unpaved roads and into the brush to urge the Guinean populace to stand behind Sékou Touré and to go to the polls to vote Non. The role of the women in stirring up feeling nst the French presence was extremely important. They coniposcd songs and created dances to incite their compatriots to rise up and oust the French. Touré would not have been assured of victory had it not been for the women.
No American political campaign has been more successful in reaching the voters than the campaign conducted by Touré’s political party prior to the Referendum vote. At the same time that the Guinean No vote on September 28, 1958, changed a former French West African territory into an independent republic, it placed the reins of leadership firmly in the hands of Sékou Touré.
This was no mean feat in a nation that had been torn by tribal rivalries and divided by many language barriers; where more than 90 per cent of the people were considered illiterate, and whose dwellings varied from the ultramodern brick homes and villas of members of the Guinean Government to the thatch-roofed clay huts of agricultural workers out in the brush.
Empowered by full accreditation, I set out on my official calls on the Guinean Ministers, and received as well as returned the visits of various members of the diplomatic corps. Interestingly enough, the only member of the Guinean Government upon whom I did not call during this period was the President of the National Assembly, the Honorable Saifoulaye Diallo, son of a former Fulah chieftain, and known as the Number Two Man of Guinea. For some reason which was never explained, his office did not give the Guinean protocol officer a definite time and day for an official call. I had friendly conversations with Diallo at receptions and dinners at the Présidence, but I would never make that protocol visit.
No specific instructions had been given me before leaving Washington concerning protocol in respect to receiving or returning the visits of diplomats, but it was immediately obvious that visits were to be exchanged with all envoys who had mutual diplomatic representation in our respective capitals.
I received and returned, therefore, the visits of the Ambassadors of Bulgaria, Liberia, Czechoslovakia, the Israeli Republic, and the United Arab Republic. I also exchanged visits with the chargés d’affaires of the United Kingdom, the Federal Republic of Germany, Yugoslavia, France, Italy, and Switzerland. I decided to await the arrival of the new Soviet Ambassador and did not return the visit of the Soviet chargé d’affaires. The Nationalist Chinese representative, who was stationed in Monrovia, Liberia, made a trip down to Conakry to call upon me. I did not, of course, exchange visits with the Ambassadors of North Vietnam, Communist China, Cuba, and Outer Mongolia, nor did I have any social contact with these individuals at the various affairs sponsored by the Guinean Government. I did manage, however, to keep fairly well abreast of the diversified activities of this interesting foursome.
The members of the Guinean Government were quite sensitive about recognition and establishment of diplomatic rela tions on the ambassadorial level. They had not completely forgiven the United States for having delayed recognition, and for having followed initially the example of France in sending a chargé d’affaires to Conakry instead of an ambassador. Guinean officials did not object to the practice observed by Italy and Switzerland in having their envoys accredited to more than one country, for Guinea itself was following the same procedure. They were not happy, however, that the British Ambassador, accredited to Liberia and Guinea, lived in Monrovia and left Guinean affairs almost entirely in the hands of a chargé d’affaires in Conakry. The British chargé d’affaires, Hugh Jones, an exceptionally capable career officer, had established excellent relations with Guinean officials, but the latter still wanted a British representative of ambassadorial rank in Conakry. The British acceded to this wish a year or so later. The Federal Republic of Germany replaced their chargé by an ambassador several months after my arrival in Guinea. By the time of my departure from Guinea in March 1961, the following countries had ambassadors in Conakry:
- Democratic Republic of Vietnam
- Federal Republic of Germany
- Israeli Republic
- People’s Republic of China
- People’s Republic of Mongolia
- United Arab Republic
- United Kingdom
- United States
When the new French chargé d’affaires, Pierre Siraud, called at the chancery in Conakry in July, he invited me to a dinner he was giving the week following for a high-level commission coming to Guinea to discuss monetary problems between France and Guinea. This invitation placed me in a more difficult position than had the invitation to visit Kindia, extended upon my arrival by the Guinean Secretary of State. I thanked M. Siraud and promised to let him know the following day whether or not I would attend.
My acting deputy thought the dinner would give me the opportunity of meeting the visiting French officials. I reminded him that I had not as yet met the leading members of the Guinean Government. I told him that the French Commission was headed by the same official whom our American Ambassador to France had wanted me to meet in Paris, M. Roger Seydoux. (later Ambassador to Morocco and head of the French delegation at the United Nations). But the State Department had vetoed my meeting the French in Paris. I felt strongly that the French Commission was not going to be able to solve the perplexing problems of the moment because of the very unfavorable climate in Guinea toward the De Gaulle Government. Furthermore, Guinean officials were already accusing Americans of never taking any action without first consulting the French. If the Guinean servants at Siraud’s residence were to report that I had eaten and consulted with French officials before eating and consulting with Guinean officials, I would be placed in a most disadvantageous position before having established myself in Guinea. I decided, therefore, to send my regrets to M. Siraud.
Two days later I went to the French Embassy to make my return courtesy visit. When the old Ford, borrowed from our Embassy in Dakar, and bearing the American flag, came to a stop in front of the French Embassy, all the Guineans in the vicinity stopped to see who was getting out of the car. The Embassy was on the same street as the Présidence and separated from it only by several short blocks. I knew that my visit would be known in the Présidence moments after I had entered the Embassy.
I was frank with the French chargé, telling him why I had felt it necessary to decline his first dinner invitation. As soon as I had established firm lines of communication with Guinean officials, I said, I would be more than happy to accept his hospitality. I realized fully that the situation between France and Guinea was made ever more difficult because of the personal feelings of the two leaders involved, and I assured Siraud that the United States would not interfere with French and Guinean efforts to work out a satisfactory settlement of their differences. My mission in Guinea, I concluded, was to establish friendship and understanding between the people of Guinea and my fellow Americans. I could succeed in this mission only by securing the respect and confidence of the Guineans.
My prophecy of the outcome of the negotiations between the French and the Guineans turned out to be correct. An impasse was reached after two days, and the French Commission left for Paris. This was to be the pattern followed by the negotiating groups who came to Guinea during my tour of duty.
It began to look at one point as if the agreements involving financial, cultural, and technical cooperation, signed by French and Guinean officials in Paris on January 7, 1959, might never be implemented. A major stumbling block was the question of the French Government’s control over pension funds for Guinean soldiers retired from the French Army. The Guinean Government insisted that these funds should be under its jurisdiction and on deposit in Guinea. The French Government did not wish to relinquish its control—ostensibly to make sure that the Guinean veterans would continue to receive their pensions.
Another problem was Guinea’s reported debt to the French Government. French authorities maintained that Guinea owed France repayment of the long-term loans arranged from FIDES (Fonds d’Investissement pour le Développement tconomique et Social des Territoires). Guinean authorities held that Guinea should have access to the revenues collected through the years from the sale of Guinean agricultural and mineral products. They felt also that money earned by French teachers and technicians should not be returned to France, but should be spent—in part, at least—in Guinea.
My family and I enjoyed many dinners and receptions at the official residence of the French chargé after I had established rapport with Guinean officials. We reciprocated in kind during visits of distinguished Americans to Guinea. When M. Siraud became Protocol Chief of the De Gaulle Government, he was very helpful and hospitable to us during our later tour of duty in Paris.
By the time I got around to making my courtesy visit to the new Soviet Ambassador, Daniel Solod, his country had reportedly offered Guinea a $35 million line of credit. This offer had been made during the August 1959 visit to the Soviet Union of a Guinean delegation headed by National Assembly President Saifoulaye Diallo and Minister of Public Works Ismael Touré, half-brother of the President. When I called on Ambassador Solod, I asked him if it were true that his country intended to give Guinea dollars to be spent as needed in other parts of the world. He laughed heartily and said Russia had learned its lesson in China. The loan to Guinea was a true line of credit to be used for projects, equipment, and technicians.
The Soviet Ambassador, a former professor of mathematics, was reported to be the man who had introduced small arms into the Near East. He seemed to feel that I was making great headway with the Guineans. He gave the impression of being more outgoing than his predecessors, and he did have a sense of humor. He never admitted that he could either understand or speak English, and his French would have causedhim some difficulty in gaining promotions had he been in the American Foreign Service.