webGuinée/Etat/Diplomatie/John H. Morrow/First American Ambassador to Guinea/Guinea’s Struggle for Survival
Diplomatie. Guinée — Etats-Unis d’Amérique
John H. Morrow
First American Ambassador to Guinea.
New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 1968. 291 p.
Guinea’s Struggle for Survival
President Touré in his first selection of ministers and ambassadors saw fit to place several of his closest friends, and also his half-brother, in key positions. This was as much a form of insurance as it was a matter of trying to make best use of the talents of these faithful colleagues, some of whom had returned to Guinea from abroad at Touré’s iequest. Touré was farsighted enough to see that in the days that lay ahead he would need to have around him men whom he could trust when the going got rough. His naming of his half-brother Ismael Touré Minister of Public Works and Transportation did not cause the same reaction in Guinea as, for example, the late President John F. Kennedy’s naming of his brother Robert Attorney General. In Guinea nobody talked about nepotism or saw anything amiss in President Touré’s having a relative in his Cabinet.
There were non-Guineans who were forever conjecturing about differences between President Touré and Ismael Touré and looking for a possible break in relations between them.
This was nothing but wishful thinking, because if President Touré had really feared his half-brother, he would not have allowed him to be the first to head a Guinean delegation to the United Nations. Furthermore, he would not have continued to send him on numerous very important, and delicate foreign missions. lsmael Touré was reputed to be very much impressed with the progress of the Soviet Union, but I recall his frank appraisal of road-building equipment and his decision that America made the best on the world market. The younger Touré was as intelligent as the President, and could be as charming when he so desired, but he was more distant and standoffish than most of the other Guinean Ministers. As was true of others, he had to go on so many missions abroad that his Ministry suffered from his absence.
President Touré appointed the congenial and likeable Louis-Lansana Béavogui, a former medical student, to the post of Minister for Economic Affairs, and later made him Minister of Foreign Affairs. Touré called back to Guinea his good friend Fodéba Keita, former head of the widely traveled Ballets Africains, and appointed him Minister of the Interior. Keita was shifted later to the post of Minister of National Defense and Security and thus placed in charge of the army and the gendarmerie. In the light of the military coups staged during 1965 and 1966 in several French-speaking African republics, as well as in Nigeria, it has become apparent that President Touré was attempting to make sure as early as 1960 the he could depend upon the forces bearing arms. The first Minister of Defense was N’Famara Keita, former Mayor of Kindia, and a very likeable person, one of the Guineans whose word was his bond. A natural leader, he was capable and ambitious. He later became Minister of Commerce and then Minister of Plan. Interestingly enough, he was replaced as Defense Minister by the sophisticated Fodéba Keita, reputed to be a man of means in his own right; he was also a man upon whose loyalty President Touré had reason to believe he could fully depend.
Telli Diallo, Guinea’s first Ambassador to the United States and later head of the Guinean delegation to the United Nations (at present he is Secretary General of the Organization of African Union, with headquarters at Addis Ababa), returned to Guinea at the request of President Touré. A brilliant lawyer who had served in French West Africa as a magistrate, Telli Diallo was one of the best-educated and best-trained members of the Guinean team. Although a personal friend of President Touré, he was not a member of the inner circle. For one thing, he did not hold membership in the National Political Bureau and stood little chance of ever being elected to this powerful body. Moreover, he had received much of his education outside Guinea and had lived and worked abroad. He was regarded as an intellectual.
I always felt that in some fashion Telli Diallo was trying to compensate for his superior training and trying to prove that he could be as extreme in his views at the United Nations or at Africa House in Addis Ababa as the most extreme member of the Guinean Labor Union. He always seemed out of character when he attempted to express in harsh terms his prevailing mood or line of his Government. He faced the ever-present possibility of being recalled, and there was no comparable post available for him with the Government in Guinea.
Naby Youla, Guinea’s first Ambassador to France, to Bonn, and to London, had lived in France for many years and was reputed to be in business in Paris. He experienced little difficulty in making the transition from businessman to ambassador in the familiar surroundings of Paris, where he was known and considered quite capable. At the close of his tour of duty in Paris, Naby Youla was named Ambassador to Moscow. Youla refused to accept this assignment and was called home to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I understand that he has since been considered for another diplomatic post. Here at least was one Guinean who did not want to go to Moscow.
All these men, chosen to represent their country in various capacities, had one thing in commonthe earnest desire to work without stint to ensure the success of the Guinean experiment. I respected them for what they were trying to do against great odds, even though I did not always agree with the tactics employed. A number of ministers had studied at the William Ponty school in Dakar. Telli Diallo was one of the few who went to France for further study. It was not easy for Guineans to go to France to study during the colonial regime because the Guinean quota for study abroad was infinitesimally small. Fodéba Keita, for example, got to Paris on his own initiative. There was no scholarship available for an advanced teaching degree the year he became eligible. Ismael Touré did not get the scholarship which he hoped would open the way to study engineering in Paris, and had to work on the Metro to support himself there. I sensed among these young Guineans the feeling that the French had failed to make available adequate educational opportunities, and had made it impossible for them to receive experience in high-level administrative positions. Guinea did not have cadres of civil service employees ready to step in, as was the case in Ghana and Nigeria, to assume positons vacated by the former colonial power.
In Guinea, the real power rested, not with the Deputies of the National Assembly or the Cabinet members, but with the seventeen members of the National Political Bureau. I noted that Ismael Touré and Louis-Lansana Béavogui were members of the Political Bureau. President Touré was the Secretary General and Saifoulaye Diallo (President of the National Assembly) was the Political Secretary of this all-powerful body. Despite the continued conjecturing on the part of some observers in Guinea during the 1959-1961 period concerning possible differences between Sékou Touré and Saifoulaye Diallo, and the possibility of the latter attempting to take over the leadership of the Government, I always felt that Diallo, with his Fulah tribal background and his admiration for the progress made by the Chinese Communists, neither was in the position nor had the charismatic qualities to draw to himself the kind of support necessary to depose Touré.
In my estimation, Sékou Touré was the real leader in fact and in symbol. He had those magnetic qualities and that know-how which seized the imagination and drew people to him. Saifoulaye Diallo was in fact and in practice a “number two” man who preferred to shine in Touré’s reflected glory. I could not picture Diallo as the leader of the Republic of Guinea. I could have been mistaken, of course, but I believed that NFamara Keita had more of the qualifications for following in Sékou Touré’s footsteps than Saifoulaye Diallo. Keita was strong, tough, durable, and unafraid. He served well in whatever niche he was placed and had real possibilities as a statesman. However, Sékou Touré, despite his lack of formal education, stood head and shoulders above his colleagues, and he was certainly the “number one” man as far as the women of Guinea were concerned.
The posts in the National Political Bureau were filled through an election conducted by the Guinean Democratic Party. Rivalry for these choice positions was very keen, for membership in the National Political Bureau not only placed one within the inner planning circle, but also gave one added prestige and power. I have indicated already that Béavogui and Ismael Touré not only held ministerial posts but also were members of the Political Bureau. The same was true of N’Famara Keita. The Political Bureau included also the President of the Women’s Organization, the Ministers of Tourism, National Education, Youth and Sports, and the State, the Governor of the Bank, the Mayor of Conakry, and the head of the Guinean Labor Union. It was not so much the position held that gave one entrée into the Bureau as it was the individual in question. For example, conspicuously absent from the Bureau were the Defense Minister Fodéba Keita, the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Telecommunications, the Minister of Industry and Mines, and the Minister of Finances. This seemed to indicate that without some kind of following, without crowd appeal or political influence, a party member stood little chance of being elected to the Political Bureau.
I shall never forget one night in September 1959. President Touré, resplendent in a flowing white boubou, stood on the platform of the assembly hall of the Guinean Democratic Party and delivered a five-hour, nonstop report to the Fifth National Congress of the Guinean Democratic Party. Seats had been reserved for the diplomatic corps near the front of the hall, and once Touré began talking, there was no question of leaving the room for any purpose. No Western or Eastern diplomat would risk having his departure misinterpreted by Touré or the members of his Government. Even though Touré was a dynamic speaker and his French was excellent, it was still something of an ordeal to sit through his five-hour presentation.
I know that I could never speak in public for that length of time, or if I did it would be only to punish my adversaries. This was one of the many occasions on which President Touré took pains to point out that the instrument for decision-making in Guinea was the Guinean Democratic Party itself. In the words of Touré:
If we do not understand the important fact that behind the State, there is something higher which is the Parly, we cannot comprehend the political significance of these provisions in the Guinean Constitution at all. It is because thc Party assumes the leading role in the life of the nation that it has at its disposal all the powers of the nation. The political, judiciary, economic, and technical powers are under the control of the Democratic Party of Guinea. And, therefore, it is the Party which elects the Chief of State by means of universal suffrage.
Touré and his colleagues claimed that the political party carried out its role “democratically,” since all levels of the population became involved in the process of reaching decisions through the Village Councils and the County Councils, organized by the people themselves. They felt that at this stage in the nation’s development it could not afford the luxury of several political parties that would dissipate energies and promote divisiveness. They were quick to point out, when questioned about the rigid control of the one-party system, that such a system did not differ radically from the communalism of traditional Africa, in which any opposition that might exist occurs within the party. Once there had been full discussion of an issue, and the issue had been decided, it was taken for granted that such a decision would be rigidly enforced, and no further discussion was in order.
Touré and his colleagues did not attempt to conceal the objectives of the political party to re-educate the people of Guinea, prevent disorder, and maintain unity in all echelons. They did not publicize the fact, however, that the Political Bureau was committed to take harsh action against those who spread dissension and threatened party unity. I had grave doubts concerning these claims about the democratic role of the Democratic Party of Guinea.
I could not conceive how it was possible to maintain that the Guineans were permitted to discuss matters frankly and openly and to engage in self-criticism if at the same time they ran the risk of being considered sowers of dissension. I wonder about the amount of freedom Guineans actually could have with such absolute authority vested in a relatively small group, and I questioned what might happen to personal liberty in moments of crisis. The handling of the investigation and the conviction of those accused in May 1960 of trying to overthrow the Guinean Government bore out my misgivings about personal liberty under the one-party system.
Many problems beset President Touré and the members of his Government when they took office after the rupture with France. Guinea lacked trained economists, and Touré was the first to admit that his country’s richness in agricultural and mineral resources meant nothing unless it would be possible to secure the technical know-how, financial assistance, and suitable markets to exploit these resources. More than 90 per cent of the people were untrained and there were many unemployed. The Guinean leaders, by their own admission, were immediately confronted with the perplexing problem of how to dispose of the bumper banana crop harvested at the very moment in 1958 which when the rupture place between Guinea and France. The bananas were rotting on the piers of Conakry and Benty, and it appears that the total crop was to be written off. The East Germans came up with an offer that was considered far from satisfactory by the Guineans; but under the circumstances the latter decided that this offer was preferable to dumping the bananas in the ocean. There was also the problem of disposing of the other main exports, coffee, pineapples, and palm kernels. Equally troublesome was the necessity of seeking new sources of basic foodstuffs such as rice, wheat, and sugar, sorely needed by the populace. Contrary to the rosy pictures painted by Guinean leaders, they were in trouble
Immediately after the achievement of independence, the Guineans momentarily enjoyed unbridled feelings of elation at the thought that they had at last thrown off their “shackles of colonial bondage.” They thought that they saw ahead a broad highway leading directly into an era of peace and freedom, in which it was going to be possible to enjoy the fruits of that independence so long denied to them and withheld from their grandparents and parents.
Great was the shock throughout Guinea when the discovery was made of the lengths to which General de Gaulle was willing to go to teach them what happened to those who were “ungrateful” for “all” that France had done for them. In keeping with De Gaulle’s declarations concerning the fate in store for any territory that rejected the new Constitution and forfeited the right to enter the new French Community, the French Government had notified Guinea the day after the Constitutional Referendum that it was separated henceforth from the French Union. Although this notice of separation indicated also that French personnel serving in Guinea would be withdrawn—a serious blow to an emerging nation suffering from a dearth of trained technicians—its real significance lay in the fact that Guinea, as a free state, was no longer eligible to receive the financial aid and the administrative support supplied formerly by France.
Although President Touré and his Ministers never admitted to me, they must have been somewhat dismayed at the abrupt cessation of French support, especially when they reminded themselves that 65 to 75 per cent of all Guinea’s exports—agricultural and mineral—had gone to France. They were aware also that Guinea’s foreign trade had been characterized by an excess of imports over exports, and that approximately 70 per cent of these imports had come from France. They knew, however, that Guinea had not appeared to suffer from this adverse trade balance in the franc zone. Guinea had received over a ten-year period approximately more than 375 million from FIDES (Fonds d’Investissement pour le Développement Economique et Social des Territoires) for the building and repair of bridges and highways; for enlarging the port in Conakry; for constructing schools and hospitals; and for improving agricultural production. Of course, the Guineans considered this money to be merely a return for the resources already contributed by Guinea to the French economy. But the severance of relations between their country and France meant that FIDES had been lost as a future source of funds.
When General de Gaulle had said that France would put no obstacle in the way of Guinea’s independence, the Guineans did not interpret this to mean that France would refuse a helping hand to enable independence to become a reality. It is understandable that the Guinean Government, faced with possible economic collapse, accepted the skillfully couched barter trade agreements from the Communist bloc countries. The Government need not have been oriented toward the East to clutch at the well-aimed economic life preservers proffered by the Russians, the Czechoslovakians, the East Germans, and the Poles. In fact, I would suspect that many Guinean decisions made in the crucial days of newly won indcpendence resulted from improvisation rather than a well-integrated master plan. The leaders had no time to size up these “saviors” from the bloc countries who rushed into their country swearing to save the “nonwhite downtrodden masses.”
The Guineans were extremely conscious of and sensitive about the huge FRIA complex. This operation, with its bauxite mining and processing plant, represented the country’s single largest manufacturing industry. But the Guinean leaders soon made the sorrowful discovery that this industry meant little to the new Government as a large source of revenue, since it was protected by a long-term agreement drawn up while Guinea was still under French control which barred any increase in export taxes. This long-term agreement became a bone of contention between Guinean officials and FRIA officials, and I became very much involved because of the large investment by Olin-Mathieson. My feeling was that this agreement should have been changed to give the Guinean Government a fairer share of the revenues, but I never expressed this opinion to the Guineans. I did make it known, however, to the French officials who were operating FRIA, and, to put it mildly, this suggestion was totally unacceptable.
The exploitation of the rich iron deposits eight miles north of Conakry by a French company, Compagnie Minière de Conakry, was no great source of comfort to the new Government other than that it employed a few Guineans; there was also a question as to whether this operation was to continue. My visit to the Los Islands, just off Conakry, to inspect the bauxite exporting operation carried on by a French company supported by Canadian capital, revealed that this operation was no great financial help to the Guinean Government, which sorely needed foreign currency. It was evident also that the mining of diamonds, which was just becoming important to Guinea, needed reorganization to put diamond smugglers out of business and to ensure the development of a legal market attractive to legitimate buyers. The Government was interested in reorganizing the diamond industry, but this was going to take time.
I saw some of the results of voluntary labor, euphemistically called by President Touré investissement humain. This labor had certainly cleaned and spruced up the city of Conakry. (Our chauffeur came running into the residence grounds one Sunday morning, however, and said that the youth group in charge of a work detail had tried to impress him into service. Their method of convincing him did not seem to allow any choice.) Investissement humain had supposedly accounted for the construction of 3,600 kilometers of new roads, hundreds of school classrooms, and many dispensaries, stores, and markets, the latter two of which did not begin to supply the needs of the economy.
So impressed with investissement humain was the French Socialist who drew up Guinea’s first three-year plan—which, incidentally, proved most unsatisfactory—that he ventured to rely upon it for 20 per cent of a reported $120 million cost over a three-year period. It is little wonder that this plan faltered when put into effect, for it had assumed that approximately 70 per cent out of some two and one-half million people were going to work. This plan reputedly assumed that the rejection of what the Guineans called a “colonial economy” and the acceptance of a new economic structure (obviously socialist in concept) was going to enable Guinea to absorb within three years what some economists estimated to be investments totaling more than one-third of the estimated gross national product. I could well understand why the Government was so earnestly seeking, some three years later, the services of a well-known Harvard University lecturer who was an expert in developmental economics.
The sober confrontation with increasingly serious economic and social problems had caused even the most faithful and the most ardent members of President Touré’s entourage to realize that it was going to take more than investissement humain, good intentions, long hours of work, and around-the-clock meetings of the National Political Bureau to put Guinea on the road to prosperity. I felt certain that these leaders had been forced to concede that a mere handful of men, no matter how deeply committed, had to look to the outside for advice and assistance when they lacked governmental experience and administrative expertise. On all sides I could see evidence that these men had learned the hard way what one writer has called the “great lesson of the twentieth century”: “While it is possible to achieve political independence, complete economic independence is an impossibility.” They had discovered that Guinean independence was going to become a myth unless they consented to do the very thing those Guineans, suffering from xenophobia, wanted least to do—look lo foreigners for help and advice. It was the realization that had led the Guineans to open their doors to the Communist bloc after the French had closed off all avenues of help. The Communist bloc had counted on Guinea’s need for economic and technical assistance.
The Western powers had ignored the realities of the situation and the urgency of the Guinean call for help. So the Western powers must share some of the responsibility for Guinea’s early turn toward the East. And Western representatives should have felt a sense of guilt every time they stood viewing the scene and hypocritically wringing their hands in despair at the mounting evidence in 1959 and 1960 that the Communist bloc nations were using this new new republic as a laboratory for determining the best methods of winning over the developing nations of Africa and striving desperately to make it their showplace.
Although the Communists had offered Guinea economic life preservers in the form of barter trade agreements, it was actually Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana who supplied the Toure’ Government with its first much-needed loan of $28 million. Nkrumah probably lived to rue the day that his generosity (or his Pan-African aspirations) persuaded him to extend this loan to Guinea, for he was still trying, in 1961, to put pressure on Touré to make interest payments on the loan in foreign currency. Touré wanted to pay off in Guinean francs.
The loan by Nkrumah was one of the results of the November 1958 provisional agreement that created the Ghana-Guinea Union, which was finally sanctioned on May 1, 1959, during Nkrumah’s visit to Guinea. The Soviet Union did not offer Guinea a $35 million line of credit until one month after my arrival in Guinea in 1959, and the Guinean Government did not accept this offer until March 1960 because it felt that the terms were too one-sided, with the advantage on the side of the Soviet Union. It was not until many months later that Communist China offered the Guinean Government a $25 million loan, supposedly interest free.
It was hard to see why the Guinean Government, in view of the size of the country and the already existing problems, accepted the recommendation—supposedly of a Czechoslovakian adviser—to create the Comptoir Guinéen de Commerce Extérieur to control the import of basic consumer goods and the export of agricultural products and mineral resources. I was certainly not at all surprised when some months later the responsibilities of the poorly functioning Comptoir Guinéen were handed over to the Ministry of Commerce, where they should have been in the first place. Guinean officials justified the existence of the Comptoir on the grounds that it ensured a constant flow of goods into the interior of Guinea at reasonable prices.
I always suspected that the Guineans would not have entered upon this venture if they could have foreseen how it was going to end. In my opinion, the big problem was in the operation of the Comptoir. Most of the people in charge were honest and conscientious, but they had no experience in buying or selling goods in large quantities. Furthermore, they had no idea about methods of getting goods to the places where they were most needed and when transportation was available. There were great losses in revenue from costly errors in purchasing more goods than needed, or goods that no customers wanted to buy.
I myself heard complaints from Guinean consumers who were disgruntled about their inability to secure rice, flour, sugar, and matches. I saw the empty shelves in the grocery stores before the Government attempted to set up co-operative stores. I myself bought sugar that did not melt in tea or coffee, and matches that did not light. I know that Guinean officials were most unhappy with the quality of goods they imported in exchange for their bananas, pineapples, and coffee. I was told that Communist bloc countries were very dissatisfied because they did not receive from Guinea either the quantity or the quality of the agricultural products agreed upon. The disabled buses, jeeps, and cars that could be seen around Conakry and in outlying areas because parts could not be secured for them were stark testimony of the weakness of certain phases of the barter agreements. With the abolition of the Comptoir Guinéen, however, those people still trying to conduct private businesses in Guinea, who had been hampered by the restrictions of the Comptoir, began to see a faint glimmer of hope.
On March 1, 1960, I was summoned to the Présidence along with the rest of the members of the diplomatic corps, and with members of the press who happened to be in Guinea. It happened that Homer Bigart of The New York Times was visiting our Embassy on this day, and he went along with our USIS officer. Incidentally, I was called over to the Foreign Ministry several days later and accused of making available the facilities of the Embassy to a newspaper reporter. What the angry Minister of Foreign Affairs was getting at was that Bigart needed an interpreter, and he concluded that the USIS man must have served in that capacity. If the USIS man did help Bigart out in this respect, he saw to it that I didn’t know anything about it. I could, therefore, truthfully state that I was unaware that anything other than the usual courtesies had been extended to Mr. Bigart.
The President had called us together on March 1 to announce that as of that date Guinea was going to withdraw from the franc zone. We were quite surprised at this new development. For several months there had been rumors that Guinea might withdraw from the franc zone someday, but these rumors had not been taken very seriously. Touré pointed out that Guinea could never be completely independent without monetary reforms, because it was increasingly clear that the French banks still operating in Guinea were strangling the economy. Touré announced that the National Bank of Guinea had been created and within fifteen days all Guineans and other people residing in Guinea, regardless of nationality or diplomatic status, would have to replace all CFA francs with Guinean francs. In his best oratorical style, Touré pointed out that the Guinean currency was not tied to any other currency and that it was not going to be valid for export or for use in foreign trade.
Naturally, all of us were as concerned as the Guineans as to what was behind the Guinean franc, especially since President Touré had insisted that it was not tied to any foreign currency. This question became so pressing that the President found it necessary to try to answer it the following month (April 1960) at the National Conference of the Guinean Democratic party held at Kankan to discuss the Three-Year Development Plan. All of us in the diplomatic corps were invited to make the almost four-hundred-mile trip to Kankan as guests of the Government, in the small railroad coaches still in use. The Government had not yet secured the new diesel engine and cars from the Federal Republic of Germany.
At the Kankan Conference, President Touré told us that the foundation of Guinean currency was not some foreign currency or gold, but the national possessions of the country. He reminded us of the various units of monetary exchange used in Africa before the arrival of Europeans, and sald that value had been determined by agreement supported by custom rather than by absolute standard. He declared that all loyal Guineans had faith in their national goods, and implied that others who were genuinely interested in the futurc of the nation had this same faith. He concluded by saying thit he was removing the ever-present threat to Guinean sovcreignty always inherent in a continuing tie-in with French finances.
Before we left Conakry for Kankan, we had seen tangible results of Guinea’s withdrawal from the franc zone, for in addition to issuance of new Guinean franc notes bearing President Touré’s picture, the former French Central Bank of Issue for the Federation of French West Africa had been turned into the main branch of the National Bank of Guinea. This new National Bank took over the handling of foreign currencies, and thus virtually put out of business the French banks still operating in Guinea. Its overbearing and difficult governor informed all Embassies that they would have to deal with the National Bank. There were wide repercussions to the withdrawal from the franc zone, and many of the problems created by this unheralded move had not been settled by the time of my departure from Guinea in March 1961.
The Government was also faced with the problem of what to do with former soldiers who had served with the French Army and were now returning in increasing numbers to Guinea with the hope of imposing special conditions for themselves upon the struggling Government. The unfortunate failure of Sylvanus Olympio, late President of Togo, to face up to this problem of the returning soldiers contributed in a large measure to his untimely death.
It was estimated that there were approximately 150,000 former soldiers in Guinea in 1959, and only five hundred had found employment in the Civil Service. The Government planned to interest the able-bodied veterans in serving in the Guinean Army with the understanding that they would be put to work building new roads, working on cooperative farms, and aiding in various government projects. President Touré revealed his political astuteness and statesmanship by carrying the problem of the returning soldiers directly to the Fifth Party Congress of September 1959. He disclosed this matter in the presence of the party members and of the diplomatic. corps. Touré reported that he had heard that some of the veterans had vowed that if they could not find the kind of job opportunities they wanted, they were going to make trouble. Touré asked whether Guinean independence had been won by a handful of dissatisfied soldiers. He recalled that when they had been demobilized from the French Army while Guinea was under French rule, these veterans had never protested to the French Governor about employment, but had merely returned to their fanillies to seek their former occupations or to cultivate the land. Touré said that these agitators would have gone over to the enemy if Guinea had been obliged to take up arms against France, since they would be on the side where the money was. He cited the exemple of the Chinese Communists who had fought for thiry-five years and had lost millions of supporters. He said that Chinese soldiers had returned to their former occupations or had become farmers; they had not all become civil servants. Touré said that many Guinean soldiers had been encouraged by outside forces to return to Guinea to make trouble. He appealed to the people to stick together, ignore the threats of dissident veterans, close ranks, and make the Guinean Democratic Party the leading influence in Guinea.
Few, if any, of those accused in May 1960 of plotting to overthrow the Government were former soldiers. Among the civilians condemned to death were a brilliant young Guinean lawyer, Ibrahima Diallo, and a religious leader, Elhadj Mohammed Lamine Kaba, both of Conakry. In his May Day address, President Touré revealed to the populace and the diplomatic corps that a plot against his Government had been discovered and arms caches found at various points along the frontiers between Guinea and Senegal, and Guinea and the Ivory Coast. In a frenzied speech Touré excoriated the saboteurs and asserted that the guilty would be caught and given the ultimate punishment.
Several days later Touré summoned the diplomatic corps to the National Assembly chamber and gave us a lengthy explanation of the crisis facing his Government. He told us that the suspects would not be tried in the traditional courts of Guinea, but would face a Popular Tribunal consisting of members of the National Political Bureau, the Deputies of the National Assembly, the members of the National Council of the Guinean Labor Union, the members of the National Council of the Youth Organization, and the Secretaries General of the three sections of Conakry. When I heard about the size of this Popular Tribunal, and thought about the provocative nature of the radio broadcasts and the public statements already uttered by Sékou Touré himself, I wondered just how much chance there was for the prisoners to receive fair trials.
On May 4, 1960, we learned that a special committee appointed by an extraordinary Party Conference was to draw up the dossiers of the accused, and the accused were to be confronted by their accusers.
On May 8 the members of the Popular Tribunal met at 6:00 p.m. to hear the results of the special committee’s investigation and reach a verdict. On May 10 the verdict was announced.
It was not possible at any time between May 4 and May 8 to discover whether the prisoners were defended by lawyers or given the opportunity to appeal the verdict. All that the public knew was that eighteen people were condemned to death—seven in absentia (one of whom, a Frenchman, had escaped in a private plane); a French druggist was sentenced to twenty years at hard labor (released in 1961); a Swiss national received a sentence of fifteen years at hard labor (released in 1961); twenty-one Guineans were sentenced to five years at hard labor; and all those convicted had their property confiscated.
The diplomatic corps and the Guinean populace were very surprised to learn that Attorney Ibrahima Diallo and Elhadj Mohammed Lamine Kaba had been accused of being agents working for a foreign power and sentenced to death. I did not know the religious leader, but I was acquainted with Diallo. I found it difficult to believe that he was in the employ of a foreign power. I did know that he was dissatisfied with the one-party system in Guinea and had openly discussed the possibility of organizing a second political party. He had made no effort to cover his dissent and had openly discussed it at the April 1960 meeting of the party at Kankan. Diallo was intelligent and alert. Had he been working for a foreign power, he would have been clever enough to keep this hidden from his colleagues. I was aware that the religious leader Lamine had expressed dissatisfaction with the Guinean officials and had accused these officials of doing nothing for the masses, but merely looking out for their selfish interests.
The unfortunate part about this alleged coup is the fact that no outsiders were admitted to the trial or had access to the supposed evidence. It was never possible to determine whether the accused had been properly represented by counsel or given the opportunity to appeal the verdict. No announcement was ever made as to when, where, or how the death penalties were carried out. Nothing was ever done to refute the charges that the accused had been subjected to inhuman torture to induce confessions. Even in Algeria, the Ben Bella Government saw fit to announce when and how it executed those who plotted against the State. It was said in Guinea that secrecy had been necessary in order to avoid a tribal outbreak. As it was, secrecy merely evoked grave misgivings about the guilt of the accused
In the second attempted coup of 1961, the major source of disturbance came seemingly from the youths and a few teachers (supposedly organized into a group or union) who accused the Guinean Government officials of having betrayed their trust and failing to achieve the goals set when independence was achieved. In this instance the Soviet Embassy in Conakry was accused by the Guinean Government of becoming involved with the Guinean Youth Organization, and the Soviet Ambassador was asked to leave Guinea toward the close of 1961. President Touré’ charged that Russian-trained or Russian-motivated Guineans had attempted to infiltrate not only the Youth Organization, but also the political and governmental structures. He declared that he did not intend to stand idly by while a foreign power directed the seizure of power from his hands. In this manner the honeymoon of Guinea and the Soviet Union was declared over, and Anastas I. Mikoyan was sent by Moscow to Conakry in an effort to salvage the Soviet position.
When I learned of the Soviet Ambassador’s departure, I thought about the numerous times I had warned my Guinean counterpart and several of his colleagues that their certainty that President Toure and his Government would remain strong enough to withstand Communist infiltration tactics might well prove to be their undoing. Always they scoffed at the idea and called to my attention that the nearest Russian troops were thousands of miles away. I replied that I was not thinking about troops so much as about what would happen to Guinea if their Youth Organization, Women’s Group, the Democratic Party of Guinea, and the various Ministries were successfully infiltrated. This could mean that one morning all of them might wake up to discover that they had to seek jobs elsewhere—that is, if they survived. The Guineans remained unimpressed by the Soviet record of imperialism in Eastern Europe, because they had the confidence that this could not happen to them so far from Moscow. They might have believed what President Touré often said jokingly, that he would accept help from the devil himself if it meant the saving of Guinea. But the devil always demands his pay.
Although a close lid of secrecy was clamped on the abortive coup in Guinea of November 1965, it was reported that President Touré accused France and the Ivory Coast of plotting his assassination. As a result of these accusations, France and Guinea recalled their ambassadors, and charges and countercharges were exchanged between officials of the Ivory Coast and of Guinea. This was not the first time Guinea and the Ivory Coast had been at odds, for I heard President Touré in December 1959 utter harsh charges against the Ivory Coast as well as against France.
In 1965, however, the President of the Ivory Coast National Assembly charged Guinean police with extracting under duress a false confession from François Kamano, head of the Social Security Service of the Ivory Coast, who supposedly admitted over the Guinean radio that he had served as the agent of the Ivory Coast in a plot against President Touré. To complicate matters, the French police allegedly prevented Guinean agents from kidnaping and returning to Guinea the wife of a former Guinean diplomat. In view of the involvement of certain members of the French Secret Police in the disappearance in 1966 of the Moroccan Ben Barka, it was heartening to learn that the French police protected the wife of a former Guinean diplomat on French soil. Meager news reports from Guinea indicated that the chief protagonist in the 1965 plot was aided and abetted by at least two former government ministers, an army officer, and a number of small traders who belonged to an organization called the Parti de l’Unité Nationale de Guinée
Whatever else these plots may mean, they indicate that Guinea, even seven years after independence, was still troubled with discontent and perhaps disillusionment over the failure on the part of the Touré Government to achieve some of the gains promised to the people in postindependence declarations.
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Fulbright Scholar. Rockefeller Foundation Fellow. Internet Society Pioneer. Smithsonian Research Associate.