Guinée — Etats-Unis d’Amérique
John H. Morrow
First American Ambassador to Guinea.
New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 1968. 291 p.
At Work in Guinea
The first formal request to come to the American Embassy from the Guinean Government was made by President Touré himself, when he asked our assistance in setting up instruction in the English language. The President told me about the earnest interest on the part of all members of his Government to learn English. It had been necessary to use interpreters in conversing with Prime Minister Nkrumah of Ghana and President Tubman of Liberia. He indicated that there was general agreement in Guinea that English should be the second language of the Republic.
While the President was talking, my mind was busy with all the things that could be done to grant this first Guinean request. I assured President Touré that my country could certainly help. He promised to co-operate in every way possible in any program that was established. I sent off an urgent message to the Department, stressing the advisability of promptly meeting this valid need.
Several weeks and many messages later, the answer to the hurry-up request for an English language program came in the person of Dr. Marie Gadsden, a very capable woman who did muchch toward developing good Guinean-American relations. She was assisted by two women secretaries from our Embassy, and by my daughter Jean. Dr. Gadsden and these three volunteers did much to convince the Guineans that the United States was interested in helping them make English their second language. However, the thing that bothered me was that in an emergency my country, with all its resources, sent out only one trained English teacher to a country of two and one-half million people. The Guineans were somewhat puzzled about this also, but they were too polite, in this particular instance, to ask questions about the apparent shortage of English teachers in America. It meant that Dr. Gadsden had to concentrate on teaching a few ministers and lycée teachers, while the volunteers taught English in the Lycée. The program was not augmented until many months later when a team of English-language specialists, headed by Dr. and Mrs. David Binder of Washington, arrived to spend a summer in Guinea. The English-language program reached its peak during the summer of 1960, and I regretted that this group had to leave Guinea at the end of the summer.
Shortly after my arrival, it became apparent that a morale problem existed among Embassy staff members. Some were none too happy about having been assigned to Africa. The idea still persisted that Africa was to a certain extent the Siberia of the American Foreign Service. (This idea, of course, was soon to be dispelled when the swift achievement of independence by African nations opened up new possibilities for rapid advancement to United States Foreign Service officers and offered the likelihood of becoming a deputy chief of mission or an ambassador at a much earlier age.) Some of the Americans were unhappy about a tour of duty in Guinea because they found it too difficult to adjust to Guineans, who were enjoying the fruits of their newly won independence.
Guineans, thrust into new positions of power, took their role as members of an independent government very seriously, and they stood ready to confront vigorously anybody who attempted to treat them in a manner even faintly resembling paternalism or condescension. They were puzzled by what they considered complacency and reluctance on the part of Americans.
The Americans were bewildered, and at times angered, by what they considered truculence on the part of the Guineans, who were often extremely sensitive, and always quick to insist upon their rights and upon just and equitable treatment at: every step of the way. Certain members of the Embassy staff had the same misgivings about the ultimate fate of the Guinean experiment as had certain Washington officials. These misgivings made it hard for them to maintain open minds on the question of the best approach for America in this part of the world.
Diplomats from the West, and from the East initially, seemed to be quite oblivious to the importance placed by Guineans upon the dignity of the “African personality.” This unfortunate oversight did not foster the improvement of relations. There was a failure to recognize the reasons why Guinean government workers, many of whom held positions for which they had not been trained, were overly sensitive and on the defensive about their inability to supply readily routine classified information frequently requested by friendly governments. A number of Western diplomats—including some U.S. Foreign Service officers—mistakenly interpreted the frequent Guinean harangues against imperialisin and disregard for foreigners and protocol as conclusive proof of their unreadiness for self-government. They were unwilling to consider that these manifestations by the Guineans—such as the wearing of astrakhan hats by members of die Guinean Government—were designed to appeal to the masses, and possibly to divert attention from the difficulties created by breaking ties with France; that they were part of an effort to maintain independence.
When Guinean officials failed repeatedly to answer the many queries that came from various Foreign Offices, it often was not because they wished to be unco-operative or defiant, but was rather the result of their inability to secure authorization to release the information requested. The Guinean Ministers had to deal simultaneously with so many pressing problems that they had accumulated a backlog of unsettled matters. Some of the officials initially suspected that diplomats were spies placed in their country to ferret out and reveal to the outside world any inadequacies, deficiencies, or failures in the Guinean experiment. Those officials were extremely wary and uneasy about contacts with diplomatic representatives.
As for the reaction of the Foreign Service officers to my presence in Guinea, several thought the State Department lacked wisdom in sending to Guinea a man with no previous experience as a diplomat. It was not just that the assigning of a noncareer person meant that this was one more top position closed to career officers, who, understandably enough, considered an ambassadorial appointment the culmination of a successful career. It was perhaps the feeling of professionals that another professional should have been called upon to handle such a precarious situation. All these officers found themselves in the position, for the first time in their lives, of serving under a Negro. Several were bedeviled by the stereotypes so familiar on the home front concerning “secondclass citizenship” and the possible lowering of standards. It did not take long to dispel their erroneous ideas. In the meantime, however, I did encounter from the staff some silent treatment, some slowness in complying with requests for vital information, some resistance to instructions that greater efforts be made to establish friendly contacts with their Guinean counterparts. There was a decided complacency among some of the Americans who were interested merely in maintaining contacts with other Western members of the diplomatic corps, of whom all but a few were equally ignorant about the thoughts and the objectives of members of the Guinean Government.
It is not possible to reveal here how I set about improving the morale and organizing an effective working organization at the American Embassy. However, by December of 1960 we had such a smoothly working team with such excellent morale that I was called aside by the Commander of destroyers from the U.S. South Atlantic Fleet, in port for an amity visit, and questioned as to how it had been possible to develop such esprit de corps in a hardship post.
Dr. Norman Palmer, mentioned above, who visited Conakry long before the Commander of the U.S. destroyers, had this to say concerning his impressions of my staffmembers and me:
The First American Ambassador did not arrive until Summer of 1959; he was the chairman of the Department of French in a small Southern college and knew something of Africa. He has made a good impression, not so much because he is colored but because of his personality and his sincere interest in the country. But he is a complete parvenu in diplomacy, and he is operating in a country where a most astute and skilled professional is needed. In such circumstances, the State Department will normally assign a top-notch, experienced career Foreign Service Officer as Deputy Chief of Mission or head of the Political Section of the Embassy. The man who held both these posts did not possess such qualifications, although he is a fine and able officer with some African experience. He is a Class 3 Foreign Service Officer, and there were only two other FSO’s in the Embassy, both very junior. The rest consisted of one Class 5 Foreign Service Reserve Officer and one Class 8 Foreign Service Staff Officer.
Dr. Palmer was rightly concerned with the staffing pattern of the Embassy; but had he made a return visit he would have noted that steps had been taken to strengthen the Embassy stall. He would have discovered also that our effectiveness and our posture had improved.
It should be evident that my task in Guinea was not merely a matter of vying with Communist bloc efforts to win the minds and the hearts of the people. It involved the attempt to win the respect and confidence of the members of the Guinean Government. It involved the effort to convince not only my own Government but the diplomatic representatives of other governments of the urgency of aiding the Republic of Guinea to achieve stability and viability. By no means the least of all, my task in Guinea included the challenge of winning the respect, confidence, and the loyalty of those Americans on the scene, as well as those who came later. I believe that I played a role in convincing Western diplomats and some American officials that our duty was to seek to understand the Guineans as they wore for the first time their newly won mantle of freedom. The Guineans stood ready to forego Western aid rather than lose their jealously guarded self-respect and dignity.
Behind the warmth of the greeting extended to my family and me upon our arrival in Guinea, and the genuine interest shown by President Touré and some members of his Cabinet, I could detect a good deal of anti-Western sentiment among high-ranking Guinean officials in general. It didn’t take long to discover that these men were not at all convinced that the Western powers—especially the United States—intended to help Guinea and other developing African nations progress economically, politically, and culturally. Some of them suspected that the powers of the West were not so much interested in the welfare of Africans as they were concerned with the fate of their former colonial masters. I heard them hark back constantly to the failure on the part of the United States to honor their early, urgent request for small arms for security purposes and for radio communication equipment. They repeateadly challenged positions taken by the U.S. delegation at the United Nations on the question of Algerian independence, and expressed shock at the use by the French in Algeria of American arms under a NATO agreement. These officials wondered aloud about the existing military agreements between the United States and Morocco, and the United States and Libya. They appeared to be puzzled that the United States seemed so willing to pour millions of dollars in economic aid into Sukarno’s Indonesia and so hesitant about doing the least thing for Touré’s Guinea—after all, was not Sukarno Touré’s very good friend (Sukarno visited Guinea in 1960)? Certain officials questioned me continually about racial discrimination and segregation in America, and about the treatment received by African and Asian diplomats assigned to Washington or the United Nations. Several said that they would never risk visiting the southern part of the United States.
I learned shortly after my arrival that the same question discussed by the Washington Post had been raised in Guinea, allegedly by Communist bloc diplomats—and one Western diplomatconcerning my “second-class citizenship.” Stress had been placed upon the effrontery of the United States in sending to the Republic of Guinea a “black dupe of capitalism whose chief mission was that of deceiving naive Guineans.” When approached about this, I answered in about the same fashion that I had the first time the subject was raised in Washington, emphasizing the absurdity of having to waste time with such stereotypes. Moreover, the Guinean Government acted promptly to dispose of all conjecture as to my status as the diplomatic representative of the United States. A statement appeared in the Agence Guinéenne de Presse, and word was passed by Guinean officials to members of the diplomatic corps. It was carefully pointed out that the Guinean Constitution ruled out all racism and considerations based upon color; the Guinean Government was interested only in the merit and worth of an individual, and in his willingness to respect the sovereignty of Guinea, as well as the dignity of the African personality.
It was disclosed that the Guinean Government had accepted readily and willingly the agrément presented on my behalf by the State Department, because it had requested specifically that an American educator rather than a career diplomat be sent. Guinean officials shared the belief that an educator might have more understanding and greater sympathy for the problems and aspirations of a developing nation. It was made known also that President Touré and his Ministers had been particularly impressed by my appointment because they had heard already from their Parisian friends about my sustained interest in the independence of African nations. Thus I came to know that the Guineans knew, as did the State Department, about my extensive conversations with African officials, students, and French officials during the summer of 1958.
It was not going to be possible to counteract the prevailing anti-Western sentiment by lecturing about the “virtues of democracy” or the “glories of free enterprise.” The only way to gnaw away at this sentiment would be through persistent, pervasive, personal contact; through patient, intelligent, point by point answering of questions, assumptions, and charges; and through a sincere effort to seek mutual underslaildilig and respect. In this personal-contact approach, initiated during my first dealings with President Touré and his colleagues, I was ably assisted by my family, and later by those dedicated members of the American Embassy staff who became convinced that this approach could improve the American image in Guinea.
I had read numerous conflicting stories in the press concerning the political coloration of President Touré, but I wished to reach my own conclusions. I listened carefully to his public statements and read those made before my arrival in Guinea. I had numerous frank conversations with him, and I traveled into the interior to talk with the Guinean people. I reached the conclusion that this fearless, toughminded African leader was a fervent African nationalist, who had been quite impressed by Soviet and Chinese Communist claims of rapid economic development. I saw that he was intent on improving the African communal way of life by using those methods which could easily be adapted to that way of life. I believed that Touré was sincere when he formally rejected the principle of the struggle of classes in Africa, and that he was not going to welcome becoming a satellite of the Soviet Union. I decided that Touré believed that he could successfully apply democratic centralism to Guinean politics. I concluded that this African leader well understood that his Pan-African ambitions and his desire for recognition throughout Africa would be totally ruined if he allowed the East to dictate his policies.
I found it as difficult to convince Washington officials that Touré was an African nationalist, leading a country that merited help with its most serious problems of human suffering, as it was to convince Guinean officials that the policies of the United States supported self-determination of peoples, opposed racial discrimination and segregation, and favored help for developing nations of Africa and Asia.
My first confrontation with the Guinean Government concerning an American citizen came during the first part of August. This incident provided valuable insight into the inclination on the part of Guinean Ministers to do business only with the “head man” of an Embassy. They were influenced in this respect by their own experiences in running their Ministries.
. Miss Gillespie had received her Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, had served two years as a Foreign Service officer, and had written a book on the Algerian liberation movement. She had been drawn to Guinea by the many conflicting reports on the Guinean experience in independence.
Miss Gillespie called on me at the chancery and let me know that she hoped to travel into the interior of Guinea to gather data for news articles. I told her that travel for civilians was still somewhat restricted and she would have to get permission from the Minister of the Interior, Fodéba Keita. The Embassy stood ready to help if possible, but the Guinean Government had been most unhappy over some articles about their country which had appeared in American newspapers and periodicals.
Two days after Miss Gillespie’s visit to the chancery, a call was received from the Ministry of the Interior. Minister Fodéba Keita wished to see me immediately. I sent word that the Minister could come right over. Another call came saying that the Minister would appreciate it if I would stop by to see him, as he was expecting several important phone calls that morning. When I arrived, I found Minister Keita, who was usually quite relaxed and jovial, pacing back and forth in his office. He reported that an American journalist had attempted to file a story reflecting seriously on the Guinean national honor. He had called me because he wanted me to ask this person to leave Guinea.
I asked the Minister what the journalist had said in the story, and he replied that she had been writing about a matter that concerned only Guinea and another African nation. The phone rang at that moment and a spirited conversation in Malinké ensued, after which the Minister turned and exclaimed that the woman journalist had just attempted to file a second story. He said that a Ghanaian in difficulty with Ghanaian authorities had been arrested at the airport in Conakry when he attempted to enter Guinea. The American reporter had witnessed the arrest. When she discovered that the Ghanaian was still in jail twenty-four hours later, with no charges against him, she began to question police officials. Not receiving an answer satisfactory to her, she sent off a dispatch to New York about the seizure at the airport. In her second wire she was questioning Guinean procedures for arrest and holding prisoners. She made comparisons between Guinean police methods and those employed behind the Iron Curtain.
I explained to the Minister the American concept of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and said that his description of the journalist’s activities suggested that she was performing the usual duties of her profession without in any way encroaching upon Guinean sovereignty. I told him that I could not ask the journalist to leave Guinea. In fact, one of my duties as Ambassador was to see to it that American citizens received full protection under the laws of the land.
Miss Gillespie was not asked to leave Guinea—either by the Guinean authorities or by me—but she was not given permission to go into the interior. After a week in Conakry she left for North Africa. All of us were greatly shocked when we learned some months later that seven weeks after her arrival in Tunisia, she had died following a brief illness.
In mid-August I was invited to accompany President Touré and his Cabinet on a trip to the bauxite-processing installations run by an international consortium known as FRIA, located some eighty miles from Conakry. This consortium was made up of investors from the United Kingdom, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Switzerland, and the United States. An American corporation, the Olin Mathieson Company, was a large investor in the operation. I had already visited FRIA and had been taken on a tour of the huge installations by French officials of the Pechiney Company that still ran the total operation of mining and processing bauxite for shipment to aluminum plants abroad.
When I arrived at the Présidence early on the Saturday morning of the trip to FRIA, I was surprised not to see the cars of my British, French, and German colleagues. I discovered that I was to be the only “foreigner.” I was assigned to the car carrying Secretary of State Fodé Cissé and Minister of Justice Paul Faber, two excellent conversationalists. The time passed quickly despite the fact that a goodly portion of the trip had to be made over unpaved bumpy roads with sharp curves.
As we approached FRIA, we could hear the singing and applause of the inhabitants, who were lined up on both sides of the main road. Upon reaching the plant, we were taken on a guided tour and saw, among other things, a class in which several young Guineans were receiving rudimentary training in the use of mechanical and electrical equipment. It was hard to believe that just one year and a half earlier FRIA had been a wilderness of trees and thickets. All the heavy equipment and machinery involved in extracting and processing bauxite had been hauled either by rail on the spur track from the port in Conakry or by truck and trailer.
A reception given by FRIA officials and a buffet luncheon prepared by the Guinean women of FRIA followed the tour. I noticed at the reception that the Guineans from FRIA seenied to hover in one group and the FRIA officials in another. Although the Guinean Government officials and I mingled and talked with both groups, I could sense the tension. I discovered that there had been labor troubles at FRIA. Many Guineans had been attracted to this area by jobs for unskilled laborers. Once the clearing had been done, the foundations dug, and the roads constructed, the laborers were no longer needed. Local Guineans were unhappy also because no Guineans were foremen or held the better-paying positions. The small apprenticeship training course had been set up on a long-range basis and did not help to meet the present demands for jobs.
Guinean officials had become increasingly conscious of the implications of the long-term operating agreement worked out for FRIA by the French authorities prior to independence. They contrasted their failure to see any “tangible” benefits from the FRIA operation with the situation in Liberia, where the Liberian Government was assured of at least 50 per cent of all profits from mining ventures in that country. Guinean officials could see no change in the management of FRIA; the French were as much in evidence in the running of operations as they had been in preindependence days. No Americans were employed in any capacity at FRIA. Guineans felt that some of the money earned by foreign personnel should be spent in Guinea and not sent abroad as savings.
After the luncheon President Touré made a speech in which he expressed the interest on the part of the Guinean Government in the continued functioning of FRIA. He stressed the necessity for the establishment of a closer understanding between the officials of the consortium and the Guinean Government. Touré traced the development of FRIA and asserted that it most certainly had a role to play in the future development of Guinea. His speech did not have any overtones that suggested that his Government might take over FRIA unless it were managed differently. This idea, however, was uppermost in the minds of French FRIA officials and accounted in part for their uneasiness. Apprehension seemed to prevail in some quarters that FRIA might be turned over to Eastern European countries.
President Touré, with his lively sense of humor, made the most of an incident that occurred during the luncheon. He told some of his Ministers in my presence that several of the ladies in charge of the luncheon had asked him the name of the tall, new Fulah member of his government. When he asked for a further description, he realized that the ladies were talking about me. The President and his Ministers were amused, not only because I had been mistaken for a member of the Government, but also for a member of a particular tribal group. I joined the laughter but could not help thinking that the Fulah tribe to which the Guinean ladies had assigned me was the one that had caused the French so much difficulty in the early stages of the colonialization of Guinea.
This same group was becoming an increased source of concern for the Touré Government. Inhabiting Middle Guinea, also called the Fouta Djallon (from the Fouta Djallon Mountains, rising some 5,000 feet), theFulahs represented more than one-third of the population of Guinea. These people, formerly organized along feudalistic lines, had become for the most part Muslims, and appeared to be more Hamitic than Negroid. Theirs was a difficult dialect, in which they took great pride. They were proud also of their cattle, counting their wealth by the number in their herds. The Fulahs still showed great independence of spirit and loved to recall that they were descendants of the Fulani tribe that had conquered the area today known as Guinea, Senegal, and Mali.
Even before independence, Touré and his political party had taken vigorous action to displace the tribal chieftains and eliminate tribal differences. It had not been so easy to bring about co-operation among the tribes, even though this co-operation was apparent among the national leaders representing different tribal groups. The Soussou, concentrated in the coastal area of Lower Guinea, constituted another important tribe. The Soussou had been pushed out of the Niger valley by successive Fulani invasions. With the location of the capital in Conakry, the Soussou dialect had become increasingly important. The Malinké or Mandingo group, to which President Touré belonged, spread originally from Kankan in eastern Guinea to Bamako in Mali. This group came to settle around Faranah, the birthplace of President Touré, and Kankan, and spread down as far as Beyla. The Malinké were supposedly descendants of those people who had formed the great thirteenth-century Empire of Mali from which the present Republic of Mali derived its name.
There was one thing of which I was certain, however. I would not have wanted to be mistaken for a Fulah just prior to or immediately after independence, for a number of Fulahs did not support fully the severing of all ties with Metropolitan France. Most of the affirmative votes cast in the September 28, 1958, Constitutional Referendum had been cast in the Fouta Djallon region.
I did not find out until several days after this very pleasant trip to FRIA, on which I had been the guest of the Guinean Government, that it had provoked much discussion among members of the Guinean Political Bureau as well as among the Western and Eastern diplomats. The point of discussion was that the Guinean Government should not have singled out any one member of the diplomatic corps for a trip to an international consortium. The bloc members resented a gesture that seemed to represent recognition of a large American financial interest in Fria. Interestingly enough, the next invitation to the diplomatic corps to accompany President Touré and his Cabinet on a trip was not issued until April, 1960, when everybody was invited to travel almost four hundred miles by train from Conakry to Kankan to attend the national conference of the Parti Democratique de Guinée.
The case of mistaken identity which proved to be the most pleasing as well as amusing to President Touré and his Ministers was that which involved a member of the Guinean delegation to the United Nations and myself. Not long after my arrival in Guinea, Achkar Marof, number two man in the Guinean UN delegation (Marof later became Ambassador to the United Nations and developed into one of the most capable members of the Guinean diplomatic corps), returned to Guinea and made a trip into the interior, where he was mistaken for me. Marof is not as tall as I and has a moustache; but his features and color resemble mine. If our names were pronounced quickly with a French accent, they might sound somewhat alike.
At any rate, Marof had a hard time convincing Guineans in the interior that he was not the American Ambassador and that he was actually their representative to the United Nations. This incident was cited frequently by President Touré, who laughingly referred to Marof and me as perfect examples of the American-Guinean “exchange-of-persons” program.