Decline of Guinean revolution

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Politique, société, économie
La première décennie du régime PDG
Victor Du Bois
Guinea: The Decline of the Guinean Revolution.
Part I: The Beginning of Disillusionment

The Developing World. American Universities Field Staff, Inc.
Conakry. November 1965. Vol. I. 1965 Columbia University Press. pp. 122-29

On October 2, 1965, the Republic of Guinea celebrated its seventh anniversary as an independent nation. In 1958, alone among France’s colonies in Africa, this proud country defiantly said « No » to General de Gaulle and to membership in the new French Community, and opted instead for complete independence. That decision has had profound implications for the young republic. What those implications have been, politically, socially, and economically, at the end of seven years of independence, is the subject of this Report and several others to follow.
When Guinea gained its sovereignty in 1958, it was a nation more in name than in fact. Its three and a half million people, inhabiting a country the size of Great Britain, were divided into three major and eleven minor tribes, some of them spilling over into the neighboring countries of Liberia, Sierra-Leone, Mali, the Ivory Coast, and Senegal. Largely through the efforts of the nation’s ruling political movement, the Parti Démocratique de Guinée (P.D.G.), a consensus had been arrived at to choose independence. The strands of national unity were still very fragile, however, and subject to the pull of tribal, ethnic, and regional loyalties.
The juxtaposition in Guinea of a small economically prosperous European minority and a vast impoverished indigenous majority substantiated Sékou Touré’s charge that up until independence Guinea had been ruled for the benefit of the whites to the detriment of the Africans. Touré was determined to rectify this situation, and as a result, once independence was achieved, the European commercial establishment, which Touré saw as the real villain in the drama of colonialism, came under increasingly severe restrictions. Guinea’s withdrawal from the franc zone on March 1, 1960, and its simultaneous establishment of a national but inconvertible currency, dealt it a crippling blow.
Independence radically altered the political face of the country. For the sake of national unity, an imperative which everyone recognized and accepted, all opposition political parties either disbanded or were absorbed by the P.D.G. Nationwide youth and women’s organizations were established, membership in which was mandatory.
From the outset, Guinea declared itself a socialist, revolutionary state: an archenemy of colonialism and a champion of African liberation and independence. « Revolution » became its byword, its rallying cry, and the psychological context within which all national policy was conceived and implemented. Henceforward, all that was done in Guinea was done in the name of the social and political revolution which the P.D.G. was convinced it was undertaking for the people of Guinea and, beyond them, for those of all Africa.
With independence achieved, President Touré and other national leaders turned their attention to strengthening the P.D.G. They were convinced that the party, which had proved so effective a vehicle for galvanizing Guinean opinion against the colonial regime, would also be the best instrument for promoting national unity, the requisite on which everything else depended.
Thus the P.D.G. moved quickly to consolidate its control throughout the country. No town or village, however small or remote, was neglected by its organizers. Settlements which for centuries had lain isolated from the outside world were suddenly thrust into the mainstream of the new and exciting national life. Two years after independence, some 26,000 party cells were in operation; and with this tremendous force behind it, the party became not only the arbiter and spokesman for the revolution, but its very incarnation. Its will and that of the nation were represented as synonymous, and in the eyes of its leaders, those who opposed the one also opposed the other.
To increase popular participation in the political process and encourage the sense of national unity, the P.D.G.’s leaders pressured virtually everyone—young and old, literate and illiterate, urban évolués and back-country peasants—to assume a conscious, active role in the affairs of the country. So thoroughly did they succeed that by 1964 Sékou Touré could boast that for every eleven persons in Guinea (including children) there was one who held an elective office of some kind, either in the government or in the party.

Guinean girls waiting to applaud President Sékou Touré

The nation’s leaders, now unquestioned masters in their own house, were aglow with ideas for the new society they wanted to create. It was to be a society based on equality and social justice; one which restored dignity to African men and women and assured their children of the opportunity of receiving an education and the chance to build a better life for themselves.
President Sékou Touré’s formal education ended with primary school. But for a man of his drive and ambition, this proved no handicap. A genuine intellectual, he had very definite ideas about how an independent and revolutionary African state should be run; and he proceeded to give form and substance, if not always coherence, to these ideas in an elaborate philosophy borrowed in bits and pieces from Russian Marxism, Jauresian socialism, and Nkrumah’s brand of African nationalism.
A hopeful and determined P.D.G, launched ambitious programs which, at their inception, seemed destined for a resounding success. Guineans flocked to contribute their time to voluntary labor projects (investissement humain); a Triennial Plan for development was launched with much fanfare; and when Sékou Touré announced that Guinea had withdrawn from the franc zone, his words were greeted with cheers by his people .
The social revolution envisaged by Guinea’s leaders demanded hard work and sacrifice from everyone; but during the initial years of independence, spirits were ebullient and revolutionary zeal was at its height. No sacrifice seemed too great. This civic spirit sprang from the conviction that the country was embarked on a new and promising road to self-fulfillment as a nation. Visiting politicians, professors, and journalists from foreign lands (including this writer) hailed what they saw and went away speaking of Guinea as a « pilot state, » whose daring new experiments in politics and economics would set the model for other nations in Africa.
The nation’s leaders proudly compared the Guinean Revolution to the revolutions which had taken place in Algeria and Cuba. The fact that the Guinean Revolution, unlike either of those two struggles, had been made possible by the peaceful means of the ballot box and with the acquiescence of the former colonial power, rather than by a resort to arms, mattered little to them. In their eyes it was still a genuine revolution, one which inspired as much confidence and hope for the common man as other historical revolutions.
If there was a certain excitement, a euphoria in the air, it was because at the time there seemed to be reason for optimism. The significance of Guinea’s change in status from a mere colony of a distant métropole to a sovereign nation in its own right was dramatically clear to everyone. Guineans were now in complete charge of their own government; Guinean officers commanded the army; and Guinea had its own anthem and its own flag. It was admitted to membership in the United Nations on an equal basis with the large and powerful nations of the world, and its friendship was solicited by countries of both East and West—though, significantly, not by France. Times seemed to augur well for the young republic.
Moreover, unlike other African countries either already independent or about to become so, Guinea showed great economic promise. Of the 14 French territories south of the Sahara, only the Ivory Coast and Senegal exceeded it in prosperity, and Guinea was potentially richer than either of these. It boasted some of the world’s largest-known bauxite deposits and was rich in diamonds, iron ore, and other minerals. Its banana, pineapple, and palm-oil plantations were among the most productive in French West Africa.
Considering its earlier promise and the ideals on which it was founded, Guinea today, seven years after gaining its independence, is a sad disappointment. Its economic potential, far from having been developed and used to raise the living standards of its people, has been squandered or simply neglected. Its government has become corrupt and tyrannical. Its people have been intimidated into silence or driven to flee abroad from a government and a party which they feel have betrayed them and no longer represent their interests.
While it is hazardous to attribute the decline of a nation to any one specific cause, available evidence strongly suggests that Guinea’s major problem was overpoliticization and the sacrifice of rational planning to political expediency

Members of the JRDA, Guinea’s national youth organization,
passing in review at the 28th September Stadium in Conakry.

The advantages which accrued to the P.D.G. from the intense politicization of the country—not only popular assent to its programs but also widespread popular participation—were the positive side of the coin. There was also a negative side. The plethora of base committees, regional committees, sectional committees, youth and women’s committees, and government councils meant a political system top-heavy with notables of one sort or another. The maintenance of this array of government and party officials demanded vast amounts of time, energy, and money. Moreover, while the establishment of party cells at the neighborhood and village levels provided a means for popular participation in government, it also created a vast bureaucratic apparatus which taxed the financial resources of the state, bogged down the decision-making process, and retarded the implementation of policy.
The decline of the civic spirit in Guinea coincided with, and was intimately related to, the P.D.G.’s inability to achieve success in the economic domain. From 1960 onward, life in Guinea began to grow steadily bleaker. The closing down or reduction in activity of French firms by the government’s nationalization decrees aggravated an already acute employment situation, especially in the urban centers of Conakry, Kindia, Labe, Mamou, and Kankan. Certain foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals, spare parts, and other items formerly imported from France could no longer be obtained; monetary transfers between Guinea and France or between Guinea and the nations of the Community were suspended because of Guinea’s withdrawal from the franc zone.
As the country’s economic situation grew worse, the party also started to encounter serious problems in maintaining the zeal it sought to infuse into the Guinean Revolution. The programs it devised were still enthusiastically endorsed at party rallies, and everyone expressed an eagerness to go out and put them into execution. But once away from the intoxicating ambiance of the rallies and the spellbinding influence of Sékou Touré’s oratory, the enthusiasm waned. In the capital, and even more so in the remote towns and villages of the interior, the merciless heat of the sun, the weight of centuries of inertia, and the ordinary problems of daily survival reasserted themselves in full force. They sapped the energy of the people and rendered them less amenable to the idealistic programs of the party intellectuals in Conakry
The leaders of the P.D.G. never understood — or if they did understand were rarely willing to admit — that the atrophy which started to afflict the country was due to ill-conceived, unrealistic planning on their part. Instead, they invariably diagnosed the trouble as political insufficiency. Sékou Touré always reasoned that the people were not disciplined or devoted enough to the cause of the revolution.
Thus their solution to the malaise which began to spread over Guinea from 1960 onward was to tighten party discipline, circumscribe still further the exercise of civil liberties, and urge their countrymen to be vigilant of « counterrevolutionary elements. » And for Sékou Touré and other party stalwarts, « counterrevolutionary elements » came to signify anyone who did not completely agree with them and submit unquestioningly to their dictates

Guinean women on parade.

As the country’s economic situation continued to deteriorate both internally and externally, charges of counterrevolution became more frequent in the party’s public pronouncements. It was never suggested that the country’s failures were due to any ineptness on the part of its leaders. Rather—via press and radio, and at public rallies—Guinea’s failures were attributed to the machinations of reactionary, neocolonialist, imperialist elements within the country and abroad who wished to see the Guinean Revolution fail.
Convinced that they were surrounded by enemies plotting their downfall and sabotaging their economy, Guinea’s leaders sought to expose these enemies and to extirpate them. Sékou Touré urged his countrymen to keep watch over one another and to denounce any among them who showed signs of bringing discredit on Guinea.

In your neighborhoods, in the villages, in offices and marketplaces, keep a watch on those persons whom you consider enemies of the people, all those whom you think act improperly. Inform us, and whatever the number of their diplomas, whatever their technical skill, we shall show that they are not indispensable to the country …
… Men and women! Young and old of the P.D.G.! You must maintain surveillance over everyone, beginning with President Sékou Touré. You will keep watch over everybody, in their slightest movements, their almost imperceptible attitudes, public and private. All those whom you consider likely to bring shame upon Guinea and Africa—denounce them! If you are a laborer, say to yourself that you are the equal of Monsieur Sékou Touré if you are a farmer, say to yourself that you are the equal of a Monsieur Sékou Touré, above any minister, above any public servant.…

And so it began. Guinea started to turn into a land of small and frightened people

. Professor Jean Suret-Canale, former head of Guinea’s National Research Institute, citing figures from the Institut National de la Statistique et des Etudes Economiques (I.N.E.E.), says that in 1911, for example, the average income of the European in French West Africa was estimated to be 315,000 C.F.A. francs (about $1.260) per year, while that of the African was only 10,000 C.F.A. francs (about $40). See Jean Suret-Canale, « Guinea under the Colonial System » in Présence Africaine, Vol. XXIX (Paris: n.d.), p. 59.
. For a more detailed discussion of the measures taken against the colonial commercial establishment, see Victor D. Du Bois, Reorganization of the Guinean Economy (VDB-1-’63), American Universities Field Staff Reports, West Africa Series, Volume VI. No. 1, February 1963.
. Ahmed Sékou Touré, 13 Novembre 1964 (Conakry: n.d. [1964?1), p. 31.
. Quoted from Sékou Touré « L’Expérience guinéenne et l’unité africaine, » Présence Africaine (Paris; n.d.), p. 223.

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