Sékou Touré / Bibliothèque

Jonathan C. Randal
Letter From Guinea.
Empty Palace Catches Tenor of Tenure’s Rule

The Washington Post. May 25, 1984; pages E1, E6

Conakry — The late president Ahmed Sekou Toure may not have appreciated the symbolism, but perhaps the most apt monument of his 26-year rule may be the hollow shell of the old presidential palace. He inherited the rambling building intact from the French colonial governor when Guinea became independent in 1958.
And he only agreed to move temporarily into a new palace —built for a now postponed summit conference of the Organization of African Unity—on condition that he could move back in when it was rebuilt.
It is now left to his much relieved fellow citizens to rebuild not just the old palace but the entire country that Toure so effectively emptied of it soul and substance
Symptomatic of the long repressed anger released after the military overthrew his heirs was a letter published in Horoya, the country’s only newspaper. An irate reader complained that Conakry was “one of the garbage dumps among African capitals and Conakry is the prettiest of our cities.”
Perhaps. But archeology resurrects whole civilizations from garbage dumps-and the simple tin-roofed shacks and neglected colonial office buildings with their high ceilings are rare examples of pre-independence Africa.
They are now dominated by skyscrapers whose fancy elevates and central air conditioning as often as not, are on the blink.
What is striking is how little of Sekou Toure’s reign remains. He created everything on paper, but little actually functioned.
Thus his imprint seems as faded as the rain-washed portraits, staring out from city walls, of such dead revolutionary heroes as Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, China’s Mao Tse-tung and Angola’s Agostinho Neto.
No longer is the country called the People’s Revolutionary Republic of Guinea
Schools are not now called Revolutionary Education Centers nor are government workers obliged to answer their telephones with “ready for the revolution.”

Symbol of Toure’s Rule in Guinea Is Empty

Shell The prescribed reply was, “The revolution is demanding.” Indeed, the other day two civil servants burst into gales of laugher when one inadvertently blurted out the revolutionary greeting.
What concerns Guineans even more than their economic plight, which has left this once-prospering country among the poorest of this poor continent, is the pitiful state of education.
Influenced by China’s example, Toure in 1968 began a “cultural revolution” of his own. School was taught in eight “national languages” depending on the region in which the school was located.
The only schoolbooks were volumes of Toure’s theoretical writings and declarations-laced with the jargon of socialism and pan-Africanism-which students studied eight hour a week to the detriment of French, once the country’s lingua franca, and other subjects.
More than a generation of students was churned out neither literate nor numerate, unemployable in any but the lowest jobs and a potential pool of political discontents.
In any event only 32 percent of primary school-age children -and 16 percent of secondary school-age children-actually attended classes, far fewer than in neighboring Ivory-Coast, Liberia or Siena Leone.
Those who did graduate were rewarded with high-sounding titles. For example, more than 12,000 “agricultural engineers” graduated from special polytechnic schools, all but 2,000 of them hopelessly incompetent, according to education specialists.
Teacher also benefited from “degree inflation,” with primary school teacher, promoted to secondary school teacher and the latter given university posts, while grade school teachers were recruited from among the new semi-literates from what if now known as the “lost generations.”
Guineans from all walks of life freely buttonhole foreigners to make clear they want the French to come back and put the schools back on the rail. Already the French language has been given pride of place, replacing the indoctrination courses, which were so hated that many parents withdrew their children in protest.
Guineans are well aware of the excesses of other African military regimes. Yet they appear genuinely pleased with the Army officer who have taker over the government here.
The new rulers appear committed to the democratic principles, which neither Guineans nor many other African countries ever experienced in their instant evolution from colonial to indigenous authoritarian rule. Symbolic of the new commitment are the government-issued posters running the full text of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
The military leaders swear they mean what they say in promising to respect due process in the trials of these charged with corruption and excesses. Defendants will be allowed to hire foreign lawyers and no death sentences are to be pronounced.
If respected, that too will represent a major departure from other African regimes, civilian or military, as indeed is the new government’s pledge to persecute no one for political beliefs.
The government has promised to set the date for trials in the near futures. Diplomats are convinced that the investigations are drawing to a close, speeded by the discovery of files that Toure compiled on his immediate associates’ corrupt practices. Yet what should be thought of the authorities’ decision to ban the public as of April 17 from visitingCamp Boiro, whose sinister death cells and torture chambers claimed thousands of victims and cowed the entire country?
Now, as the Army wives and children walk around the Camp, paying little mind to the cells where so many detainees died, sometimes by being denied food or water, a method known as the “black diet.”
In his own mind, Toure, it is said, justified the terrible suffering he wrought by invoking such revolutionary models as Stalin and Mao.
In a part of the world were statistics and records are often considered foreign notions, at least one Guinean is determined to set things straight.
Soft-spoken Mohammed Sylla, a French-trained business school graduate who now is the personnel manager at a luxury hotel, is the moving force behind a recently founded club of former political prisoners that now boasts 180 members.
Sylla gives the impression that he is more intent on bringing torturers and their masters to trial than to punish them.
“Their logic was the absence of logic,” he said quietly. “If we do as they did then nothing will have changed and things must change for Guinea, Africa and all mankind.”