Guinea: Decolonization, Independence
Encyclopedia of African History.
Kevin Shillington, ed. Vol. 1. New York & London. Fitzroy Dearborn, p. 601-602
Guinea, a country in West Africa, is the result of the colonial partition of that region at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. After nearly sixty years of French rule, the decolonization of Guinea took place within the wider context of the disintegration of European colonial dominions in Africa and Asia after World War II. It should be emphasized that this decolonization process was, to a large extent, contingent upon this favorable context, which prevailed in the wake of the war, and accounts, to a large extent, for the speed with which the colonies succeeded in ridding themselves of the subjection they suffered.
Political awareness in Guinea, as in other French African colonies, was facilitated by a series of reforms initiated by France from 1944 to meet the expectations of the colonial people. These reforms were in keeping with the recommendations of the Brazzaville Conference of January-February 1944, at which the French colonial authorities in Africa fully realized the need to bring about changes in their colonial approaches, while paradoxically asserting their desire to safeguard the existing colonial order. These reforms included granting the colonies certain rights and freedoms, such as union rights, the right of association, the right to vote and to participate in the local and metropolitan houses of representatives, the latter being newly established institutions.
In Guinea this new political context found expression in the creation of ethnic or geographically based associations (Sidiki K. Keita 1978, vol. 1, pp.171-172). It was also translated into the emergence of political and ideological parties and circles. The activities of these associations gave rise to a brisk nationalistic trend. Of the parties that came into being between 1946 and 1954, three engaged in the competition for political leadership in the territory: the Bloc Africain de Guinée (BAG), the Parti Démocratique de Guinée (PDG), and the Démocratie Socialiste de Guinée (DSG). Until 1956 Barry Diawadou’s BAG, backed by the colonial administration and drawing the bulk of its membership from the feudal class and the influential members of society, defeated the other political parties at the successive polls. Nevertheless, since then, the PDG, the Guinean section of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA) under Sékou Touré, pulled itself up to the first position, the hostility of the colonial authorities notwithstanding. This process was crowned with the latter party’s momentous victory at the territorial elections of March 31, 1957, winning fifty-seven out of the sixty seats in the colony’s territorial assembly, a feat that afforded it preeminence in the country and pushed the competing parties to the background.
The PDG owed this new position on the political scene to several factors. One such factor was the economic and social situation prevailing in Guinea at the time of the colony’s political awakening. It was an underdeveloped state, compared to its other neighbors in French West Africa. This state of underdevelopment showed mainly in the predominance of trade in raw commodities and the scarcity of industries. This condition contributed to the radicalization of the nationalist movement in Guinea. The PDG realized that it could politically turn the situation to its advantage.
Another factor was the particularly inspiring topics discussed during the PDG’s campaigning with regard to the colony’s economic situation. These topics were mainly focused on the castigation of the old and new methods of colonial exploitation and suppression meted out to the people. The PDG was also boosted by a sound organization at the national and local levels, buttressed by a highly efficient trade union movement, and the exceptional oratory skills of its leader, Sékou Touré
In April 1957, when the French government promulgated the decrees on enforcement of the Gaston Deferre Outline Law, which granted the colonies a semiautonomous status, the PDG had already secured such a strong position that it was readily called upon to form the first government. Sékou Touré became vice president, with the position of president going to the colonial governor. The PDG efficiently consolidated its positions by carrying out the reforms the people were yearning for. It settled its scores with the feudal class by abolishing traditional chieftaincy (Niane D. T. 1998, p. 81). This increased its popularity as compared to the contending parties, the BAG and the DSG, which, though weakened, still remained active on the political arena.
It was against this background that French President de Gaulle put forward a proposal to the French colonies in Africa. They could opt for full independence, or accept the French offer of the creation of a new community, at a referendum to be held on September 28, 1958. Unlike in most of the colonies involved, in Guinea the referendum was held in a context where the full implementation of the Loi-Cadre revealed its weaknesses with regard to the Guineans’ quest for self-rule. From January 1958, Sékou Touré was of the view that the opportunities offered by the proposed reforms had elapsed. Consequently, de Gaulle’s initiative was generally welcomed by the political actors, including those considered to be siding with the colonial administration. They took an official stand in favor of independence, even before the PDG and its leader made their views known on September 14, 1958, at the party’s convention.
Of all the French colonies in Africa, Guinea alone voted for independence, which was proclaimed on October 2, 1958. This result was the outcome of the concurrent action of all the political forces on the scene, particularly the PDG, whose control over the country was so strong that, in the view of the colonial governor on the eve of the referendum, any voting directive issued by its leadership would unquestionably be followed by 95 per cent of the electorate, whatever that directive might be (Kaba, p.87).
Guinea’s example was contagious and resulted in the independence, in succession, of the other African countries, which cost France its painstakingly fashioned community.
Ademolekun, L. Sékou Toure’s Guinea. London: Panaf, 1978.
DuBois, V. The Guinean Vote for Independence. New York: American Universities Field Staff Reports, 1962.
Morgenthau, Ruth S. Political Parties in French-speaking West Africa Oxford: 1964.
Niane, D. T. La République de Guinée. Conakry, Guinea: S.A.E.C., 1998.