Guinea: Mobilization of a People


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webGuinée / Etat & Société

La première décennie du régime PDG

Claude Rivière
Guinea: The Mobilization of a People

Ithaca. Cornell University Press. 1968. 260 p.

Chapter 2
The Road to Emancipation

The holy trinity of colonialism — Europe, Christianity, money — revolutionized African attitudes. Those elements seemed to possess a permanent validity, and it also appeared likely that the colonial empires would long continue to bask in glory. Then, somewhat unexpectedly, World War It broke down the myth of the invincible father figure — the European.
From that period dates the great political awakening of Black Africa. Postwar colonial policy became noteworthy in several respects. Economically, a start was made toward industrialization and the development of mineral resources, along with agricultural improvements. There was also a considerable increase in job openings as well as wages, and also an expansion of education. As for the administration, the powers of colonial governors were increased. What was most characteristic of the postwar period in Guinea, however, was political agitation, which led in 1958 to independence. The concurrent activities of organized labor and political parties were of primary importance in promoting Guinea’s total emancipation, and they are the subject of this chapter.

Unionism, a Decisive Force

Historically, this period can be divided into three main phases.

  • During the first, from 1945 through 1952, a sociovocational form of trade unionism emerged and developed. As for the political parties, they were above all committees more or less with an ethnic basis, formed during election campaigns; in trying to achieve cohesion they disintegrated under the pressures to which they were subjected.
  • The second phase, from early 1953 to June 1956, foreshadowed specialization in African trade unionism, while a branch of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA), the Parti Démocratique de Guinée (PDG), gradually assumed the dominant position on the political scene.
  • The third phase, which lasted from the loi-cadre to the PDG’s assumption of power on September 28, 1958, was that of Pan-African labor organization.

In Guinea, organized labor was a decisive force in forming national consciousness. The solidarity it created through strikes proved to be the most effective instrument in promoting nationalistic aspirations. Through the very form they assumed, these aspirations tended to orient the labor movement toward its identification with a leader and a party. This was carried to such lengths that it could be said that the PDG was the offspring of the labor movement, insofar as the party was created by the labor leader Sékou Touré and received from him its socialist ideology and centralized organization. Consequently, and for convenience in explaining this evolution, we shall begin by studying the role of organized labor before investigating that of political parties, and start with these historical observations:

  1. Two factors affected the emergence of labor unions: the state of the economy and colonialism, both of which continued to influence wage earners’ movements until the achievement of independence.
  2. However, in the evolution of organized labor, two other elements were decisive; the relations between the African unions and their Metropolitan headquarters, and those between the labor movement and the political party.
  3. A dominant labor organization and a dominant party corresponded to the undivided authority exercised by the colonial regime, suggesting a trend toward unity.
  4. The PDG’s adoption of a progressive ideology facilitated its integration with the labor movement and its acceptance of charismatic leadership.
  5. That the unions served as a school for training the party’s cadres explains in part its utilization of the labor movement. The cadres, after assuming political responsibilities, would not necessarily be radical or extremist.

It was not until the end of World War II that wage earners were organized. This came about through a weakening of colonialism’s repressive aspects, as a result of the moral obligation felt by the authorities toward African colonial peoples because of the contribution they had made toward the war effort. Parties and unions, sometimes with the same leaders, were formed during this era, and both were fully aware of the Africans’ condition of dependency in material respects. But it is worth noting that it was the most active labor leaders who made wage earners conscious of their economic strength and who, as heads of the RDA, won the assent of most of the population to their policy.
The two principal forces for independence – the RDA and the French Confedération Générale du Travail (CGT) – put down their deepest roots in the soil prepared by the French Communist Party . This single source of their inspiration and the identity of their leadership meant that the benefits accruing from a struggle that had been spearheaded by the CGT were likewise credited to the RDA.
From the chronological standpoint, it was the professional unions that provided the basic organization for the movement. Among the Africans, civil servants in the communications service were the first to organize and to act effectively, because it was they who maintained links with the outside world and between the country’s different regions. Postal workers led the way by organizing within the framework of the CGT, and then railroad employees formed an autonomous union. Wage earners in the public services, employees in trading firms, and artisans in small enterprises followed their example. Finally came the organizing of employers’ associations, aimed at defending their interests rather than redressing grievances, and these were joined by entrepreneurs and artisans who worked for themselves.
Soon the diversity of the unions showed the need for a program of common action. This was the goal set by the union created at Kankan early in 1946, comprising all the labor sectors of that town and region. But unions with a limited geographical base could not so effectively press their demands as the large labor organizations. In March 1946, the CGT, informed of this need for a program of joint action, sent two of its officials on a labor mission to French West Africa (FWA).
They convened a congress at Dakar attended by thirteen European and twenty-one African delegates, who among other accomplishments formed the Union des Syndicats Confédérés de Guinée (USCG), headed by five Europeans and five Africans. This organization decided to affiliate each of its vocational unions with its Metropolitan counterpart. Two delegates, one a European (Maurice Guignouard) and one an African (Sékou Touré), were chosen to represent the new organization at the twenty-seventh CGT congress at Dakar in 1947. At that meeting, Sékou Touré praised the unions’ merger but voiced his regret at the reluctance of many European and African workers in the private sector to join the new confederation.
This expression of regret revealed the existence of significantly divergent views, notably between the Catholic Confédération Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens (CFTC) and the Socialist Force Ouvrière (FO). From the time it was constituted in Africa in April 1948, the FO was able to recruit European members, thanks to the support given it by high ranking French officials. On the other hand, the Guinean branch of the CFTC, which had been founded in 1946 with the rather reluctant consent of Monseigneur Raymond Lerouge, bishop of Conakry, aimed at competing with the CGT, established there the previous year. Under the leadership of David Soumah, aided by Antoine Lawrence, Firmin Coumbassa, and Marius Sankoun, the CFTC in Guinea was handicapped (just as that labor organization was in the rest of FWA) by the fact that its membership was small and dispersed. As of 1954, the CGT had five times as many members as the CFTC.
In the struggles led by the civil-service unions, as well as by those of the private sector, a wage increase was the principal objective, as it was in Europe. After 1950, labor’s demands gave priority to the elimination of auxiliary (contract) workers, the admission of Africans to certain posts through competitive and professional examinations, an improvement in working conditions (an eight-hour working day, paid vacations, family allowances, and workers’ accident compensation), and the creation of a single cadre in which, notably, discrimination in pay between European and African workers could be ended. European wage earners, who were divided into six categories, benefited from automatic promotions, paid trips home for themselves and their families, cost-of-living allowances, and lodgings. Africans, on the other hand, who were classified into eleven or, in some cases, fifteen categories, enjoyed none of the foregoing advantages. Moreover, they earned three to four times less than Europeans with equal qualifications.
These cumulative grievances motivated the most serious of the strikes that occurred between 1945 and 1952 – that of June 1950. This was a strike by wage earners of the public sector, which soon spread to those in private employment and also to domestic servants. Its broad goal was a revision of pay scales, and this was the first step toward achieving a labor code. The June 1950 strike proved the fighting spirit of the unions, widened the gap between Europeans and Africans, and, to some degree, discredited an administration that showed itself incapable of imposing arbitration. Emboldened by this success, the unions thenceforth often used the strike weapon, especially at Conakry during 1952, at the time when the mining of bauxite at Kassa and of iron at Kaloum was beginning. As a result, there was a general rise of 20 to 25 per cent in wages that year
The adoption on December 15, 1952, of a labor code for the French colonies marked the end of union activity geared to special-interest objectives. This, however, was primarily because the adoption of that code virtually coincided with two other major events.

  • One of these was the election of the outstanding labor leader, Sékou Touré as territorial assemblyman from Beyla (on August 2, 1953).
  • The other major event was a two-month-long strike (from September 21 to November 25, 1953), in which workers of the public and private sectors joined forces.

Although the Overseas Labor Code was not immediately enforced, its application led to a general adaptation to organized labor’s demands, which theretofore had given priority to the enactment of a labor code. As for the election of Sékou Touré to the territorial assembly, it provided the labor movement with a platform for political action and also promoted the merging of the unions’ economic and political demands in their struggle against the colonial regime. Finally, the success of the general strike led by the unions during the last quarter of 1953 redounded to the credit of the PDG, the party most active in the anticolonial struggle. At the same time it reinforced the solidarity between members of the unions and of Sékou Touré’s party. The peasants went so far as to collect rice for striking workers
The colonial administration had suddenly realized that the organizing of labor was the first step toward nationalistic demands because it helped to underscore the link between economic exploitation and political domination. Consequently, for as long as possible, the administration tried to discourage the organizing of labor until it was overborne by the workers’ awareness of their strength, brought about mainly by the 1952 strikes and by promulgation of the Overseas Labor Code. It then was forced to come to terms with the unions, which used the parties as their spokesmen. Political demands underlay all the economic demands by the trade unions regarding employment, for each move by organized labor showed more clearly that colonialism by and of itself gave rise to injustice. Every reform in colonial policy could be interpreted as a confession of error, and, like the 1940 Franco-Gerrnan armistice, a symptom of the weakness of the colonizer and the vulnerability of his policy. Still another factor contributed to the combining of economic with political demands. As of 1953, almost half the urban wage earners in Guinea were employed in the public sector. Consequently, they had to submit their grievances to the administration, which was both the defendant and the ruling power.
Those rising leaders who were trying to combine union with party action began to assess the labor movement’s ideological, organizational, and technical dependency on the Metropolitan confederations as a genuine obstacle to acquiring experience in specifically Guinean terms. So they played up their grievances against the CGT, which they accused of relegating its branches in Africa to a subordinate position in its hierarchy. They also charged the CGT with deliberately using the African unions to increase its influence, with imposing its authority by assimilationist tactics, and with failing to do its duty in helping to train African wage earners. As a result, it was chiefly workers in the tertiary sector (administration, trade, and transport) who filled the union cadres. Furthermore, by stressing the class struggle, the CGT allegedly was deflecting the true course of African labor’s struggle and was guilty above all of stratagems and sins of omission. In correcting these errors by Africanizing the labor movement, the union leaders achieved their second great success after passage of the Overseas Labor Code: they won independence for Guinean organized labor. In 1955, Sékou Touré, Seydou Diallo, and Bassirou Guéye (all CGT secretaries) began their campaign to downgrade the CGT. At the RDA coordinating committee’s meeting in Conakry that July, the subject of disaffiliating African labor federations from their Metropolitan headquarters was placed on the agenda. The process of transforming the African CGT into an autonomous union began in November with the inauguration of its first territorial branch in Guinea. However, the Conféderation Générale des Travailleurs Africains (CGTA) was not officially created until January 1656.
The year 1956 marked the real break between the African and the Metropolitan labor movements. As soon as the CGTA was officially launched, with a membership taken largely from the CGT and the FO, a congress was held at Ouagadougou, Upper Volta, in July which transformed the CFTC into the Confédération Africaine des Travailleurs Croyants (CATC). Once union autonomy had confirmed the African character of the labor movement, the unions, in order to make it more effective, had to unite. This was the objective of the congress held at Conakry in October 1956. On November 24, David Soumah signed the interunion protocol agreement for the CATC, as Sékou Touré had done for the CGTA and Abdoulaye Diallo for the CGT. Although the Cotonou, Dahomey, conference of January 1957 was tumultuous, it succeeded in constituting the first truly African labor confederation – the Union Générale des Travailleurs d’Afrique Noire (UGTAN), which was largely the handiwork of Sékou Touré, who became its general secretary.
Strengthened by its unity, Guinean trade unionism thenceforth became wholly a political organ. This was the result of combining syndicalism with political functions in the person of the general secretary of the UGTAN, who was then also vice-president of the territorial assembly. This transformation of a labor union into an organization for political activity initially became apparent at the first congress of UGTAN cadres, held at Bamako, Soudan, in March 1958 . There the problem of the compatibility of union operations and political responsibilities was debated, and the report made by Sékou Touré advocating a single labor movement dominated by the Party was accepted as a directive. This evolution was evidenced by the stand taken by the UGTAN in favor of a negative vote in the referendum on the constitution of the Fifth Republic, whereas all the parties of French-speaking Black Africa except the PDG favored an affirmative response.
In most African countries, many of the labor leaders who had been elected in 1957 to the territorial assemblies gave up their union posts. In Guinea, on the contrary, the same man represented concurrently the PDG and the UGTAN. Above all, he demonstrated his power by putting a stop to the demands of the railroad employees and the teachers, meeting at Mamou. Indeed, after the loi-cadre those unions had reproached the former labor leaders who became members of the government with having betrayed the ideals of the labor movement. Specifically, they were accused of having become accomplices of the colonial regime, of seeking to gratify their personal ambitions, and of removing the most aggressive leaders from responsible union posts.
To disguise a « personalization » of power, Sékou Touré was already using the alibi that unity was indispensable for better economic and political management of the territory. After independence this insistence on unity was to lead to his asserting a monopoly of ideology and suppressing the militancy that marks trade unions in capitalist countries, where they play a part in the balance of socioeconomic forces. Submissive to the PDG, as were the women’s and youth movements, the Guinean unions were thenceforward to have no functions besides serving as the communications medium between business firms and the central power. Consequently, the PDG forbade labor agitation by the trade unions.
This rapid survey of the labor movement’s evolution shows how agitated was the political history of Guinea. Turning now to the political parties, the elections, and the administrative reorganizations that have taken place since 1940, we shall try to present an over-all view of Guinean political life without identifying it – as has often been done for ideological reasons – solely with the rise of the PDG

Political Awakening

During World War II, an embryonic Gaullist movement in Guinea was quickly crushed by the pro-Pétain agents of the administration. They executed the mulatto Adolphe Gaëtan, who had joined the Gaullists of Sierra Leone in resisting the Vichy government in Guinea. But political activity revived with General de Gaulle’s formation of African battalions for the liberation of France and, above all, following the Free French Brazzaville Conference on Africa of January 30 to February 8, 1944. Guinea was not represented at that conference because the post of governor of the colony had no incumbent at that time.
In the elections to the first constituent assembly in Paris, open to FWA citizens (thanks to General de Gaulle’s statute of August 22, 1945), candidates generally competed as individuals, although some of them had the support of organized groups. Thus Yacine Diallo, the first black director of a Conakry school, who was backed by the Amicale Gilbert Vieillard (whose members were principally Peul) was elected in the runoff of November 4, 1945, as deputy of the second (or African) college to the French constituent assembly. Maurice Chevence, manager of the newspaper Combat, represented the first electoral college, composed of Guinea’s white residents. Subsequently, Yacine Diallo was hailed by the native population as one of Africa’s liberators. It was during his term as deputy that the French Constituent Assembly voted, as a sequel to the Brazzaville Conference, for

  • abrogation of the indigénat regime and its penalties (decrees of December 22, 1945, and January 20, 1946), elimination of forced labor (law of April 11, 1946)
  • institution of a single college that would not discriminate between black and white voters in elections for deputies to the French National Assembly (law of April 13, 1946)
  • the grant of French citizenship to the former subjects in overseas France (law of May 7, 1946).

Nevertheless, the Africans, when called upon to participate effectively in political life, remained divided along ethnic lines. Until the dominant party finally gained control in Guinea in 1957, ethnic differences continued to breed dissension, and they led to the resignation of militants and to local clashes, despite temporary agreements.
In the first postwar years, electoral committees rather than political movements were formed, for elections provided the means of satisfying the ambitions of a man or of a region. Moreover, political activity was restricted to defending individuals in trouble with the administration, and party programs were aimed mainly at improving living conditions for a party’s constituents, membership being determined by ethnic affiliation, tribe, and language. The lack of democratic practices and of continuity in action also characterized this type of adventitious political movement. It was led by a very small intellectual elite who exploited popular emotions during the infrequent public meetings that were held.
An effort was made, however, to move beyond such haphazard activity and to integrate French Black Africa’s diverse peoples. In Paris, on September 18, 1946, after the final debate on the new French constitution, the Africans who had been elected to the assembly convened a big conference of French-ruled black Africans to be held at Bamako on October 18. Its purpose was to define a common platform and to plan concerted political action. Guinea sent ten delegates to this constituent congress of the RDA.

  • Three were members of the Parti Progressiste Africain (PPA), founded by Madeira Keita in April 1946, and one was chosen from each of the following groups
  • Mouvement de la Réforme Démocratique
  • Union du Mandé
  • Amicale Gilbert Vieillard
  • Union Forestière Guinéenne
  • Union des Métis
  • Comité d’Union de Basse Guinée
  • Groupe d’Etudes Communistes. 10

The official program of the RDA, drafted on October 21, 1946, was purported to harmonize with the constitution of the French Union. Yet the existence of a common determination to fight colonial oppression was already evidenced by the RDA’s demand that the territorial assemblies become sovereign bodies.
Nevertheless, the legislative elections of November 18, 1946, for the French National Assembly showed that the African political movements were still poorly organized, and this favored the candidacy of individuals. The first vote encouraged candidates to consolidate their own forces and, in some cases, to withdraw. Consequently the election of Yacine Diallo, candidate of the Amicale Gilbert Vieillard, and of Mamba Sano, the RDA’s candidate, revealed the existence of two trends. Yacine Diallo’s party was affiliated with the socialist Section Francaise de l’Internationale Ouvrière (SFIO), whereas Mamba Sano’s party aligned itself with the French Communist Party. The left wing, which was dominant in postwar France, attracted most of the African elite, except for some veterans of the Resistance who favored the Gaullist Rassemblement du Peuple Francais (RPF). Because membership in a French party entailed distinct advantages, the Africans gladly joined such parties, even though the latter were more concerned to swell their own ranks than to cope with the problems of Black Africa.
Yacine Diallo, the socialist Peul deputy, supported by Senator Fodé Mamoudou Touré, of Susu origin, defended the assimilationist policy of the SFIO in Diallo’s periodical, Le Progrès africain, founded in August 1947. In the 1950s, Diallo also led a campaign for the recall of Governor Roland Pré, for he disapproved of the governor’s administration and of his projects for the economic development of Guinea, which he held responsible for the territory’s financial deficit. The Guinean branch of the RDA, the PDG, which was founded on May 14 and officially constituted on June 20, 1947, also criticized the governor. But the PDG was then undergoing a crisis brought on by internal dissensions, spectacular resignations of members, and very strong opposition to the local administration.
In contrast to the wave of political agitation in 1945-1946, the period following the founding of the PDG was euphoric. This enabled the PDG to consolidate its position, thanks to the support of the rank and file and of leaders of some regional and ethnic groups, as well as of the cadres of the Parti Progressiste Africain. The PDG’s prestige was further enhanced by the visits to Conakry of certain RDA deputies (Mamadou Konaté of Soudan and Ouezzin Coulibali of Ivory Coast, accompanied by Doudou Guèye and Joseph Francheschi), who tried by their presence to offset the influence of the SFIO deputy, Yacine Diallo.
Beginning in June 1947, Paul Ramadier, then head of the French government, parted company with his communist ministers, and this forced the RDA into the ranks of the opposition. Consequently the RDA began to encounter hostility from the administration, which proceeded to arrest RDA members in Ivory Coast and Soudan. Nor did the administration spare Guinea, where it tried to destroy the newborn PDG-RDA by exerting its influence on leaders of ethnic groups. It thus brought about the withdrawal of the Union du Mandé from the RDA in April 1948, and of the Union Forestière three months later. Those who remained staunch RDA militants were subjected to harassment.
The administration’s hostility took various forms:

  • the removal from the civil service of the pharmacist Abdouramane Diallo, member of the PDG directorate
  • the sentencing to two years in prison, on March 23, 1950, of Ray Autra and Ibrahima Ciré Cissé, who handled RDA funds
  • the dismissal of RDA members who were employed by private firms; and
  • the arbitrary transfer of such civil servants as Madeira Keita, general secretary of the PDG-RDA, to a post in Dahomey.

About three years later, Ray Autra (whose prison sentence had been annulled) was similarly transferred. Further evidence of the PDG’s disintegration was provided by the sensational resignations of such outstanding members as the deputy Mamba Sano. Some of them joined the Indépendants d’Outre-Mer (IOM). Formed in Paris in 1948, the IOM was affiliated with the Mouvement Républicain Populaire until the legislative elections of June 17, 1951. 11 Even the RDA’s disaffiliation from the communists at its second congress, held at Conakry on October 17, 1950, did not alter the local administration’s attitude toward the leaders of the PDG. The French authorities were hardly reassured by the RDA’s anticolonialist statements and the labor-union activities of Sékou Touré – who became the foremost leader of the PDG in 1950, after Madeira Keita’s exile from Guinea, and who received financial support and political protection from Félix Houphouet-Boigny, RDA leader in Ivory Coast.
Above all, the disintegration of the PDG was accentuated on July 1, 1949, by the formation of the Comité d’Entente Guinéenne, composed of RDA deserters and members of the Union du Mandé, Union Forestière, Amicale Gilbert Vieillard, and Comité d’Union de Basse Guinée. The declared objectives of the entente committee, which was affiliated with no Metropolitan party, were to strengthen the fraternal bonds uniting Guinea’s regional groups and to enter into contact with the French administrators, with a view to studying together, in a spirit of comprehension, ways of raising the country’s economic and social standards.
s Beginning with the first issue of its press organ, La Voix de la Guinée, the entente committee praised France’s civilizing mission and the benefits brought to Guinea by French colonization. It also took the side of Governor Roland Pré, whom Yacine Diallo and the PDG opposed. It attributed the territory’s budget deficit simply to the rise in the administration’s operating expenses and massive increases in pay. Supporting the chieftaincy, the entente committee campaigned against what its manifesto called agitators inimical to law and order – in other words, the RDA, which it proceeded to ridicule as the Rassemblement de Démagogues Africains. Naturally, the RDA replied in kind, accusing its adversaries of being merely dummies, of defending the sordid interests of the feudal system and regionalism, and of closing their eyes to the peasants’ misery. The RDA also charged the committee with falsely proclaiming that everyone in Guinea was free, whereas the only freedom enjoyed by the Guineans was ?to be without a job, to provide the chiefs with milk, calves, and money, and to die of hunger.? 12
On June 17, 1951, the three deputies elected to the National Assembly in Paris were Yacine Diallo, Mamba Sano (who was re-elected), and Albert Liurette, an African doctor. Diallo and Liurette were sponsored by the SFIO, whereas Mamba Sano ran on the Union Forestiere ticket, belonged to the entente committee, and was backed by the IOM. The PDG-RDA fell victim to the administration’s repressive measures and won no seat, gathering only 14.3 per cent of the votes cast. In the elections of March 1952, the PDG took one of the fifty seats in the territorial assembly, but its candidate, Amara Soumah, withdrew from the RDA after his election.
Yet it was in that year that the RDA got a new lease on life through its affiliation with the Union Démocratique et Socialiste de la Résistance (UDSR). This occurred on February 6, 1952, thanks to the initiative taken by François Mitterrand, who was joint leader of the UDSR with René Pleven.
The new party connection, followed by the strikes for higher pay that year and the passage of the Overseas Labor Code by the Parliament on December 15, 1952, reinvigorated the PDG. Three years earlier, the PDG had to some degree withdrawn to Conakry and its Kaporo headquarters near there. A handful of party stalwarts had remained at Labé, and new blood had been injected into the PDG by the arrival at Nzerékoré of some twenty Guinean members of the RDA who had been living in Ivory Coast. Up to that time there had been no question that the PDG could win over members other than those of the labor unions. In fact, it was by using the unions as a spearhead that the party began to expand from 1952 on.
In the by-election of August 2, 1933, held to fill the seat of Paul Tétau, the recently deceased assemblyman from Beyla, Sekou Touré was elected to Guinea’s territorial assembly. For once the administration refrained from intervening in the election, believing that after his election Sékou Touré, in his capacity as general secretary of the local CGT, could be persuaded to cancel the strike order issued for September 1. The failure of the administration’s maneuver aroused the wrath of officialdom. Trade unionism, by its advocacy of unity, was beginning to triumph over Guinea’s ethnic and class divergencies.
The death of Yacine Diallo on the night of April 13/14, 1954, brought about a major change in the political scene in Guinea. The election for his replacement was held on June 27. In preparing for it, the parties opposing the PDG-RDA created a coordinating committee composed of representatives from the regional groups. It conceded to the Peul chiefs of the Fouta Djallon the privilege of naming a ? territorial ? candidate, in return for which the chiefs allowed regional groups in lower Guinea to choose candidates for the posts of second-college senator and French Union assemblyman. Fodé Mamadou Touré was chosen for the former post and Karim Bangoura (later Guinea’s ambassador to Washington) for the latter. Upper Guinea was represented on the coordinating committee by Framoi Bérété, president of the territorial assembly’s permanent committee, and by Koumandian Keita, general secretary of the union of primary-school teachers.13 After consulting the Canton chiefs, the almami Ibrahima Sory Dara, spiritual leader of the Fouta Djallon, supported the candidacy of Diawadou Barry, son of the almami of Dabola, to succeed Yacine Diallo. Diawadou was elected, but the PDG-RDA slate of candidates received 34.6 per cent of the votes.
Under the above-mentioned leaders, the coordinating committee was transformed into the Bloc Africain de Guinee (BAG), composed of

  • the Comité d’Union de Basse Guinée
  • the Foyer des Jeunes de Basse Guinée
  • the Union Forestiére
  • the Union du Mandé
  • the Amicale Gilbert Vieillard
  • the Union du Fouta

The conservative views of this new party, which aligned itself with the Radical Party in France, became the favorite target for RDA attacks. Until 1956, however, the RDA spared the Democratie Socialiste de Guinee (DSG), the name assumed on October 28, 1954, by the Guinean branch of the SFIO. The DSG’s leader, Ibrahima Barry (called Barry III), unlike Yacine Diallo, was an opponent of the chieftaincy.
Barry III was affectionately called Silyoré, or Little Elephant, by the women of lower Guinea, while the name Sily (Elephant, in the Susu vernacular) was applied to both Sékou Touré and the RDA. The socialist militants belonging to the CGT unions aligned themselves with Sékou Touré. At one time, it looked as if the Guinean branch of the SFIO might join with that of the RDA. The latter even sent a delegation to the first congress held by the DSG at Dixinn, a suburb of Conakry, from November 20 to 22, 1955. 14 The platforms of the two parties were similar: reforms, opposition to the war in Algeria, and the evolution of Black Africa toward a federal structure. But the authority of the self-educated Sékou Touré was unacceptable to Barry III, a university graduate, as well as to the BAG president, Koumandian Keita, a primary-school teacher. Furthermore, because the PDG-RDA’s strategy consisted of sabotaging other parties for its own benefit, the DSG ended up drawing closer to the BAG. This process culminated in a merger between the DSG and BAG in 1958, and together they formed the Guinean section of the Parti du Regroupement Africain (PRA).

Party Rivalry

These developments among the PDG’s rivals between 1954 and 1958 had several causes:

  • the evolution of French policy during that period 15
  • a change in the attitude of the administration toward the RDA
  • the conservatism of the BAG in alliance with the chieftaincy
  • the shrinking constituencies of both the BAG and DSG.

In the 1956 elections, however, it was above all the success of the PDG’s policy of violently attacking the chieftaincy and conservative programs that gave the party a 62 per cent majority of the votes.
Beginning in 1954, party rivalry in Guinea lost its tribal character and assumed a political – at times even an ideological – cast, but this evolution brought violence and bitterness in its wake. Goaded by their leaders and dissatisfied with receiving only 34.6 per cent of the votes in the June 1954 legislative elections, the PDG-RDA militants decided to break their ties with the BAG. In so doing they were indirectly backed by their DSG allies, who were themselves opposed to the conservative BAG. At its first congress, held in Conakry from August 4 to 7, 1955, the BAG passed resolutions inspired by the confirmation of a drastic change in RDA policy. This new orientation had been announced at the RDA meeting of July 8 to 11, 1955, by Houphouet-Boigny, who sought to disarm the administration’s hostility by asserting the RDA’s support for a federal French Union and a policy of dialogue in North Africa. In conformity with the RDA’s reorientation, delegates to the BAG congress denounced the PDG-RDA for trying to ? take the place of the legally constituted authority by means of terrorism and lying propaganda. ? They demanded that ? valid traditional social structures be retained ? but drew ? the attention of the native chiefs to the opportunity they have to adapt themselves to the exigencies of modern life. ? The BAG defined its program as

  • attachment to the ? one and indivisible ? French Republic
  • decentralization of the administration
  • transformation of the FWA government-general into a coordinating and managerial organization
  • reinforcement of the powers of the territorial assemblies. 16

A few months later, the BAG assumed a pro-West stance. 17
No more was needed to exasperate the PDG, which organized village and urban ward committees everywhere. This was done despite the influence of the canton chiefs, who had armed guards (called mbatula in the Fouta Djallon) at their disposal as well as support from the gendarmerie. The PDG decided to eliminate the BAG followers by force and to attack the very institution of the chieftaincy. From 1955 to 1958, the PDG-RDA sent veritable commandos to take on the mbatula and, by publicly beating up some of the chiefs and burning their houses or their fields, showed how vulnerable the chieftaincy was. At the same time, the PDG press, first the Coup de Bambou and then La liberté, reiterated its verbal attacks on the chieftaincy. The PDG’s adversaries counter-attacked, sometimes taking the offensive, and blood was shed throughout Guinea. The most noteworthy such incidents occurred in 1955 and 1956.

  • In February of the former year, the PDG heroine M’Balia Camara was killed, while nursing her child, in a clash with David Sylla, canton chief of Tondon in Dubréka cercle
  • Violence also occurred in May at Macenta, in July at Boke and Conakry, and in September-October at Coyah and Conakry
  • In 1956 there were similar outbreaks between the PDG-RDA and the DSG in March at Conakry and Coyah, in August at Macenta, and in September at Nzerekoré.
  • During May 1958, there were clashes almost everywhere in the country, especially at Conakry. 18

PDG militants required all Guineans to buy the PDG party card, but they attacked only those who refused to obey their orders. At the outset, the Conakry clashes pitted the Susu and Baga youth and women militants of the PDG against their Notables, who had remained members of the opposition parties. The Peul chiefs also opposed the PDG and thus made common cause with their Susu and Baga counterparts. Unlike them, however, the Peul chiefs kept their followers politically in line, even in Conakry. Because the Peul living there were a minority, they suffered severe losses at the hands of the PDG militants in May 1958
If it had been only a matter of ethnic differences, the Peul would have ?invaded? Conakry to avenge ?their dead,? or retaliate against the Susu minority in middle Guinea. But they did nothing of the sort, because the conflict was not tribal but partisan. Parties fought each other on behalf of ideas, and of Guinea, and of Africa, but this did not mean that ethnic divisions were the decisive cause of their mutual opposition. In fact, the BAG and DSG, like the PDG, were multitribal parties
During this period of great political agitation the PDG was making headway in taking power. It did so

  • by combining violent tactics with a tactful handling of those chiefs who had rallied to the PDG banner
  • by carrying on vigorous propaganda and activities designed to emancipate the population
  • by flouting the established authorities and desecrating the traditional values of tribal solidarity and respect for elders
  • by isolating and sometimes winning over its opponents.

A spectacular example of such a change-over was the shift by Ouremba Keita, treasurer of the territorial assembly, from membership in the BAG to the PDG; it was an important factor in shaking the morale of the former party in 1956.
Now that they had become minority parties, the BAG and DSG decided to turn the tables on the PDG, and they adopted the latter’s favorite practices of violence and demagogy. The semi-autonomous government council formed in May 1957 (under PDG auspices) collided with an opposition inspired by the thirst for revenge. Opposition took the form of disparaging the big industrial projects promoted by the PDG, and of censuring its cooperation with capitalism. Diawadou Barry, Barry III, and Abdoulaye Diallo (a territorial assemblyman) tried to regain control over the masses in the Fouta Djalon

  • by inciting them to default on their taxes and to commit acts of civil disobedience, and
  • by fostering Peul ethnocentricity.

The success of the meetings that they organized at Conakry grew in proportion to the difficulties the PDG was encountering in its exercise of power. Together with the CATC, the BAG and DSG voiced disapproval of Sékou Touré’s combining political with trade-union office-holding. Eventually, however, the absence of a civic spirit among the forces opposing the PDG-RDA made that party more acceptable to the resident Europeans, who had formerly been opposed to it. After the legislative elections of January 2, 1956, had given a majority to the PDG-RDA, that party now appeared in their eyes to be the best guarantor of the execution of French West Africa’s industrialization program.
Those elections, which ushered in the PDG’s triumphal period, were a good test of the representativeness of Guinea’s political parties, because of the extent of popular participation 19 and the neutrality of the administration. For all French West Africa, the number of deputies elected to the National Assembly in Paris were

  • seven for the RDA (compared with two in the 1951 elections)
  • six for the IOM (nine in 1951)
  • two for the SFIO (three in 1951).

In Guinea, Diawadou Barry was re-elected, but the coalition that he headed was defeated by the PDG, whose candidates won the other two seats. One of those seats went to Sékou Touré, general secretary of the party, and the other to Saifoulaye Diallo, its political secretary, whereas no DSG candidate was elected to the French National Assembly. On a regional basis, the two major parties in the January 1956 elections won the following percentages 20 :

Lower Guinea Fouta-Djalon Upper Guinea Forest Guinea
RDA 87% 41% 80% 65%
BAG 9% 36.8% 17% 29%

In Guinea as a whole, the PDG garnered nearly 62 per cent of the votes cast.
That it continued to hold the confidence of the masses was shown by the municipal elections of November 18, 1956. At Conakry, the new deputy, Sékou Touré, also became mayor of the capital, and the PDG carried the mayoralty in Guinea’s four other full communes Mamou, Kindia, Kankan, and Nzerekore. Successive elections strengthened the self-confidence of the RDA. Thus in the territorial elections of March 31, 1957,

  • the PDG won fifty of the sixty seats at stake
  • the DSG three seats, notably that of Pita, Barry III’s native region
  • the remaining seat (Dinguiraye) was taken by an independent, Habib Tall

The BAG’s failure was complete — even at Dabola, fief of the canton chief who was the father of Diawadou Barry. In his own birthplace, Diawadou received only 2,332 votes, as against 4,464 for the RDA candidate. 21 Two months before the May 1958 elections for the circumscription councils, the merger of the BAG with the DSG to form the local branch of the PRA did not reverse this trend. In those elections the PDG-RDA received 690,216 votes, and its adversaries only 93, 397, 22 and the former carried all of the 526 seats contested.

The PDG Take-over

To understand thoroughly the events that transpired between 1956 and 1958, one must not only take into account the methods used by the PDG-RDA but must also consider them in the socioeconomic context of that period. Even before a loi-cadre for Africa was envisaged, a climate favoring decolonization had been created by black students in France, African teachers and trade unionists (most of whom were civil servants), and many deputies. These elements were highly sensitive to the repercussions of the war in Algeria and to the evolution of colonial problems. That evolution was marked by

  • the Afro-Asian Conference at Bandung
  • the revolt led by the Union des Populations du Cameroun in 1955
  • the independence of Tunisia and Morocco
  • the autonomy granted to Togo and to the eastern and western regions of Nigeria in 1956
  • the Gold Coast’s achievement of sovereignty as Ghana in 1957.

Because the RDA was the most effective element in checkmating France’s colonial policy and in bringing about improvements in the status of African workers and peasants, it was supported by the majority of Guineans.
Believing that the proposal – made by Gaston Defferre when he was Minister for Overseas France – to transfer certain powers to the colonies marked the first step toward autonomy, the PDG-RDA and also the BAG favored the loi-cadre after it was voted by the Parliament on June 23, 1956. This law aimed at decentralizing power and it was to be applied through decrees. Along with the state services that still depended on the French government and were run by its agents, territorial services were created. These services were administered

  • by a local executive – the government council – and
  • by the territorial assembly acting under the governor’s supervision. 23

By law, the governor was also president of the government council.
The territorial reorganization took place in April and May 1957, after elections for new territorial assemblies had been held on March 31. But as soon as the new institutions began to function, the locally elected representatives began showing their annoyance at the limitations placed on their powers, which led Sékou Touré to start as early as June 1957 – just one month after the government councils had been elected – to severely criticize the loi-cadre. Yet it was he, of all the African vice-presidents of the government councils, who derived the greatest benefits therefrom. By his reforming zeal, Sékou Touré transcended even the spirit of the loi-cadre and in so doing furthered the growth of nationalism.
Hardly had the government been set up in Guinea than it moved to reorganize the administration. At a meeting in July, the commandants de cercle (district officers) came out in favor of eliminating the post of canton chief. The cantons had been headed by chiefs chosen by the administration on the basis of their loyalty to the colonizing power rather than the prestige conferred by tradition and competence. On December 31, therefore, the cantons were eliminated, at the same time as a plan to reorganize the territory was carried out. Guinea’s villages were transformed into 4,723 ?rural communes? administered by councils of five to fifteen members elected for a five-year term. Council presidents were given the title of village chiefs, or mayors in the case of urban centers.
The twenty-five cercles were renamed circumscriptions (after independence they became known as ?administrative regions?), and they were also provided with councils and were administered by officials named by the government according to the law.
Ninety-three administrative units, later known as arrondissements, were created as dependencies of the circumscriptions. Thanks to the system of electing circumscription councilors from a single slate of candidates by a majority vote in an election without any crossover or runoff, the PDG acquired control of these assemblies. That party also controlled the municipal councils in all the main towns except Dalaba and Labé, where the DSG was victorious in the municipal elections of 1956.
Furthermore, the PDG dominated most of the general administrative services, to which African cadres were promoted after undergoing rapid training in a Territorial School of Administration. 24
The administrative reorganization having been carried out, the new government moved to reinforce its authority by designating African civil servants as deputies to the circumscription chiefs, so that the French administrators felt themselves hemmed in by political commissars. To acquire the maximum political power as quickly as possible, the PDG tried to restrict the role and authority of the governor 25 and to place party representatives in positions at all levels of the administration. Allotment of these posts also served to insure the loyalty of party cadres. By means of this over-all reform, the PDG rapidly created conditions conducive to gaining independence with minimal confusion to the administration. The power of the PDG was confirmed at the same time that Guinée was moving toward a single-party regime.
Now that the PDG, virtually alone, had come to control Guinea’s destiny, the other parties were gradually abandoned by their followers and consequently sought outside help. Barry III aligned his DSG with the Mouvement Socialiste Africain (MSA), which had been created in October 1956 with the aims of building a single African political movement and of liberalizing the French Union. The BAG leader, Diawadou Barry, however, drew closer to but did not join the federalist program of the Convention Africaine, which had come into being in January 1957 through the initiative of Léopold S. Senghor of Senegal and had won the favor of the elite.
The fear of balkanizing Africa just at a time when the loi-cadre was accentuating territorial divergencies underscored the need for African solidarity. Sékou Touré therefore proposed establishing a federal executive at Dakar, first at a meeting of the FWA Grand Council late in August and then at the second PDG territorial conference in Kankan on September 22-23. Also in September, a new Marxist party came into existence on the eve of the RDA’s third congress at Bamako. This was the Parti Africain de l’Indépendance (PAI), promoted by young university graduates who forcefully demanded immediate independence for the African territories.
It was at that time that political parties began vying with each other in a series of sparring contests that ended only with the constitutional referendum of September 1956. First the RDA tried to outbid the Convention Africaine and then the former’s radical wing, led by Sékou Touré, pursued the same strategy vis-a-vis the followers of Houphouet-Boigny, president and founder of the whole movement. The BAG and the DSG, increasingly aware of their own weakness, the result of desertions by their members and of electoral defeats, joined the PRA, which had been founded at Dakar on March 26, 1958, through a rapprochement between the Mouvement Socialiste Africain and the Convention Africaine. Only the RDA remained solitary and faithful to its own standard.
Proponents of the two main political trends at that period in Guinea tried to settle their accounts in a final outburst of violence. On May 2 and 3, 1958, rioting caused blood to flow in the Guinean capital: depending on the source, either 23 or 30 persons were killed and 140 or 200 were wounded. Stabbing, poisoning, pillaging, and arson took place. David Soumah, head of the CATC, the rival of Sékou Touré’s union, saved his life only by taking flight. Others, like Moussa Keita, fought off the PDG militia with a gun. Several opponents of the majority party sought refuge in Dakar and Abidjan. 26 Since clashes between parties were aggravated by ethnic and personal animosities, the PDG used its power and the foregoing events to appeal strongly for tribal unity and an end to regionalism. The real leaders of the Guinean branch of the PRA, at its constituent congress held at Cotonou in July 1958, tried to outflank Sékou Touré on the left by rallying to the slogan of immediate independence. All the conditions propitious for achieving national unity were met when the PDG decided to reject the constitution of the Fifth French Republic on September 14, 1958. (After independence, the PDG insisted on dissolution of the Guinean branch of the PRA (BAG and DSG), which had already lost popular support.)
Nevertheless, the decision to opt for independence caused disagreements and misunderstandings. Inside the RDA, Houphouet-Boigny clashed with Sékou Touré on April 9-10, 1958. At that time, the former advocated a union between France and each territory within the framework of a federal Franco-African Community, whereas Toure considered the stand taken by the Ivory Coast representatives as inopportune and contrary to the wishes of the African masses 27. This dissension came to a head on October 9, when the coordinating committee of the RDA decided to exclude the PDG from its membership. A few days later, the PDG announced that it considered itself to be no longer a branch of the RDA but its « natural ally. » The root cause of this schism was Guinea’s decision to go it alone by voting no in the referendum proposed by General de Gaulle.
Political problems, arising largely from the Algerian war, had led to a crisis in France early in 1958. It was not resolved until the President of the French Republic called on General de Gaulle to head the government. Once in power, de Gaulle decided to give the French Republic a new constitution. The African colonies were to choose between a Franco-African Community and total independence. On August 25, however, during de Gaulle’s trip to Africa, his susceptibilities 28 as well as those of the Guineans became mutually exacerbated. When General de Gaulle was received on that day by the Guinean territorial assembly at Conakry, Sékou Touré stated that Guinea favored the new constitution only if it would proclaim the Africans’ « right to independence » and recognize the « right to divorce » in a Franco-African « marriage » as well as the « active solidarity existing between the Associated States and the populations. »29
To this statement General de Gaulle replied

France proposes this community and no one is compelled to belong to it. Independence has been mentioned. I say more loudly here than elsewhere that independence is available to Guinea, and can be obtained by voting no on September 28 to the proposition under consideration. In such an event, I pledge that the Metropole will place no obstacle in the way. To be sure, France will draw its conclusions but will place no stumbling blocks in the way. Your territory can, if it so desires and under the circumstances it prefers, follow the path of its choice…. Vote yes in the interests of all. I have spoken. You must reflect. 30

Was this bitterness, born of wounded pride? Perhaps. Or was there pressure from the French industrialists and financiers in the Fonds d’Investissements pour le Developpement Economique et Social (FIDES), who wanted de Gaulle to use his influence so that Guinea would become a member of the Community and their investments in Africa would pay off? Such a hypothesis cannot be ruled out.
In the ensuing weeks, Guinea gradually became isolated from the RDA and other African parties, contrary to its professed goal of African unity. The Guinean moderates engaged in some delaying tactics, but the temptation to opt for independence carried the day. At their first national conference, on September 14, 1958, the cadres of the PDG decided to vote no, thereby making the most important decision in their history. Even though the PDG conducted no campaign and simply issued directives, 1,134,324 negative to 56,981 affirmative votes were cast in the referendum of September 28, 1958. On October 2, the Republic of Guinea was proclaimed and the territorial assembly became the national legislature.

. See Jean Meynaud and Anisse Salah-Bey, Le Syndicalisme africain (Paris: Payot, 1963), pp. 87-94.
. In the 1950s, three trade-union federations dominated the labor scene in France, and sought to create branches in Africa. The General Confederation of Labor (CGT), founded in 1895, was the largest and had followers in all categories of workers. Early in the Cold War between the East and the West, many non-communist reformers, who were a minority compared with the number of those imbued by Marxist ideology, broke away from the federation. Under the banner of anticommunism, they initiated on December 18, 1947, the CGT-FO (Worker Force), which was formally constituted at a congress in April 1948. The FO opposed any political orientation, and it gained many members among the civil servants in France. The French Confederation of Christian Workers (CFTC), formed on November 1, 1919, professed an ideology and a program derived from the social creed of the Catholic Church; it opposed the class struggle. After World War II, the CFTC tried to increase its membership among other religious faiths, but its most zealous militants came from Catholic-action movements.
. Alpha Condé, Guinée: L’Albanie de l’Afrique ou néo-colonie américaine.? (Paris: Git-le-Coeur, 1972) pp. 54-55.
. Ibid., p, 57.
. Sékou Touré, L’Afrique et la révolution (Switzerland, 1966), XIII, 60.
. See Conde, op. cit., pp. 76-3; Afrique nouvelle, Feb. 21, May 22, and June 26, 1956; and La Liberté, Dec. 11, 1956.
. Meynaud and Salah-Bey, op. cit., p. 115.
Most of the sources cited by Ruth Schachter Morgenthau in Chapter 6 of her Political Parties in French-speaking West Africa (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964) come from the PDG press. Consequently, they have already been subject to interpretation. Nevertheless, in this book the major problems of the period are well stated. . Under this regime, the administration exercised excessive powers. The indigenat was based on the concept of the native African as a child, who required training including punishment and who owed goods and services to the administrator (or chief representing him).
10. Sékou Touré, L’Afrique et la révolution, p. 40.
11. Sylvain Soriba Camara, ?Le conflit franco-guinéen? (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Paris, 1974; mimeographed), p. 42.
12. La Voix de la Guinée (first issue of the periodical of the Comité d’Entente Guinéenne), July 1949; Coup de bambou (PDG periodical), April 1950.
13. La Presse de Guinée (organ of the European colonial milieux), June 15, 1954.
14. Ibid., Dec. 1, 1955.
15. This policy has been ably described in Ernest Milcent, L’AOF entre en scène (Paris: Editions Témoignage chrétien, 1958)
16. La Presse de Guinée Aug. 9 and 11, 1955; Afrique nouvelle, Aug. 16, 1955.
17. Marché tropicaux et méditerranéens, Sept. 29, 1956.
18. Camara, op. cit., p. 167.
19. ? The number of subscribers rose from

  • 131,309, in 1946 to 476,503 in 1954 and to
  • 976,757 in 1956.?

Jean Suret-Canale, La République de Guinée (Paris: Editions Sociales, 1970), p. 161.
20. La Presse de Guinée, Jan. 7, 1956; J. Beaujeu-Garnier, ?Essai de géographie électorale guinéenne,? Cahiers d’Outre-Mer, 44, (Oct.-Dec. 1958).
21. Afrique nouvelle, Apr. 2 and 9, 1957.
22. La Presse de Guinée, May 22, 1958.
23. Le Monde, June 24, 1956; Marchés tropicaux et méditerranéens, Sept. 29, 1956.
24. Guinée nouvelle (news bulletin issued by the Ministry of Interior), No. 1 (Apr. 1, 1958).
25. Governor Jean Ramadier played an ambiguous role in Guinea. He was named to that post so as to offset the preceding governor’s failure to halt the progress being made by the PDG-RDA. Using all the leeway provided by the loi-cadre of 1956, Ramadier covertly became a rival to Sékou Touré under the guise of maintaining excellent official relations. Similarly, he seemed to be supporting the PDG while at the same time trying to win over its leaders, who had severely criticized French colonialism, by offering them money, posts, cars, and villas.
26. Camara, op. cit., p. 172.
27. L’Afrique nouvelle, Apr. 11, 1958.
28. B. Ameillon, La Guinée: Bilan d’une indépendance (Paris: Maspero, 1964), p. 61.
29. Sékou Touré, Expérience guinéenne et unité africaine (Paris: Présence africaine, 1959), p, 80.
30. Ibid., pp. 83, 84.

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