Victor D. Du Bois
The Rise of an Opposition to Sékou Touré
Part VI: The Activation of the Guinean Exiles:
The Front de Liberation Nationale de Guinee (F.L.N.G.)”
American Universities Field Staff Reports. West Africa Series
Vol. IX No. 7, (Guinea), July 1966, pp.1-22
Victor David Du Bois (1932-1983)
Ever since 1960, when President Sékou Touré led Guinea out of the franc zone and thus precipitated its economic decline, Guineans have been leaving their country. Their reasons for departure are essentially economic and political: to escape increasingly severe financial and material deprivations and to flee the climate of corruption of Touré’s government and the oppressive aspects of life under his totalitarian regime.
By 1966 a surprising portion of the Guinean population had gone into exile 1. The Ivory Coast alone had more than 200,000 Guineans; Senegal was reputed to have even more; and sizable colonies were reported in Liberia and Sierra Leone. There were exile groups as far away as Togo, Dahomey, Nigeria, and even distant France.
For those who could afford it, escape from Touré’s police régime was the price of an airline ticket to Dakar, Abidjan, or some other capital and of a bribe to a sûreté official for an exit permit. For those who could not make such an outlay of funds—the overwhelming majority—escape became a much more hazardous proposition. One had to reach the frontier and cross it undetected by the Guinean gendarmes and the J.R.D.A. militants 2 who kept up a constant surveillance of the border zones. Police or J.R.D.A. groups checked passengers and vehicles along all roads.
The shortest escape route was through lower Guinea to Sierra Leone, whose border is less than a hundred kilometers from Conakry. This frontier, however, was heavily guarded and well patrolled. Moreover, most Guineans were not eager to seek refuge in an English-speaking country where the language would be a formidable barrier to employment. Many of them took the much longer and more difficult route across the Fouta-Djallon to the Senegalese border. Here, again, the risk was great, because of the military post at Koundara and the police detachment at Younkounkoun; but once they were beyond these obstacles, the road to Dakar was clear. Another favorite route ran through the Forest region along Guinea’s frontiers with Liberia and the Ivory Coast. Although here, too, the major roads were watched, the forest was cut by hundreds of trails, some of them no more than footpaths. Under cover of darkness, many Guineans made their way over these undetected.
It was not just members of a particular tribe or social class who went into exile. They came from every tribe in Guinea and from all walks of life. Their very heterogeneity revealed the extent to which Touré had alienated the different ethnic and social groups in his country.
For the exiles, escape from Guinea was the solution of one problem but the beginning of a host of others. Once in Senegal, the Ivory Coast, or elsewhere, food and lodging and a job of some sort had to be found. Often enough, the first was easily accomplished since most of those who came from Guinea had friends or relatives already living in the country which became their refuge. These people could usually be counted on to provide the immediate necessities for weeks or even months.
Finding work was another matter. Although the Ivory Coast was enjoying an economic boom, jobs were still very scarce, and the few that were available had, by government order, to be offered first to native Ivoiriens. In Senegal, things were even more difficult . Since the dismantling of the Federation of French West Africa in 1958 and the break-up of the Mali Federation in 1960, Senegal’s economic decline had seriously contracted the employment market there. Such countries as Togo and Dahomey offered even fewer job opportunities.
The Guinean exiles were subjected to certain constraints by the governments of the countries that received them. Although they were permitted to organize among themselves, the exiles were forbidden to engage openly in any political activity inimical to the Guinean government. Houphouët, Senghor, and other African heads of state, having long assailed Nkrumah for allowing exile groups to conduct activities against their home governments —in flagrant violation of the Charter of the Organization of African Unity— did not wish to expose themselves to the same charge.
This policy of restraining the Guinean exiles from in any way opposing Sékou Touré was pursued from 1960 through 1965. However, following Nkrumah’s overthrow in February 1966 and the warm reception Touré accorded him in Guinea, this cautious policy underwent a fundamental change. Although never made explicit by any public statement, the change was soon evidenced by a sudden growth in the militancy of the Guinean exiles.
The Exiles in the Ivory Coast
Nowhere was the change more dramatic than in the Ivory Coast. Previously, President Felix Houphouët-Boigny had maintained a stoic silence in the face of vehement attacks by Sékou Touré. Neither he nor his government responded in kind, nor did he allow the Guinean exiles in his country to take any part in the controversy. But Touré’s recent actions —his charge that Houphouët was behind a plot to overthrow the Guinean government; his bitter attacks on the Organisation Commune Africaine et Malgache (O.C.A.M.) which Houphouët championed; and, especially, his threat to send an army across the Ivory Coast to reimpose Nkrumah on the Ghanaian people—brought this forbearance to an end 3. Houphouët not only picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Touré, but also let the Guinean exiles—themselves the frequent target of Touré’s diatribes—give vent to their own anger at last.
The first overt activity on the part of Guinean exiles living in the Ivory Coast took place on March 27, 1966. On that day some 10,000 of them crowded into Abidjan’s cavernous Central Boxing Club to hear their leaders denounce Sékou Touré and the Parti Démocratique de Guinée (P.D.G.). These leaders for the most part were men who had occupied responsible positions in their own country before leaving and who were now influential among the exile community in the Ivory Coast. Foremost among them were:
- Paul Dechambenoit, an African doctor, regarded as dean of the Guinean colony in Abidjan
- Moustapha Diallo, an engineer
- Lamad Camara, a Guinean deputy to the Ivoirien National Assembly
- M. Chapman, Secretary-General of the Guinean subsection of the Parti Démocratique de la Côte d’Ivoire (P.D.C.I.).
Guinean exiles at an anti-Touré rally in Abidjan, March 27, 1966. (Photo: Fraternité-Matin)Leaders of the Ivory Coast chapter of the Front de Liberation National de Guinee (F.L.N.G.) addressing Guinean exiles at a rally in Abidjan March 27, 1966. (Photo: Fraternité-Matin)Monsieur Seyni Fofana, a prominent member of the Guinean exile community in the Ivory Coast reaffirming the exiles’ loyalty to President Felix Houphouët-Boigny, Abidjan, April 4, 1966. (Photo: Fraternité-Matin)
The immediate purpose of this mass meeting was for Guinean exiles to reaffirm their loyalty to President Houphouët and to reassure the Ivoirien nation that, in the event Sékou Touré should be so foolish as to attempt to invade the Ivory Coast, they would join Ivoiriens in opposing him and his army. The meeting also served as a forum by means of which these exiles for the first time were able to air their bitterness toward Touré’s totalitarian regime, their hatred for him personally, their utter contempt for his naming of Nkrumah as “Co-President” of Guinea, and, above all, their determination to unite in working for his removal from power.
The general disillusionment felt by these people with President Touré was perhaps best described by the final speaker at the meeting, Louis Montrat, a Guinean jurist and prominent member of the exile community in the Ivory Coast:
My Guinean brothers: For eight years we have been living in misery, depravity, and shame, being looked upon as the wandering minstrels of Africa. Scorning our opinions, our aspirations, our honor, and our self-respect, Sékou Touré judges every misfortune to be the result of international machinations. But these subconscious reactions, stamped with megalomania, are they not the result of Touré’s own individualistic and retrograde philosophy?
You will recall the phrase pronounced by the Guinean Furhrer on the occasion of General de Gaulle’s visit to Conakry: “We prefer freedom in poverty to riches in slavery.” That freedom in which we believed with such piety and devotion, was it not rapidly converted into slavery in fact? Instead of freedom in poverty is it not slavery in poverty that we live in?
If our country for eight years has lived under a dictatorship, still it also knew, not long before the advent of the reign of Sékou Touré, days of happiness and good fortune despite colonial domination. Our families lived in freedom and expressed their joys and their sorrows in their own way. If we evoke such memories, forgetting certain bitternesses, it is because our government [i.e., Touré’s régime] has not procured for us any advantages which would discredit the achievements of the colonial era…
… And now a new era begins for us: a Guinea with two Presidents of the Republic! Decidedly, we will never cease to be the laughing stock of the world. Have we no will; are we sheep to be led to the slaughterhouse?…
… The post of President of the Republic is not a throne on which one installs oneself, but the result of the popular will. Sékou Touré would do well to concern himself with his own fate, for he runs the risk of having the same rude awakening as his coadjutor of Ghana, the Guinean people having had enough of being scoffed at and ridiculed.
Our greatest wish is to rebuild our nation on other, more solid foundations. We have no desire to make war on a country [the Ivory Coast] with which we wish to have only friendly relations. Sékou Tourel We want freedom of action and of speech. We did not seize our independence only to be led to the slaughterhouse…
…We are a peaceful people who ask only to live far from conflict. We wish to have enough to eat, a roof over our heads, a currency worthy of the name, and to be able to work in peace, as is our tradition. We accepted you as our President, the choice never having been given us, convinced that you would lead our country on the path of happiness and prosperity. Evidently for you it is enough merely to exhibit certain of your accomplishments, which have had only an aggravating effect on our national economy. in order to deceive Guinean opinion. We do not ask for ceramic factories, printing plants with impressive façades and with modern enough machines within which hum but which represent no economic reality 4 …
Following Monsieur Montrat’s address to the meeting, the exiles approved the following communique by acclamation:
The Guinean nationals residing in the Ivory Coast, meeting in general assembly on March 27, 1966, at the Central Boxing Club of Treichville [Abidjan]:
CONSIDERING the degradation of Guinea since independence;
CONSIDERING that this situation is the result of the installation by Sékou Touré of a repressive police regime which has transformed Guinea into a vast concentration camp
CONSIDERING the economic stagnation into which this regime has plunged the country despite its immense agricultural and mineral potential
CONSIDERING the massive exodus of Guineans to neighboring countries, thereby depriving the nation of the rank and file indispensable to its economic, cultural, and social development
CONSIDERING that the attitude of Sékou Touré toward recent political events in Africa [i.e., Touré’s attitude toward Nkrumah’s overthrow in Ghana] is a challenge to the conscience of Guineans, of Africans, and of the world
AWARE that this situation will not change except with the disappearance of the regime of Sékou Touré whose fiasco has been total:
DECIDE to close their ranks, within Guinea as well as abroad
LAUNCH a pressing appeal to all Guinean patriots to lend their moral and material support to the champions of law and liberty, wherever they may organize, to save Guinea from its present misfortune.
Done in Abidjan, the 27th of March 1966 5
One week later, on April 4, 1966, the Guinean exiles met a second
time. On this occasion they announced the founding of the Ivory Coast section of the Front de Libération Nationale de Guinée (F.L.N.G.), an organization whose avowed aim is to rid Guinea of the régime of Sékou Touré. Spokesmen for the F.L.N.G. in the Ivory Coast declared that other chapters would be organized in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, the Upper Volta, Niger, and wherever Guinean exiles live. The activities of the various chapters would be co-ordinated by a central committee of leaders from the various exile communities.
The Exiles in Senegal
Like their compatriots residing in the Ivory Coast, the 250,000 Guinean exiles living in Senegal also organized themselves the better to oppose Sékou Touré. One of their principal leaders was David Soumah, a labor union official who had been Secretary-General of the Conféderation Syndicale Africaine (C.S.A.), one of Africa’s largest labor organizations. Since fleeing Guinea in 1960, Soumah had been outspoken in his criticism of Touré’s regime; and his ties with the leaders of the labor unions, one of Africa’s most volatile social elements, gave him an audience among people not readily receptive to the appeals of more conservative leaders.
Nowhere were Guinean exiles as numerous as they were in Senegal. Despite this, however, they had less freedom of action than the Guineans in the Ivory Coast, for they were under real restraints imposed by President Leopold Senghor and his government. While Senghor may have shared many of Houphouët’s feelings toward Touré, he was not prepared to go as far as the Ivoirien President in order to hasten the downfall of the Guinean leader. The Ivory Coast’s wealth permitted it to pursue its own inclinations in the field of foreign policy, but Senegal’s economic position dictated a much more cautious policy in dealing with Guinea. Prior to independence, Guinea had been an important market for Dakar’s Cape Verde industries. Moreover, Touré still wielded an important influence in Mali, Senegal’s former partner in the defunct Mali Federation and its principal market in former times.
Over the last few years, President Senghor had sought to revive Senegalese influence and recapture some of its former markets by bringing Guinea, Mali, and Mauritania into the Senegal River Development Plan. Senghor realized that too permissive an attitude toward Guinean opposition elements in Dakar would anger Touré and thwart the very rapprochement that Senegal desired and needed.
Although Soumah and other Guinean exile leaders living in Senegal had been warned in the past against overzealous opposition to Touré, these admonitions did not diminish their determination to overthrow him.
The announcement of the formation of a F.L.N.G. chapter in the Ivory Coast emboldened them to step up their own activities, and they made their organization, La Solidarite Guineenne, a chapter of the F.L.N.G. To recruit new members, the organization undertook a vigorous campaign, holding meetings with small groups of exiles and distributing propaganda through the mails.
Following protests by the Guinean Embassy in Dakar, President Senghor on April 26, 1966, reaffirmed his government’s intention to respect the O.A.U.’s Charter and to forbid exile groups to conduct subversive activities. At the same time, he also made it clear that the government’s ban on political activities by exile groups also applied to those Guineans in his country who might be supporters of Sékou Touré. Thus the chapter of the F.L.N.G. in Senegal was not ordered to disband, although its activities were sharply circumscribed.
The Exiles in France
Ironically, it was not in Africa but in France that the most militant exile group arose. It consisted of professors, writers, and other intellectuals who could no longer stomach Touré’s regime; of students who refused to be regimented by the P.D.G.; and of soldiers whose return to Guinea had been prohibited by Touré because at the time of their country’s independence they had chosen to finish out their careers in the French Army rather than return home to nonexistent jobs. These exiles in France were not numerous, at no time exceeding 5,000. What they lacked in numbers, however, they made up for in drive, and among them were some of Guinea’s most articulate citizens.
For years these embittered men had been obliged to be passive observers. Living in France prevented them from wielding any influence over people and events in Guinea. But the founding of the F.L.N.G. changed all that. They now had, for the first time, a strong political organization to work through, which because of its strength could command a vast audience both within Guinea and abroad. The F.L.N.G.’s principal aim was to free Guinea from Sékou Touré and his regime, but it also advocated practical goals of economic reform. Its willingness to enlist in its ranks anyone who would work toward thes e two objectives made it highly appealing to the exiles, and they flo cked to join by the hundreds.
The founding of the Paris chapter of the F.L.N.G. was announced in “An Open Letter to the Guinean People” distributed to the press on April 7, 1966. In simple but moving terms the founders of the F.L.N.G. explained to the various social groups in Guinea why it had now become absolutely necessary to remove Sékou Touré from power:
An Open Letter to the Guinean People 6
Brothers and Sisters of Guinea:
Your compatriots, whom Sékou has exiled in Africa or Europe and who must live far away from their homeland and far from their dead, take joy and pride in announcing to you the organization of the Front de Libération Nationale de Guinée (F.L.N.G.).
Our comrades who are still living in Guinea have entrusted us with the heavy responsibility of co-ordinating their activities with those of thousands of Guineans in exile. Our objective: the overthrow of Sékou, the bloody tyrant.
The F.L.N .G. will henceforth assume all its proper responsibilities in the noble task of national liberation.
The decision to set up an organization to co-ordinate the struggle against Sékou’s regime of slavery, shame, and poverty was taken after mature reflection and a careful analysis of the relations between our forces.
The time is ripe for positive action in common. We no longer wish to fight with scattered ranks. United under our password—“Down with the tyrant”—we wish to galvanize minds at home and abroad.
Brothers and Sisters of Guinea:
Many of us thought that the September  plebiscite would lead us to a new day, one of dignity, freedom, and happiness. Many of us gave our confidence and support to Sékou Touré, thinking that he would lead us along that path. We agreed to all kinds of sacrifices so that he could smooth out the obstacles so widely strewn over the road to independence. The African and even the European—elite rushed to Conakry to make their contribution to the success of the Guinean experiment.
How beautiful was that enthusiasm. How deep is our disillusionment today and that of our friends.
Some of us still continued to believe in Sékou Touré even when in April of 1960 arrest and execution were the fate of Diallo Ibrahima, Bachelor of Law; Fodé Touré, the young
engineerpharmacist who had just taken his degree; El Hadj Mohammed Lamine, a great figure in the R.D.A.; and of dozens of other citizens.
We had not understood that the salvos of the firing squad also tolled the death knell of our hopes. We had not realized that in order to impose himself upon the country Sékou Touré felt obliged to strike out against the intellectuals who discovered him too much of a mediocrity to govern Guinea, and against the religious bodies who were revolted by his deeds.
Brother Pupils and Students:
It is you and the sacrifice which you have made that have opened our eyes. It was the fatal results of the second “plot”—of November 1961 7 involving some teachers who wished merely to attain an adjustment of their salaries in accordance with Decree No. 368 of September 30, 1961—which made us realize what tyranny was.
With a generosity which only youthful hearts are capable of, your predecessors then rose up in protest against their teachers’ being condemned to five and six years in prison.
You must venerate the names of your predecessors from the Lycée Classique of Donka, the Lycée Technique, and the Lycée des Jeunes Filles, who, in a spirit of unparalleled sacrifice, faced the grenades and bullets of unthinking soldiers whom Sékou made use of for his own ends.
Venerate the memory of those whose successors you have become and who fell as martyrs under the bullets of Sékou’s firing squads.
Venerate the names of those whose successors you have become and who refused to let them selves be deceived by Sékou’s tribalistic maneuvers aimed at breaking their magnificent spirit by endeavoring to set Peuls against Soussous, and the Soussous against the Malinkes.
Venerate the names of those whose successors you have become and who have passed their days or still languish in Sékou’s concentration camps and jails.
Venerate the names of those whose successors you have become and whose bodies bear the cruel marks left by Sékou’s torturers.
But veneration is not enough! You must show yourselves to be worthy of your predecessors who made the supreme sacrifice at the age of sixteen years in order to resist Sékou’s tyranny.
The F.L.N.G. summons you to take your traditional place—in the front rank—in the struggle to free Guinea from Sékou’s bloody yoke.
You can no longer sell the bananas that you grow. In 1957 Guinea exported 90,000 tons of them and today can export no more than 40,000—while your neighbor, the Ivory Coast, has multiplied its production by five.
You can no longer find an outlet for the coffee you grow, a crop which has fallen from 10,000 to 7,000 tons, while peasants in the Ivory Coast produce 250,000 tons a year, which is twice what they produced in 1957.
You find no buyers for your 2,000 tons of pineapples (you grew 3,000 tons in 1957), while Ivoirien planters are producing 16,000 tons, which is six times what they grew in 1957.
You who are stock-raisers are the privileged victims of Sékou. To assuage the discontent of the city dwellers, he obliges you to sell your cattle at such low prices that you have been reduced to slaughtering your stock before fleeing to neighboring countries.
You peasants who showed what you were capable of during the struggle against colonialism, you deserved something better. Independence, which should have brought you prosperity, has brought you poverty. Every day now your parents, your brothers, your children are reduced to seeking food and freedom by emigrating.
Sékou supplied you with machines that are of no use in your country; then he has accused you of incompetence when they break down. Your living conditions are deplorable. Your average real wage is less than half that of your comrades in Senegal and the Ivory Coast.
Your labor unions have been tamed. And now Sékou Touré has decided that you must work under the shameful quota system which has disappeared from almost every country in the world.
Sékou Touré’ s government waters you with Marxist formulas to make your production grow. But it is your sweat which enables his henchmen to build their beautiful villas along the coastal drives north and south of Conakry.
Brother Government Employees:
In every speech he makes Sékou accuses you, the high government officials of Guinea, of corruption. He accuses you of engaging in dishonest deals, of using standins to run private businesses. As a matter of fact, it is he who pushes you into the path of corruption, hoping thereby to make you his accomplices. Dwelling in isolation within the bosom of the Guinean nation, he hopes by financial rewards to win the support of all of you.
But do not forget—as we do not forget—that it is the very same Sékou Touré who tramples your dignity underfoot. Did he not publicly throw in your face the charge that without him you would be nothing but “clerks, little clerks”?
Although you are subordinate employees, you nonetheless achieved your positions by hard work at the National School of Administration. You know well enough that your horizon has been closed [by Touré] and that you will never have a chance of rising to the top in the Guinean hierarchy .
Sékou Touré has condemned you to the anger of the mob, calling you “parasites,” and “budget-eaters.”
It is on you that the Secretary-General of the P.D.G. [Sékou Touré] regularly lays the blame. It is you whom he threatens regularly with “reducing administrative expenses by 20 per cent.” It is you whom Sékou Touré regularly accuses of “undermining our meager resources by an excessive number of employees.”
Government Employees, High and Low:
Abused and reviled in public as you are, react! Everything is at stake-your self-respect, the future of your children, the place that should be yours in our beautiful fatherland.
Sékou throws off onto you the responsibility for the bankruptcy of Guinea’s economy. He accuses you publicly of being the cause of the black market, although the real cause is his own system of government which is basically unsound.
The black market flourishes when the demand is very great and the supply very small; when Sékou does not give you the means—the currency needed for imports—which would allow you to devote yourselves to honest business. We realize that it is his government that spawns the black market.
There is only one way to regain the freedom of honest businessmen, and at the same time to relieve the poverty of our people, that is by overthrowing the shameful régime of Sékou Touré.
You small businessmen who have been reduced to poverty by Sékou Touré’s laws, demanding that you have a minimum capital which you can never hope to have, react!
Brother Officers and Soldiers:
Sékou Touré has reviled you the way he has reviled us. Can you have forgotten that one of your own number, Commander Keita Mamadou, was shot? Can you have forgotten that two of his companions met the same fate?
Sékou has just made our army the laughing stock of the whole world by his desire to throw you into a senseless adventure the idea of which germinated in his megalomaniacal brain. He has proclaimed to the four winds that his army would cut its way across our sister state of the Ivory Coast to attack Ghana so that he, Sékou, can set his crony and fellow conspirator, Nkrumah, back on the throne of Ghana.
Sékou hopes to compromise you by making you his accomplices. He hopes to cut you off from the masses by making you responsible for subduing our people.
Officers and soldiers of the Army of the Guinean people: you are an integral part of our people . You cannot help seeing the immense difficulties in which our brave but unhappy people are floundering. You cannot do otherwise than make yourselves the defenders of the popular rights which Sékou has scoffed at.
Officers and soldiers, all you have to do is to make up your minds. See how the Colossus of Ghana had feet of clay. Sékou is afraid of you.
Guinean Sisters :
You who are paying three or four times the normal price for rice, while Sékou’s table is decked with food brought in by plane;
You who are advised not to buy this nonexistent rice because it “causes sickness”;
You who see your daughters and sisters tarnished by a regime which respects nothing;
You who watch, powerless, while a son, a brother, the head of a family is arrested;
You who tremble for dear ones who are shut up in dungeons or in Sékou Touré’s concentration camps;
You who await—in vain, alas !—the return of dear ones who have been put to death in Sékou’s jails;
You who watch dear ones suffer and die for lack of medicines;
You who cannot realize your ambition to send your children to school so that they may be less unfortunate than you;
You who await the return of dear ones who sought refuge in foreign countries from the bloody madness of Sékou;
We pay homage to all of you, mothers, sisters, and daughters of Guinea. Your courage and your patience have been worthy of admiration.
But how long must you continue to bear this terrible burden? You too have a right to happiness. That happiness is to be reached by overthrowing the tyrant, the cause of all your misfortune.
Fellow Members of the P.D.G.:
We have not forgotten—nor could we do so without blotting out a part of our selves—those heroic times when the Guinean Section of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain was famous for its dynamism.
We cannot believe that the great initiative of former times is only a memory. Remember this: shoulder to shoulder we made our reply to every blow of the colonial administration.
We have heard enough from your comrades stationed abroad and who have come to see us to know that you are disgusted with the lackluster role Sékou has reserved for you.
We know what anger is in your hearts when you hear Sékou drag you through the mud, denounce you, and give you public lessons in citizenship. How long will you be silent?
The dignity for which we fought and which we did not obtain with independence, prostituted as it has been by Sékou, must be regained by fighting for it.
How can you fail to notice that it is in our country that one hears businessmen thank the government for the greed with which it strips them of their property?
How can you fail to notice that it is in our country that children express their satisfaction at seeing their parents arrested?
How can you fail to notice that it is in our country that one witnesses the horrible spectacle of fathers repudiating their sons and demanding their execution?
How can you fail to notice that it is in our country that one hears accused prisoners, who are threatened with death, accuse themselves even more vigorously than the prosecutor does?
How can you fail to notice that it is in our country that —for the first time in history—a chief of state elected by universal suffrage has dared to turn over his position to a foreigner—whether he be a “Redeemer” or a simple friend—without consulting the electorate?
Do you not think, Fellow Member s of the P.D.G., that you ought to put an end to the vilification of a whole nation, our nation ?
Brothers and Sisters in Guinea:
Eight years of independence? No, because of Sékou, eight years of tyranny, eight years of speeches, eight years of false plots, eight years of unkept promises, eight years of all kinds of privation, eight years of disappointments and humiliation.
Brothers and Sisters in Guinea, the martyrdom of our people has lasted only too long.
Nkrumah strutted around, thundered, stuck his chest out. It took only a flick of the finger to topple him.
Like Nkrumah, Sékou is strong only while we remain passive.
Sympathize with our cause, protect and support our comrades who will soon go into action in broad daylight on the soil of our Guinean Fatherland.
May the best of you join our ranks, fight with us so that as soon as possible there will dawn the blessed day of dignity and freedom regained.
We summon you to battle and to victory.
Long live immortal Guinea!
Long live the Guinean National Liberation Front!
Response to the “Open Letter” was immediate. The Ligue Guinéenne de Libération Nationale, a group of Guinean intellectuals living in the French capital, quickly endorsed it 8.
The effervescence of the exiles in Abidjan, Dakar, and Paris soon affected Guineans living in other European capitals; and on April 12, 1966, an F.L.N.G. tract in English was distributed in London. Violently attacking Touré’s government, it called on Guineans living in Great Britain to help overthrow Touré’s “regime of servitude, dishonor, and poverty.” 9 Similar tracts appeared in Bonn. But it was Paris rather than Abidjan, Dakar, or any other city that was to become the center of F.L.N.G. planning.
The Provisional Co-ordinating Committee of the F.L.N.G., headed by Dr. Paul Dechambenoit, announced a press conference for 200 members of the international press corps in Paris to present the F.L.N.G.’s program. Scheduled to take place on April 27, 1966 , at a Left Bank hotel, the conference was forbidden by the Préfet of the Seine on April 26. No reason for his prohibition was given.
Guinean soldiers in the French Army protesting in Paris against
Sékou Touré. (Photo: Fraternité-Matin, Abidjan)
Unable to hold its press conference, the F.L.N.G. instead distributed a tract on April 27 announcing its three immediate objectives:
- to polarize and give concrete form to latent popular discontent within Guinea itself
- to make the most active elements of the Guinean people—government employees, teachers, party workers, soldiers, etc.—realize that Sékou Touré’s strength lay only in their own passivity
- to dissuade public opinion in Africa, Europe, and America from regarding Sékou Touré with an air of detachment or amusement as the “least of possible evils.”10
Another statement later issued by Dechambenoit and the Co-ordinating Committee explained why the F.L.N.G.’s headquarters would be in Paris:
The African governments are tied to one another by membership in the Organization of African Unity. They have pledged themselves not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs. It is thus impossible to establish ourselves in Africa, desir able as that would be. We have chosen France because it symbolizes to us both French culture and democracy 11.
Dechambenoit also made it clear that the F.L.N.G. was not setting itself up as a Guinean government-in-exile:
There is no question of our doing such a thing. Of course we wish it to be known that there is a group that stands ready to assume responsibility, but we have no intention of naming ourselves to ministerial posts. The people will choose their leaders freely at the opportune moment. Our only goal is to overthrow the present government 12.
During May and June of 1966 the F.L.N.G.’s activities attracted widespread attention in both the African and European press. Several French newspapers printed long extracts from the “Open Letter” of April 7, and the text in full came out in Abidjan’s Fraternité-Matin. Metropolitan newspapers ran long series on Guinea which were quoted at length in the French-language press of Black Africa. Although Houphout! t, following Senghor’s example, had curtailed the activities of the F.L.N.G.’s local chapter, he did nothing to diminish the intense propaganda campaign his own government was waging against Touré.
The removal of the F.L.N.G.’s headquarters from Abidjan to Paris relieved Houphouët of the embarrassment of harboring an exile organization whose activities clearly violated the O.A. U. Charter. At the same time, however, the Ivory Coast’s press gave full coverage to anti-Touré stories from foreign papers.
On June 25, 1966, the F.L.N.G. distributed in Paris several thousand copies of another letter signed by Dr. Dechambenoit and Moustapha Diallo, the organization’s President and Secretary-General. Addressed to Touré’s cabinet ministers, members of the National Political Bureau of the P.D.G. , army officers, diplomats, and other high officials, this letter cited two resolutions which had been approved at the second plenary session of the F.L.N.G.’s Co-ordinating Committee (place and date unspecified).
These resolutions stated that the F.L.N.G., having achieved its first goal—that of organizing Guineans to oppose Sékou Touré—now was ready to begin the second phase of its struggle: to weaken the Touré government from within. They urged all Guineans, and especially those in high office, to do their part to hasten the demise of Touré’s régime. These resolutions also reiterated the F.L.N.G.’s claim that it had only a limited objective: i.e., ridding the country of Touré.
Will the F.L.N.G. Succeed?
Overthrowing Touré will not be easy. Like Sukarno in Indonesia, Touré remains a popular figure to many of his people, however ruinous his policies have been for them in general. The P.D.G., Touré’s main support, still has the nation firmly in its grip, and thus far the Army—the one force that could easily topple Touré—shows no signs of disaffection.
The F.L.N.G. leaders, President Houphouët, and others who oppose Touré, are banking on his being brought down by a rebellion in Guinea. They argue that if Guinea’s internal economic situation continues to decline, as it has been doing over the last few years, people will grow desperate—and, once desperate, will seek to correct things by removing the men responsible for their plight.
Such hopes may be too sanguine. Certainly they represent an oversimplification of the situation. For all his ruthlessness, Sékou Touré, the arch-symbol of anticolonialism and the defender of African freedom against the predatory appetites of white imperialists, is still a hero to many tens of thousands of his people. Many would fight and die for him. The F.L.N.G. may also have an exaggerated idea of the impact which Touré’s disastrous economic policies have had on the people. Although Guinea’s foreign reserves are exhausted, its commerce at a standstill and its national accounts deeply in the red, these are all baffling problems to the average Guinean and seem remote from his daily life.
Ultimate disaster may even be staved off so long as the United States continues to come to Touré’ s rescue with extensive aid.
The F.L.N.G. is nevertheless confident that Touré’ s days are numbered and that it is only a question of time before he will go the way of Ben Bella and Nkrumah. To hasten that day, the F.L.N.G. is concentrating most of its efforts on organizing a vigorous opposition to Touré among all the exile groups, while at the same time directing a barrage of anti-Touré propaganda at Guinea itself in preparation for what may be a more active program later on. Whether or not this program will eventually involve such extreme actions as sabotage or assassination, it is still too early to say, but all indications are that events are moving in this direction. Some reports from Guinea say that Touré, worried about the growing opposition, has sounded out President Nasser of Egypt and President Modibo Keita of Mali regarding the reception he might find if he fled Guinea and sought refuge with them.
However the impending contest between Touré and the F.L.N.G. may eventually turn out, the significant fact is that at last there is an active, co-ordinated, and determined opposition to the President of Guinea. This opposition can no longer be appeased by Touré’s promises, nor intimidated by his threats . It will settle for nothing less than his permanent removal from the political scene.
1. How many Guineans are actually living in exile is difficult to determine. Existing estimates vary widely and Guinean exiles opposed to Touré tend to exaggerate the number of people who have fled the country. The most comprehensive breakdown which has appeared thus far in print gives the following figures: Senegal, 600,000; Sierra Leone, 300,000; Ivory Coast, 200,000; Liberia, 30,000; and Europe (principally France), 5,000. Cited from “Un Guinéen répond à Sékou Touré, 11 Fraternité-Matin (Abidjan) May 21, 1966. These figures are almost surely exaggerated, especially those for Senegal and Sierra Leone. Pierre Biarnes, Le Monde‘s correspondent in Dakar and a serious student of the matter, puts the number of Guinean exiles in Senegal at about 250,000. See Le Monde (Paris) April 29, 1966.
2. Members of the Jeunesse de la Révolution Démocratique Africaine (J.R.D.A.), Guinea’s national youth group.
3. For details of these charges, see Victor D. Du Bois, The Rise of an Opposition to Sékou Touré, Part IV: The Entente’s Reactions to the Guinean Accusations (VDB-4-’66) and Part V: The Formation of a Common Front Against Guinea by the Ivory Coast and Ghana (VDB-5-’66), American Universities Field Staff Reports,
West Africa Series, Volume IX, Nos. 4 and 5, April 1966.
4. Quoted from Fraternité-Matin (Abidjan} March 28, 1966. (Author’s translation.)
5. Op. cit., March 29, 1966.
6. The complete French text of this document was published in Fraternité-Matin (Abidjan) April 12, 1966. (Author’s translation.)
7. For details of this earlier plot, see Victor D. Du Bois, The Rise of an Opposition to Sékou Touré, Part IV: The Entente’s Reactions to the Guinean Accusations (VDB-4-’66), American Universities Field Staff Reports, West Africa Series, Volume IX, No.4, April 1966.
8. Fraternité-Matin (Abidjan) April 13, 1966.
10. Op. cit., April 28, 1966.
11. Le Monde (Paris) April 29, 1966.
End of the six-part seriesThe Rise of An Opposition to Sékou Touré
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