Sékou Touré (1922-1984) was president of the Republic of Guinea after its independence and an exponent of radical socialism. His decision to oppose the De Gaulle referendum in 1958 was the key event which destroyed the old French West African Federation.
Sékou Touré was born in Faranah, Guinea. His father, a poor farmer, was a member of the Soussou tribe, and his mother was a member of the Malinke tribe; Touré’s father was a grandson of the great ruler Almami Samory. Touré was educated at the village Koranic school and primary school at Faranah. At 14 he enrolled in a technical school in Conakry but was expelled in 1937 for organizing a student strike, and he completed his secondary education by correspondence.
Touré was employed by a commercial firm in 1940 and in the following year qualified for a position in the posts and telecommunications department. He was very active in union affairs and became the head of the Postal Union in 1945 and was one of the founders of the Union Cégétiste des Syndicats. He became its secretary general in 1946. He was discharged from his job and spent a brief time in jail in 1947.
Touré had been a founder member of the intraterritorial Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA) in 1946. However, his prime interest was not politics but trade unionism. The leading political figure in Guinea at this time was a moderate former schoolteacher, Yacine Diallo. In 1948 Touré became secretary general of the Confédération Générale des Travailleurs (CGT), dominated by the French Communist general union. Two years later he became secretary general of the Coordinating Committee of the CGT for French West Africa. By 1952 Touré had also risen to the post of secretary general of the Parti Démocratique de Guinée (PDG), the Guinea branch of the RDA.
The year 1953 was crucial for Touré’s career. He led a two-month general strike against the government which forced the governor general to capitulate, and he was also elected a member of the Territorial Assembly. Touré was the acknowledged leader of the young radicals who were dissatisfied with the increasingly moderate policies of the RDA. In 1954 Yacine Diallo died, and Touré contested the election to fill his vacant seat in the French Assembly. He lost to Barry Diawadou, the leader of the Bloc Africain de Guinée party. His stature was, nevertheless, increased because it was widely believed that the French authorities had tampered with the election. Touré became a member of the Coordinating Committee in 1954 and was chosen mayor of Conakry the following year. His conversion to political action was completed by his election to the French Assembly in January 1956.
Touré had begun to change his attitudes toward the successful application of doctrinaire Marxism to the problems of Africa. He also questioned the continued association of African unions with their metropolitan counterparts. Thus he helped establish the Confédération Générale du Travail Africain (CGTA), which was not affiliated with the CGT or any other European movement. The new union was so successful that the local CGT merged with it in 1957 to form the larger, intraterritorial Travailleurs d’Afrique Noire (UGTAN), which soon attracted most of the unionized workers in French West Africa. Touré was at first secretary general and then president.
Sékou Touré Political Action
The loi cadre of 1956 devolved a major portion of authority to the assembly of each territory and gave the vice president, the chief elective officer, great power. Before the elections of 1957 the PDG appealed to the intelligentsia and also urban workers and villagers. It won a solid victory, and Touré became vice president. He began immediately to implement government plans for improvement of industry, roads, and railways. He moved to establish cooperatives and village councils to further undercut the power of traditional authorities. Touré was still cooperative with the French as long as it was to the advantage of Guinea. In 1957 he became a member of the Grand Council, the highest advisory body in the federation, and was elected vice president of the RDA.
Discussions within the RDA over future political evolvement of the territories presaged the destruction of the party. Felix Houphouët-Boigny of the Ivory Coast emphasized the development of individual territories within the French community. Touré and many other leaders believed it necessary to continue the federal structure. In 1958 Touré inexplicably shifted his position. Three days before his meeting with Charles De Gaulle on August 28 to discuss the coming plebiscite to decide the future of the French community, Touré appeared to support a vote in favor of association with France.
However, pressures within Touré’s own party and the radical unions forced a change, and in September Guinea voted overwhelmingly against continued association. France announced on September 30 that Guinea was independent and cut off all financial aid, withdrew its technicians and advisers, and removed all equipment possible. Guinea entered into independence as a bankrupt nation. No Western power was prepared to help, and Touré concluded four trade agreements with the Eastern bloc countries.
Two months after independence, Touré negotiated a £10 million loan from Ghana which enabled him to stabilize Guinea’s economy. Touré’s government became more centralized, and he required all Guineans to participate in the economic and social development of the country. The PDG was declared the only legal party, and a system of political committees was established on all levels up to the National Committee to help Touré direct the state.
Touré’s meeting with Kwame Nkrumah resulted in a declaration of a Ghana-Guinea union in 1959. This association, which Touré hoped would be the beginning of a larger political union, envisioned a gradual uniting of the political and economic institutions of the two states. In July 1961 the union was expanded with the addition of Mali. Despite the theory, no specific changes were made in the political institutions of the member states. The union’s major contribution was to provide a base for a common foreign-policy approach. It formed the nucleus of the radical, anti-Western Casablanca bloc of the early 1960s. However, even in foreign policy there was a significant difference between Touré’s and Nkrumah’s attitudes—witness their policies concerning the United Nations in the Congo.
Touré’s emancipation from more radical elements within the PDG and the Soviet Union did not come until 1961. In November the Teachers Union, in conjunction with officials of the Soviet embassy, precipitated a crisis throughout Guinea. Touré arrested the strike leaders and expelled the Soviet ambassador and his key aides from the country. Later discussions with the Soviet Union restored good relations, but it was apparent that Touré was not a captive of the Communist bloc. In 1962 he began to seek more contacts with other African states and increased aid from Western powers.
In 1964 Touré reorganized the government, naming four resident ministers in four major regions of Guinea who were directly responsible to the central executive. He also restricted membership in the PDG to the more militant socialists who had proved their worth. Thus the party reflected more clearly the desires of the executive. In January 1968 elections were held for the National Assembly and for president. Touré was unopposed in the election, and the prospective members of the Assembly had previously been nominated by the PDG.
After the overthrow of Nkrumah in January 1966, Touré became more aggressive in his attitudes toward the West, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, and the new Ghana regime. He declared Nkrumah honorary president of Guinea and threatened to restore him to power by force. Houphouët-Boigny replied to Touré’s threats by sending troops to his borders and promising to invoke French aid, and Touré did not follow up his threat with action against the Ivory Coast. In May 1967, on the twentieth anniversary of the PDG, Touré denounced Western missionaries and ordered all foreign clergymen deported by June 1.
Touré attempted to end Guinea’s self-imposed isolation in 1968. Nkrumah’s sanctuary was continued, but his public statements and appearances were limited. Touré even moderated the degree and type of denunciation of the Ivory Coast and Senegal. He attended the Monrovia Conference in April; Guinea became a member of the Organization of Senegal River States; and he restored diplomatic relations with Britain, which had been severed in 1965.
Guinea’s economic development continued more slowly than the potential wealth of the state would have indicated. However, after 1965, Touré received aid from Britain, France, the United States, the Soviet Union, and China. Plans were approved for a dam and hydro-electric plant on the Konkouré River and for the construction of a smelting plant, railway, and harbor to exploit the Boké bauxite deposits.
By restricting a legal, open opposition, Touré gained unchallenged control of Guinea, but he assured that some rivals would attempt to end his rule by violent means. In November 1965 a plot was discovered to assassinate Touré; a former army lieutenant and cousin, Mamadou Touré, was implicated. In February 1968 another major coup directed against the President was discovered, and a further assassination attempt was foiled in 1969. Despite all his problems, Touré’s hold on his country after 12 years of independence was firm. The coups that occurred during this period against other political leaders in Africa only underscored the stability of his regime.
Touré held his position as president of Guinea until his death on March 26, 1984. He died in Cleveland, Ohio. Socialist in economic outlook, Touré ruthlessly suppressed dissent, and after his death the government of Guinea acknowledged that numerous human rights violations had occurred during his regime.
Further Reading on Sékou Touré
There is no good biography of Touré in English. For general background see Richard Adloff, West Africa: The French Speaking Nations (1964); Ruth Schachter Morgenthau, Political Parties in French Speaking West Africa (1964); and John Hatch, A History of Post War Africa (1965). Touré’s contributions to the pan-African movement are described in Colin Legum, Pan Africanism (1962). The philosophical basis of Guinea’s government is treated in George W. Shepherd, Jr., The Politics of African Nationalism (1962), and Gwendolen Carter, ed., African One-party States (1962). Further details on Touré are in Ronald Segal, Political Africa (1961), and Basil Davidson, The Liberation of Guinée (1969). Updated information was gathered from Encyclopaedia Britannica and Microsoft Encarta 96 Encyclopedia.
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