Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine


Guinea Is Dead, Long Live Guinea!

In the end, it was not a plot or enemies of the revolution that got him. Ahmed Sekou Touré went the way of all flesh, at 62 years of age, he succumbed to a heart attack and died.

He was at his death, Africa's longest serving head of state, having been leader of Guinea for 26 years. In 1958 when Sekou Touré led Guinea to give the famous 'Non' to de Gaulle and thus torpedo the French President's carefully laid plans for a French African community, he was easily the most radical leader in Africa. Today all the past hopes and promises that failed hardly matter nor does it count for very much that Guinea once was the "jewel in the crown" of French West African countries.

Those who call themselves progressives in Africa obviously seem to believe that it is better to be dead than "reactionary" and in the pursuit of this imaginary progressive label, they are willing to bring a country and its people to total destruction.

In 1958, Sekou Touré entered the realms of heroic folklore with his declaration that we prefer freedom with poverty to riches in slavery. That was the rhetoric and no self-respecting African would be seen to disagree with that proposition. The reality was that what Guinea has had to endure for the past 26 years has been poverty and slavery. The freedom has proved to be a mirage and the famous "non" to de Gaulle an empty gesture. The revolutionary socialism rhetoric has of course lasted even if the Guinean people stopped hoping long ago that their circumstances could ever be improved.

When Sekou Touré made his dramatic turnaround about 10 years ago and started courting the attentions of his former adversaries, the imperialists, it was enough to have made his old friend and former co-President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana turn and groan in his grave.

Things had really changed when Guinea was now not only back in the francophone group and Sekou Touré was being feted at the Elysee, but he was actually being called a reactionary to his face at last year's Franco African meeting by Captain Sankara of Upper Volta. But things had not changed enough to the point where Ahmed Sekou Touré could admit that there could possibly be anybody else apart from him to lead whatever was left of the country and people he has ruled for so long. In the true, progressive spirit, any talk of an alter native was quickly labelled subversive and the originators hunted down. Even within the confines of his own decreed one-party state, he was careful to discourage any talk of or attempt at finding a successor to him.

Anybody who doubted that Sekou Touré was the only answer to Guinea's problems either had to flee into exile or die in one of his jails. Almost all of those who were with him at the start of the independence fight have met such ends: jail and death or exile. A particular breed of Guineans became endangered species; the successful Guinean or any that appeared to make a name on the international scene was deemed to pose a threat to Ahmed Sekou Touré and was "eliminated".

Surrounded on the most part by sycophants, and attracted by a crop of international praise-singing adventurers. Sekou Touré came to believe in his own infallibility and saw any opposition to him as a sign against Guinea and its people. His paranoia was fuelled by the attempts by those opposed to him to remove him from office and at certain points it became impossible to distinguish between the real plots and those dreamed up by him and his security as an excuse to launch another wave of purges.

It is of particular irony that Sekou Touré should die now, robbed of one great crown that he had craved for a long time to host the 21st anniversary summit of the Organisation of African Unity even if it must be said that possibly even more blood thirsty African leaders have held the Chairmanship of the OAU

But then, the sole remaining untainted claims to grandeur that Sekou Touré had was as a founding member of the OAU and in his own peculiar way, hosting this year's meeting would have crowned his aspirations to the status of Africa's elder statesman. Whatever he has made of Guinea would not matter then. By his death. he has been denied this opportunity and the routine and sometime fulsome praises that have been pouring in from African leaders have a peculiarly unrealistic ring to them.

The OAU meeting which already had question marks hanging over it would have its fate in an even more precarious position now, but if indeed it is an organisation worth half the ideals attributed to it. then it will survive the death of its would-have-been-host.

In much the same way as Guinea and its people will survive the death of Sekou Touré in spite of the fact that he had come to believe that the very survival or even existence of the country and its people depended on him.

The Americans possibly over do it with their continuous refrain and allusions to the imminent death of their leaders and their vice-presidents being 'a heart-beat away from the presidency, but in our part of the world we go to ridiculous lengths to pretend that our leaders are immortal and place undue premium on the individual over that of the state. The power struggle said to be going on within the top brass of the party will undoubtedly bring a leader and it will be up to that leader to decide whether to be another Sekou Touré or seize the opportunity to unite all his people and admit the reality that he is also only human.

The inability of African leaders to admit this fundamental fact of their humanity is what leads to the ruin of themselves and their countries. Sekou Touré fired the imagination of Africans in 1958 as very few people ever would again, but by imagining that he as an individual was more important than the state, his place in history as Africa's longest serving leader" when he died will count for nothing when the plight of his people is considered.

The tragedy of African leaders is that they do not know when to say 'enough' - Sekou Touré exemplified that more than anyone.

talking drums 1984-04-02 guinea sekou toure passes away - ghana the giwa executions