Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Sekou Toure Passes Away

The biggest blot on the late President's escutcheon was the blood of his political opponents whom he ruthlessly executed, tortured and slowly starved to death in his prisons. By a correspondent.
The sudden death of the President of Guinea Ahmed Sekou Toure in the United States of America brings to an end an era in the stormy political France. history of the small former French West African colony, whose independence was to bring its people so much problems vis-a-vis its relationship with the metropolis-France.

He died during heart surgery in a United States hospital after being rushed from Conakry in a specially equipped aircraft provided by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. He was 62. According to reliable sources, he died at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation Hospital last Monday after a two and a half hour attempt to save his life on the operating table.

President Sekou Toure had arrived earlier the same day after a 10-hour flight in a flying cardiac intensive care unit, an aircraft equipped with the latest monitoring and life support technology.

A 40-day period of national mourning has been proclaimed beginning Tuesday, March 27th, 1984 during which flags will fly at half mast on all buildings and at all public places.

All forms of entertainment have been suspended throughout the Republic while the religious people of Guinea, Muslims and Christians, are to make at all places of worship Mosques, Churches and Temples fervent prayers for the peaceful rest of the soul of 'the immortal Ahmed Sekou Toure'.

There is certainly an ironic twist to the political career of Sekou Toure, the man who, until 1982, had to make a political U-turn to the West after years of violent opposition to whatever that geographical region stood for. He had to breathe his last in the heartland of capitalist United States of America.

The history of Guinea cannot be written without heavy emphasis on the role played by its first life president in its pre-independence and post-independence periods. Having made his mark in the independence movement in the post second world war era, Toure's Parti Democratique de Guinee (PDG) was to be groomed into the one-party system which was to ruthlessly emasculate all opposition and generate strong anti-government activities during the period of isolation from France

Determined to carry the torch of socialism and genuine independence Toure's first bitter quarrel with the government in France flared up in August 25th, 1958, a little over a year after Ghana, under Dr Kwame Nkrumah, had celebrated her first independence anniversary. A strong relationship developed between the two as they both had the same political ideology and strategy.

After 1966 when Dr Nkrumah was overthrown, he did not only give him sanctuary in his country but also made him co-President. On August 25th, 1958 De Gaulle came to Conakry to sell his ideas to the electorate a month before the referendum on the constitution of the French fifth republic.

The vote was to determine among other things, whether France's African territories would choose a complete independence or autonomy as separate republics within a French community with a few selected political and administrative functions.

"We shall never give up our legitimate and natural rights to independence; we prefer poverty in freedom to wealth in slavery," declared Sekou Toure right in the face of President De Gaulle who promptly left the country and never forgave Toure. For 24 years, Sekou Toure himself never stepped on French soil.

To show Toure who was boss, the French proceeded to withdraw all trained civil servants,, destroy official files and essential services - all aimed at bringing the small country to her knees.

Far from achieving this purpose, it rather pushed Guinea into the arms of the Soviet Union, China and Eastern European countries which helped her to weather the bitter economic hardships during those years.

Dr Kwame Nkrumah's friendship with Toure took a significant step forward when Ghana loaned the be leaguered country £10 million and subsequently joined the other 2 Arican newly independent countries in a short-lived Ghana-Guinea-Mali Union to demonstrate solidarity and a common front against imperialism.

It is significant to note that in a referendum that ensued after the Conakry confrontation with De Gaulle, all other French territories chose autonomy within the community which were to end finally by the end of 1960 when they became fully independent. It soon became clear that the choice Guineans had made was to lead to economic problems of horrendous proportions.

The entire political career of Toure since independence had been characterised by charges, counter-charges and plots to undermine and overthrow his regime involving political dissidents inside and 'outside the country, French Secret Service and European mercenaries.

These plots against Toure, led to the breaking off of diplomatic relations between France and Guinea in 1965.

It is believed that one of the biggest blots on the President's escutcheon was the blood of his opponents whom he indiscriminately and ruthlessly executed, tortured and slowly starved to death in his prisons.

In 1982 the Amnesty International named 78 political prisoners it believed to have died in Guinean prisons. Between 1969 to 1976, out of 4,000 political prisoners reported to be in jails in Guinea, the authorities admitted that about 100 had been executed and up to 1,000 were believed to have been released. But the fate of approximately 2,900 most of them never tried - is unknown.

The Amnesty report stated that most of the thousands of "disappeared" were imprisoned during two waves of mass arrests on security grounds in 1971 and 1976. An estimated 3,500 people including officials, army officers and more than half the government of the time were seized in 1971 after an abortive attack on the Guinean capital Conakry by Portuguese forces and Guinean exiles in November 1970.

By far the greatest criticism of Sekou Toure's ruthlessness was the "disappearance" of Diallo Telli a member of the Peuhl ethnic minority, former Guinean Ambassador to the United Nations and the first Secretary-General of the Organisation of African Unity (O.A.U.) in 1976 after some 500 members of the Peuhl tribe were arrested when one was implicated in an assassination attempt.

As human rights infringements mounted, attempts were being made in the 1970's for the normalisation of relations between Guinea and France. Pompidou could not win Toure over because he considered the French President as De Gaulle's man until Pompidou died and was succeeded by Valery Giscard D'Estaing. In a series of negotiations in which compromise solutions finally opponents. helped to bridge the yawning gap between the two sides, Andre Levin presented his letters of credence as the new French Ambassador to Conakry in February 1976 followed in 1978 by a well-publicised visit by President d'Estaing to Guinea.

The era of Mitterand saw a concretisation of the improved relations begun by his predecessor. A number of reasons had been put forward for the bold step forward taken by Mitterand to bring Sekou out of the cold at the risk of incurring the displeasure of his own Socialist Party which had earlier attacked the appalling human rights records of the Guinean strongman.

The most plausible, appeared to be the increasingly obvious overtures to Toure from United States sources. Toure was finally succumbing to the harsh economic realities of the times that even though he hated what capitalism stood for he could do with a little bit of help to ease the debilitating effects of 20 years in the economic wilderness. He paid a visit to the U.S. in 1982 to prove his change of heart.

Sekou's visit to France after 24 years in September 1982 at the invitation of Mitterand therefore marked a watershed in the turbulent relations between the two countries. What it did not do, however, was to still the wagging tongues and accusations of strong handedness towards his political opponents.

On the African continent itself, President Toure was regarded as one of the stalwarts of the Organisation of African Unity and with many of the old political heads he conferred with in its formative years either out of power through coup d'etats or dead by natural causes, his stature as an elder statesman began to grow in the 1980's. As one of the founding fathers of OAU, who had watched and actively participated in the political and economic developments on the continent, he had increasingly had powerful voice in the proceedings of the club. His opposition of the SADR, into the OAU and resistance of Libya and Algeria on this issue and his out- spoken condemnation of the Libyan presence in Chad while supporting Hissen Habre had altogether increased his image in the continent's politics.. This would have been enhanced more if he had lived to chair the next OAU summit due to be held in Conakry. It was widely expected that his political experience would be greatly needed to steer the trouble-ridden organisation to a successful revival.

President Ahmed Sekou Toure may be mourned by leaders the world over. But perhaps it is Guineans themselves who, at the hour of their grief may answer the question as to whether with his passing away his successor - who is likely to be Prime Minister Dr Lansana Beavogui can afford to carry on the personal repressive style of government of his predecessor or introduce liberal measures after the 26 years of turbulent rule.


Sekou Toure would also be remembered as the man who survived plots, real and imagined, to overthrow his regime. He reacted to each plot with increasingly harsh internal repressions: executions, show trials, purges and political persecutions. The plots were each labelled.

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