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 4

The Perennial Plot

Accounts of coups d'Etat or plots are regular features of the news from African nations. Although, as of 1976, Sékou Touré is dean of the functioning heads of sub-Saharan states with respect to the duration of his rule, his regime has been beset by many internal conflicts. A number of these have been dealt with by what has become a ritual of announcing genuine or fictitious plots. Even if the interpretation of these plots against the Toure regime does not lead to a theory explaining them, it should at least show that to grasp the structure of these crises the high points in Guinea's political life must be followed in the order in which they occurred, and the explanation of the forces behind them must be sought in the long-term sequence of sociohistorical events.
As in many newly independent African states, the main conflicts stem from a double contradiction.

These contradictions explain to some extent the driving forces in Guinean society. A group has acquired power by being provided with all the services needed to attain it. Yet none of those services has been given free of charge. If the ruling group fails to recompense its servitors to their satisfaction, it risks alienating them. The chronicle of the most outstanding successes registered by the Toure regime seems to substantiate the interpretation that they were the result of an exchange of gifts or payoffs.

  1. The intellectuals, notably primary-school teachers, have been the purveyors of the PDG's ideology to the mass of the population and to its youth. If they had not been accorded a fair share of the posts assigned in the years following the loi-cadre and especially after independence (1958-1961), there was the risk that they would react unfavorably.
  2. Secretly, the merchants had promoted the rise of the PDG with funds and the loan of their trucks. As was shown by their resentment against the CGCI and the economico-political changes of November 8, 1964, they detached themselves from the PDG after its nationalization of the wholesale trade and regulation of retail business had threatened to paralyze private commerce.
  3. The peasants and wage earners formed the base of the party which sought to defend their interests. But the PDG, through its defective economic system, the shortage of consumer goods, and its failure to improve living standards' provoked a typical peasant reaction. The peasants refused to increase their output for export and to support the Party politically, and they left the country in large numbers.
  4. As soon as Guinea became independent, commissioned officers generously offered their services to the new state. But because the government's policy satisfied neither their hopes of promotion nor the desire for order inherent in the military ideology, the officers withdrew their support of the regime.
  5. Former civil servants of the colonial administration, who had quickly rallied to the PDG only to be disappointed in their hopes for higher salaries which would enable them to keep pace with, or ahead of, the rising cost of living, either detached themselves from the regime or utilized the system solely for their personal advantage.

All basic contradictions must sooner or later break out into open conflicts. In the history of Guinea's nation-building, the times of major tension between the ruling elite and the groups opposed to them are clearly marked. These are the periods when Sékou Touré relied mainly upon pseudo plots as a pretext for ridding himself of his opponents.
An objective analysis of the causes of these plots indicates that, as a whole, they should not be attributed - as Toure has usually done for tactical reasons to the covetousness of imperialism or to the subversive ambitions of the local valets of neocolonialism. To be sure, in most cases, except those of 1960 and 1970, it is difficult to know whether a coup d'Etat was actually attempted. Nor can any one determine what were the real aims of those who, supposedly hatching a plot, received support from outside the country, or exactly who, among those accused, were real plotters or were simply opposed to the regime but not to the point of ousting the head of state. In any case, the much-publicized trials and series of imprisonments that have marked Guinea's political evolution make clear what group was the main target, although no one group was exclusively purged, nor was any single element of a social class.
Without underestimating the value of a very precise historical analysis, one can safely disregard the circumstances surrounding the alleged plots that were merely catalysts and not the basic causes of dissensions. Moreover, in Africa, wherever there exists an illegal opposition within the single party, or simply party members eager to replace those in power, it is comparatively easy to discern a plot. As to why plots are discovered just at a certain moment, there are several answers. Sometimes there is a genuine attempt by the regime's opponents to resort to action. At other times, the government feels that it must revive fervor by proclaiming that the fatherland is in danger. The necessity for such reaffirmation derives from the permanent existence of a latent opposition to the regime, which can be displayed only by strikes and demonstrations that would be treated as political movements injurious to the security of the state. Even if the African population had an organization and an ideological leadership opposed to the PDG doctrine, the physical force represented by the militia, the police, and the army would prevent malcontents from taking action. Sékou Touré fears that the elite are becoming bourgeois far more than he fears opposition from the population, which can be suppressed.
The anti-government « plots » that recur at crucial intervals can be viewed as historical-sociological sequences in the unrolling film of Guinea's political life: their interest lies in their context, and their efficacy depends on the moment when they occurred - that is, in the scenario and its implications. Each plot corresponds to political, economic, or social circumstances particularly difficult for the regime. Arrests always take place at just the right time to fend off demands, if not to counter protests created by the shortage of supplies or crises of a fundamentally political character. Thus the plot serves as a counter-irritant, a diversionary tactic, and a means to circumvent economic and political difficulties. It is also a weapon employed chiefly to cut the Gordian knot of the government's rash policy in a manner favorable to the regime. In any case, it serves to intimidate the masses when the usual methods of so doing prove ineffective. At the same time, it functions as a preventive weapon useful in physically eliminating real or imaginary adversaries of the regime, who are invariably accused by the government of aiming to overthrow the head of state. The scenario seems to be always the same. During an interminable speech, the president announces that thanks to the Party's vigilance an « imperialist maneuver designed to overthrow the legal revolutionary government of the Republic of Guinea » has been discovered in the nick of time. Immediately, government agents, long practiced in the various techniques of preventive repression, move in everywhere to arrest by night men and women well known for their political nonconforrnism. It is at this moment that a selected group of the president's faithful companions set themselves up as a revolutionary tribunal. Its members carry out their own inquiries, conduct lightning interrogations, and pass sentences that are usually severe and in any case cannot be appealed. The accused is given no chance to defend himself. As a prisoner, he is kept on a starvation diet for a week and forbidden to communicate with his relatives, who have no idea what has happened to him or where he is incarcerated.
The foregoing description of the « plot » phenomenon is inadequate to provide an understanding of the impulses motivating the anti-government reactions, the origin of the tensions behind an explosive situation, and the way in which the forces opposed to the regime pyramid. For this we need a more exhaustive and long-range explanation.

The Dynamics of Interelite Conflict
Our thesis is that Guinean society is corrupted from within by the incessant restlessness of the elite who are in the process of becoming middle class. The forces underlying the country's evolution are nipped in the bud whenever the amount of activity they unleash threatens to topple, sooner or later, the pedestal on which the leader of the regime has been placed. The analysis of these plots seems to bring us back to the dynamics of the social strata. A plot can be understood in terms of barrier to the upward mobility of a segment of the elite who were trying to become bourgeois. This segment was composed

What is striking about the first so-called reactionary anti-government plot is the imbalance between the meagerness of the deeds and the publicity given them. It has been interpreted as a kind of resurgence of the liberal spirit that prevailed among the favored social classes during the colonial period. This opposition arose in reaction to the following antiliberal measures taken by Sékou Touré during his first years in power:

  1. Suppression of the freedom of information by a decree (January 27, 1959) which forbade private individuals to own radio transmitter sets and another decree (March 1,1959) forbidding publication of the French-controlled daily Guinée-Matin, thus making the Party daily Horoya, the only authorized newspaper.
  2. Restriction of the right to exercise a profession: nonGuineans could no longer function as lawyers, law clerks, or notaries.
  3. The undermining of religious freedom by granting to the state (in September 1959) a monopoly of primary education, by suppressing Catholic youth movements, and by hindering any teaching of the catechism.

It was in the atmosphere created by such measures that the « plot » of April 1960 exploded. Three Frenchmen and one Swiss were accused of conspiring to assassinate the head of state. Sékou Touré declared in May, after the discovery of stores of firearms along the Guinea-Senegal frontier, that « the conspirators had been in correspondence with Gaullist organizations abroad. » Even if the meeting attended by sixty thousand persons did not revitalize the masses as much as Toure had hoped, it at least succeeded in increasing their distrust of foreigners and in counteracting any liking they may have felt for the former colonial power. Among the hundred or so persons arrested, about ten died after being tortured, including the lawyer Ibrahima Diallo and the Imam of Coronthie, El Hadj Lamine Kaba.
In November 1961, a year and a half later, with the announced discovery of a new plot, the population was warned against the intellectuals who were threatening to overrun the regime from the left. On the twentieth of that month, before the High Court of Justice, the government prosecuted members of the teachers' union executive committee, who were accused of subversive activities. Two sentences of ten years' imprisonment

and three of five years

were the penalty for « editing and circulating both inside and outside Guinea a deceitful memorandum representing a new counter-revolutionary attempt »
In fact, the intelligentsia, envious of the benefits that accrued to the politicians by virtue of their positions, wanted to move against the dictatorial turn taken by the regime and expressed its dissatisfaction with the government's ideological orientation for not being more communistic. Yet the memorandum sent to the government by the officers of the national teachers' union was restricted to professional demands - a salary increase and the continued grant of free lodging. However, these demands were only the forerunner of a strategy designed to utilize union action in order to promote the Marxist-oriented PAI. By delving more deeply into the plot, the government - which had already charged the accused with having collaborated with antiGuineans in Dakar and Paris - discovered documents that also involved an Eastern European embassy. A few days later, it was learned that Daniel Solod, the Soviet ambassador, had been recalled by his government. Even before this happened, however, any urge the intellectuals may have felt to take action had been repressed, for the solidarity strike by students and professors was severely put down by the army and the militia on November 25. And even now, the remembrance of numerous arrests and the closing down of secondary schools at that time still paralyzes many of the intellectuals who disagree with the regime.
Although a sharp blow had been struck at the leadership of the teaching corps, those who had been successful in the economic sphere tried to form an organization. At the Labe Conference of December 1961, where the intellectuals' activities were again censured, the opposition of the small merchants and truckers to economic planning, to the closing of the Guinea-Senegal frontier, and to the monetary troubles arising from nationalization of the wholesale trade made itself felt. In September 1963, those same merchants were accused of illicit dealings in currency and merchandise. On November 8, 1964, a return to the system of state control over wholesale trade was ceremoniously instituted after promulgation of the loi-cadre creating such controls and the confiscation of ill-gotten gains. A stringent ruling eliminated large and small-scale merchants and also appreciably reduced the number of those halfway between the two. Under this law, it became illegal to both engage in private trade and hold an executive political job. It was as a reaction to this measure that the PUNG was created under the leadership of Mamadou Touré, a cousin of Sékou Touré nicknamed « Petit. » After being dismissed from the management of the state textile-import firm of SONATEX, Petit Touré branded the PDG as bankrupt, demanded a return to the free-enterprise system, and was so deluded as to draft the regulations for his new party. Such temerity quickly led to the uncovering in September 1965 of a plot by « important merchants collaborating with the Party's traitors and ingrates, and supported by French imperialism. » Thereupon all Petit Touré's friends were imprisoned. This crushing of troublesome elements was followed by suppression of the incipient bourgeoisie made up of private traders, principally from Kankan. Demolished inside Guinea, the opposition of this group was evidenced outside the country by the formation of the Front National de Libération de la Guinée (FNLG). Now what some called the bureaucratic bourgeoisie of the PDG, which comprised all the leading politicians and the cadres of the public sector of the economy, was left wholly in control.
Thanks to its privileged position, the group consisting of the political elite was actually trying to become middle class through the accumulation of considerable wealth from sinecures and the embezzlement of public funds.

provided the channels used by the political elite to infiltrate the economic circuits. Beginning in 1964, incontrovertible proof of this phenomenon was provided by the emergence of an administrative and political bourgeoisie - if one can judge from the following measures directed against it that were taken on November 8:

  1. The setting up of two commissions - one to regulate and control rents (by establishing rental rates) and the other to check on the properly acquired by Party leaders since independence and to confiscate what had been illegally obtained.
  2. The prohibition of any activity by directors, managers, and officials of state enterprises or companies that involved remuneration.
  3. The sentencing to fifteen to twenty years in prison of those trafficking in currency and fraudulently importing or exporting merchandise.
  4. The removal from Party executive posts of any individuals sentenced for theft, embezzlement, or subversion.
  5. The requirement that administrators and heads of government services and state enterprises participate in Party activities under pain of dismissal.

At the same time, many leaders were reprimanded for their egoism, individualism, avarice, cheating, corruption, and lying.
The attack on the bureaucracy, however, was overshadowed in this instance by the measures directed against trade, and in fact the bureaucracy strengthened its position to the extent that it was charged with carrying out the above measures.
The next year, nevertheless, some former members of the national politburo began to be cited by name as targets. To eliminate them, it was necessary only to implicate them in the Petit Touré affair. Thus Bengali Camara and Jean Faragué Tounkara were arrested for « divisive tactics and regionalism, » and Daouda Camara for « mismanagement of the Office de la Banane. » Not yet daring to attack incumbent ministers, Sékou Touré decided after the January 1967 CNR to cut himself loose from the clique of Ismael Toure, Saidou Conté whom he transferred from the Education Ministry to Justice, and Fod&eacutte;ba Keita whom he transferred from the National Defense Ministry to that of Agriculture. Following the example of those ministers who tried to defend themselves by banding together, some regional governors joined forces that same year to prevent having any one of their number singled out for punishment as a scapegoat. Disillusioned as to the loyalty of his cabinet, the head of state tried throughout 1967 to prevent any coalition from being formed by his opponents. He therefore continued to transfer such high-ranking civil servants as Moussa Diakité from the Ministry of Finance to the post of governor of Nzerekore, which was widely viewed as a demotion. On the other hand, such promotions as those of Karim Fofana to the Ministry of Public Works and of Mamouna Toure to the national politburo seemed to indicate a rejuvenation of the Party at a high level.
Some exemplary punishments were meted out to the heads of national enterprises whose iniquities were the most flagrant at the time when the financial scandals were brought to light on May 1, 1967 - 60 million francs had been embezzled at BATIPORT and undetermined sums at AGRIMA, ALIMAG, and GUINEXPORT. Yet the head of state alone had the right to make public statements on such matters. Thus when, as minister, Moriba Magassouba took it upon himself to publicize to the nation in the August 23, 24, and 25 issues of Horoya, the misdemeanors of some responsible administrators, he drew a rebuke from the leader, who knew all about them but preferred to remain silent because they showed a certain weakness in his regime. In September 1967, when the eighth PDG congress met, the verbal strategy had been worked out and the way found to dissociate the regime from any representatives displaying bourgeois tendencies. In the report on Sékou Touré's doctrine and policy, the existence of social classes and the class struggle were formally recognized: « The interests of the toiling masses require that the working class, the peasantry, and the progressive elements lead and control all the vital sectors of the life of the nation, and that the reactionary elements of the bourgeoisie, bureaucracy, and capitalism even on the national level should be removed from the functions of orientation, policy-making, and control. » 1 And a general resolution was adopted declaring that « no person can be a state or Party leader at any level who exploits his fellow man directly or indirectly for his personal advantage in an industry or commercial enterprise or if his behavior and attitude violate revolutionary morality and austerity. » 2
Whereas Sékou Touré had been able to subject the intellectuals and traders to political controls, neither these declarations nor the arrests later carried out succeeded in stopping the drift of the bureaucratic elite toward the bourgeoisie, and he had to adjust himself to the facts of this situation. Moreover, it was clear that among the delegates to the congress, civil servants - 398 of a total of 724 were in the majority. Furthermore, those who purported to represent the peasantry were none other than former government agents or still-functioning civil servants and traders, who had benefited handsomely by grants for the development of their properties with modern equipment and agricultural labor.
According to Horoya, September 29, 1967, « there has occurred a real rush to agriculture even by residents of the big towns, from which retired civil servants and merchants have gone to the country to clear the land and till the soil. » Although guidelines for the reconversion to agriculture had been laid down in the loi-cadre, the measures dealing with civil servants had not been applied, as noted in resolutions by the Party federations. « Indeed, it was the contrôleurs themselves who should have been supervised. At the eighth congress, those most insistent on building up socialism, such as Dieli Bakar Kouyaté, were the very ones who did not hesitate to advance their own fortunes at the people's expense. After Kouyaté had been shifted from the post of manager of the railroads to that of heading the Entreprise Nationale d'Acconage et de Transit (ENTRAT), he was relieved of his duties on the grounds of incompetence and dishonesty, then later placed in charge of the GUINEXPORT. In short, events in 1967 showed the government's determination to stifle the embryonic bureaucratic bourgeoisie. They also indicated that the very structure of the regime, combined with shortages at the time, helped to aggravate the grave malady inside the Party. Simply to attack certain contaminated elements did not suffice to eliminate the causes of opposition to the regime and of the growth in inequities. Thenceforth, in the evolution of Guinea, the politico-administrative elite carried too much weight because of their power of decision at the local level, their role in diagnosing situations, and the example set by their behavior. Consequently, their secret ambitions would be achieved, although these were contrary to the utopian ethical code advocated by the head of state.
For those unwilling to be satisfied with the crumbs available to them under the regime, the quickest way of removing the barriers to their socioeconomic rise is to seize power. And the army is the sole organized and efficient body possibly capable of overthrowing the regime. That Sékou Touré was not unaware of this was shown in 1965 when he split up the armed forces into three elements, and offered his analysis of the military coups that had taken place in Africa between 1963 and 1966. Profoundly disturbed by the fall of Mali's Modibo Keita, he instituted in 1969 a political supervision of the officer corps by setting up a political committee in each barracks with the most active Party militant in charge. ( Since that militant might be only a simple corporal, one can easily imagine the possible conflict in authority. ) The history of the plots of 1969, 1970, and 1971 clearly shows the power struggle between the head of state and the military.
At the outset, the « plot » of February 1969 appeared to be limited to the Labe region. At a social gathering there, two officers criticized the head of state. Sékou Touré, to whom his agents reported their remarks, ordered them immediately transferred to Conakry. During the helicopter flight they threw out their guard, Mamadou Boiro. Sékou Touré at once sent for the head of the camp (Cheikh Keita), who was arrested the moment he reached Conakry to prevent the development of a solidarity movement among the military. The officers closest to him were also arrested

To describe the foregoing revolt as simply a local uprising would show too clearly the existence of internal foes operating on their own, so the government chose to announce it as a plot it had « discovered » that was « supported by imperialism » with the collusion of its « lackeys, » Ivory Coast, Mali, and Senegal. To give substance to this thesis of a pro-French plot, a supposed liaison agent was found in the person of an employee of the foreign private company, Compagnie de financement du Commerce Extérieur (COFICOMEX). He had formerly been on good terms with Fodeba Keita and Karim Fofana, who were arrested and sentenced to death. The arrest also of Diawadou Barry (former deputy to the French National Assembly and minister under Sékou Touré), was part of a complex strategy that enabled the government to rid itself of a politically troublesome individual. During the following days, the government lost six of its members. In the whole country, more than a thousand persons were arrested.
The next year, Sékou Touré chose as his principal target the men who were organizing an army outside Guinea. On July 25, 1970, he denounced « the agitation stirred up by white mercenaries and Guinean traitors who are aiming to overthrow the revolutionary government in Guinea. » He claimed that in Dakar former soldiers were being recruited at a cost of 10,000 CFA francs each, and that groups of twenty or so soldiers had been stationed along the frontier in Koundara, Nzérékoré, and Beyla. On July 28, the radio hinted that nine Guineans had been recruited to undergo a three-month training period in sabotage in Portuguese Guinea. Also broadcast were the names of eighteen Guineans described as « traveling salesmen of imperialism and subversion. »

The Abortive Coup d'Etat of November 1970 and Later « Plots »
As a matter of fact, a coalition against the government had indeed been organized by some soldiers in Guinea-Bissau, who were furious with Sékou Touré for giving shelter and funds to their adversaries. At the end of the rainy season, on November 22, 1970, an invasion force disembarked at Conakry just at the time when Guinea least expected it to come. It consisted of soldiers from Guinea-Bissau, bent on freeing their imprisoned compatriots and on eliminating Amilcar Cabral, along with Guineans led by David Soumah and an army officer, who wanted to overthrow the Toure regime - for their own private reasons, no doubt. They seized control of two military camps but failed in their attempt to attack the president's palace and the radio station. This abortive coup d'Etat stirred up world opinion as well as Guinean opinion. Among its consequences were the closing of Guinea to newspapermen, the close supervision of, and directives issued to, Guinean delegates to the Organisation des Etats Riverains du Fleuve Sénégal (OERS) and the United Nations, and the charges that were made against Senegal.
Then, in February 1971, there followed the series of 159 convictions of which 91 were death sentences, the gruesome « carnival » of the hangings, and the expulsion of West Germany's diplomatic mission - all of which betrayed Sékou Touré's isolation and the hardening of opposition to his regime. The Revolutionary Court's verdict charged the accused indiscriminately with

It was the collaboration of some military elements with the invaders that was surprising. Besides the death sentences passed on a number of the government's enemies whom it had decided to liquidate, similar sentences were dealt out to some forty military men - officers, NCOs, and simple soldiers - who had assumed specific tasks in the planned overthrow of the regime. In July 1971, the army, already paralyzed, was further deprived of its commanding officers by the death sentence passed on eight of them, including General Noumandian Keita, chief of staff.
Beginning in 1971, repercussions from the recent abortive coup d'Etat and the real threat of an invasion compelled rethinking as to how the established authority could best be protected. During 1971 - a year of agitation and of mobilization for national defense - the psychosis of aggression intensified progressively along with the mock trials that were being carried on. These were trials in which the accused were present only in the form of their photographs in Horoya and their voices recorded on tape. On August 3, a new charge was brought before the United Nations Security Council against Portugal, which Radio Conakry accused of planning grimly to attack Guinea again.
Since the November 1970 invasion, it appears that Sékou Touré had come to realize that his greatest danger of subversion came from the activities and armed elements of the émigré elite based abroad. Moreover, the opposition leaders had been forcibly eliminated inside Guinea, for those still at large were subject to police surveillance or had voluntarily gone into exile.
There is no doubt that the threat to Sékou Touré from outside the country was more verbal than real. Several factors support this contention: the exiled leaders' quarrels over the means of carrying out the coup d'état and the eventual division of the spoils; the spying done by Sékou Touré's agents; and the plotters' shortage of funds (in contrast to the sums collected during the past decade by the regime's passive opponents, who solicited money for the ostensible purpose of « bringing about a change » but who used it for their personal income). Yet it cannot be ruled out that among the alleged 1.5 million Guineans abroad there might be a certain number sufficiently dedicated and influential to enlist some foreign aid.
At different times during 1972 and 1973, Sékou Touré announced that the imperialists were planning new attacks against his country.

In this writer's view, an important turning point was reached on November 22, 1970, with respect to the manner in which accusations were made and in the determination shown by those planning subversive activities. Prior to 1970, the main fear of the Guinean authorities was the upsurge of forces inside the country, and especially an awareness of the formation of social classes. After the abortive invasion of Guinea, the external forces seemed preponderant. The regime feared no violent confrontation from its internal enemies, for they either had been liquidated or had been cowed by the hangings On the other hand, the bitterness of the elite who had fled the country and were further frustrated by being uprooted and organized only into tiny groups made the threat to the regime much graver. Sékou Touré began to show signs of a persecution mania, although it was accompanied by moments of brilliant lucidity. After so many years of tension, 1974 seemed a serene period, despite the far-fetched accusations made in January that a French submarine had violated Guinea's territorial waters' and despite cabinet reshuffles and transfers of diplomats.
The frequency with which plots are announced and the methods of intimidation used create an atmosphere of repression. While the masses live in fear of informers should they display too much indifference to politics, the president dreads his ultimate overthrow and indeed fears his closest collaborators. Sensitive to public opinion, he reduces it to silence by the use of police methods and by stifling any expression of its views through a party that might compete with the PDG. But the elite are also intimidated. They fear dictatorship by the Party secretary, the loss of their jobs (because they must profit by their great luck in sharing the power while it lasts), the exposure of their shady actions by politicians more honest or zealous than they, and in some cases the influence of religious and occult forces. (Before Kaman Diabi was arrested, Sékou Touré had already blocked any possible move on his part by making a solemn pact with Diabi's family and the population of his native town, Faranah, in a ceremony involving the sharing and eating of a cola nut.) The elite class is quite aware of the growing opposition it faces, but its will to resist its opponents is offset by the persistence of a traditional fatalism. Its current concern is to ward off fear by somehow viewing the present reality as idealized. Toppling the throne can be done only when the elite have the strength to do so, and now there is no united and effective force except that outside the regime.


Notes
1. Horoya, Sept. 26, 1967.
2. Ibid., Oct. 3, 1967.
3. Ibid., Oct. 1, 1967.


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