The Black Presidency

Michael Eric Dyson. The Black Presidency. Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America
Michael Eric Dyson. The Black Presidency. Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America

Michael Eric Dyson
The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America. Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 368 pages

For Marcia

President Barack Obama interviewed by Michael Eric Dyson, Oval Office, 2010
President Barack Obama interviewed by Michael Eric Dyson, Oval Office, 2010


  • Dedication
  • Introduction: The Burden of Representation
  • How to Be a Black President
  • “Invisible Man Got the Whole World Watching”
  • Black Presidency, Black Rhetoric
  • Re-Founding Father
  • The Scold of Black Folk
  • Dying to Speak of Race
  • Going Bulworth
  • Amazing Grace
  • Acknowledgments
  • President Obama’s Speeches and Statements on Race
  • Notes
  • Index
  • About the Author

The Burden Of Representation

Barack Obama‘s black presidency has shocked the symbol system of American politics and made the adjective in “representative democracy” mean something quite different than in the past. Obama provoked great hope and fear about what a black presidency might mean to our democracy. His biracial roots and black identity have been a beguiling draw and also a spur to belligerent reaction. White and black folk, and brown and beige ones, too, have had their views of race and politics turned topsy-turvy. What many Americans of all colors believe is that race fundamentally defines America and is a dividing line drawn in blood through the nation’s moral map. Many metaphors of race drape the nation’s political framework: Barack Obama argued in his famous March 2008 race speech in Philadelphia that slavery is the nation’s original sin, and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice claimed that racism is our country’s “birth defect.” 1 Race is the most durable link in the nation’s chain of destiny; it is at once a damning indictment of our quest for real democracy and true justice, and also a resilient category of individual and “group identity—one that cannot be reduced to either mere pathology or collective pride. Race is both the midwife of glorious achievements like jazz and the black freedom movement and the abortive instrument of Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan. Race is the thing we cannot seem to do without—and the thing that we cannot seem to get rid of.
Race is the defining feature of our forty-fourth president’s two terms in office. Obama’s presidency is a lens to sharpen the details of American ideas about race and democracy. His presidency also raises the question of how much closer the election of a single black man may bring us to a more just and inclusive society. Barack Obama has finally made transparent the idea that our country cannot fully flourish without embracing a black identity that is the quintessential expression of the American character. What we all intuitively sense is that this presidency turns on their ear all the ways we have historically looked at presidencies, and perhaps, even more broadly, at our very democracy. Obama certainly bears what James Baldwin called “the burden of representation.” 2
That brilliant phrase refers to the weight and meaning  of blackness for individual and collective racial bodies, and for literal and symbolic bodies too. This presidency, unlike all others before it, is analyzed and understood through our obsession with race in the body of the president himself and in the “psyche of the nation he governs. A black presidency is undeniably interracial in the same way that Obama’s body is composed of black and white genes. Obama’s presidency is the symbolic love child of Notes on the State of Virginia and The Fire Next Time 3.
Thomas Jefferson and James Baldwin gaze at us from immortal perches separated by two centuries and two races locked in fateful struggle. But Jefferson and Baldwin are separated only by time and race; they are united in their unrelenting sexual and political preoccupation with the “other.” Jefferson and Baldwin can finally be joined in the full complexity of a conversation about race and American politics across time—a conversation that is constantly evoked but never fully engaged,  as if it were held behind doors that are locked to everyone who would participate. And yet Obama is snared in a fascinating paradox: a man seen by many observers as the key to the locked doors of conversation about race is most reluctant to take charge and unlock the treasures of racial insight and wisdom.
What we learn about Obama says a lot about what we learn about ourselves; his racial reality is our racial reality. And it is never, ever static. That truth becomes apparent when we understand just how much we as a nation project our expectations and frustrations onto Obama’s presidency, and how he effortlessly represents our deepest doubts and our most resilient hopes. We must concentrate on what Obama says and does—on what speech he gives or what policy he enacts or fails to implement. We must also grapple with what Obama literally means, what his ideas amount to, what veins of ideology or sources of racial imagination he taps when he speaks, and where we travel as a nation by welcoming or resisting the social pathways his presence lays before us.
Obama’s presidency represents the paradox of American representation. Obama represents for all of us because he stands as the symbol of America to the world. He also represents to the American citizenry proof of progress in a nation that has never before embraced a black commander in chief. Yet a third sense of representation has a racial tinge, because  Obama is also a representative of a black populace that, until his election, had been excluded from the highest reach of political representation. These three meanings of representation are the core of Obama’s paradoxical relationship to the citizens of the country he represents: he is at once a representative of the country, a representative of the change the country has endured, and a representative of the people to whom change has been long denied and for whom that change has meant the most.
Of course critics may read “black presidency” as a term that denies Obama the agency and individuality that mark genuine social and moral achievement. To say “black presidency” is already  to have “reduced Obama’s presidency to something less than any other presidency. But the term also imbues the presidency for the first time with the true promise of democracy on which this country was founded. The paradox of representation is thus two-sided: a member of a minority group deliberately excluded from opportunity now stands at the peak of power to represent the nation. The idea of race both qualifies and enhances the representative stature of the presidency. When it comes to race, representation in America is always an internal barometer of privilege, through the exclusion of blacks and others, while at the same time, given how central to our lives race has become, it is also an external barometer of justice.
In The Black Presidency I examine Barack Obama’s political journey to tell a story about the politics of race in America—our racial limits and possibilities, our tortured past and our complicated present, our moral conflicts and aspirations, our cherished national myths, and our contradictory political behavior. The cultural impact of Obama’s lean black presidential frame will be far more enduring than partisan debates about his political career. Obama has changed the presidency itself; the ultimate seat of power has now been occupied for two terms by a man whose body translates in concrete terms our most precious democratic ideals. Obama gives African legs to the Declaration of Independence and a black face to the Constitution. Obama’s black presidency cannot be erased by political will even as Congress thwarts his legislation. The paradox of representation Obama symbolizes is not up for judicial review even as the Supreme Court troubles the black vote that helped to sweep him into office.
The existence of a black presidency signals for some people an end to racial categories that have plagued America since 1619. The post-racial urge rises in a society seeking to avoid the pain of overcoming its racist legacy. Obama’s presidency has defeated the post-racial myth, not with less blackness but with more of it, though it is the kind of blackness that insinuates and signifies while hiding in plain sight. The presidency is now permanently marked by difference, one that transcends Obama himself and may pave the way for a female president whose gender will be far less noteworthy for Obama’s having been the first black president.
A black presidency and the politics of a lived American democracy are like a transmission and its motor: the motor creates the power and the transmission makes the power usable. A black presidency necessarily engages the identity and meaning of an American democracy that was for so long an efficient engine for excluding black participation. Some may worry that the term “black presidency” is code for a delegitimized presidency that undermines democratic institutions and ideas. But Obama’s achievement gestures toward  what the state had not allowed at the highest level before his emergence: equality of opportunity, fairness in democracy, and justice in society. Our system of government gains more legitimacy when it accommodates demands for justice and adjusts to the requirements of formal equality. Obama’s presidency, paradoxically, both critiques and affirms a political order that stymied the ambitions of other black politicians—an order he now heads.
I grapple in The Black Presidency with what happens to the psyche and racial identity of a nation when a two-century-old white monopoly on the presidency is broken for two consecutive terms. Then, too, we must ask how and what the blackness of Obama signifies to other blacks.
Obama’s eight years in office will be referred to as the only black presidency until another black person is elected. If the first line in his obituary reads “first (and perhaps only) black president,” is he forever fixed in the American mind with a racial reference that he labored hard to overcome? Obama lives with a burden and possibility that no other black person in our history, perhaps in world history, has ever had to shoulder.
A brief survey of other figures might shed light on Obama’s unique historical situation. Margaret Thatcher looms large 4. Thatcher-as-prime-minister is the nearest analogy we have to Obama-as-president. Of course, the biggest difference between Thatcher and Obama is that Thatcher was “overtly ideological and Obama is anti-ideological, the very reason he was electable. There are other differences. Is Thatcher’s premiership, these many years later, evaluated as “a woman’s leadership” or “the Thatcher Years”? For the first few years of her tenure, not to mention before her election, when she was opposition leader—imagine an American woman in the late seventies as the political and ideological leader of one of our two ruling parties—critics mused about how or whether her gender determined her style of governing. But Thatcher was so hard-line, in truth, heartless, in so many areas—in other words, so stereotypically “masculine”—that in time she was thought of no longer primarily as a woman but as a steely power player, albeit a female one: “the Iron Lady.” 5 (Can we imagine a time when Obama would not be seen as black but merely as president? For that matter, should Hillary Clinton or another woman become president, can we imagine her beyond gender on these shores?) Still, by the time she lost power in 1990, British women were not, because of her position, living in a post-gender world, and they still are not today 6. Yet some of us naïvely believe that Obama’s rise has removed race from the national landscape.
Other analogous figures come to mind, including Benjamin Disraeli, the first Jewish prime minister in the United Kingdom, and John F. Kennedy, America’s first Catholic president. Each offers instructive  similarities. Disraeli’s Jewish identity forced him to assure the largely Christian constituency in nineteenth-century Britain that he would not favor Jewish citizens 7. In the same vein, Obama has not favored blacks, opting, arguably, to underplay their interests in order to reinforce his racial neutrality. Kennedy assured American citizens that he would not take his marching orders from the Vatican 8. Obama went him one better: he pushed aside the former, if greatly weakened, black political pope, Jesse Jackson, and helped to enshrine a new one, Al Sharpton, while keeping at a distance the Congressional Black Caucus, the archbishops of black politics.
Disraeli and Kennedy had, as did Thatcher, their whiteness, an escape hatch that Obama lacks. If boxer Jack Johnson possessed “unforgivable blackness,” then Obama is plagued by inescapable blackness 9. Disraeli soothed the fears of the masses about his Jewishness, Thatcher toned down her femaleness, and Kennedy downplayed his Catholicism and emphasized instead the catholicity of his politics. All three appealed in their own way to the under-girding whiteness that bound them to their constituencies beyond gender and religious difference. Yet color trumps all for Obama; to have one’s presidency examined through the lens of race before any other is as different as Obama’s election itself.
Bill Clinton’s case is not quite like the other figures’, each of whom possesses a quality—ethnicity, gender, religion—that makes their political experiences analogous to Obama’s presidency. But the example of Clinton, steeped in the cultural signifiers of blackness rather than race, still offers an intriguing parallel to consider 10. Toni Morrison and Chris Rock dubbed Clinton the nation’s “first black president”; the white politician from Arkansas shrewdly manipulated the meanings and symbols of blackness to his advantage 11. Clinton strategically embraced blackness to gain the black vote while signaling white suburban voters that he would not bow to Jesse Jackson’s leadership 12. Before his impeachment, Clinton “signed a crime bill that sparked a deadly spike in black incarceration and signed into legislation welfare reform that cruelly cut black bodies unable to find living-wage work from public assistance 13. After his political trial by fire, Clinton embraced Jesse Jackson and played upon black sympathy as smoothly as he blew his sax. Clinton prefigured Obama’s even more complicated use of black ideas and black identity while occupying the Oval Office.
Obama, however, stands alone as the only black person to occupy the world’s pinnacle of power. What he does, says, and means is as important to the future as it is to our own moment. We must grapple with Obama in the present to set the baseline for his interpretation in the years to come. The Black Presidency is my contribution to that goal.
In an Oval Office interview the president granted me for this book, he told me, “In the same way that some of the people who don’t like me probably don’t like me because of race, there are some people who probably like me because of race and put up with me in ways that they wouldn’t if I weren’t African American—the folks in African American neighborhoods who identify with me even if they disagree with my policies. And my hope would be that when you wash out those aspects of it, that people are judging me on what I do as opposed to who I am.”
The Black Presidency wrestles with the words and actions of a singular human being who rose to the summit of American power; it also measures the racial currents his life captures and conveys, and offers the president informed and principled criticism.
Finally, this book asks, and engages, every complex question suggested by its subject. Is it reasonable to expect more than Obama has offered black people and the American public? What are the salient issues provoked by a black presidency, and how  does it affect our ideas of race? How does Obama’s relationship to his black elders reflect generational conflicts in fighting for progress in black America? How does Obama’s racial identity influence our understanding of his duties? How does the way he speaks reflect the “black cultures that molded him? What can we learn from his major race speeches about the ideas that shaped him and the way he confronts racial crises? How does Obama respond to the plague of police brutality that has swept the nation—and the revived racial terror that stalks the land? How does Obama’s habit of scolding black America reinforce harmful ideas about black culture? How does Obama’s emphasis on law and order, personal responsibility, and respectability politics obscure the structural features of black suffering? What—and who—would it sound like if Obama cut loose and said what he really believes? In The Black Presidency I answer these and other questions while confronting Barack Obama’s—America’s first—black presidency.”

1. Barack Obama, “A More Perfect Union,” in The Speech: Race and Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union,” ed. T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting (New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2009), p. 237; Condoleezza Rice, interview on Face the Nation, CBS, November 27, 2011, .

2. Quoted in Henry Louis Gates Jr., Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man (New York: Random House, 1997), p. 18.
3. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, annotated ed. (New York: Penguin Classics, 1998); James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963; repr., New York: Vintage, 1993).”
4. John Campbell, The Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher, from Grocer’s Daughter to Prime Minister, abridged ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 2011); Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013).
5. Moore, Margaret Thatcher, pp. 298–333; Stuart Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left (London: Verso Press, 1988).
6. When Baroness Thatcher died in 2013, President Obama issued an official statement and noted her gender as a defining element of her legacy: “As a grocer’s daughter who rose to become Britain’s first female prime minister, she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered.” “Statement from the President on the Passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher,” April 8, 2013.
7. Although Disraeli was baptized into the Church of England at the age of twelve, his Jewish heritage remained a central feature of his existence and identity. See Adam Kirsch, Benjamin Disraeli (New York: Schocken Books, 2008). Thanks to historian Gerald Horne for suggesting the parallel between Disraeli and Obama in a brief, serendipitous conversation in an airport.
8. Thomas J. Carty, A Catholic in the White House? Religion, Politics, and John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Campaign (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). For a fascinating comparison of Obama and Kennedy, see Robert C. Smith, John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, and the Politics of Ethnic Incorporation and Avoidance (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2013).
9. Geoffrey C. Ward, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004).
10. Dewayne Wickham, Bill Clinton and Black America (New York: One World/Ballantine, 2002).
11. Toni Morrison, “The Talk of the Town: Comment,” The New Yorker, October 5, 1998, pp. 31–32. Chris Rock said in an interview in the August 1998 issue of Vanity Fair that Clinton was “the first black president.” He also said that Clinton was “the most scrutinized man in history, just as a black person would be. He spends a hundred dollar bill, they hold it up to the light.” See Jonathan Tilove, “Before Bill Clinton Was the ‘First Black President,’” Newhouse News Service, March 6, 2007, . In 2008, in Time magazine, when asked if she regretted referring to Clinton as the first black president, Morrison said that people “misunderstood that phrase. I was deploring the way in which President Clinton was being treated, vis-à-vis the sex scandal that was surrounding him. I said he was being treated like a black on the street, already guilty, already a perp. I have no idea what his real instincts are, in terms of race.” See Toni Morrison, 10 Questions for Toni Morrison, Time, May 7, 2008. Indeed, in The New Yorker, Morrison wrote: “Years ago . . . one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. According to Morrison, Clinton’s blackness became even clearer when “the President’s body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the (impeachment) persecution.” Morrison, “Talk of the Town,” p. 32. During a 2008 Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina televised live on CNN, journalist Joe Johns asked Obama if Clinton was the first black president.
“Well, I think Bill Clinton did have an enormous affinity with the African-American community, and still does,” Obama said. “And I think that’s well earned . . . (O)ne of the things that I’m always inspired by—no, I’m—this I’m serious about. I’m always inspired by young men and women who grew up in the South when segregation was still taking place, when, you know, the transformations that are still incomplete but at least had begun had not yet begun. And to see (those) transformations in their own lives(,) I think that is powerful, and it is hopeful, because what it indicates is that people can change.
“And each successive generation can, you know, create a different vision of how, you know, we have to treat each other. And I think Bill Clinton embodies that. I think he deserves credit for that. Now, I haven’t . . . I have to say that, you know, I would have to, you know, investigate more of Bill’s dancing abilities. You know, and some of this other stuff before I accurately judge whether he was in fact a brother.” Wolf Blitzer said, “Let’s let Senator Clinton weigh in on that.” Hillary Clinton then humorously retorted, “Well, I’m sure that can be arranged.” “Part 3 of CNN Democratic Presidential Debate,” January 21, 2008.
12. Kenneth O’Reilly, Nixon’s Piano: Presidents and Racial Politics from Washington to Clinton (New York: Free Press, 1995); Manning Marable, The Great Wells of Democracy: Reconstructing Race and Politics in the 21st Century (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2002), pp. 77–84.
13. President Clinton admitted, both in a foreword to a book on criminal justice and in a speech before the 2015 NAACP convention—the day after President Obama at the same convention offered his landmark speech denouncing mass incarceration—that his policies had been wrong and harmful. “Plainly, our nation has too many people in prison and for too long—we have overshot the mark. With just 5 percent of the world’s population, we now have 25 percent of its prison population, and an emerging bipartisan consensus now understands the need to do better.” Clinton also argued that it is “time to take a clear-eyed look at what worked, what didn’t, and what produced unintended, long-lasting consequences.” He said that “some are in prison who shouldn’t be, others are in for too long, and without a plan to educate, train, and reintegrate them into our communities, we all suffer.” See “William J. Clinton: Foreword,” April 27, 2015,  (from the book Solutions: American Leaders Speak Out on Criminal Justice, ed. Inimai Chettiar and Michael Waldman (New York: Brennan Center for Justice, 2015)). In his 2015 NAACP speech, Clinton conceded his error as president: “Yesterday, the president spoke a long time and very well on criminal justice reform. But I want to say a few words about it. Because I signed a bill that made the problem worse and I want to admit it.” See Eric Levitz, “Bill Clinton Admits His Crime Law Made Mass Incarceration ‘Worse,’”, July 15, 2015, . For the deleterious (racial) consequences of welfare reform, see, by Peter Edelman (who resigned as the assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services in September 1996 in protest of Clinton’s signing the welfare reform bill), “The Worst Thing Bill Clinton Has Done,” The Atlantic, March 1997. Also see Dylan Matthews, “Welfare Reform Took People Off the Rolls. It Might Have Also Shortened Their Lives,” Washington Post, June 18, 2013; Zenthia Prince, “Welfare Reform Garnered for Black Women a Hard Time and a Bad Name,” Afro, March 18, 2015, ; and Bryce Covert, “Clinton Touts Welfare Reform. Here’s How It Failed,” The Nation, September 6, 2012.”

France and Guinea Rapprochement (1963)

Victor D. Du Bois
Thaw In The Tropics.
France and Guinea Move Toward a Rapprochement

American Universities Field Staff Reports. West Africa Series
Vol. VI No. 2 (Guinea), pp. 1-12

February 1963

Victor David Du Bois (1932-1983)
Victor David Du Bois (1932-1983)

When Guinea became independent, few people suspected how traumatic the break with France would be. Although General de Gaulle had warned Guineans that a negative vote in the referendum would mean that they would have to make their own way, it was commonly believed that some sort of entente would be worked out between the two nations once the passions aroused by the referendum had abated. But the situation never turned out that way. From the beginning, relations were bitter. The bitterness emanated from:

  • France’s refusal to accept, and accept gracefully, Guinea’ s new
    status as an independent nation
  • Guinea’s determination to use its newly won sovereignty as a springboard for destroying French influence in Africa.
Reconciliation between President Sékou Touré of Guinea and President Félix Houphouët-Boigny of the Ivory Coast, October 1962
Reconciliation between President Sékou Touré of Guinea and President Félix Houphouët-Boigny of the Ivory Coast, October 1962. {Picture probably taken in Nzerekore, the main town and first stop on the way to Conakry. Governor Mory Keita is standing behind the two presidents. (T.S. Bah)

The first signs of hostility came from the French side. In a terse communique transmitted September 28, 1958, to Prime Minister President of the Council of government Sékou Touré and to his council of ministers by Jean Risterucci, special representative of the French government, France recognized de facto (but not de jure) the independence of its former territory 1. It was announced that financial credits to Guinea were suspended immediately; that all development projects then pending under the French aid agency, F.I.D. E . S. (Fonds d’Investissement pour le Développement Economique et Social) were canceled, and that Guinea, as it did not belong to the Community, no longer would be eligible to receive the administrative help of the French state.

See also A. Lewin “Les difficiles lendemains du référendum” (T.S. Bah)

Determined not to reward Guinea for staying out of the Community, France resolved to blockade the country economically and isolate it politically. General de Gaulle would not allow Guinea to enter the Community as an associated state though the Guineans made overtures to do this 2, and the Community’s Constitution specifically provided for this type of affiliation under provisions of Article 88 3.

President Touré’s persistent efforts to secure de jure recognition of his government from France proved futile as time after time the French government either ignored his telegrams or responded to them in an evasive manner. When the French government did reply to the President of Guinea, it did so in as condescending and casual a manner as possible, often addressing its replies to him in the form of communiqués typed on stationery bearing no official letterhead and delivered to him by a minor official of the French Embassy in Conakry.

France’s refusal to extend diplomatic recognition to Guinea, its withdrawal of administrative personnel from the country within two
months after Guinea’s independence, and its suspension of all further assistance to the country made it imperative for the new republic to seek aid elsewhere. The hesitancy of the Western powers to come to Guinea’s aid during those first critical days for fear of incurring the wrath of President de Gaulle, made its inclination toward the Eastern bloc a foregone conclusion. Armed with a £10 million loan from Ghana, a $35 million credit line from the Soviet Union, and several barter agreements signed with various Eastern bloc nations, the Parti Démocratique de Guinée (P.D.G.) and the government of Guinea felt sufficiently strong to begin a systematic campaign to destroy French influence in Guinea
and to undermine it wherever else possible.

Conakry, 1963. “La Voix de la Révolution” - Headquarters and radio broadcasting station
Conakry, 1963. “La Voix de la Révolution” – Headquarters and radio broadcasting station

Within Guinea the task seemed simple. Since what was French was
also by definition colonial, to find a Guinean substitute for the one automatically implied the destruction of the other. When applied to the ornamental vestiges of colonialism —as in the removal of statues of French governors, the renaming of city streets and squares, and the re-designation of public buildings— this formula proved easy enough. French influence in the country could be visibly and dramatically reduced almost from day to day. Much more difficult was the application of this rule to individual Guineans, for they were less susceptible to the sweeping changes which the party envisaged. Many among them still retained a strong affection for the former mère-patrie of which their country had been a part for over 60 years. This was particularly the case with members of the nation’s elite-the government functionaries, intellectuals, students, and senior party officials—among whom the commitment to French language and culture was strong. It is to the credit of these people that even during those early days of independence, when their country was treated so rudely by the former mother country, many among them continued to make a distinction between “colonialist” France and what they called the “real” France. They held a similar attitude toward General de Gaulle. Responsible though he was for much of Guinea’s plight, he was rarely attacked personally. He remained for the Guineans, as he did for other Africans, “the man of Brazzaville,” French Black Africa’s liberator. Guineans decried France’s efforts to suppress the independence movement in Algeria. They bitterly attacked the odious aspects of French colonial policy. Yet curiously, ironically, they recalled that alone among the colonial powers, France had allowed Negroes to sit in the highest councils of government. Paris belonged as much to them as it did to the French.
The ambivalence of the relationship was no less marked on the
French side. There were many Frenchmen, of course, who belittled
Guinea’s accession to independence, and to these the slow, sometimes stumbling efforts of the young republic to get on its feet were proof enough of the futility of it all. In Conakry’s shabby bistros Guinea became the butt of their jokes. Caring nothing about the country, they spoke freely and derisively (though usually only to one another) about it.
But there were also other Frenchmen, who for reasons best understood by themselves, threw in their lot with the young nation and worked earnestly in its behalf. Their reasons were as diverse as their individual personalities. For some, the motive was unquestionably private gain; for others, it was nothing more than an idealistic desire to help Guinea. Their lot was not always an easy one. To the more chauvinistic of their compatriots they were regarded as little better than traitors —people who had sold themselves to the enemies of France. Some, such as Professor Jean Suret-Canale, the French scholar who was head of the Lycée Donka, were made to suffer the consequence of their choice through deprivation of civil and professional rights at home. Yet through these people a valuable link was retained with the Métropole. By their presence and through their endeavors the belief that there was a France other than colonialist France and that there were Frenchmen other than colonialist Frenchmen became a reality for many Guineans.

Political parade down Conakry's main street, 1963
Political parade down Conakry’s main street, 1963

Relations between the two countries continued to deteriorate all through the early months of 1960. Guinea’s sudden and unexpected withdrawal from the franc zone on March 1, 1960 4 and the severe restrictions on capital transactions which it promulgated as a follow-up measure, deepened the resentment against it of the resident French, who numbered some 8 ,000. In their bitterness against Guinea, few of them remembered the severe blow which their own country’s actions had dealt Guinea following its independence. The shoe was now on the other foot. Relations reached their lowest point in the period May-July 1960, when Touré and other members of the P.D.G. accused France of being behind an alleged plot to overthrow the Guinean government.

See also:
(a) Ameillon, La Guinée dans l’orbite néo-colonialiste
(b) Lewin, Le “complot pro-français”
(c) Lewin, Des accords qui constituent une nouvelle chance…, mais en apparence seulement
(d) Lewin, Novembre 1965. La rupture avec la France est consommée
(e) Malinga, Ahmed Sékou Touré: An African Tragedy
(T.S. Bah)

Diatribes against France by government and party officials reached a crescendo. The French were accused of attempting to foment trouble in their former colony through agents working in Senegal and the the Ivory Coast. Such African leaders as Houphouët and Senghor who were still friendly to France were pilloried in the Guinean press as “agents of colonialism.” The Community was ridiculed as a paper shield designed to protect French interests and privileges in Africa. Guinea had declared a war of words against France.

For the French still resident in Guinea—especially those living in and around Conakry—the situation was extremely difficult. They were subject to constant harassment by the government and party which sought to make their lives as miserable and uncomfortable as possible.
Many were arrested arbitrarily by the police—the pretext, they were engaging in activities “offensive to the republic.” One among them, a pharmacist named Pierre Rossignol, was sentenced to 20 years at forced labor by a so-called “People’s Court” for allegedly having participated in the anti-government plot. All foreigners in the country, but most particularly Westerners, were under strong suspicion by government authorities and their activities were carefully watched.

Almost as quickly as it had started, the ferment caused by the so-called conspiracy began to subside. Life returned to normal and the fog of tension and suspicion which had enveloped the country began to lift. Frenchmen and Guineans once again treated each other with civility, if not exactly with cordiality.

Throughout the crisis of 1960, relations between the two countries were at a low ebb, but contact was never completely broken. The French still maintained their embassy in Conakry and the Guineans theirs in Paris. More Guinean students still were sent to France for their higher education than to any other single country. The French, perhaps realizing their last trump in Guinea was the “cultural card,” continued to supply Guinea with teachers for its primary and secondary schools. France maintained treasury officials in Conakry to keep careful record of the amounts owed Guinean veterans who had served in the French armed services. The Guinean government meanwhile continued to allow French newspapers to be circulated in the country.

These acts notwithstanding, the Guinean government went ahead forging new links aimed at dissociating Guinea from France and aligning it with nations either unsympathetic with or openly inimical to French interests in Africa. A union of sorts had already been formed with Ghana which Mali later joined to form a counterweight against the French Community. Through it Guinea hoped to woo other former French territories away from the influence of Paris. With the United Arab Republic (Egypt, Syria), Morocco, Ghana, and Mali, Guinea joined in forming the Casablanca Group, an organization of African states pledged to give direct aid to the rebels in Algeria and support to the government of Patrice Lumumba in the former Belgian Congo. At home, Guinea bound itself more firmly to the Eastern bloc, admitting hundreds of technicians to run its airway, hospitals, and port, and serve as advisers in various sectors of government. By mid-April, some 308 Guinean students were enrolled in Eastern bloc educational institutions.

France and Guinea inflicted considerable damage in their efforts to “teach” one another a lesson. Guinea suffered from the deprivation of financial and technical assistance which France was best equipped to give the new nation and which it sorely needed to realize its ambitious aims. France, on its part, seemed obliged to write off the $200 million its citizens had invested in the country as long as the quarrel with Guinea continued. De Gaulle succeeded in rallying and holding the leaders of the former French territories on his side, but Sékou Touré carried the day with the youth of French Africa and it was to him that they looked for moral leadership of the continent. The obduracy, blind pride, and intransigence of both leaders, Charles de Gaulle and Sékou Touré, and their mutual suspicion of each other’s motives, prevented either from acknowledging his own degree of responsibility in the impasse that had developed between their countries and, as a consequence, little was done to improve their relations.

The naming of a French ambassador to Guinea in March 1961 was the first major sign of a thaw. The fact that France had waited more than two and a half years before officially recognizing Guinea did not detract from the importance of the event. For the Guineans it constituted a major victory signaling at last France’s acknowledgement of the sovereignty of their country. For a while, prospects of a genuine rapprochement seemed brighter than they had been at any time since independence.

Encouraged by this move, the hopeful in both countries began to speak about renewing the old friendship. The events of the summer of 1961 seemed to justify these hopes even further . In July a second Franco-Guinean cultural accord was signed 5, this one provided for France’s continuing to send French teachers to Guinea and for the exchange of students. The following month, in August, former French Prime Minister Pierre Mendes-France paid an informal visit to Guinea, accompanied by the French deputy François Mitterand and Jean Mauberna, the last French governor to serve in Guinea.

See also (a) François Mitterand’s “Sékou Touré m’a dit
(b) “Souvenirs”, récit de voyage d’André Bettencourt (T.S. Bah)

They were given a warm and cordial welcome by President Sékou Touré and his government. The French press at the time quoted the Guineans as saying, “We can resume talks with France. We will be able to speak as equals with a partner who has at last set his colonial affairs in order.”

But no sooner were these hopes on the horizon than they were rudely shattered by the events of the following months. In November (1961) the Guinean government seized the French-managed mining company, Bauxites du Midi. That same month, during an anti-government demonstration staged by students at the Lycée Donka, the P.D.G. alleged that there was being fomented in Guinea a new subversive campaign aimed at overthrowing the government. Although the principal blame was laid to dissatisfied elements of the teachers’ union who had been encouraged by “certain Eastern embassies,” Sékou Touré also accused the recently-arrived French Ambassador, Jean-Louis Pons, of having allowed subversive agents in Paris, Dakar , and Moscow to avail themselves of his diplomatic pouch to transmit secret instructions to counter-revolutionaries in Conakry. Members of the P.D.G., meeting at a party congress in Labé, called upon the government to sever diplomatic relations with Paris. The allegation, which brought a prompt denial from the French foreign ministry, threatened to destroy the modest progress that had been made toward improving relations between the two countries.

In January 1962 the Guineans dealt another blow to a possible reconciliation with the French when the government ordered the nationalization of all insurance companies in the republic. Of the 15 insurance companies then operating in the country 13, were French-owned. The following month the Guinean government decreed that, in the absence of a new convention between the two countries, the Conakry airfield no longer would be open to French aircraft. Relations once again tumbled to a new low; impasse seemed inevitable.

Then, in March 1962 a cease-fire in Algeria was unilaterally declared by the French forces fighting there. This event marked a turning point in Franco-Guinean relations. On March 19, speaking over Radio Conakry, President Touré declared:

“In view of the change of French policy in Algeria, the Government of the Republic of Guinea is modifying its line of conduct toward the French Government, and warmly wishes that in the future, its [i.e., the French Government’s] bilateral relations with the African states will be entered into in the direction of a real decolonization, a durable peace, and egalitarian co-operation.” 7 One week later, in an article entitled “General Satisfaction After the Cease-fire ,” the Agence Guinéenne de Presse declared: “More than ever, the door is open for better understanding between the French Government and militant and revolutionary Africa for a total decolonization. We remain firmly attached to the fundamental principles of our policy, and partisans to all collaboration undertaken within a framework of equal co-operation.” 8 A few days later, a new Franco-Guinean air accord was signed in Paris. In a gesture to demonstrate that it was serious about wishing to arrive at a rapprochement with France, the Guinean government, on April 1 , 1962 , released the French pharmacist Pierre Rossignol who had been imprisoned two years earlier. Shortly afterward, a delegation consisting of Keita Fodeba, Minister of National Defense, Ismael Touré, the President’s brother and Minister of Public Works, and Jean Farague, Minister of Youth, Arts, and Culture, flew to Paris hoping to see President de Gaulle and convey to him a special message from President Sékou Touré. De Gaulle, in no hurry to acknowledge the Guinean overtures, refused to receive the delegation. Tactfully, the Guineans did not press the issue. The delegation quietly returned to Conakry.

In September, however, General de Gaulle accorded an audience to Tibou Tounkara, Guinean Ambassador to France. The meeting is said to have been extremely cordial. It was agreed that a French diplomatic mission soon would go to Conakry to discuss settlement of outstanding questions. Two months later, in November, the French mission arrived in Conakry for a three-day round of talks with Guinean authorities, headed by Ismael Touré. What actually transpired at that meeting, or how much progress was made toward a settlement is difficult to determine as the only public declaration concerning the talks was a joint communiqué which stated merely that they had been held in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and that their results would be discussed by the two governments at the ministerial level.

During these months, while he was directing Guinea’s new overtures to France, Sékou Touré was also busily engaged in mending his home fences. The abandon with which he and his government had conducted Guinea’s foreign policy during the early days of independence, the vituperation which they had heaped upon other African leaders who had decided to cast their lot with the Community rather than follow his lead, had brought little gain. Indeed, such actions had turned many of the leaders of the other French-speaking states against him 9. Toure now sought to rectify this error and began earnestly to cultivate good relations with men whom he had once dismissed as so many colonialist puppets. In May he invited President Leopold Senghor and Prime Minister Mamadou Dia of Senegal to Guinea. Their visit was followed by that of President Diori Hamani of Niger in June. In October, Togo’s President, Sylvanus Olympio, and the Congo’ s President, Fulbert Youlou, were invited as honored guests to Guinea’s independence day ceremonies. But the greatest turnabout came with the brief visit in August of the man whom Toure had regarded as his bitterest rival, Ivory Coast President Félix Houphouët-Boigny. Houphouët returned to Guinea in October for an official tour of the country. At the end of this visit the two Presidents issued a joint communiqué saying that the “little clouds of misunderstanding” which once existed between their two nations now had been dissipated.

Such is the point at which Franco-Guinean relations stand at present. What are the chances of completing the rapprochement? Probably better than they have ever been. Both sides are trying to effect the long overdue reconciliation. The visitor to Guinea these days sees again something of the old camaraderie that was once common between Frenchmen and Guineans in pre-independence days. The new feeling of cordiality has even spread to the Métropole. Within the French National Assembly there has been formed a France-Guinea Friendship Group open to all deputies desirous of seeing the dispute settled between the two countries. Most significant of all perhaps, is that the French government, and especially General de Gaulle, at long last seems ready to accept both the reality and the permanency of Guinean independence and the position of Sékou Touré as a genuine spokesman for a sizable sector of public opinion in French-speaking Black Africa. It is even rumored that Sékou Touré soon will be invited to Paris. Such a development would now seem logical.

Important changes are also evident on the Guinean side . With the independence of Guinea and the liquidation of the French Empire  now established facts, Sékou Toure is understandably less suspicious of the French than he was formerly. Radio Conakry’s “Voice of the Revolution” still denounces colonialism and imperialism over the air waves, and the President still contributes his own excoriations, but the attacks of both are no longer directed against France. Rather, they are aimed at Portugal, Spain, Southern Rhodesia, or South Africa. The end of the Algerian War in July 1962 has greatly diminished anti-French feeling throughout Africa. The way is now open for France to settle those differences which have arisen between it and those of its former colonies who had warmly supported Algerian independence. When Radio Conakry, on March 26, 1962, declared that “collaboration between France and revolutionary Africa is now possible,” it was doing more than voicing a hope. It was expressing a conviction.

Other reasons have impelled a change in the Guinean attitude toward France. The retarded state of the Guinean economy, wrought in part by the often ill-conceived and radical plans of the government, has forced Sékou Touré to reappraise the Socialist structure which he and other party leaders have erected for the country. While the façade remains intact, important changes are nevertheless being effected in the under-structure to bring the economy more in line with economic realities. In keeping with this reappraisal, Toure is taking measures to repair his relations with private enterprise. Guinea’s enactment (in April 1962) of a new code designed to protect and to give certain advantages to foreign investment is aimed at encouraging French businessmen, among others, to put money once again into Guinea. A further important development is Sékou Toure’s cautious but steady overtures toward the Union Africaine et Malgache (U.A.M.), the organization comprising the former French territories that remain pro-French in sentiment.
The U.A.M. has brought far more concrete benefits to its members than has either the Ghana-Guinea-Mali Union or the Casablanca Group of which Guinea is a member. It is not unlikely that Sékou Touré would like to see Guinea establish closer ties with this organization. The association of the U.A.M. states with the European Economic Community, and the millions in financial aid and technical assistance which this relationship will bring to Africa can be expected to exert their own persuasive influence.

French claims against Guinea, deriving on the one hand from debts which Guinea contracted from F.I.D.E. S., and on the other from Guinea’s seizure of certain French commercial enterprises, about equal those of Guinea against France. Guinea’s claims arise from its honoring the payment of pensions due Guinean veterans who served in the French armed services and which the French stopped paying at the time of the currency reform. Guinea’s seizure of bank deposits in C.F.A. francs in 1960 when it created its own money is a matter which should not pose a great obstacle in a settlement with France. As the funds, technically speaking, were the property not of the French government but of the West African Monetary Union, it is with this organ that the Guineans eventually will have to come to terms. Once friendly  relations with the French have been restored , this matter should be settled expeditiously and probably in a way favorable to Guinea.

In sum, attitudes have changed both in France and in Guinea and there is now good reason to hope that the two nations may at last resolve their differences. It is in the interest of neither to prolong the conflict. With its demise, the old wounds can begin to heal.

1. “La France prend acte du vote de la Guinée,” in Sékou Touré, L’action politique du Parti Démocratique de Guinée pour l’émancipation africaine (Conakry, 1958), pp. 13 – 14; also “Représentation de la R.F. en Guinée,” La semaine en A.O.F., 4 octobre 1958, pp. 12-15.
2. On October 9, 1958, President Touré sent the following telegram to General de Gaulle:
“ … After promulgation of new Constitution of French Republic, Government of Republic of Guinea … awaits recognition by French Government to engage in negotiations for free association of our two Republics. STOP. Accept sentiments of my highest esteem. ( signed) Sékou Touré.” Quoted from “Les rapports Franco- Guinéens,” in Sékou Touré, L’action politique du Parti Démocratique de Guinée pour l’émancipation africaine, Tome 2, n.p., n.d. (Conakry? 1959? ) p . 16 1. (Translation mine.)

3. Constitution of the Fifth French Republic, Title XIII, Agreement on Association, Article 88: “The Republic or the Community may make
agreements with States that wish to associate themselves with the Community in order to develop their own civilizations.”

4. See “Reorganization of the Guinean Economy” (VDB-1-’63), an AUFS

5. A previous cultural accord between the two countries had been signed on January 7, 1959.
6. France-Soir, 17 aout 1961.
7. Le Monde, 21 mars 1962.
8.  Ibid., 27 mars 1962.
9. See “Changing Relations Among Guinea, the Ivory Coast, and Mali”
(VDB-4-’62), an AUFS publication.

Guinea. Problems of Independence and Decolonization

Victor D. Du Bois
The Problems of Independence. The Decolonization of Guinea
American Universities Field Staff Reports. West Africa Series
Vol. V No. 8 (Guinea), pp. 1-18

Conakry, November 1962

Victor David Du Bois (1932-1983)
Victor David Du Bois (1932-1983)

Guinea’s formal accession to independence on October 2, 1958, gave the party elite the long- awaited opportunity to dismantle the colonial structure which had dominated the territory for more than 60 years. Decolonization meant something much more fundamental than merely the achievement of national independence and the transfer of authority from the European colonial power to the Africans. As Sékou Touré explained, it signified a basic reorientation in the thinking and habits of men:

« When we say “Decolonization,” we mean we want to
destroy the habits, conceptions and ways of conduct of colonialism. We are determined to replace them with forms that are Guinean forms, conceived by the people of Guinea. Decolonization consists in detecting all that remains of the colonial system and finding a Guinean solution for it. Decolonization consists in liberating the civil servant from his enslavement to the colonial conception, to the colonial mentality. Decolonization is the reconversion of colonial mentalities into Guinean mentalities. Decolonization must put an end to injustice and ensure the reconversion of these various evils, of these diverse practices of division and opposition, into practices of unity and cooperation. 1 »

Sékou Touré’s goal was to make of Guinea as African a country as Kwame Nkrumah had made of Ghana, and this he and his party (Parti Démocratique de Guinée) set about to do. Decolonization necessarily implied nationalism and nationalism therefore became the hallmark of all changes that followed. The object was twofold: to do away with what remained of colonial power in Guinea, and to imbue the citizens of the new state with an awareness and enthusiasm for the independence and sovereignty which now were theirs. Once the French had relinquished authority, Guineans lost no time in initiating decolonization procedures widely.

Women in great numbers have been recruited into the political process. Shown here are members of various village committees of the P.D.G. (Photo courtesy Ministry of Information, Republic of Guinea)
Women in great numbers have been recruited into the political process. Shown here are members of various village committees of the P.D.G. (Photo courtesy Ministry of Information, Republic of Guinea)
Mobilization of the youth: a J.R.D.A. group parading before President Sékou Touré of Guinea and President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. (Photo courtesy Ministry of Information, Republic of Guinea)
Mobilization of the youth: a J.R.D.A. group parading before President Sékou Touré of Guinea and President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. (Photo courtesy Ministry of Information, Republic of Guinea)

With the departure of the French Governor, his palace became the Présidence, official residence of the Guinean head of state.  The Chamber of Commerce Building was preempted to house the newly established Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the old Institut Français d’Afrique Noire (I.F.A.N.) was re-baptized the National Museum. Statues of former French colonial officials were removed from their pedestals in the center of Conakry and exiled to a lonely peninsula on the edge of town where to this day they look out to sea. Names of streets were changed as were those of public squares. The former monument aux morts became the monument aux martyrs du colonialisme, and the buildings along Conakry’s beautiful corniche, one by one for the first time were occupied by Guineans. Anxious to impress both on Guinean citizens and on the outside world the seriousness with which independence was regarded, Touré and the Political Bureau of the P .D.G. allowed only a minimum of festivities and immediately set about putting everyone to work .

Nothing less than a complete revamping of the state was envisaged. From top to bottom, all political, economic, social, and cultural institutions of Guinea were to be Africanized. No exceptions were to be made. What could not be Africanized today for want of an adequate Guinean substitute would be Africanized tomorrow, next month, next year, or at such time as a Guinean substitute became available. But it would be done. Decolonization was not only the result of a desire to remove the last vestiges of colonial influence, it was also a protest, a Guinean rejection of the European’s efforts to mold the African after his own image:

« The colonial regime had attempted to assimilate us to a civilization which, even if it was positive and humanistic, had not been thought out by us, was not at all the fruit of our own experience; a civilization which did not express our own proper values, and consequently, was not conformable to our national ethos.
To this colonialist determination to assimilate us we opposed a fierce affirmation of the African personality.
To the colonialist assertion of a lack of any moral, positive, cultural value in the history of the African peoples we oppose our personality, we maintain we had our own civilization, our own culture, our own values…
… Examining objectively the situation of our country at the time of its withdrawal from the colonial regime, we recognized that all the economie, administrative, political, judicial, and military structures were not conformable to the best conditions for the development of our national society, and we decided to transform them by adapting them to the necessities of our evolution… 2 »

Individuals no less than institutions were urged to “decolonize,” to purge themselves of what Sékou Touré called “the colonialist mentality.” To emphasize the acknowledgment, the reassertion of their négritude, national leaders forsook Western dress for their native clothing.

The people’s response to President Sékou Touré’s exhortations to “decolonize” was spontaneous. For the overwhelming majority it posed no great problem: they had never really be en Gallicized to begin with. Aside from the amenities of modern civilization which France had brought them, the laws which it had imposed on them, and the taxes it had exacted from them, most Guineans had remained by and large untouched by the influence of the présence française, even after 60 years’ rule. But for the few thousand in the country who formed the nation’s elite —those who had received the benefit of a French education, had had extensive contact with Westerners, or at least had learned the French language— the process was somewhat more difficult. French influence had left its imprint on this group. For many of these people, French really had become the lingua franca. Their standards of judgment, even their moral values were conceived within a French context and these were things not susceptible to change overnight. The question which inevitably if only tacitly had to be faced was, “How Guinean should one be?” Or, to put it another way: was the new nationalism to be so militant that it would endeavor to obliterate all traces of the colonial heritage, whatever the se might be?

Sékou Touré’s statement of the problem of decolonization, as it presented itself in Guinea, in no way precluded the retention of things French which experience had shown to be wise, beneficial, or necessary to the country. Some social institutions (e.g., the judicial system, military rules and regulations) learned or developed under the French, were retained virtually in toto with relatively few adaptations to Guinean circumstances. Other institutions (e .g., the labor unions and youth groups) were radically altered to complement national organs which the party was developing—organs aimed at consolidating the party’s nationwide control and at mobilizing the population for the attainment of national objectives.

In both cases Sékou Touré has shown himself to be eminently eclectic. His discourses on the subject of decolonization and reconversion show his clear awareness of the fact that Guinea can never obliterate completely all traces of colonial influence in its social and political institutions. What is important is that those things which cannot be changed in structure of function at least develop a new sense of morality, a Guinean morality:

« Our new state, in its outward form, has replaced the colonial state, but, in order not to continue the practice of the former system we must analyze the old ways of doing things so that we can improve on them. We must analyze them in relation to our major objectives… 3 »

In all cases a cardinal principle has been that the reconversion of an agency or an organ of government lead to its complete integration into the national system. The concept of independent regulatory agencies, left free to function as watchdogs over the actions of government, are viewed as irrelevant in a society where these functions are assumed by the party. Sékou Touré has made it clear that non-integrated institutions and agencies, or social actions of any kind which might escape control by the state, not only are not to be tolerated, but are to be actively resisted :

« We, as totally dedicated militants, solemnly affirm that
everything, every phenomenon, will have no value in our eyes save to the extent that it tends toward our final goal. Thus, all opposition, all attempts to divert our attention, necessarily end by strengthening our struggle for emancipation. Those who willingly shut themselves up within the framework of the colonial system will never be able to make us slacken our pace … We must not consider economic, social, and cultural phenomena in isolated fashion. We must consider them in relation to our policy, our national existence, and the highest interests of the people of our country. The country being an indivisible entity, we shall not favor any one sector or any one project. 4 »

One of the chief problems which immediately confronted Guinea was to determine the extent to which reconversion could or should be carried out and where this might most profitably be done. Might not reconversion in one area (e .g ., in education), if carried out too peremptorily, impede or retard progress in ether areas?

Africanization also presented difficulties of quite another sort. What form should the desired Africanization of a particular institution or convention take? Should it be Soussou, Foulah, or Malinké? The problem posed to those advocating reconversion could not be underestimated. A wrong choice—one which unduly favored the cultural form of one ethnie group over those of other groups— might run the risk of reviving ancient enmities. Such a mistake could damage the delicate strands of unity so painstakingly woven by the party since independence. However deplorable “the colonial way,” one undeniable advantage it had was that through the common adherence to colonial laws and conventions which it imposed on its subjects, it did tend to de-emphasize ethnic, linguistic, and regional differences among the indigenous peoples. For administrative purposes, the colonial regime treated the peoples of the territory as a unit rather than as distinct ethnic groups. It created among them, however inadvertently, a certain sense of union—even if it was only what Sékou Touré later referred to as a “union de misère.” The P.D.G. profited from the experience.

Looking at it in the perspective of four years of independence, the Guinean experience has shawn that what actually was meant by decolonization and reconversion was not the wholesale abandonment of those institutions and conventions which 60 years of French colonial rule had bequeathed to Guinea. Above all, decolonization has not meant an indiscriminate return to archaic, precolonial African institutions, however much these may once have been revered, or performed a useful and necessary function in society. Decolonization has meant adopting those institutions and conventions of the former colonial society which the government and the party have deemed useful or essential to the efficient functioning of a modern national state and the integration of its peoples. It has meant reforming and adapting the se institutions to be used by Guineans for Guinean purposes. Guineans have been among the most willing to recognize the utility of such European inherited institutions as the mass political party, labor organization, and a modern, reform-oriented government. They have also been among the !east desirous of seeing a resuscitation of one of the oldest of African institutions —the chieftaincy—which they (along with a good many other Africans) now regard with abhorrence.

Similarly, Africanization means not merely the understandable desire of Africans to see Africans themselves rather than whites or other aliens hold the reins of power and authority in the government, the public services, and the private enterprise of the country. It means also a firm resolve to devise among themselves and in concert with other Africans, a common approach to problems with which they must all cope. It signifies a re-evaluation of what it me ans to be African.
The ideal no longer is to be a black Frenchman but to be an African, and an African primarily. It was the realization of this belief, first in Guinea and later in other parts of French West Africa, that marked one of the milestones in the social evolution of the French Negro territories.

Building a Guinean Nationality

Welding a nation out of the many different ethnie and cultural elements of Guinea was a problem of staggering proportions. The creation of a national consciousness and a spirit of unity depended largely on the P.D.G.’s success in minimizing points of conflict among Guinea’s three major tribal groups—the Foulah, Soussou, and Malinké—so that they might work together in constructing the new nation. Their imbalance in number and distribution, their ethnic and cultural dissimilarities, and the animosities that for centuries had divided them—all these were formidable obstacles to rapid consolidation.

The situation was further complicated by the existence of a host of smaller ethnic and tribal groups many of whom were as irreconcilable as the Foulah-Soussou-Malinké triad. There were the Baga, the Nalou, and the Landouman peoples in Lower Guinea; the Tenda, Bassari and Coniagui in Middle Guinea; and a plethora of tribes in the Forest Region, among them the Manons, the Guerzés, the Kono, and the Kissi, ethnically linked with peoples of the neighboring Ivory Coast. Each of these groups possessed its own language, traditions, and forms of social and political organization. Their response to the demands of changing times was conditioned by the varying degrees of contact they had had with the French. Those concentrated along the coast such as the Soussou, had dealt with the French since earliest times and, hence, had become the natural recipients and agents of change. Others, such as the Coniagui, living in the remote area of Younkounkoun, remained until recent times practically untouched by modern civilization (sic! —T.S. Bah).

The task which confronted the P.D.G. in creating a modern, unified nation was essentially one of reconciliation. A formula had to be found by which the barriers dividing Guinea1s peoples could be replaced by bonds of union and a feeling of kinship. Nationalism thus had to compete with ancient loyalties to tribe and region. The adversary with which it had now to come to grips was not an outside force against which all popular sympathies could easily be mobilized. It was the dead weight of indigenous habits and institutions, deeply and universally revered, but heavy with an innate conservatism, which seriously impeded genuine national union.

The party pursued its goal with characteristic zeal. It adopted a flag 5 and a national anthem 6 for the new nation; national youth and women’s organizations were founded; a national orchestra was assembled; and everywhere patriotic songs were learned and sung 7. Curricula in the schools were revised so that now, for the first time, Guinean children began to study Guinean history, Guinean geography, and Guinean languages. Native folklore was revived, and the party encouraged inter-regional and national competitions in native songs and dances, sports, and voluntary public -works projects (investissement humain). Those who excelled were hailed not only as local champions from Mamou or N’Zérékoré or whatever their native region, but as Guinean champions. Guineans thrilled to the sight of a Guinean army marching down the main thoroughfares of Conakry under the command of Guinean officers. The air was charged with excitement and everyone imbued with a deep sense of pur pose. Within a remarkably short time, the people of the former French territory began to think of themselves less as Soussou, Foulah, or Malinké than as Guineans. Ethnocentric attitudes tenaciously clung to over the centuries began to give way to the new sense of nationhood.

The party’s task was facilitated by one curious and noteworthy factor: the lack of irredentism among the Guinean tribes. Although the Foulah and Malinké peoples and those of half a dozen other smaller tribes are ethnically and linguistically related to peoples straddling Guinea’s frontiers (most notably the frontiers with the Ivory Coast, Mali, and Senegal), there is little sentiment among the Guineans for union with their cousins across the borders. Long distances and the rigors of travel, added to the artificial frontiers which the white man had imposed in Africa for several generations, have discouraged such tribal nationalism. Neither Sékou Touré nor any other leader of the P.D.G. is anxious to see this situation altered, save within the context of a greater Pan-African union.

A tremendous help to the party is the extraordinary adulation in which the people hold Sékou Touré. No other leader in Guinean history—not even the venerable Samory—ever evoked from the people such a lavish outpouring of affection and esteem. His portrait is seen everywhere in the country, in every office, in every school, in the remotest village. It appears in murals in public buildings 8, on currency notes, and even as a print on the cotton dresses worn by Guinean women. Much of this adulation is contrived and encouraged by the party, but much also is due to Touré’s charismatic hold on the people. He elicits an enthusiastic response not only from his own Malinké people, but from the Foulah, the Soussou, and other Guinean ethnic groups. The courtesy and attentiveness with which visiting deputations from the interior are received at the Présidence in Conakry, the frequent trips Sékou Touré takes throughout the country to give an account of his mandate to the people, and the impartiality he has shawn in distributing government funds and allocating welfare projects among Guinea’s four regions all have contributed greatly to the unparalleled prestige he enjoys.

Simultaneously with its promotion of Guinean nationalism, the party has sought to encourage nationalism on a Pan-African basis. Dissident independence movements from different parts of Africa—many disowned by the legitimate African governments in power—have sought and received haven in Conakry. Radio Conakry’s “Voix de la Révolution” in the early days of independence became an important source not only of anti-colonialist but also of anti-Western propaganda. Touré hailed the Guinean independence movement as the first great step taken to emancipate all of French Black Africa. Because they had gained national independence by the unspectacular means of the ballot box rather than by re sort to arms 9, Touré and ether party leaders sought to imbue their party with an intense revolutionary zeal. National enthusiasm had to be kept at high pitch to carry out party programs on the domestic scene, and to push Guinea to the forefront of nationalist movements in Africa.

The unification of Guinea-despite its impressive progress during the first four years —has not been achieved without difficulties. Some of the se stemmed from the fact that in Guinea, as in other African countries, certain elements actively resisted or passively obstructed the work of national consolidation-or so party leaders felt. Certain groups, because of their composition, background, or activities, were suspect. This was the case, for example, with certain intellectuals and “unenlightened” labor leaders. In ether cases, the obstructive elements were not specific individuals or groups but social institutions which the party regarded as archaic or bent on blocking plans for unification and modernization. One such example was the institution of the chieftaincy and another was the Roman Catholic Church. Whatever the obstruction, it was firmly and severely dealt with by the party. Nothing was allowed to stand in the way of unification.

The party saw that its position would be insecure unless it could accomplish three tasks:

  1. prevent the possible rise of an opposition, particularly among the Foulah
  2. contend with the divisive tendencies almost inevitable in a nation composed of several major ethnie groups, each pulling in a separate direction
  3. mobilize the youth and women in the country to aid the party 1 s cause.

Prevention of a Foulah Opposition

Locked in their mountain fastness of Fouta-Djallon, the Foulah peoples of Middle Guinea for centuries before the colonial conquest successfully repelled the incursions of neighboring tribes. This aggressive and warlike people succeeded in enlarging their domain at the expense of other tribes, most notably the Soussou, whom they frequently enslaved. Aristocratic and intensely Islamized, they prided themselves on their great herds of cattle and their exploits as soldiers of Muhammad. The political organization of the Foulah was retained virtually intact by the French for the purpose of indirect rule. The most important prerogative the French exercised was naming the almamy (the Foulah equivalent of emir) who exercised supreme jurisdiction over the far-reaching Foulah “empire.”

Although for centuries the Foulah, the Soussou, and the Malinké had been rivals, the Foulah, for the most part, were spared the ravages of the armies of Samory 10 which swept over northern Guinea and into the arid plains of the French Soudan. Under French rule, the Foulah expanded into the coastal areas as far south and west as Conakry, where they began to compete with the Soussou for what few employment opportunities existed. The decision of the French after the death of the last almamy in 1906 not to appoint a successor, their suppression of slavery, and their gradual disavowal of the chiefs greatly weakened the political stability of the Foulah and in time rendered them vulnerable to the blandishments of native local politicians. Foulah cities such as Labé, Mamou, and Pita became important centers of socialism in Guinea, and it was in these centers that the P.D.G. later encountered its most determined opposition.

When Guinea became independent, the Foulah, numbering almost one million, constituted the largest single ethnie bloc. No Guinean government could hope to succeed unless it enjoyed their support. And in the early days of independence it was common to hear it said wistfully by some of the French that “Touré will not dare do anything here in Conakry without the accord of the Foulah. If he tries, the Fouta 11 will move.”

Reasons were not wanting for questioning the loyalty of the Foulah to the new government. It was the Foulah city of Labé which had registered the strongest vote against Guinean independence. And it was commonly believed that die-hard French colonialists were conspiring with the Foulah to overthrow the government of the young republic. Visitors to Guinea, particularly the more knowledgeable foreign journalists, frequently alluded to a supposed Foulah opposition which resented being dominated by a Malinké politician (Touré) and stood ready to seize control of the government at the first opportunity.

Once Guinea achieved its independence and the French departed, the way was open for the creation of a genuine national union. With valuable assistance from Diallo Saifoulaye, Vice-President of the new republic and himself a prominent Foulah, Touré moved quickly to bring the redoubtable Foulah into line. As Vice -President of Guinea and Political Secretary of the P .D .G., Diallo symbolized the inter-tribal unity which was to characterize the new nation.

(Erratum. — Saifoulaye had no executive role. Instead, he presided over the National Assembly. Also, he carried on his political secretary function that dated back to 1948, when Sekou Touré occupied a less prominent position in the comité directeur hierarchy. See Composition du Comité directeur du PDG au 30 juin 1948, quoted from André Lewin’s Ahmed Sékou Touré (1922-1984). Président de la Guinée de 1958 à 1984. Volume 1, chapitre 9, annexe deux— Tierno S. Bah)

Foulahs, along with Soussous and Malinkés and members of Guinea’s numerous ether ethnie groups, were brought in large numbers into the government or given prestigious jobs in the party 12. Foulah youth were brought into the J.R.D.A., the newly created national youth organization, and Foulah women were given an active and important role to play in political affairs. Foulah accomplishments in art, music, and literature were acclaimed as glories of the nation, and Foulah warriors venerated as Guinean heroes. In allocating government funds for welfare projects, Touré scrupulously awarded the Foulah their full share, and his solicitous attitude toward the Foulah won him much support among this initially skeptical people.

The party practice of sending children of one ethnic group away to school in parts of the country inhabited by members of another ethnie group to acquaint them with their compatriots has also helped to break down the barriers that once separated Guinea’s peoples. Very important has been the action of prominent Foulahs, such as Barry III, who were formerly associated with the opposition but now have joined forces with the P.D.G. The adherence of such leaders resulted in large numbers of the Foulah rallying to the national cause. The P.D.G.’s system of administrative controls under which each region is assigned an “alien” (i.e., someone from an ethnic group ether than that predominant in the area) as regional executive (commandant de région) is designed to inhibit the formation of any sort of opposition under the old ethnic banners.

These factors, as well as the absence of any feeling of irredentism among the Foulah toward their brothers in Mali, Senegal, and Portuguese Guinea, have reduced the supposed danger of Foulah opposition to the present government. Many believed that the government never could or would undertake militant action against the Foulah because it feared their massive strength.
This belief was shown to be false when at the time of a so-called anti-government plot in May 1960, the Foulah leader, Diallo Ibrahima, allegedly implicated, was arrested, tried, condemned, and tortured. The often-voiced claim that the Foulah would “move into Conakry” had been proved groundless. Touré’s hold on the Guinean people, including the Foulah, was far greater than anyone had imagined.

Recruitment of Women into the Political Process

Women’s organizations had existed in Guinea for sorne years before independence. The Malinké, Foulah, Baga, Toucouleur, and the Sarakole tribes all had active women’s groups, founded largely on the basis of region, ethnic group, or even religion. Protestant and Catholic women in the territory also had their own organizations. Most of these groups shared the detriments of haphazard organization and a fluctuating membership. For the most part, they limited themselves to organizing village and tribal celebrations in which they indulged in rival displays of finery. Their political influence was virtually nil. The various conditions attached to the women’s vote in French West Africa at the time permitted few to exercise the franchise; consequently, the overwhelming majority were remote from political affairs.

The appearance of the R.D.A. in 1946 and the formation of its Guinean branch, the P .D.G., one year later opened the way for change. Women were encouraged to be active in politics. A small number joined the party, but their membership was on an individual basis and their influence remained minor. Gradually, however, those women who had a strong interest in civic matters began to organize, first in N’Zérékoré and later in Macenta. When their groups prospered, the P.D.G. lent them active support and encouraged women in other areas to follow their example.

The achievement of national independence has in no way lessened the party’s interest in women as a group. President Sékou Touré has made it abundantly clear that the party is pledged to correct social abuses against women and to as sure them their rightful share in the direction of national affairs:

« Our determination to free the Guinean woman from unjust constraints and from certain often humiliating practices, rises out of a deep concern for social justice and also from our determination to ensure the full participation of our sisters in the building of the new African society of the Guinean nation. 13 »

The party has not been remiss in keeping its pledge. It has introduced women into the highest councils of government (two are members of the National Political Bureau) and constantly strive s to improve their social position. With the party firmly behind them, women have succeeded in raising the legal marriage age for females from thirteen to seventeen, an achievement which ranks as a major reform. The number of employment opportunities available to women has widened, and in many instances they are challenging men for positions of leadership in the party itself. Today women occupy positions of authority and importance throughout Guinea. Many are mayors or presidents of village councils, teachers, midwives, or exercise other functions directly beneficial to the community.

President Touré seizes every possible occasion, especially in speeches to the nation or addresses to the party and the National Assembly, to praise the selfless devotion of Guinean women to the cause of independence. He has given them, as it were, an official mandate to work hard, and on a par with men, in the great popular movement to develop a vigorous national consciousness. He has made of one woman—Camara M’Balia—a Guinean heroine 14.

In Guinea women no less than other members of the social group have been imbued with a revolutionary spirit. The more educated and articulate among them stand in the vanguard of party militants, ready and willing to help educate their less fortunate sisters. They demonstrate an eager interest in politics and participate actively in civic and national affairs. Along with the youth of the country they invariably are the first induced to answer the party ‘s frequent calls for volunteer workers.

As more and more of them acquire an education and assume positions of responsibility throughout their country, they are coming to feel a deep sense of obligation toward women still living under repressive and archaic conditions in other parts of Africa. They have indicated great readiness to join forces with them to pursue their goals on a continent-wide scale. At a conference in Conakry held in the summer of 1961, a Council of West African Women was organized and it set up a permanent secretariat at Ibadan, Nigeria.

Independence has brought advantages both to the party and to Guinean women. The former has found an important new source of voting strength; the latter, a powerful political force to supportits demands for basic reforms. In return for the support it has received from the women, the party resolutely champions the ir cause. With their country undergoing a profound social revolution, and aware for the first time of the important part they can play in this revolution, women constitute one of the most dynamic social forces in present-day Guinea.

Mobilization of the Youth

Under the French, youth activities for the most part had been loosely organized and confined principally to Conakry and ether urban centers in the country. Youth in rural areas were almost totally neglected.
Activities for the young people had been confined mainly to sports and to inter-regional competitive events of various kinds. Thus, although the colonial administration concerned itself somewhat with the youth, its offhand treatment of them resulted for the most part in the formation of little more than a multitude of tiny groups, none of which had any distinctive character or provided any real outlet for expressing youth’s aspirations. Given no opportunity for constructive expression, youthful energies were expended on unproductive or pointless activities.
When Guinea became independent, this situation was drastically
changed. The P.D.G. considered the reorganization of the youth as one of the great needs of the new nation. Accordingly, it set about devising plans for bringing youth into the political system as an active participant.
After studying youth activities during the colonial period, the Political Bureau of the party called a national conference which met in Conakry, March 26-29, 1959, to discuss the future of Guinean youth and the role they should play in the social revolution engendered by Guinea’s independence. It was decided at this conference that a national organization to be called the Jeunesse Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (J.R.D.A.) should be set up which would include all of Guinea’s youth. This organization was not to have an independent existence but was to function as an arm of the party, under its supervision and enjoying its full support. On this point, Touré was very specific:

« The interest we take in the youth arises out of our fundamental principle of harmonization and unification of the efforts of all the classes of the people to ensure the triumph of the people’ s cause…
… We are led by an essential principle to which the Party has never ceased to grant a tremendous importance. It is the absolute necessity to frame the action of the young, their national action, within the limits of the general action of the Party. Youth must become an active part of the nation; they must realize their responsibilities and be ready to play the dynamic role we want to allot them. » 15

The J.R.D.A. and National Unification

Of Sékou Touré’s many efforts to weld the Guinean peoples into a single nation, the most rewarding have been his efforts among the youth. With them he has known an unqualified success. Understandably and predictably, in Guinea it is the youth who have been the most responsive to the party ‘s desire to see national fraternity replace the ancient rivalries and enmities. Unlike their elders, many of whom (despite the party’s efforts) still retain their old doubts and distrusts about other ethnic groups, Guinean youth believe implicitly what President Sékou Touré tells them: that the old hatreds can and must be buried. Recognizing youth as an important ally in his work of constructing the nation, Touré has assured them of every assistance.

In order to obtain absolute fidelity to its cause, the P.D.G. long ago decided that separatism among the youth, whenever and however it may manifest itself, must be forcefully resisted. The party considers that the youth of Guinea should make an active contribution to the nation. It encourages their efforts by imbuing the youth with a sense of purpose:

« The Democratic Party of Guinea has never concealed its absolute opposition to every movement that might result in dividing the population or confiscating the interests of the whole for the profit of a minority.
Our relentless struggle against ethnie groups has thus done away with all the organizations of youth founded on race or region.
For the Democratic Party of Guinea, the deep meaning of African unity implies, at the heart of the Movement, the most rigorous fight against all tendencie s of division, all factions of self- interest.
The leaders of the Party never stopped proclaiming that for the R.D.A. [i.e., the P.D.G.], youth for the sake of youth did not exist. The Party places youth at the core of the concerns of the nation, within the frame work of the building up of the nation by means of the combined efforts of all. 16 »

To engender an esprit de corps among the young people, the party has accorded them a place of very real significance in the direction of national affairs. Members of the National Council of the J.R.D.A. are treated with the dignity a c corded cabinet ministers; young men and women, officiais of the J.R.D.A., frequently represent Guinea at important international conferences of a cultural nature ; they are called upon to give their views, and those of the young people they represent, on matters of national policy. Such important questions as the dowry practice and the conditions of marriage are regulated by the young themselves at the level of the administrative section.

A natural by-product of the confidence which the party has placed in its youth has been youth’s trust in the party. They are today its most enthusiastic supporters.

The extraordinary success which the party enjoys among the young of the country (and, increasingly, among the young of many other parts of Africa) is largely due to its having won a reputation as the most extreme and revolutionary political movement in Africa today. This label has conferred upon it an immense prestige with African youth, prone as they are to political extremism . The more extreme the P.D.G. becomes, and the more its actions are reviled in “colonialist” quarters, the more Sékou Touré’s stature and that of the party grow in the eyes of African youth. As Touré’s charisma extends itself over ever greater numbers of people, many far distant from his own shores, the fame he enjoys abroad becomes both a source of national pride and a unifying influence among his own people.

The J.R.D.A. as an International Youth Movement

Using the J .R.D.A. as an instrument of national policy, Sékou Touré has kept it in the forefront of international attention. He has made it the avant-garde of youth movements in French-speaking Africa, and so successful has it been as an instrument of national unification that other African leaders have taken it as a model for similar organizations in their own countries 17. As a member of the Conseil de la Jeunesse d’Afrique, one of the principal international youth organizations in French-speaking Africa, the J.R.D.A. has openly declared its intention to carry on everywhere the struggle against continued colonialist activities . As an outspoken foe of “Western imperialism,” the J .R.D.A. has been warmly received by members of the Communist camp. Its leaders have been both delegates and hosts to important international youth conferences in which the Communists have played a dominant role.

That the J.R.D.A. has tended to lean strongly toward the East rather than the West is not surprising in view of the militantly anti-colonial position constantly maintained and affirmed by the P.D.G. This inclination toward the East is due partially to Guinea’s unfortunate experiences under French rule. But it is due even more to the fact that the often radical and revolutionary schemes of social and economic reorganization which the P.D.G. continually espouses and in which the youth of the country are called upon to play a significant role find a more sympathetic ear among the revolutionaries of the East than among the moderates of the West, advocates of change through an orderly and evolutionary process. Moreover, the lack in most Western countries of anything even remotely resembling the national youth organizations of the East or of Guinea, either in breadth of national membership or in scope of activity, renders most unlikely any genuine rapport between the youth of the two camps. Because of the political temper of the times and a natural feeling of sympathy with other underprivileged peoples, the natural inclination of Guinean youth is toward the extreme left. It is in this direction that it is inexorably moving.

National Unification, a Balance Sheet

Some of the things which have been done in Guinea over the last four years to create a sense of nationhood among its people may appear harsh to Western eyes, accustomed to seeing nationality emerge as the end product of years of orderly historical evolution. The relentless zeal with which the P.D.G. has gone about its task may even appear to some a little frightening, subordinating, as it does, the individual to the point where his value is measured only in terms of the contributions he is able to bring to the larger social group personified by the state. But in Guinea, as in many other African states, it is felt that the problem of internal dissensions is such that national unification will be achieved only if firm and drastic action is taken at the initial stages of independence while the people are still fired with the idealism of their newly won independence. Too moderate or lenient an approach to this basic problem, it is argued, ends up only in debilitating the state and perpetuating ethnic antagonisms. The example of the former Belgian Congo has lent added weight to this view both in Guinea and elsewhere on the continent. Today, virtually every country in Africa is confronted with the same problem which Guinea has had to face: how to create a national consciousness, a sense of nationhood, from a multiplicity of peoples. The problem remains perhaps the most crucial for Africa. Guinea has provided one approach to its solution.

1. Sékou Touré, Toward Full Re-Africanisation (Policy and Principles of the Guinea Democratic Party) [English text, Paris, Presence Africaine, 1959, p. 40
2. République de Guinée, Conférence Nationale (de planification économique), Kankan, les 2, 3, 4 et 5 avril 1960. Rappport d’orientation du Bureau Politique National du Parti Démocratique de Guinée {Sékou Touré}, Conakry, Imprimerie Nationale, 1960, pp. 38-40.
3. Sékou Touré, La Guinée et l’émancipation africaine, Paris, Présence Africaine, 1959, p. 213.
4. From a speech delivered by President Sékou Touré before government functionaries of the circumscription of Kankan, February 23, 1959, ibid. , p. 118.
5. A tricolor of three vertical bars, red, yellow, and green. The red symbolizes the blood shed by anticolonialist martyrs in their struggle for freedom; the yellow, the color of Guinea ‘s gold and of the African sun; the green, the color of Africa’s vegetation. The colors were deliberately chosen to correspond to those of Ghana’s flag. They have since been adopted by a number of other African nations.
6. “Liberté,” composedby Keita Fodéba, former Minister of the Interior, and Jean Cellier, a Frenchman living in Guinea who is instructor to the national orchestra.
7. One of the interesting things about many of these songs is how gently the French are treated in the lyrics, a fact all the more curious considering the vehemence with which they are stigmatized in Sékou Touré’s speeches. In one youth song called “Faransi Siga” (“The Departure of the French”), the lyrics go:

“Sékou Touré, so this is the way the French leave us,
Without saying farewell
What shame
So this is the way the French leave us
Without even saying good-by
What shame, by Allah
The French have gone without saying farewell.”

In another youth song entitled “Wongè segè” (“Good-bye Europeans”), the words go:

“Good-bye Europeans
And without a grudge
I, myself, am not offended
Good-bye, everyone to his own home
Without any fuss
Good-bye provided you disturb us no more
Let him follow you
He who believes you indispensable.”

For other examples, see Djibril Tamsir Niane, “Some Revolutionary
Songs of Guinea” [special edition on Independent Guinea], Paris, Présence Africaine, n.d., pp. 10 1- 115.
8.  One of the most interesting sets of murals is that in the centre culturel of the city of Mamou, painted on cloth by members of Guinea’s youth movement, the Jeunesse du Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (J.R.D.A.). One mural depicts Guinea “as it used to be”: a white woman being borne on a sedan chair by four Africans while her husband struts alongside. A second mural shows Touré, mounted on a white stallion and garbed as St. George, slaying the dragon of colonialism.
9.  Sékou Touré once estimated that if Guinea had had to fight for its independence, some 200,000 Guineans probably would have died fighting the French. See Sékou Touré, “Voter ‘Non’ c’est faire l’économie d’une guerre,” L’action politique du Parti Démocratique de Guinée pour l’émancipation africaine, Tome 3, Année 1959, Conakry, p. 452.
10.  See Guinea: The Years Before World War II (VDB-5-’62), an AUFS publication.
11.  Abbreviated form for Fouta-Djallon, the region in central Guinea occupied by the Foulah peoples.
12.  It is interesting to note, however, that at its inception, only two Foulahs were made members of the all-important National Political Bureau, the highest policymaking body in the P.D.G. In 1962 the National Political Bureau has:

  • Eleven Malinké
  • Three Soussou
  • One Toma
  • Two Foulah

13.  Sékou Touré, op. cit., note one, p. 71.
14.  On February 9, 1955, a district chief (presumably an African) in an altercation with a pregnant village woman, Camara M’Balia, stabbed her. Madame Camara’s baby was stillborn and she herself died shortly afterward from her wounds. She has since been hailed as a Guinean martyr of anticolonialism.
15.  Sékou Touré, op. cit., note one, pp. 80, 83.
16.  Ibid., p. 81.
17.  Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Modibo Keita of Mali, and even Félix Houphouët-Boigny of the Ivory Coast.

Buhari’s cabinet: solid, but few women and elitist

At last, President Muhammadu Buhari has ended the long-delayed formation of the Federal Government of Nigeria. And a Senior Lecturer in International Commercial Law at the University of Kent, Gbenga Oduntan, argues in The Conversation that the choices are solid. However, he faults the appointments for being women-sparse and  elitist-bent.
Clearly, the Nigerian president could not please everyone. Nor can he — now and during his term as the democratically elected head of state — meet all expectations. But I commend him for:

  1. selecting a balanced Federal government team that is representative of all 36 states
  2. assigning himself the tough and thankless oil portfolio

By his careful picks Mr. Buhari renews the message that he stays the course and that his deeds will match his key inaugural pledges, i.e., promoting competence, fighting corruption, alleviating poverty, defeating Boko Haram…
Tierno S. Bah

Nigeria's newly appointed ministers attend their swearing-in ceremony in Abuja, Nigeria November 11, 2015. Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari swore 36 ministers into his cabinet on Wednesday, five months after his inauguration. Buhari won March elections after vowing to crack down on corruption in Africa's biggest economy and top oil producer. He has been criticized for waiting until September to name his ministers at a time when the economy has been hammered by the fall in oil prices. (Reuters / Afolabi Sotunde)
Nigeria’s newly appointed ministers attend their swearing-in ceremony in Abuja, Nigeria November 11, 2015. Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari swore 36 ministers into his cabinet on Wednesday, five months after his inauguration. Buhari won March elections after vowing to crack down on corruption in Africa’s biggest economy and top oil producer. He has been criticized for waiting until September to name his ministers at a time when the economy has been hammered by the fall in oil prices. (Reuters / Afolabi Sotunde)

Nigeria’s new cabinet, perhaps the most awaited in the history of constitutional democracy in Africa, has finally been sworn in. The wait involved at first a shocking and unexplained silence, and then the release of a partial list which was approved by the Senate in October — a full 131 days after the president was sworn in. Ministers apparently got to know of their respective portfolios 35 days later. It was shambolic.

Clearly the governing party had not listened to the message delivered on behalf of Tony Blair, the former UK prime minister, about the importance of the first 100 days of office. In a keynote address at a special two-day policy dialogue held in Abuja immediately after the party secured victory in May, Blair, through his former advisor Peter Mandelson, said:

You will have more good will and more authority to do the difficult things at the beginning of your term than at the end.

No-one at that stage imagined that it would take more than 100 days to even form a cabinet. But then Nigeria is no ordinary country and it has its own inherent logic.

Eventually nearly all appointees came from inside Nigeria and were quite well-known, if not predictable faces from the coalition-opposition.

Some have suggested that President Muhammadu Buhari needed time to fish out the very best from home and abroad. Others point to the fact that he needed time to understand the rot in the system and put in a host of ingenious strategies to fix loopholes that made corrupt practices easy.

But the wait could very easily be due to party intrigues and sloppy handling of the task.

The country could ill afford the long wait. Longstanding energy instability is taking its toll on industry. Unemployment is skyrocketing.

With a depressed economy, crime rates have begun to rise. Things are getting so worrisome that stocks on the Nigerian Stock Exchange continued to fall as investors reacted indifferently to the inauguration of the new ministers.

All the president’s men

The list of new ministers appears to have generally gone down well with the public. Citizens were so fed up with the last Peoples Democratic Party government that the first 50 names in the telephone directory would have been preferable to the status quo. There are some notable personalities in the new cabinet.

  • Babatunde Fashola, former governor of Lagos state with a population of 18 million, is now minister of power, works and housing.
  • Kayode Fayemi, former governor of Ekiti state, is minister of solid minerals. Both Fashola and Fayemi have enviable records of performance and the halo of much-needed technocratic competence.
  • It would have been unimaginable for the brilliant communicator, Lai Mohammed, not to be the minister of information. He was virtually the only authentic voice of the opposition even before there was an effective opposition party.
  • Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi is experienced and is expected to flourish.
  • The corporate and political gravitas of a politician like senator Udo Udoma, minister of budget and national planning, is expected to come in handy.
  • Abubakar Malami (Kebbi), the minister of justice, is young, dynamic and belongs to Buhari’s political circle. He has an enviable legal practice record but is relatively new to government.
  • Then there are younger northern stars like senators Hadi Sirika, Ibrahim Usman Jibril and Ahmed Musa Ibeto, who are ready to earn their stripes on a national stage. They have enviably clean records and are expected to be massively loyal to Buhari. He will need lots of loyalty given the tumultuous times ahead.

The list is quite short on academics and intellectuals. There is only one professor, and Fayemi, who has an academic history.

Buhari himself has a keen and trained mind even though he has no degree.
This is notable because only two Nigerian presidents have had a degree. Modern African political scientists lament the near total absence of the philosopher king in modern African states.

On the other hand, the immediate past president, Goodluck Jonathan, brandished a doctorate degree but had little luck putting it to use.

But there are gaps

The gender balance is disconcerting even by African standards. Just five out of 37 ministers are women. But it is significant that the economy is in the hands of a woman — former investment banker Kemi Adeosun.

Diezani Alison Madueke
Diezani Alison Madueke

It is not that women hold the key to all positive change in Nigeria. Nigeria has had its fair share of rogue female leaders. Buhari’s predecessor as prime minister for petroleum, Diezani Alison-Madueke, is being held in the UK and faces up to ten years in jail for corruption and money laundering.

Aisha Jummai Al-Hassan
Aisha Jummai Al-Hassan

Nevertheless, the appointment of Taraba’s first female attorney-general, Aisha Jummai Al-Hassan, as minister of women’s affairs is commendable. It is hoped she’ll make a meaningful impact on empowering women, particularly in the northern regions of the country where paternalistic attitudes and religion are very oppressive.

There are other shortcomings in the appointments. For example, the spread is very elitist and there is little hope of a left-leaning agenda — at least at this stage.

This is a shame because there is a massive percentage of the population needing directed socialist policies to lift them out of severe hardship, chronic poverty and generational underachievement.

Lessons to be learned

The Nigerian government must learn to communicate better. Silent governance is fast receding as an effective strategy everywhere. It is quite unforgivable that in nearly six months there was no systematic communication to the citizenry on a new cabinet. At the very least this was disrespectful.

It was also awkward from an international relations point of view. As Mandelson, the UK’s renowned “Prince of Spin” himself, explained in Abuja recently:

Strategy without communications is like a car without headlights.

There is no excuse for Buhari’s shoddy handling of the appointments. On his wide shoulders lie the fate of 150 million people that sorely yearn for successes. And the emergence of Nigeria as a truly great African nation will have spillover effects that can lift an entire region out of stark mediocrity.

He has been entrusted with possibly the most difficult job of any leader on the continent. Now he must perform in a way that promotes transparency. He must nurture Africa’s largest economy back to strength. This entails transforming its agricultural, financial and industrial base into that of a 21st-century jet-stream economy.

Gbenga Oduntan
Gbenga Oduntan

There is little doubt that Buhari is a man of conviction and a patriot. But he must become a phenomenal leader.

Gbenga Oduntan
Distinguished Visiting Professor of Public and Private International Law and Dean of Law at Crescent University, Abeokuta, Nigeria  (2012-14 )
The Conversation

Aisha Buhari Urges Rape Law enforcement

Aisha Buhari, wife of the President, has urged government at all levels in the country to enforce the law on rape in order to protect women and children.

Aisha Buhari, First Lady of Nigeria
Aisha Buhari, First Lady of Nigeria

Aisha stated this when she received some staff of the Ministry of Women Affairs, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF, and National Population Commission, led by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Ezekiel Oyemomi, who came to brief her on the plan to launch an action to end violence against children, slated for 15 September.

The President’s wife said it had become necessary for government and international organizations to pursue policies and laws to protect women and children against the act.

“A number of cases on violence against women and children are being reported on daily basis with the most alarming one of those happening in higher institutions of learning. These include sexual harassment and assaults of female students by lecturers as a result of lack of laws and appropriate actions against the perpetrators.

“We are aware of the national law on rape passed this year on May 25 (Prohibition Act 2015) which states imprisonment ranging from 12 to 20 years. I advocate for the enforcement of this law at all levels. Unfortunately, children are the most vulnerable, being exploited at different stages of their lives,” she explained.

“It is my hope that with this renewed commitment by agencies, necessary steps will be taken to end violence against women and children particularly where this is rampant,” Aisha noted, adding that “The issue of the violence against children was dear to her heart and would do every possible to salvage the disadvantage situation of children and other vulnerable groups in the society.”

Daily Post, Nigeria

Qui est Aisha Buhari, la nouvelle première dame du Nigeria ?

Elle est aussi réservée que Patience Jonathan, l’ex-First Lady, était exubérante. L’épouse du nouveau président Muhammadu Buhari devrait s’en tenir à un rôle de première dame très traditionnel.

Elle a débuté sa vie de First Lady par une petite danse de la victoire. Entourée de supportrices brandissant des balais de paille — emblème du All Progressives Congress, la coalition dont Muhammadu Buhari, son mari, était le candidat —, Aisha Buhari, 44 ans, laissait enfin éclater sa joie. D’ordinaire toujours dans l’ombre de son époux, elle offrait ainsi aux caméras une petite séquence vidéo qui allait bientôt inonder la Toile nigériane.

D’elle, on sait fort peu de choses. Peule, originaire du nord-est du pays, elle a 18 ans lorsque, en 1989, elle épouse Muhammadu Buhari, de vingt-huit ans son aîné, qui vient de divorcer de sa première femme, Safinatu Yusuf. Ensemble, ils auront cinq enfants. Une union précoce qui ne l’a pas empêchée d’étudier l’administration publique à l’université Ahmadu-Bello avant de se consacrer à des études de cosmétologie à Dubaï puis à Londres.

Un parcours aussi lisse qu’étonnant, qui laisse pourtant présager du style de cette future première dame (la passation de pouvoir est prévue pour la fin mai) et tranche avec celui de la First Lady sur le départ, Patience Jonathan, devenue au fil de ses fautes de grammaire la cible préférée des humoristes.

Durant la campagne, Aisha avait même refusé de répondre aux provocations de la bouillante Patience, qui avait appelé à jeter des pierres sur les partisans de l’alternance et qualifié Muhammadu Buhari de “vieillard comateux”. Le directeur de la communication de l’intéressé avait alors rétorqué qu’Aisha Buhari ne “s’abaisserait pas” à répondre à ce type de propos et ne jouerait pas, comme Patience, le “rôle de rabatteur de voix”.


Une première dame “traditionnelle”, voilà ce qu’a promis d’être Mme Buhari dans l’une de ses récentes et rares interviews, où elle citait quelques aspects de sa future fonction : “recevoir nos hôtes, se rendre dans des orphelinats, aider les plus pauvres, mener un combat en faveur des droits des femmes et des enfants…”

Et dire que son mari avait promis, durant sa campagne, de supprimer s’il était élu le cabinet de la première dame, qu’il jugeait “inconstitutionnel” ! “Si ce cabinet est reconnu conforme à la Constitution, nous ne l’abrogerons pas, avait acquiescé Aisha. Mais s’il ne l’est pas, cela ne me dérangerait pas qu’il disparaisse.”

On ne saurait être plus discrète.

Haby Niakaté
Jeune Afrique — 17 avril 2015