Guinea’s Prelude To Independence, 1945-58

Victor D. Du Bois
Guinea’s Prelude To Independence. Political Activity, 1945-58
American Universities Field Staff Reports.
West Africa Series Vol. V No. 6, 1962 (Guinea), pp. 1-16

Conakry, October 1962

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

During the prewar colonial period, political activity in Guinea, as in the other parts of French West Africa, was largely in the hands of a small group of French settlers and even fewer African évolués whose background, position, or education qualified them as members of the indigenous elite. Political activity for those people—although they were residents of Guinea—was largely bound up with politics in France. Metropolitan influence projected itself throughout the Overseas Territories and was felt among all who called themselves Frenchmen, whether white or black.

African delegations of federalists calling for unity meet in Bamako (former Sudan), on December 29, 1958 to establish a constitution of West African federation (ex-AOF), Senegal, Upper-Volta (Burkina Faso), Sudan (Mali) and Dahomey (Benin) with their own government.
African delegations of federalists calling for unity meet in Bamako (former Sudan), on December 29, 1958 to establish a constitution of West African federation (ex-AOF), Senegal, Upper-Volta (Burkina Faso), Sudan (Mali) and Dahomey (Benin) with their own government.

The political situation in Guinea, as in the rest of French West Africa, was profoundly affected by the Second World War. The war period was a time of retrogression in Guinean politics. During Vichy, political activity on the part of Africans was checked to a great extent by the infamous Indigénat, a law authorizing local administrators (e.g., district officers) to mete out “administrative justice” for minor crimes and misdemeanors. To hold a public meeting, to edit or produce a newspaper or public journal of any kind, or even to leave the territory temporarily, Africans were obliged to seek permission from the local district officers. At its worst, the Indigénat was used by vindictive officials to condemn Africans to forced labor.

France’s announcement in 1945 that a Constituent Assembly would be held, to which the Overseas Territories were to send several representatives, coupled with a sudden loosening of controls that year in the colonies, caused a mushrooming of political parties throughout the federation.
During the early postwar period, political parties in Guinea retained their characteristics as overseas affiliates of the great parties in France or were strictly local parties of an ethnic or regional nature, forming alliances with one another or with the metropolitan parties when it suited them. Europeans and the local African elite constituted the former group 1. The overwhelming majority of the African population eligible to vote made up the latter. The native parties were concerned primarily with short-range objectives and rarely put forth programs that transcended these immediate interests.

The native parties in Guinea fell into four principal groups, corresponding more or less to the four great geographical regions of the territory and to the tribes dominant in each.

  • The Comité de la Basse Guinée (Lower Guinea) was primarily Soussou
  • The Amicale Gilbert Vieillard (Middle Guinea), an incipient Socialist group, was predominantly Foulah
  • The Union du Manding (Upper Guinea) was the political vehicle of the Malinké and other Mandé-speaking peoples in the country
  • The Union Forestière (Forest Region) grouped under its banner members from the diverse tribes of that region, among them the Kissi, Toma, and Guerzé.

Other groups of lesser importance were the Foyer Sénégalais, the Foyer des Métis, the Union des Toucouleurs, and the Union des Insulaires 2.

From 1945 to 1947, the bulk of Guinean voters belonged to one of these parties. Each party was strictly regional, ethnic, or linguistic in character and represented the interests of its adherents only. Each considered its own political program to be the only one capable of improving social conditions. Few parties made any effort at all to organize support beyond their immediate sphere of influence or traditional geographical limits.

The territorial elections of 1946 to the Constituent Assembly in Paris were the first of such contests in which a sizable number of the Guinean people voted. The elections were decidedly parochial, however, and were directed by men more interested in gaining concessions for their particular ethnic groups or in advancing their own personal positions than in winning long-range benefits for the territory as a whole.

Despite this ethnic rivalry and the pitting of one region against another, the elections of 1946 had one important result: a working relationship was built up among Africans from different zones within the federation. The circumstances which brought African deputies together in a common assembly, although they met under the banners of different political parties, encouraged the unity of elected officials across territorial frontiers and gave them a sense of collective responsibility and identity. This was to contribute greatly to their unity in parliamentary battles in the National Assembly when African deputies and some sympathetic French liberais strove to make the Constitution of the Fourth Republic a more liberal, democratic charter.

As in Senegal, the Socialists in Guinea got off to an early start, scoring impressive electoral victories in 1946 and 1947 . They usually managed to win as many votes as did the various ethnic parties combined. The frequent recurrence of this near equilibrium in early postwar Guinea permitted the French colonial administration to play a decisive role in determining the outcome of electoral contests. This advantage it rarely failed to use to the fullest.

Governmental intervention assumed many forms. Some of the more common were last minute switches of polling booths, stuffing of ballot boxes, compilation of fraudulent electoral rolls, and misleading African voters with “official” explanations of candidates. When an electoral contest resulted in a close tally of votes between two candidates, the colonial administration itself could and did assume the duty of investigating the results. Invariably, the victorious candidate proved to be the candidate thought more amenable to French direction.

Articulate and highly centralized, the Socialist Party in Guinea had been laboriously built up by Yacine Diallo and others immediately after World War II. In Guinea, as in other parts of French West Africa, the party was at the height of its power in 1946-47. Its rapid decline thereafter was due to a lack of rapport with the rural masses—the bulk of Guinea’s population—to whom the fulcrum of power had shifted with the expansion of the franchise by the Law of May 23, 1951 3.
A further handicap was its inability to compete with the policies of more extremist parties, or with the appealing platforms offered to various segments of the population by regional and ethnic parties.

The death of Yacine Diallo in 1954 created a vacuum in the party leadership not effectively filled until two years later, when Barry Ibrahima (better known in Guinea as Barry III—this name will be used in this and subsequent Reports) became its Secretary-General.

The party, known locally as the Démocratie Socialiste de Guinée (D.S.G.), was at this time an affiliate of the French Socialist Party (S.F.I.O.) 4 and directed its appeal primarily to the Guinean elite: the emerging middle class of government functionaries, commercial employees, artisans, and small businessmen. It was felt that these people, because of the prestige they commanded in their respective communities, could most effectively advance the party’s cause among the people. Party propaganda sought to stress Franco-African friendship rather than to exploit anti-colonialism. The party did, however, admonish the Métropole to take note that Black Africa was at present the only solid bulwark of the French Empire:

« … Frenchmen of the Métropole, Frenchmen who are determined to hold on to what remains of the French Union, know before it is too late that Black Africa is now the only firm bastion of the French Empire. Do not repeat the grievous errors of Indochina, Morocco, and Tunisia. Put an end to the injustices which beget racism, to the racism which begets nationalism. Do not wait until the madness spreads before fighting it. Jaded with pompous speech-making, hollow phrases, and promises solemnly given but never kept, our hearts now need nothing but tangible realities. Africans by blood and flesh but Frenchmen at heart, we intend to remain French in our actions, our thoughts, and in the achievement of our ideal: the rapid attainment by Africa of cultural, economic, social, and political emancipation within the bosom of the great French Republic, one and indivisible 5. »

The party condemned violence, pointing to the positive reforms achieved in orderly fashion under Yacine Diallo’s quiet guidance, and sought to stress the factors which made socialism the natural channel of political expression for Africans. At the same time, it undertook the delicate task of attempting to mitigate latent anti-colonialism among Guineans by persuading them that the French of Guinea and the French of France were virtually different peoples:

« … Men of position, merchants, skilled workers, government employees, clerks—join the Socialist Democratic Party of Guinea … Oh, my Guinean brother, hesitate no longer, this is where you belong; come along quickly and pick up your membership card—the time for indifference is past. You must understand that this party—by a sound educational program—will lead you to the fullest development of your personality, to real progress, and to liberty. It will teach you how to make the sound judgments so necessary among the multiplicity of parties. When the “little whites” [petits blancs] address you all day long in the familiar form [“te tutoient”] without any reason for it, when they try to humiliate you in the stores, the cafés, at the motion-picture theaters, smile and walk on; never think that you are seeing France in these poor wretches. Hold out your hand to your traditional chief; his participation in Africa’s evolution is indispensable, for if this evolution takes place without him it will be against him. Be on your guard against everything loud and raucous. Socialism carries forward its fight calmly and with the greatest respect for our traditions and customs. It condemns violence. It knows full well that dances and parades have no tomorrow. It has a horror of honeyed promises that are only deceitful. Make it known everywhere that the example of the late and much lamented Socialist Yacine Diallo, was itself sufficient during his eight years at the Palais Bourbon. Certainly he never made more than eight important speeches, but his achievements are known and appreciated by all Guineans.… Hasten, therefore, my brother, to take out your membership card. It is the membership card of the Guinean people. The Fouta has set the pace; the movement grows strongly on all sides, and Upper Guinea—a profoundly Islamic region—will follow our example. The black man is a born Socialist, the good Muslim is undeniably a true Socialist 6. »

The R.D.A. founded at Bamako in 1946, introduced an important new variable into the West African scene: the first all-African political movement organized on an inter-territorial basis. At Bamako, the Guinean delegates agreed tentatively that as soon as the legislative elections of 1946 were over, their parties would close ranks to form a single mass party. This party would be the Guinean branch of the R.D.A. Meanwhile, they campaigned on their time-honored ethnic and regional platforms.
Only seven months later, in May 1947, when the R.D.A . was organized throughout the two federations (West and Equatorial Africa) was it possible to launch the Guinean branch of the movement 7. Even then it did not imply the extinction of all other parties.

The emergence of the R.D.A. in Guinea forced a political realignment. Both the Socialists and the ethnic parties now found that they had to compete with a powerful new proselytizing force, one which solicited African loyalties for a cause far transcending anything they themselves could propose—African unity. The R.D.A. gave an impression of great strength but its weaknesses soon became apparent. The fragile frame of so all-inclusive a party as the R.D.A. could not for long withstand the centrifugal forces exerted by its own leaders and their supporters. Within the new party, individuals began to form factions reflecting old regional loyalties and reasserting particularistic interests. The elections in 1947 for the first territorial assembly and for Guinean representatives to metropolitan assemblies put an end, for the moment at least, to the myth of political unity—that concept which the newly formed chapter of the R.D.A. was suppose to represent.

Steadily succumbing to these pressures, the R.D.A. began to disintegrate in Guinea. Expression of its original aims fell more and more to a small group of young men within the party who alone continued to strive for the goal of unity espoused at Bamako. Their efforts were strongly opposed by the colonial administration, convinced as it was that any real unity among the various African groups would be a threat to the status quo. Equally opposed were the cantonal chiefs, members of the territorial assembly, and Guinea’s representatives to the metropolitan parliament. All of these felt that the movement, with its growing extremist tendencies, might threaten their own influence if the colonial government decided on reprisals against its critics. Many openly disavowed the R.D.A. at this time, and some tacitly supported repressive measures against it.

Although it claimed to have the support of Guineans from all walks of life, at this time the R.D.A. was in fact top-heavy with intellectuals, most of them government functionaries; consequently, it lacked a base at the mass level on which it could depend for support. When R.D.A. programs were presented to the masses by local politicians, these programs often revealed how far removed their authors were from the immediate problems of the people. Little persistent effort was made to exploit latent anti-colonialist sentiments. Ambitious to be elected to office, yet fearful of antagonizing the colonial regime on which their jobs depended, candidates were often reluctant to pursue with vigor those principles which they had endorsed with such enthusiasm at Bamako. Defeat in an election was often pessimistically interpreted by a candidate as indicating he should desist from further support of R.D.A. policies. Indeed, numerous leaders and militants, eager to demonstrate their loyalty to the colonial regime, even resigned from the party.

Between 1951 and 1954, important political changes took place in Guinea. While the Socialist Party’s influence declined, the growth of the Action Démocratique et Sociale (the local branch of De Gaulle’s R.P.F.) reflected the increase of the petit blanc population in Guinea’s principal urban centers: Conakry, Kindia, Labé, Mamou, Kankan, Boké, N’Zérékoré, and Macenta. The growth of labor unions in the territory, and particularly of the Communist-dominated C.G .T. (Confédération Générale du Travail), in which [P.D.G.]-R.D.A. chief Sékou Touré was prominent, introduced another irritant into the political situation in Guinea.

Checked by the hostility of the colonial administration, the traditional chiefs and the opposition of non-R.D.A. politicians, the leaders of the Guinean R.D.A. turned their attention to organizing the growing proletariat of the Conakry region. They conducted an aggressive recruitment campaign and succeeded in enlisting large numbers of workers in unions affiliated with the C.G.T. It was at this time that Sékou Touré revealed his extraordinary talents as a union organizer. With rare fixity of purpose, he threw himself into the union’s membership drive, sensing that here was one avenue through which Africans might organize, voice their opinions, and press for what they conceived to be their rights as workmen. Swollen by the workers who flocked to join its ranks, the R.D.A.-P.D.G. by 1953 had become a powerful force to reckon with in territorial politics. That same year the party lent its support to a territory-wide strike called by the C.G.T. which lasted 76 days. That strike resulted in a 20% increase in the minimum wage throughout the Federation of French West Africa, and its success enhanced enormously the prestige of Sékou Touré and of the R.D.A.-P.D.G.

Elsewhere in French West Africa, the R.D.A. had steadily assumed a less radical air. After Houphouët’s break with the Communists in 1950, it even co-operated with the colonial administration. In Guinea, however, the party preserved its extremist character. Sékou Touré’s association with the C.G .T. (in 1948 as Secretary-General of its Guinean chapter, and from 1950 on as Secretary-General of the coordinating committee of C.G.T. unions for all French West Africa and Togo) rendered him suspect in the eyes of the colonial regime, to which any ties with the Communists were abhorrent. Touré’s continued flirtation with the Communists even after Houphouët and other R.D.A. chieftains had broken with them, and his susceptibility to Marxist dogma, resulted in his alienation from the other leaders of his own party as well.

The elections in Guinea in June 1954 pitted Sékou Touré against Barry Diawadou, head of the Bloc Africain de Guinée (B.A.G .), a former R.P.F. affiliate, for the late Yacine Diallo’s seat in the French National Assembly. Tensions which had been building up in Guinea over the past four years now exploded in fierce street brawls. The election was no ordinary one: it was the first contest between Guinean conservatives, backed by the colonial administration and the resident whites, and a resuscitated R.D.A. now strengthened by labor-union growth in the territory. After a tense delay, Barry Diawadou was declared the winner . It was obvious that the administration regarded Touré as a dangerous opponent.

The great influence which the R.D.A. now exercised in Guinea—at last apparent to everyone—alarmed conservative elements in the territory, who saw its growing power as a menace to established authority.
Reactions to the new threat were varied. Local chiefs, fearful at the extent of R.D.A. influence among the women and youth, and hoping to appease their restive people, organized themselves into an association which called for social reforms and for the redistribution of land. European elements, foreseeing that their privileged position might very well be endangered by the R.D.A.’s growing power or by the grant of further liberties to the indigenous peoples, organized a local chapter of the Présence Française and came out strongly against more reforms in the colonies 8. But Black Africa’s impatience at last moved France, fearful that nationalist sentiments would get out of hand, to undertake a vast new program of political reform.

The Loi-Cadre and Its Effect on Party Development in Guinea

The loi-cadre of June 1956 laid the groundwork in Guinea, as in the rest of French West Africa, for fundamental changes in the political scene.

By its proclamation of universal suffrage and extension of the single electoral college, the loi-cadre forced African parties to reappraise their capacity to contend for what now became a high stake in African politics—control of the territorial assemblies, which were clearly seen to be the precursors of sovereign governments. Realists both in Africa and in France now regarded it as inevitable that Africans would shortly be called upon to assume complete control of their own countries . Anticipating the power contest which this would precipitate, African political parties began in earnest to streamline their internal structures and to expand their membership.

In Guinea development of the R.D.A. had long been hampered by three obstacles:

  1. The hostility of prominent political leaders of the territory, especially the Socialist Yacine Diallo 9
  2. An unsympathetic colonial administration
  3. Basic internal weaknesses of the party

The first of these obstacles was removed in 1954 with the death of Diallo and the inability of the Socialists to find anyone of equal stature to replace him.
The second was greatly reduced by the friendly relations which Sékou Touré succeeded in cultivating with Cornut-Gentille, then Minister of Overseas-France and a man of liberal disposition. But it was, above all, by overcoming the third obstacle—internal weaknesses—that the [P.D.G.]-R.D.A. moved well ahead of its rivals in Guinea. The party already controlled most of the political and quasi-political organizations in Guinea which clamored for an end to colonialism. It now became the most vocal advocate of a federal association, freely entered into by Frenchmen and Africans for the advancement of their common interests. At the time, this was a revolutionary concept.

Aware of the dangers of rooting a political party in local and ethnic interests, R.D.A. leaders revised their party’s platform and expanded its membership base. They proclaimed it the “authentic” African movement, dedicated to the union of all Africans against colonialist reaction, and launched a campaign for social justice. The party’s new program of political action rested on four principles:

  1. Its social base was to be the peasant class, for whom the party had secured freedom of labor and freedom of circulation and sale of its goods and services
  2. Women were to be recruited as actively participating members of the political proces s, in keeping with the position which the ir dignity and political maturity merited
  3. Youth would participate as equals in deliberations
    on national policy
  4. Labor would fight unceasingly for African unity and working class gains in close collaboration with other elements of Guinean society 10.

Labor unions, youth clubs, women’s organizations, and veterans’ groups were all as siduously courted to bring them into line behind the party militants, who were determined to make the movement representative not merely of one region or ethnie group, but of the territory as a whole.

The R.D.A. which resulted from these revisionist efforts was a very different party from that which had been organized after Bamako. Profiting from its experience of previous years, it rapidly expanded its membership. Decreasing the proportion of intellectuals and government functionaries to the rank and file, it soon became far more representative of the people in whose name it spoke and assumed a more genuinely African character. In this respect it enjoyed a marked advantage over its two principal rivals, the Socialists (D.S.G.) under Barry III, and the Bloc Africain de Guinée (B.A.G.) headed by Barry Diawadou. In the minds of many of the new voters, the leadership and programs of both the D.S.G. and the B.A.G. were closely identified with those of the metropolitan parties of which they seemed me rely to be African appendages 11.

It was not that the loi-cadre meant less to these parties than it did to the P.D.G.-R.D.A., but merely that their response to it was different. The P.D.G. seized upon it as an opportunity to attract more members to its fold by waging under its aegis a vigorous campaign for African
unity and for an ultimate dismantling of the colonial structure. The other parties, less certain of the course of future developments, were far less outspoken. Barry III, it is true, feared that the loi- cadre would bring about a “territorialization” of the two federations, and therefore advocated strengthening the powers of the Grand Conseil 12 to preserve inter-territorial ties. At the same time, however, he resisted as “premature” Léopold Senghor’s overtures to merge the D.S.G. with other autonomous African parties to form a solid African front. Barry III similarly refused to consider merging with other parties in Guinea itself until such time as certain basic requirements were met . Among them:

  • An agreement on certain legal and political guarantees which would prevent any such merger from resulting exclusively to the advantage of any one party
  • The establishment of a provisional executive
  • The formulation of a political platform
  • A promise that conservative parties would be excluded from such a union 13

Meanwhile, Barry Diawadou, perceiving that his newly established relations with the Radical Socialists would enhance his party’s position in the French National Assembly, set about transforming the B.A.G. into a party advocating a “confederation of autonomous republics tightly linked to France and oriented to the Western bloc.” 14

Although the results of the legislative elections of January 1956 showed an increase of Socialist strength in the Metropole, in French West Africa the party’s fortunes continued to decline. In Guinea P.D.G. candidates Sékou Touré and Diallo Saifoulaye were elected deputies to the French National Assembly over their Socialist rivals 15.

Much of the success of the P.D.G. over its opponents was due to its assertiveness on the subject of colonial reforms. The African Socialists now realized that they could capture the initiative from the all-powerful R.D.A. only by adopting a similarly aggressive stand on colonial issues. Accordingly, they called on Premier Guy Mollet (a fellow Socialist) to institute far-reaching reforms overseas without further delay. Uneasy over the situation in Algeria, Mollet would not grant any further concessions beyond the loi-cadre to the territories, fearing that such action would be construed in France as “giving away the Empire” to implacable nationalist agitators .

Disgruntled at what they took to be Mollet’s timidity, the African Socialists became convinced that only by taking the initiative, breaking with the S.F.I.O., and forming an all-African Socialist party could they once again capture support in West Africa. To this end, a conference was held in Conakry in January 1957, attended by delegates of the territories and by Pierre Comin, Secretary-General of the metropolitan S.F.I.O. Comin supported the Africans’ desire to form their own inter-territorial all-African Socialist movement. But at the same time he urged his colleagues to maintain close ties with the S.F.I.O. in the National Assembly, an appeal which they accepted. From this conference there emerged the Mouvement Socialiste Africain (M.S.A .), with which the Guinean Socialist Party immediately affiliated 16.

In a resolution at Conakry, the M.S.A. proposed for French Black Africa “… a political, cultural, economic, and social democracy assuring each individual of the full development of his personality and leading to a true independence of peoples.” 17

Although the merger of most of the Socialist parties in French Black Africa lifted the sagging spirits of many African members, it failed to check the growing influence of the R.D.A. or the general decline of the Socialist parties.

In Guinea the elections of March 1957 to the territorial assembly were a resounding victory for the P.D.G. which won 56 of 60 seats. Of the 650,000 votes cast in that contest, the P.D.G. received 500,000, the D.S.G. 100,000, 18 and the B.A.G. (Barry Diawadou’s party) less than 50,000 . Barry III bravely continued to speak of “resurgent strength,” but the reduction of Socialist representation in the territorial assembly to merely three members signaled the end of the D.S.G. as a serious contender in Guinean politics. The P.D.G. was now fully in control of the territorial government.

Despite the break with their confrères in France, African Socialists continued to vote with them in the National Assembly. But the metropolitan party leadership, absorbed in domestic and other problems, did not put its full weight behind programs of colonial reform. This was a tremendous disappointment for the Africans, whose feelings were appreciated by at least a minority of the French party. Elements from both sides were at last able (October-November 1957) to convoke a series of round-table meetings in Paris, where every effort was made to close the breach and avoid any serious loss of party strength. When these conferences produced no tangible results, African Socialists became convinced that they could successfully press claims for their people only in union with other African parties. They saw—even if French Socialists were blind to it—the restiveness in the territories, and they were concerned over the worsening situation in Algeria and the immobilisme that was paralyzing France; they even sensed the danger of a rightist coup. On the initiative of the African Socialists, a conference of all African parties took place in Dakar on March 28, 1958, to consider how best to cape with the problems confronting Africa.

The Issue of Federalism

While the Socialists were pressing the issue of African unity, the R.D.A. itself was similarly engaged. Already the most powerful party in French Black Africa, the R.D.A. in 1958 called on all African parties to join it in a consolidated effort to bring about a new federal relationship with France in which the territories might deal with the Metropole as partners rather than as weak dis united colonies.
The Socialists balked at the idea of submerging their identity in a larger party in which they could hope to play only a subordinate role, and turned down the R.D.A.’s appeal. With other dissident parties, they formed instead the Parti du Regroupement Africain (P.R.A.) the same year. The Guinean branch of the P.R.A. was known as the Union Progressiste de Guinée (U.P.G.) and embraced both Barry III’s Mouvement Socialiste Africain (the former D.S.G.) and Barry Diawadou’s Bloc Africain de Guinée.

Despite the enthusiasm the parties displayed in formulating anti-colonial programs and the vigor with which they pursued them, these activities did not at first—even in Guinea—imply anti-French sentiments.
The early efforts of Sékou Touré’s P.D.G., of the other R.D.A. sections, of the P.R.A., and of political parties throughout French Black Africa were aimed not at destroying the relationship between France and its African territories, but merely at reforming it. Federalism was not an attempt to break the links which bound Africa to France, but an effort to recast them in such a way that the African personality could assert itself as a legitimate character, something separate and distinct from the European but not hostile to it. Indeed, Sékou Touré, the “enfant terrible” of French-African relations under the De Gaulle-Debré government, was for a while one of the most articulate champions of a federally organized Franco-African Community. In January 1958, Touré made the following statement regarding French-African relations:

« … We are for the Franco-African Community, in whose favor the African States stand ready to cede some part of their sovereignty for we are well aware that the present moment calls for larger groupings and that Africa has nothing to gain by isolation. We are aware also that France will be our most valuable partner … Our insistence on the establishment of a Federal Executive must be understood as signifying our wish to join with France in a Community sharing the same effective existence, the same hopes, the same problems. It is in this sense that we understand constitutional revision. Our idea is by no means to separate from France but rather to indicate the confidence, the love that we have for France—the confidence and love that we have for all of Africa and which we, quite as muchas France, desire should become the beneficiary of this as sociation 19. »

To the Africans of French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa, the preservation of their respective federal structures was imperative in any reorganization plan envisaged for the French Union. The leaders of the African parties saw in any other scheme the “Balkanization of Africa,” and they repeatedly appealed to the French government to preserve the federal structures in any reorganization of territories under French rule.

The issue of federalism was raised at a number of important meetings. At its congress held in Conakry in June 1955, the R.D.A. had called for the establishment of a federal constitution and had transmitted this recommendation to the French government 20. Early in 1956 representatives of all major African labor organizations, including the Confédération Générale du Travail (C.G.T.), the Confédération Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens (C.F.T.C.), the Force-Ouvrière (F.O.), the Indépendants, and the Autonomes, meeting at Cotonou (Dahomey), passed a resolution calling for a new federal organization of France and the territories then comprising the federations of French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa, in which the principle s of self -determination and independence would be recognized.

In January 1957, at its congress at Conakry, the M.S.A. demanded that France acknowledge the right of independence for those who wished to opt for it. That same month in Dakar, the Convention Africaine issued a resolution calling for the constitution of two African states corresponding to the two federations.

The problem of the form of union with France was again raised at the Third Inter-territorial Conference of the R.D.A. at Bamako in September 1957. It was here that the R.D.A. started to split into a pro-Community and anti-Community factions. The idea of a Franco-African union as such was not opposed by either faction; the differences arose over the specific formula to be followed. The pro-Community faction, led by Félix Houphouët-Boigny, espoused the French government’ s concept of a conglomeration of autonomous republics, each of which would deal with France on an individual basis. The anti-Community faction, led by Touré, favored a federal type of union, the member states of which would deal with France in concert. Until the issue should be settled by amendment of the Constitution, the R.D.A., at successive conferences in Paris, called on the French government to replace the High Commissioner 21 with an Executive Commission charged with managing the affairs of the two federations, West and Equatorial Africa.

On February 15, 1958, the R.D.A. held a joint conference with the P.R.A. at which representatives of almost all major political parties and labor unions were present. The delegates passed a resolution calling for the formation of a Franco-African Community based on the principles of independence and self-determination and consisting of an association of independent states 22. The resolution was ignored by the French government.

Meeting for a second conference on July 18, 1958, delegates of the R.D.A. and of the P.R.A. again asked for a constitution preserving the federations of French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa. The French government refused on the ground that it could not agree to a supranational assembly 23.

On July 27, 1958, the Constitutive Congress of the P.R.A. opted for independence and called for a new association with France.

These repeated appeals for the preservation of the federal structures of the African federations were either ignored by the metropolitan government or decried as “secessionist” by elements of the French Parliament and press. Little attention seemed to be paid by either to the fact that in none of their resolutions had the Africans demanded secession from the French Union. They had merely asked the metropolitan government to acknowledge their right to self-determination and independence, should they decide to opt for them at some future date. Indeed, virtually without exception, what was advocated was the contrary of secession.
In each resolution, the close ties of territories and Métropole were explicitly acknowledged and an appeal issued for their preservation, although in a new form.

In an address opening the Extraordinary Session of the territorial assembly on July 28, 1958, Sékou Touré stated that any new French African association, to get Guinea’s approval, should be based upon:

  1. The recognition of the right to independence of every state
  2. The creation of a multinati onal federal community endowed with one assembly and one federal government whose powers would be restricted to control of finances, defense, foreign relations, and higher education
  3. The internal autonomy of the federated states

In Touré’s scheme, each autonomous state, having its own assembly and government, would adopt a constitution in harmony with the higher principles of the federal constitution 24.

As late as August 25, 1958, scarcely one month before the fateful referendum, Touré reiterated his support of a Franco-African Community provided that its constitution proclaim the right to independence and the juridical equality of the associated peoples; the right of “divorce” from “the Franco-African marriage”; and the active solidarity of the peoples and of the associated states in order to accelerate and harmonize their evolution 25. Touré had thrown down the gauntlet.

1. The chief European party in Guinea during this period was General de Gaulle’s R.P.F. (Rassemblement du Peuple Français), known locally as the Action Démocratique et Sociale.
2. Sékou Touré, L’action politique du Parti Démocratique de Guinée pour l’émancipation africaine (Territoire de la Guinée Française, Imprimerie du Gouvernement, Conakry, 1958), Vol. I, pp. 7-8.
3. The Law of May 2 3, 1951, added 83,000 new voters to the electoral list of those eligible to vote for Guinea’s deputies to the French National Assembly.
4. Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière (S.F.I.O.).
5. Statement made by Condé Bakary, Secretary-General of the Kissidougou section of the D .S .G . Quoted from “La voix de la D.S .G. à Kissidougou,” Le Populaire de Guinée, Organe bi-mensuel publié par la Démocratie Socialiste de Guinée, S.F.I.O., Conakry, 15 septembre 1956. (Translation mine.)
6. Quoted from Baldé Mamadou Dian, Secretary-General of the Kankan section of the D.S.G. in “Join the D.S.G.,” ibid., p. 4. (Translation mine.)
7. In Guinea the local R.D.A. branch was given the name Parti Démocratique de Guinée (P.D.G.). During its early years, the party referred to itself chiefly as “the R.D.A.” In later years, however, especially after 1953, it increasingly used “P.D.G.-R.D.A.” or simply “P.D.G.”
8. The Présence Française in Conakry distributed hundreds of leaflets bearing the following message:

“We [French] are witnessing the destruction of the magnificent empire which our fathers conquered at the cost of their lives … Every day the pro-Negro policy of our rulers strikes another blow at the system. Soon, if we take no action, our country will have lost its colonies and be reduced to the status of Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Frenchmen, are you prepared to accept that?” Quoted in West Africa, November 5, 1955, cited in Thompson, Virginia, and Adloff, Richard, French West Africa, Stanford University Press [ 1957], pp. 137-138.

9. During this period (1951-54) there was considerable opposition from other quarters to further R.D.A. expansion. The other Socialist deputy, Mamba Sano, also opposed the R.D.A. as did a majority of the Foulah chiefs and the Cherif of Kankan, Fanta Mahdi, chief spokesman for West Africa’s orthodox Muslims .
10. Sékou Touré, op.cit. footnote two, pp. 18-19.
11. The Bloc Africain de Guinée (B.A.G.) was associated first with the Rassemblement du Peuple Français (R.P.F.), General de Gaulle’s party, and subsequently with the Radical Socialiste. The Démocratie Socialiste de Guinée (D.S.G.) was still tied to the French Socialist Party (S.F.I.O.) .
12. The Grand Conseil, consisting of five elected members from each territorial assembly, functioned as the deliberative and budgetary authority of the federation.
13. See “Quelques déclarations officielles de notre Camarade Barry III,” Le Populaire de Guinée, Conakry, 15 septembre 1956, pp. 1, 4.
14. Marchés Tropicaux, 5 novembre 1956, cited in Thompson and Adloff, op. cit., footnote eight, p. 138.
15. Barry Diawadou was re-elected as the third Guinean deputy.
16. The M.S.A. also included local branches of the Socialist Party from other parts of Africa:

  • French Soudan, Le Parti Progressite Soudanais (P.P.S.)
  • Niger, La Section Nigérienne du M.S.A. (result of a fusion between the Bloc Nigérien d’Action and the Union Démocratique Nigérienne)
  • Ivory Coast, La Section Ivoirienne du M.S.A.
  • Mauritania, La Section Mauritanienne du M.S.A.
  • Cameroun, L’Union Sociale Camerounaise, Section M.S.A. du Cameroun
  • Chad, Le Parti Socialiste Indépendant du Tchad
  • Middle Congo, La Section M.S.A. du Moyen Congo
  • Senegal, Le Parti Sénégalais d’Action Socialiste

17. Barry III, “Qu’est le M.S.A.?” Le Populaire de Guinée, Organe bi-mensuel publié par la D.S.G., Section Guinéenne du M.S.A., Conakry, 15 avril 1957, p. 3.
18. Despite their respectable showing of 100,000 votes, the Socialiste lost out heavily in this election because a number of their men from certain areas of the territory (Kissidougou, Mali, Dinguiraye, Younkounkoun, and Faranah) ran as independent Socialist candidates rather than under the aegis of the D.S.G. See Barry III, “Remerciements,” ibid., p. 1.
19. Quoted from “La Loi-Cadre et l’Afrique Noire,” Touré, op. cit., footnote two, pp. 24-25.
20. “Allocution de Monsieur Auguste Poech …,” Touré, ibid., p. 124.
21. In December 1956 one of the implementing decrees of the loi-cadre changed the names of the federations of French West and Equatorial Africa to “Groups of Territories” of French West and Equatorial Africa, respectively. The former governors-general of the federations were redesignated as High Commissioners.
22. Touré, op. cit., footnote two, p. 132.
23. Ibid., p. 134.
24. Ibid., pp. 70-71.
25. Réformes de la constitution. Différents discours prononcés par le Général de Gaulle, Président du Gouvernement de la République Française, Monsieur Diallo Saifoulaye, Président de l’Assemblée Territoriale et Monsieur Sékou Touré, Président du conseil du gouvernement. Territoire de la Guinée, Imprimerie du Gouvernement, Conakry, 1958, p. 31.