Parti Démocratique de Guinée: Reform and Repression

Victor D. Du Bois
The Rise of an Opposition to Sékou Touré
“Part I: Reform and Repression by the Parti Démocratique de Guinée”
American Universities Field Staff Reports. West Africa Series
Vol. IX No. l, (Guinea), March 1966, pp.1-10

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

By the fall of 1964 the economic situation in Guinea had become alarming. President Sékou Touré was convinced that drastic reform was imperative; and, accordingly, on November 8, before a meeting of the Conseil National de la Revolution (C.N.R.), a group consisting of Guinea’s top political and military leaders, Touré announced the loi-cadre , or legal framework, which would form the basis for reforms affecting the economic and political life of the country. Sékou Touré, consistent with his former practice, blamed his country’s plight on subversive agents:

« … Among the enemies of our people and the African people, and on the side of imperialism, colonialism, and neocolonialism, are feudal [-minded] Guineans, opportunists, and persons corrupt in their attitude and in their comportment.
Enemies from abroad join those from within to smother the Guinean economy and engender popular discontent in order to substitute for democracy the reign of money, racism, and irresponsibility… 1 »

Playing on the word “No” for which he had become famous since leading his country in 1958 to reject member ship in the French Community, Touré sought to rekindle the revolutionary zeal among his people:

« … We resolutely say No!
No to the enemies of our people!
No to the stranglers of our liberty!
No to the false militants who wish to deal a blow to
the regime by counting on the lack of revolutionary
vigilance of the laboring masses!

Corruption must cease!
Opportunism must disappear!
Irresponsibility must be fought and eliminated!
[The spirit of] bureaucracy and scorn of the people
must be extirpated from everyone’s comportment!

Tribalism, dishonesty, and calumny must be made
to lead their unworthy authors into the shadows of
[our] prisons so that the sunlight of the progress of
our laboring masses may extend itself … 2 »

The President then elaborated twelve points which, he said, would
henceforth constitute the breviary of every sincere militant in the revolutionary movement. The twelve points of the loi-cadre in reality were not so much a clear guide to action as a hodgepodge of hoped-for goals, ill-defined policy decisions, and crudely veiled threats. These fell into two general categories: those concerned with the economic life of the country and those concerned with its political life.

President Touré listed the twelve points as follows 3:

  1. To combat illegal traffic and provide a decent existence for everyone:
    1. by assuring the systematic and equitable distribution of all goods among the twentynine administrative regions of the country
    2. by limiting the number of merchants allowed to operate in each region
    3. by making it a crime to sell or purchase goods in any but an authorized place of business
    4. by providing the death penalty for smuggling
    5. by reserving exclusively for state-controlled enterprises the right to engage in external commerce.
  2. The invalidation of all import and export licenses currently held by private merchants and the reassertion of state control over all external trade operations.
  3. The suppression of private exploitation of diamonds and the transfer of the marketing operations of the diamond industry to the Central Bank of the Republic.
  4. The creation of a commission for the surveillance and control of rented housing.
  5. The obligation of all per sons benefiting from government housing loans to occupy the premises of these properties until such time as the loans incurred were settled. Failure to comply would invoke the nationalization of the property in question.
  6. The creation of a commission de verification des biens, empowered to investigate the personal assets of any and all Guinean citizens, especially those assets acquired since independence by the country’s political and administrative leaders.
  7. To make trafficking in Guinean francs and the fraudulent importing or exporting of goods punishable by imprisonment (fifteen to twenty years) and confiscation of all personal property.
  8. To declare any act of racism or declaration of a subversive nature in any form whatever destined to undermine the Guinean state, its government, or its party a crime punishable by five
    years imprisonment.
  9. To reform the pre sent make-up of the Parti Démocratique de Guinée:
    1. by limiting base committees to one per neighborhood; sections to one per arrondissement, and federations to one per region
    2. by creating a “unity of production” through one committee per factory, service enterprise, or professional department; and
    3. by consolidating all base committees and sections operating in a given region.
  10. To revise the criteria for P.D.G. membership:
    (a) by limiting member ship to people over eighteen years of age
    (b) by excluding from the party’s ranks any person engaged in private commerce or judged guilty since 1958 of theft, fraud, abuse of confidence, subversion, or racism
    {c) by abolishing the special youth and women’s committees and reorganizing them at the section and federation levels; and
    (d) by renewing party leader ship in the Conakry Region with elections throughout the month of December 1964.
  11. To threaten civil servants and other administrative officials with dismissal if they failed to live up to the comportment expected of them as militants of the party.
  12. To hold a special session of the C.N.R . on November 19, 1964, to promulgate new laws implementing the measures of November 8th.

The aims of the reforms, then, were to correct abuses in the commercial sector; to bring some immediate and tangible benefits to the people by lowering the cost of living; to wipe out government corruption; to bring the functionaries into line by eliminating their growing tendency to criticize the regime; and, finally, to reform the P.D.G. itself by purging it of undesirables and tightening its membership requirements.

These reforms were announced with the solemnity reserved for great occasions in Guinea. Sékou Touré clearly regarded them as a
panacea which in one stroke would solve the country’s problems, eliminate its enemies, and put Guinea firmly back on the road to revolutionary development. His optimistic views were reaffirmed on November 19, 1964, at the meeting of the C.N.R.:

The loi-cadre will break the enemies of the people, liquidate false militants, destroy corruption, eliminate opportunism, smother irresponsibility and extirpate bureaucratic [thinking], listlessness, indignity, scorn, and egoism from our realities. As for racism and subversion, the loi-cadre will make a rendez-vous with them in our prisons. Beyond that, the loi-cadre will destroy embourgeoisement as a primary stage of exploitative capitalism and the natural ally of imperialism and neocolonialism 4.

The reforms of November 8 never fulfilled the President’s high hopes. The government’s attempts to correct abuses in the commercial were largely ineffective; and its efforts to assure an even distribution of goods throughout the country were hampered by the poor quality of roads, by the inability to repair disabled vehicles for want of spare parts, and by a badly planned system of state subsidies for the transport of certain essential items such as gasoline to the interior. Still more vexing was the government’s inability to impose its controls on the country’s merchants. The nomadic nature of the dioula traders, their indomitable will, and the long- established relationship they enjoyed with the people in the towns and the hinterland made it difficult for the government to limit their numbers or prevent their moving around the country. Their cunning in evading official surveillance, in turn, made it impossible for the government to put an end either to smuggling and black-marketing or to the sale of goods in unauthorized places.

The establishment of a rent-control commission was fairly well
received by the populace and, in the beginning, it promised to succeed. Even here, however, the government encountered serious problems. While a reduction in rents was welcomed by householders, it also implied a reduction in income to owners of real property, and therefore a decrease in the taxes which would normally be expected to be paid to the government. Moreover, whatever modest gain was registered for the average Guinean family by this measure was offset by the constantly rising cost
of living in other departments, notably in the purchase of food and imported consumer goods 5. And this was something which the government had proved unable to cope with. Efforts to wipe out corruption in government proved similarly ineffectual. The creation of a commission de vérification des biens to function on both the national and regional levels, was hailed by the average citizen, who saw it as an instrument which, though it did not improve his own standard of living, would at least narrow the gap between his standard and that of the nation’s elite. The fact that the commission moved freely about the country and was empowered to investigate anybody’s financial situation—and that it was especially charged with looking into the assets of high government officials-augured well for its success.

The commission’s worthy aims were never realized. Endowed with ample legal authority, it was in theory free to investigate and pass judgment on anyone in the Republic. In practice, however, its members felt themselves constrained to limit their investigations—and their condemnations— to officials in the middle echelon of authority: i.e., directors of state enterprises, minor party officials, and regional administrators.
Government ministers, members of the National Political Bureau,
and, most notably, the President himself did not come under their
purview. The commission tacitly assumed , or at least acted as if it had, that these per sons, because of their august position, simply were above malpractice.

In those rare instances where a high-ranking official was found to have used his position for personal gain (as in the case with N’Famara Keita, the Minister of Commerce, who amassed sizable profits by building a sumptuous villa at public expense and then renting it at an exorbitant rate to the British Ambassador), nothing was done to remove him from office or to make a public example of him as a warning to others that such practices would not be tolerated. The commission simply could not function freely. Too close a scrutiny of those in the upper echelons would run the risk of bringing down upon its members the wrath of the very men who had empower ed them in the first place.

Thus the corruption and the conditions which the loi-cadre was intended to abolish continued unabated. Public officials were susceptible to corruption, at least in part, because of the continued existence of conditions in which corruption thrived. The Guinean economy was in a state of advanced deterioration. It was unable to furnish the people with basic goods which they badly wanted and needed and for which they were prepared to pay inflated prices to anyone who could procure them. Moreover, the government’s repressive policies rendered illegal numerous practices which were generally considered within the bounds of normal or at least permissible behavior. Such policies greatly increased the probability, even the necessity, of violating the law and, consequently, also increased the public’s temptation to bribe police officials to avoid prosecution.

Nonetheless, President Touré was relentless in his continued efforts to instill a new discipline into the functionaries by making them more submissive to the party. In order to make them more responsible and to dissuade them from continuing their involvement in illegal commercial activities, he announced new regulations to which they would be subjected in the future 6:

  1. Those assigned to a new post in the hinterland would be obliged to report for work within eight days. Failure to do so would incur immediate discharge without indemnity of any sort.
  2. All functionaries who owned real property and who were thus not entitled to administrative housing, but who had managed to procure such housing anyway, were ordered to vacate it before January l, 1965, or face eviction.
  3. All directors, managers , and other persons responsible for the running of state enterprises of an industrial or commercial nature were ordered to cease participation in any parallel activity of a lucrative nature or else to resign from their government job. Civil servants connected with state enterprises who were found to be involved in such activities either directly or through an intermediary such as their spouse or a third person, would face immediate loss of their jobs as well as the confiscation of all their possessions.
  4. Henceforward, any citizen who sought to halt judicial or administrative proceedings against any person, or who solicited favors from administrative or judicial officials in violation of the regulations and practices of the party or the government, would be prosecuted before a revolutionary tribunal on charges of attempted corruption and obstructing the normal functioning of state organisms.

Touré was disturbed by the fact that Guinean officials were too often in the company of foreign diplomats. This association, he said, resulted in the leaking of confidential information to foreign embassies:

« Comrades, our social comportment must correspond with the qualities of our institutions. Many functionaries assiduously frequent foreign embassies. Information of the most confidential sort, statistics, everything that passes through our hands is reported to personnel of foreign embassies.
You do not know what decisions are taken by foreign governments, and you may be sure that the foreign ambassadors will not inform you. The deliberations of the French, English, American, Soviet, and German governments escape you. You do not know them; neither do I. Yet everything that is said here, even in the most secret of our meetings , is reported daily to the foreign ambassadors 7. »

President Touré urged civil servants to discontinue the practice of relating information to representatives of the foreign missions; and to make certain that they followed his instructions, he swore all state employees to professional secrecy. Henceforward, the communication of confidential information to any foreigner or foreign organization would be looked upon as an act of treason. And in Guinea there was a tendency on the part of the leadership to regard nearly all information as “confidential.”

That this decision, like others made to implement the loi-cadre, was unreasonable, unworkable, and unjust did not disturb the President in the least. Toure ignored the fact that the paucity of reliable data or statistics from the government, in addition to the secrecy in which it enshrouded even its most innocuous plans, made it necessary for foreign diplomats to seek out Guinean officials in order to obtain the minimum amount of information needed to write their own reports and aid proposals. Now, according to the President’s latest warning, such an exchange of information was to be considered an act of treason.

Sékou Touré was intent on reasserting his authority over the civil servants; and where simple fiat did not accomplish this, he was prepared to use more forceful methods. He knew that of a ll the social groups in Guinea the civil servants were among the most vulnerable, for they were in closest contact with the public. They were most apt, therefore, to be blamed by the public for the government’ s shortcomings. However parsimonious their own existence, they constituted a privileged class compared to the masses, and Touré never let them forget this. By holding over their heads the dual threat of dismissal for the poor performance of duty and imprisonment for committing an alleged act of treason, the President thought he could force civil servants to be more responsible in their work and, at the same time, more respectful toward the national leadership. What he did, instead, was to make them more dispirited and increase their feelings of resentment against him and other party leaders.

Finally, the President’s attempt to reform the P.D.G. did more harm than good. As it was, the people had never enjoyed a truly effective voice in the way they were governed. They were never allowed to elect deputies of their own choosing to the National Assembly, but were expected to vote en masse for the sole candidate designated by the party. Even then, they knew that, once in the Assembly, these deputies would never defend their interests if it meant going against the wishes of the party.

They had accepted what their leaders had told them—namely
that the P .D.G. was the only legitimate spokesman of the nation, because the party rather than the government incarnated the will of the people. For most Guineans, it was chiefly through membership in the party and its organizations that the abstract concept of the nation had taken on any sub stance and meaning.

Now the vast majority of the people were expelled from the party because its leaders suddenly thought them no longer worthy of being members. Of all Touré’ s erratic acts since independence, probably none did more to undermine national unity than this single measure. In one blow it converted the P.D.G. from a mass party in which virtually everyone had had a role to an elitist party reserved to the select few. This measure made the P.D.G. a “purer” party, in that it was purged of all but the most trustworthy elements, but it vitiated whatever claim that party still held to representing the nation.

1. Sékou Touré, 8 Novembre 1964 (Conakry: Imprimerie Patrice Lumumba, n.d. [1964?]), p. 19.
2. Ibid., p. 20.
3. Ibid., pp. 21-24
4. Ibid., p. 35.
5. Between August 1964 and September 1965, food prices in Conakry almost doubled. In the interior, food prices sometimes were as much as 50 per cent to 75 per cent lower. Conversely, however, such imported items as clothing, wristwatches, light bulbs, transistor batteries, and automobile parts were more expensive.
6. Sékou Touré, op. cit., pp. 25-26.
7. Ibid., p. 70.

Next: Part II: The Estrangement Between the Leaders and People of Guinea