Ahmed Sekou Toure: an indispensable yet forgotten African heroic leader

Ahmed Sekou Toure, who was the leader of the Democratic Party of Guinea, was the president of Guinea after its independence and his revolutionary stance was deeply rooted in radical socialism. He opposed the De Gaulle referendum in 1958 and that was the turning point in the crumbling of the old French West African Federation. He was born in January 9th 1922, and died in 26th March  1984 while receiving treatment in the US

He was a Guinean politician and a Pan Africanist who played a key role in the African independence movement. As the first president of Guinea, he led his country to gain its independence from France in 1958. He was known as a charismatic and radical figure in Africa’s post-colonial history.

President Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea (Getty Images)

Toure’s activism for independence and decolonization  efforts calumniated into  Independence in 1958, when an overwhelming population of Guinea voted in favour of independence, rejecting French President Charles de Gaulle’s offer of joining a new federal community.

Toure’s words regarding de Gaulle’s offer strongly resonated across the Guinean public. He famously said: ”Guinea prefers poverty in freedom than riches in slavery.” It was a comment that angered de Gaulle. 

”Then all you have to do is to vote ‘no’. I pledge myself that nobody will stand in the way of your independence,” Gaulle said in response to Toure’s assertion. 

Guinea became the first independent French-speaking state in Africa and it was the only country which did not accept the proposal of the French president.

In 1958, Toure became the first president of what became known as The Republic of Guinea. 

The French reacted by recalling all their professional people and civil servants and by removing all transportable equipment. As France threatened Toure and Guinea through economic pressure, Toure accepted support from the communist bloc and at the same time sought help from Western nations.

Sekou Toure’s Background:

Born in 1922 in Faranah, Guinea, Toure came from humble origins. His parents were uneducated and poor. Some sources say he was the grandson of Samory Toure, the legendary leader who resisted France in the late 19th Century. 

Toure practiced the Muslim faith from his childhood, attending a Koranic school as well as French primary schools. At the age of 14, he displayed the spark of political activism as he led a student revolt against a French Technical school at Conakry from where he was later dismissed.

In 1940, he started working as a clerk at a company called Niger Français. In the following year he took an administrative assignment in the postal service where his interest in labour movement started increasing. Toure formed close ties with senior labour leaders and organised 76 days of the first successful strike in French-controlled Western Africa.

Then, in 1945, he became secretary-general of the Post and Telecommunications Workers’ Union and participated in the foundation of the Federation of Workers’ Union of Guinea which was linked to the World Federation of Trade Unions. He eventually became the vice president of the union. 

In order to realise his aim in politics, Toure helped Felix Houphouet of Ivory Coast to form the African Democratic Rally in 1946. A strong orator, he was elected to the French National Assembly in 1951 as the representative of Guinea. How was prevented from taking his seat in the assembly, however. 

He was re-elected in the following year but again prevented from taking his seat. When he was elected as mayor of Conakry by getting a majority of votes in 1955, he was finally permitted to take his place in the National Assembly. 

Once he became president of Guinea, he worked toward establishing unity with Ghana but couldn’t achieve much on that front. In 1966, when Ghana’s President Kwame Nkrumah was ousted in 1966, Toure gave him asylum. He then faced a failed attack from its neighbour; Portuguese Guinea (today Guinea Bissau). Soon after he started intimidation policies against the opposition. 

In post-independence Ghana, Toure won most elections, ruling the country for 26 years. Despite taking a tough stance against opposition parties, he was known as a genial leader on the international stage. 

He was tasked with leading the mediation board of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation during the Iraq-Iran war. He became a powerful figure in the Organization of African Unity and played a vital role in the France-Africa summit which took place in France. 

In 1984, he died during heart surgery in Cleveland, United States. 

Some of his published books are: La Revolution et l’unite populaire (1946; Revolution and People Unity); Les poemes militants (1964; Militant Poems).

Below are some of his memorable quotes:

 
“An African statesman is not a naked boy begging from rich capitalists.” 

“Without being Communists, we believe that the analytical qualities of Marxism and the organization of the people are methods especially well-suited for our country.”

 

Ahmed Sékou Touré, first president of Guinea, as quoted in ‘Guinea: Trouble in Erewhon’, Time, Friday 13 December 1963.

  “The private trader has a greater sense of responsibility than civil servants, who get paid at the end of each month and only once in a while think of the nation or their own responsibility.” 

Ahmed Sékou Touré, first president of Guinea, as quoted in ‘Guinea: Trouble in Erewhon’, Time, Friday 13 December 1963.

  “We ask you therefore, not to judge us or think of us in terms of what we were — or even of what we are — but rather to think of us in terms of history and what we will be tomorrow.” 

Ahmed Sékou Touré, first president of Guinea, as quoted in Rolf Italiaander’s The New Leaders of Africa, New Jersey, 1961

  “We should go down to the grassroots of our culture, not to remain there, not to be isolated there, but to draw strength and substance there from, and with whatever additional sources of strength and material we acquire, proceed to set up a new form of society raised to the level of human progress.” 

Ahmed Sékou Touré, as quoted in Osei Amoah’s A Political Dictionary of Black Quotations, published in London, 1989.

“To take part in the African revolution it is not enough to write a revolutionary song: you must fashion the revolution with the people. And if you fashion it with the people, the songs will come by themselves.”

Ahmed Sékou Touré, as quoted in Osei Amoah’s A Political Dictionary of Black Quotations, published in London, 1989.

“At sunset when you pray to God, say over and over that each man is a brother and that all men are equal.” 

Ahmed Sékou Touré, as quoted in Robin Hallett’s, Africa Since 1875, University of Michigan Press, 1974.

  “We have told you bluntly, Mr President, what the demands of the people are … We have one prime and essential need: our dignity. But there is no dignity without freedom … We prefer freedom in poverty to opulence in slavery.” 

Ahmed Sékou Touré’s statement to General De Gaulle during the French leaders visit to Guinea in August 1958, as quoted in Robin Hallett’s, Africa Since 1875, University of Michigan Press, 1974.

“For the first twenty years, we in Guinea have concentrated on developing the mentality of our people. Now we are ready to move on to other business.” 

Ahmed Sékou Touré. as quoted in David Lamb’s The Africans, New York 1985.

  “I don’t know what people mean when they call me the bad child of Africa. Is it that they consider us unbending in the fight against imperialism, against colonialism? If so, we can be proud to be called headstrong. Our wish is to remain a child of Africa unto our death..” 

Ahmed Sékou Touré, as quoted in David Lamb’s The Africans, New York 1985.

  “People of Africa, from now on you are reborn in history, because you mobilize yourself in the struggle and because the struggle before you restores to your own eyes and renders to you, justice in the eyes of the world.” 

Ahmed Sékou Touré, as quoted in ‘The Permanent Struggle’, The Black Scholar, Vol 2 No 7, March 1971.

  “[T]he political leader is, by virtue of his communion of idea and action with his people, the representative of his people, the representative of a culture.” 

Ahmed Sékou Touré, as quoted in Molefi Kete Asante and Kariamu Welsh Asante’s African Culture the Rhythms of Unity: The Rhythms of Unity Africa, World Press, October 1989.

  “In the history of this new Africa which has just come into the world, Liberia has a preeminent place because she has been for each of our peoples the living proof that our liberty was possible. And nobody can ignore the fact that the star which marks the Liberian national emblem has been hanging for more than a century — the sole star that illuminated our night of dominated peoples.” 

Ahmed Sékou Touré, from his ‘Liberian Independence Day Address’ of 26 July 1960, as quoted in Charles Morrow Wilson’s Liberia: Black Africans in Microcosm, Harper and Row, 1971.

 

“‘People are not born with racial prejudices. For example, children have none. Racial questions are questions of education. Africans learned racism form the European. Is it any wonder that they now think in terms of race — after all they’ve gone through under colonialism?” 

Ahmed Sékou Touré, first president of Guinea, as quoted in Rolf Italiaander’s The New Leaders of Africa, New Jersey, 1961

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