Thursday, October 09, 2008

Remembering Ahmed Sekou Toure as Guinea Turns 50

Remembering Ahmed Sekou Touré as Guinea turns 50

By Norman Otis Richmond

I have a confession -- I am addicted to Radio Netherlands. It is not even a 50/ 50 love; it is more of a love / hate thing. I love their International flavour. Here is where I can hear about what is happening from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. However, their coverage of African affairs on many occasions makes me want to puke.

The West African nation of Guinea turned 50 on October 2. A recent feature on Radio Netherlands, Bridges with Africa, "Guinea at 50: Going through a massive mid-life crisis" made my blood run cold. It was a one-side attack on Guinea's first president, Ahmed Sekou Touré (b. Guinea, January 9, 1922; d. 26 March 1984).

As a youth Touré, along with Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, the Congo's Patrice Lumumba and Algeria's Ahmed Ben Bella were some of the leaders that I and many of my generation identified with.

While only a fool would attempt to defend the current regimes, President Lansana Conte, only a bigger fool would attempt to denigrate the role that Toure played in the struggle for World African Liberation. Lansana has been the head of state of Guinea since the death of Toure in 1984. He took power in a military coup shortly after Toure's death. A professional military man, he actually fought against the heroic Algerian people on the side of the French, during their war of liberation against colonialism.

However, he did fight against the French for the independence of Guinea after his involvement in Algeria. Today, Guinea is one of the poorest countries on earth.

Touré helped lead Guinea to independence from French colonial rule in 1958. In Cameroun, an armed uprising began in 1955 when the UPC (Union des Populations de Cameroun) was declared illegal. UPC had demanded the withdrawal of French troops, an end to Cameroun's status as a United Nations mandate, and a revolutionary land reform with the slogan, "the land to those who till it". Without protest the UN allowed the French troops to violently crush the revolt. Western history books seldom write about the revolt in the Cameroun.

A trade unionist, Touré was able to help lead his nation to independence by proclaiming," We prefer dignity in poverty to affluence in slavery."

After secondary schooling, he worked as a clerk and trade union organizer, becoming a founder of the Rassemblement Democratique Africain in 1946. His political base in Guinea depended in part on unionized urban workers, in part on rural opposition to the system of administrative chieftaincy imposed by the French. This enabled him to lead the local section of the RDA, the Parti Democratique de Guinée (PDG), and to emerge along with the leaders of the UPC as one of the most radical of the nationalist leaders in French West Africa.

African people will remember Touré as a great Pan Africanist who attempted to unite Africa and Africans world-wide. It was Touré, along with Nkrumah and Mali's Modibo Keita, who attempted to form a United States of Africa in the 1960s. Nkrumah asked the Congo's Patrice Lumumba to join this alliance before his assassination on January 17, 1961.

Guinea was one of the first African nations to open its doors to Overseas Africans. Six years after Guinea's independence, a delegation from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) visited Guinea on the invitation of Touré. The politically astute Harry Belafonte made the arrangements. Belafonte is a direct descent of the "tallest tree in our forest", Paul Robeson.

Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) has said that Fannie Lou Hamer, the Mississippi-born freedom fighter who made the statement, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired", was one of the people who benefited from Touré and Belafonte's gesture. Hamer loved the experience and conveyed it to Ture.

"Oh, Stokely, the president came to visit. Oh, he was so handsome, all in his white robes, and he was so kind". Despite the language gap, she had spoken with everyone she'd met. "Oh Stokely, those people be jes' like us. The way they fix they hair, some of them. How they stand, how they walk, even the way they carry they babies."

It was Touré who gave a base to the liberation forces in another West African nation, so-called Portuguese Guinea. The movement there was led by one of the world's foremost theoreticians, Amilcar Cabral (September 13, 1924-January 20, 1973). Cabral was the leader of the PAIGC (The African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde and Guinea). The former French colony of Guinea, became known as Guinea-Conakry and the Portuguese colony came to be known as Guinea –Bissau.

The Portuguese invaded Guinea November 1970 with the intent to assassinate Toure and Cabral. The Portuguese colonialist made a sensational attempt to invade Guinea-Conakry. They were knocked out in early Mike Tyson fashion.

The PAIGC started the armed struggle against Portuguese colonialism in 1963. But in the following years the Portuguese suffered defeat after defeat. Toure's government support the PAIGC completely.

Mai Palmberg, the editor of the book, "The Struggle for Africa" discussed the aborted invasion. Said Palmberg, "The invasion proved to be a total fiasco, because PAIGC and Guinea's defense forces were able to respond quickly and drive the enemy out. It was later revealed that West Germany and France had supported the Portuguese invasion, and that their representatives in Conakry had assisted the invasion forces."

While it is true that Touré’s relationship cooled with the Soviet Union in his later years, he nevertheless cooperated with them against Apartheid South Africa. When Apartheid South Africans invaded Angola, the progressive forces worldwide united with Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). The forces of reaction supported Apartheid South Africa and puppet groups like the National Liberation Front for Angola (FNLA) and the National Union for the Total Independent of Angola UNITA.

Washington expressed its disappointment and irritation at Touré’s transgression and warned that it would affect relations between the two countries.

Touré was defiant, informing the Soviet ambassador:'You have permanent and unconditional permission to use Conakry airport for all flights relating to Angola ".

How will history evaluates Touré? I believe the revolutionary forces of the world will hold him up as a person who was on the right side of history.

As for Radio Netherlands, they are merely the mouth piece for imperialism and history will reflect that the word of Apartheid is of Dutch origin.

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Norman Richmond is a Toronto-based writer/broadcaster/human rights activist. Richmond can be heard on CKLN-FM 88.1 http://www.ckln.fm Thursday’s on Diasporic Music 8pm to 10pm and Saturday’s on Saturday Morning Live 10am to 1pm He can be reached norman@ckln.fm
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