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Guinea: A Reason to Worry

5 minute read

Stepping regally from his Citroen, Guinea’s President Sékou Touré marched to the podium through a squad of women police in white breeches and gleaming boots. A din of drums and balaphon music filled the square, while gales of girls in green, red and yellow hand-printed dresses waited eagerly for the word. Sékou’s speech was “to women in prisons all over the country,” whose sentences, he announced, would herewith be reduced by a year — except for those held for criminal offenses.

That meant there were plenty of female (not to mention male) political prisoners in Guinea, and that Sékou was just a bit worried about his seven-year grip on the government.

Expunging PUNG. There was reason to worry. In November, his Politburo announced details of an abortive coup d’état that aimed at the murder of Sékou and the overthrow of the regime. Chief local plotter: Mamadou (Petit) Touré, a distant cousin of the President who was fired last year from the directorship of a national textile firm for embezzlement. Last week Little Touré was rumored to be under sentence of death, along with two former government ministers, an army battalion commander and a slew of petty traders — all members, apparently, of an outfit known as PUNG (Parti de I’ Unité Nationale de Guinée), which Big Touré feels must be expunged.

Discontent is understandable in Guinea. Potentially one of the richest of the French West African states, it is now going to seed as only a nationalized African state can. In the capital city of Conakry, the nationalized Printania store displays empty shelves, broken windows, and East European canned goods (gulyás, pickled pork, beans), as well as toy Chinese Communist trucks at $8 apiece and East German pliers for $4. Women queue up for soap powder, tin buckets and sandals cut from old bicycle tires.

Muffled Herd. Despite five American generators, Conakry suffers from a permanent power shortage. Nightfall in the Medina, Conakry’s most populous quarter, is barely dispelled by flickering candles and the dim yellow of underpowered bulbs. Hard pressed for power, the Chinese Communists who staff Peking’s aid program recently put to use an American electric generator (provided to Guinea by U.S. aid) in their cigarette factory at Wassawassa—until U.S. officials demanded its removal. Last month Sékou Touré’s prestigious but overextended Air Guinée had to cease operations: only one of its four routes was paying its own way, and its Soviet Ilyushin transports were breaking down regularly, along with a few American-supplied DC-4s.

An assembly plant for Mack trucks has a capacity for 800 vehicles annually (ranging from municipal garbage trucks to 15-ton freighters), but only 80 have come off the line since last May. Conakry has yet to get a taste of the milk from cows at the Russian-built dairy at Ditinn, where mosquito nets muffle the lowing of the herd. A West German slaughterhouse in Conakry kills no more than one steer a month, though its capacity is 40 tons of beef a day. Even the East German printing plant—once humming with Sékou’s propaganda—has been reduced to printing labels for imported Chinese Communist beer.

None of that seems to bother Sékou Touré, who has long been accustomed to letting foreigners handle his economy while he deals with the crucial matter of “African consciousness.” Guinea gets $250 million a year in aid from donors as disparate as Russia, Red China and the U.S. (Washington’s major contribution is $15 million worth of rice). Meanwhile, Sékou sits in the garden of his official residence, listening to the drums of competitors training for the Quinzaine Artistique—a national exposition of dance and timpani aimed at expressing the Guinean soul. “Money and purchasing power do not change men’s consciousness or build nations,” argues Sékou.

Dual Nationality. But Guineans cannot help noticing the results of a different philosophy in the neighboring Ivory Coast. There, President Félix Houphouet-Boigny emphasizes creativity rather than Sékou’s “creative spirit.” Despite a predominantly agricultural economy, the Ivory Coast has slowly, steadily raised its per-capita income to $186 a year—three times that of Guinea. Where Guinea runs a hefty trade deficit, the Ivory Coast has a $45 million surplus—a profit figure that equals Guinea’s entire export volume.

Houphouet’s capital, Abidjan, is a gleaming counterpoint to Touré’s drab Conakry. Abidjan’s glass-and-concrete apartments and shopping blocks are strung on a sparkling string of lagoons; its restaurants and stores rate with the best in Africa. Touré seldom misses a chance to slam Houphouet-Boigny as “too French for my taste,” which doesn’t bother Houphouet. With West Africans—including thousands of Guineans—swarming to his country for jobs, and no apparent political threats on the horizon, he last week took a major step to encourage immigration. Beginning this month, citizens from the neighboring countries of Dahomey, Niger, Upper Volta and Togo who want to work in the Ivory Coast will have “dual nationality,” be able to vote in Ivory Coast elections and take full part in local government. Guineans were not included, which is perhaps fortunate for Sékou, who might otherwise find himself a man without a countryman.

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