Camp Boiro Memorial

Lansine Kaba
Lansiné Kaba

Associate Professor of History, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

"The Cultural revolution, Artistic Creativity, and Freedom of Expression in Guinea."

The Journal of African Modern Studies, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Jun. 1976), pp. 201-18

The interdependence between art and society, and the subsequent question of the function of art, belong to the old debate which has divided the artistic world into two broad factions. Radical writers and critics, sometimes labelled as 'revolutionary', think that the artistic universe is intimately connected with the socio-political context in which creativity takes place, and hence that art must play an active rôle in the society. The 'conservatives', while not necessarily opposing the active involvement of individual artists in politics, cleave to the view of art for its own sake and truth. This controversy expresses deep philosophical differences, which have increasingly polarised the African leadership and intelligentsia since the mid-1960s 1. The growth in literacy and the development of modern mass-media networks have made the politics of artistic creativity, whether it be in literature, theatre, or cinema, a major question and a source of conflict, because artists can articulate strong anticonformist feelings in the world of the one-party system, and can thus become the voice of the opposition, as Ousmane Sembène and his followers have done in Senegal. It is in this context that the question of artistic freedom takes on a special significance, and illuminates the broad national political spectrum. The correlation between the nature of the political regime and the degree of freedom of expression implies that we cannot, for the sake of consistency and rigour, lump together all the African one-party systems. Ideologies, forms of mass mobilisation, patterns of foreign relations, and the attitudes of the leaders, all these contribute to the diversity of political systems. Consequently, Zaire ought to be viewed differently from Tanzania; and, not surprisingly, Senegal under Leopold Sédar Senghor seems to be more tolerant than Guinea under Sékou Touré. As this assumption suggests, a high level of mobilisation and autocratic authoritarian rule tends to stifle creativity by subjugating art to the party bureaucracy, and to the opinion of the national leader. Contemporary Guinea exemplifies such a totalitarian world.

Cultural activities in the era of Guinean nationalism

This article is based on the textual interpretation of Guinean radio broadcasts and records, and Touré's writings, and examines the present stage of literary development and how autocracy has affected creativity.' First, follows a recollection of the early major writings by Guineans in French before 1969; then a discussion of the Cultural Revolution, and the subsequent rise of Touré himself as the sole interpreter of national realities.
Before the independence of Guinea in October 1958, Fodéba Keita and Laye Camara had achieved wide recognition within France and her sub-Saharan dependencies, respectively as a producer of African dances and folklore, and as a novelist who specialised in the portrayal of indigenous culture in contact with the European value system.

Fodéba, a graduate of the Ecole normale William Ponty, had mastered the traditional art of musical composition and performance from his griot background, and had added the theatrical skills taught in the Ponty curriculum. After a few years of teaching, d uring which he improved his knowledge of Mandinka traditions and his musical skills through valuable collaboration with guitarists and singers such as Facelli Kanté and Soba Dieli, he went to Paris to further his education and try for success. Life in the Latin Quarter led to a fruitful acquaintance with talented young musicians from different parts of West Africa, and this resulted in the creation of the Ensemble Fodéba-Facelli-Mouangué in 1947 — later known as Les Ballets africains.

The group performed African songs and dances from Senegal to the Congo, with special emphasis on the Mandinka folklore of Guinea and Casamance. First it performed mainly for African circles in Paris, then it attracted the attention of critics because of its authenticity, the sophistication of its staging, and the literary and ideological quality of its scenario. Indeed, it endeavoured to present vivid frescoes of traditional life and humouristic scenes of the colonial situation. As a result, the group received the unofficial title of ‘Ambassador of African Culture’ and toured some East European countries. With the development of the recording industry, Fode'ba made a series of 78 r.p.m. songs and stories, with guitar, xylophone, and cora accompaniment, which became successes in West Africa 3. The French administration banned some of these recordings because they implicitly criticised aspects of colonial rule. In 1951 Fodéba published Aube africaine, a collection of stories and songs, including ‘La Chanson du Niger’, ‘Minuit’, and ‘Aube africaine’ 4. Excerpts from those essays, lacking explicit political references, were adopted in the school curriculum as part of the 'Africanisation' programme. By 1953 Fodéba was acclaimed as the most popular writer and artist in the whole of French-speaking West Africa.

This era coincided with the peak of African nationalism in general, and with the struggle of the Parti démocratique de Guinée for power. After the rise of Sékou Touré to the position of General Secretary in 1951, the P.D.G. was reorganised on a more rational basis, and began to formulate general policies of action and goals, which required a broad mass basis and involvement, thereby encouraging artistic creativity and competition. By 1955 the P.D.G. had become the predominant organisation, and Touré the most popular leader in Guinea. His growing reputation and dominance, his travels to Paris, and his election as a deputy to the French National Assembly in 1956, led to his friendship with Fodéba. In the same year the Ballets toured West Africa and recruited new members, among whom was the famous tenor Sory Kandia Kouyaté. With the implementation of the Loi-cadre, a reform bill introducing major improvements within each territory and calling for the formation of an autonomous government, Fodéba was elected to the Territorial Assembly of Guinea as the representative of his own district of Siguiri, and became the Minister for Internal Affairs in 1957 with jurisdiction over administrative and police matters, while maintaining an intense artistic commitment.

Thus, Fodéba Keita appeared to be a classic example of a ‘popular’ artist, this word suggesting a patient search for the best interpretation of the folklore and soul of the people, in a repertoire consistent both with old norms and modern play techniques and language. The songs and dances of the Ballets attempted to convey an authentic expression of the traditional musical heritage, as well as of the changing image of modern Africa. Accordingly, the new culture did not need to break with the past. It rather reinforced the link between past values, present conditions, and future goals.

A 'living' culture is thus a rational qualitative transformation of the traditional situation rather than a rejection of it; and the quality of the present lies in its conformity with what remains significant in the cultural heritage. Within this context, Fodéba was an authentic bard, and a faithful student of history and politics. His writing revealed the simplicity of the elementary-school composition, the mastery of portrayal, and the charm of African story-telling. The association of these qualities constituted his originality, and was the source of his appeal to African audiences, as shown in the following excerpts from the 'Chanson du Dioliba':

Juchés sur les miradors de bambou, au milieu de vertes rizières qui s'étendent à perte de vue, dans les vastes plaines que tu as fertilisées, les enfants, torse nu et maniant la fronde, fredonnent tous les matins ta chanson, la chanson du Djoliba.
Djoliba ! Djoliba ! Nul n'ignore l'amour que te vouent tous ces villages de pêcheurs groupés sur tes berges et qui vivent de ta vie.
Mieux que quiconque, ils comprennent ton langage. Chaque année, autour des marigots qui jalonnent tes flancs herbeux, ils viennent danser en ton honneur et célébrer la grandeur de ta mission.
Coule donc Djoliba, vénérable Niger, suis ton chernin à travers le monde noir et accomplis ta généreuse mission. Tant que tes flots limpides rouleront dans ce pays, les greniers ne seront jamais vides, et chaque soir les chants fébriles s'éleveront au-dessus des villages pour égayer le peuple africain.
Tant que tu vivras et feras vivre nos vastes rizières, tant que tu fertiliseras nos champs et que fleuriront nos plaines, nos anciens, couchés sous l'arbre à palabres, te béniront toujours.
Coule et va plus loin que toi-meme A travers le monde entier, étancher la soif des inassouvis, rassasier les insatiables et apprendre sans mot dire à L'Humanité que le bienfait désintéressé est le seul qui, absolument, signifie 5.

This song is both a beautiful and powerful ode to the African milieu, and an affective evocation of one of the bases of regional co-operation among newly independent states in West Africa 2. Here, the lyricism corresponds to that of a griot of the highest status and achievement — that is, an artist fully aware of the essence of his culture and art, and able to motivate listeners to noble actions.
Frantz Fanon, as usual, was extremely insightful when he wrote about this poetry:

Fodéba… did not play any tricks with the reality which the people of Guinea offered him. He reinterpreted all the rhythmic images of his country from a revolutionary standpoint ... In his poetic works, which are not well known, we find a constant desire to define accurately the historic moments of the struggle and to mark off the field in which were to be unfolded the actions and ideas around which the popular will would crystallize 6.

Seen from this perspective, the essence of revolutionary literature is to be esthetically valid, and fully integrated as regards the efforts to promote national liberation, as well as political awareness and commitments. Not surprisingly, therefore, Fodéba, although absent during the most critical period of nationalism, appeared to the Guinean people and é1ite as an articulate spokesman and authentic national leader. His conception of art exerted a strong influence on artistic development in Guinea. From his inspiration originated the existing national ballet, the instrumental ensemble, and the annual cultural festivals which still bring the best regional troupes every year to compete in Conakry.
Let us now recall the main characteristics of the writings of Laye Camara, the other dominant literary figure, and undoubtedly the Guinean writer best known among foreigners. Unlike Fodéba, he has mainly displayed his talents in novels — L'Enfant noir (Paris, 1954), Le Regard du roi (Paris, 1955), and Dramouss (Paris, 1966) — and hence has reached a smaller audience within Guinea. Yet, both belong to the same regional and cultural milieu, and almost share the same background, in the sense that blacksmiths and griots, the professions of their fathers, interact within the broad caste of nyamakala, the traditional socio-professional and endogamous group devoted to the maintenance and transmission of crafts and speech skills among the Mandinka, in Upper Guinea. One wonders whether the clarity and simplicity of The Dark Child, the humouristic symbolism of The Radiance of the King, the grim hopelessness of A Dream of Africa and, above all, Laye's deep touching sensibility, have not in part proceeded from his exposure to, and his understanding of, this ancient universe of songs and craftmanship, creativity and mystery, comedy and tragedy. The appeal and long-lasting effects of the Dark Child relate to the idealisation of the past, the intimacy existing between the writer and his milieu, and the invitation offered the reader to participate in this symphony, while the two other novels respectively ridicule the cultural arrogance of the West and the régime of terror in Guinea.
Like Fodéba, Laye Camara also does not 'play any tricks' with the traditional values of the Mandinka culture, or with colonial education and contemporary Guinean oppression. With great sensibility and accuracy, the author describes the rituals, joys, and fears of the circumcision festivals, while depicting the insufficiency of colonial education. Without demagoguery, the allegory of the Radiance of the King exhibits a situation of cultural reversal in which a European finds it necessary to immerse himself into African culture, thereby symbolising the futility and the relativity of the notion of mission civilisatrice. The awkwardness of Clarence in the African milieu suggests that the alleged superiority of Europeans is based on their dominance in Africa, and shows that they would need to be assimilated if the situation were to be reversed. As this story reveals, cultural superiority and arrogance primarily depend upon the political situation. The establishment of a police state in Guinea is revealed in A Dream of Africa, with an extreme concentration of coercive powers in the hands of Touré.
At any rate by 1955, the first two novels had established Laye Camara as a first-rate writer in French-speaking Africa. In testimony to this, the Dark Child was discussed in high schools, and excerpts were frequently given in dictation and composition drills. After the independence of Guinea, the author became Ambassador to Ghana, and a spokesman for African personality and artistic authenticity.
The cases of Laye Camara and Fodéba Keita testify to the existence of a relatively strong artistic and literary tradition in colonial Guinea. There existed several other writers, such as the poet Mamadou Traoré Ray Autra, the actor Mamadi Condé, and the novelist and playwriter Emile Cissé, whose works remain limited to Guinea, despite their relevance to the general African context.

Artistic developments from 1959 to 1968

Independence gave a new impetus to art. With the assistance of the Ministry for Arts and Culture and the guidance of Fodéba, it is not an exaggeration to speak of a cultural renaissance. In all fields of artistic expression, a spirit of collaboration and competition developed, resulting in a broadening and improvement of the scope of the artists. The works performed in the Chinese-built Palais du peuple in Conakry, according to many observers, faithfully expressed the vitality and complexity of traditional cultures and the politics of the r6gime. The return to the past resulted in the radicalisation of artistic expressions, and the rise of a new national culture in accordance with traditional criteria of achievement and the ideology of the party.
Renaissance thus refers to a sustained process of qualitative improvement, rather than a passive acceptance and revival of the cultural heritage. The overwhelming popularity of Guinean records and artists in West Africa, despite their exaltation of Touré's image, reflects both a serious training in music and oral tradition, and a fairly adequate familiarity with the party's ideology. Therefore, the overall artistic level rose markedly during the period 1958-68, and art was fully linked with the politics of development.
Every administrative region created its own artistic groups, combining the knowledge and skills of the old musicians with the imperatives of the new socio-political context. Modern dance orchestras emerged in every town, transforming traditional songs into popular music for night clubs, using African languages and instruments, and thus contributing to the campaign against cultural dependence on France. This renaissance of classical and popular national music was accompanied by a programme of adult and rural education, which has w some extent raised the level of literacy.
In summary, the first decade of Guinean independence led to an increased awareness of cultural heritage and pride, and the formulation of a positive ideology of further cultural development. The lack of a large discrepancy between the artists and the people greatly contributed to this process. The literature curriculum in the schools included a large portion of African works, and was taught by extremely able teachers, such as the poet David Diop. Consequently, the whole atmosphere was one of openness, trust, and dialogue, qualities necessary for continuous artistic creativity of high quality. The question then is to determine why Sékou Touré dogmatically introduced the Cultural Revolution at the Eighth Congress of the P.D.G. in 1968.

The cultural revolution and autocracy

In the view of the President of Guinea, the need for decolonisation and independence requires a constant revision of existing socio-political institutions, and a readaptation of all structures to the objective needs of the country. The party, as the expression of the will of the nation, must control and guide the making of culture according to its own ideology and preferences. Somehow the evolution of art and literature in Guinea between 1958 and 1967 had appeared to Touré as being élitist, and hence contrary to the goals of popular integration and democracy.
Within this context, Touré thought of the Cultural Revolution as a broad programme to return to the authentic African culture as it is lived by the masses, and foremost as it is understood by the party's leadership. This implied the search for an optimal level of political awareness and commitment, determined not by reaction to ideas from outside, but by a positive self-examination and a complete reliance on the party's view. As Toure' said, 'Europe should neither dominate nor guide our cultural evolution, for she can do it only at the expense of our independence, our spiritual values and our sense of responsibility." Therefore, the Cultural Revolution entails a gradual renunciation of French and a plan of literacy in African languages. Related to this has been the elaboration of 'a revolutionary literature', breaking with foreign patterns and criteria, and expressing the national realities in the simplest manner through Touré's own writing. The search for this curriculum has involved a critique of African literature in European languages. Indeed, in reply to the question, 'What had been until now the cultural role of the African writer?', Touré stated that the native intellectual writing in a foreign language thought he was expressing Africa, but was really developing value systems which had no relation with indigenous societies 9. He continued this argument as follows:

we have to renounce and even combat all the absurd complexes through which it was assumed that true intelligence must absorb knowledge in Paris, Berlin, London or New York … The engineer, the professor or the writer whom we will train here in Africa will be socially superior to the one educated overseas, for he will have not lost contact with African realities at any moment 10.
As this suggests, the maintenance and transmission of cultural authenticity require a physical and permanent association with the tang of native soil and fellow countrymen, thereby rejecting the notions of assimilation and mission civilisatrice, and rebuking the idea of rediscovering one's heritage. The Cultural Revolution thus implies that the native writer seeking and interpreting his past, while living in Europe, has totally lost it, and cannot fully return to it because of the fictive nature of the new rediscovery. This view has legitimised the President's own literary claims since he did not study or live in any foreign country.

Not surprisingly, therefore, Touré and his lieutenants have decried négritude as the most tangible sign ofthe African writer's depersonalisation and betrayal, as the following quotation shows:

Négritude is presented by some 'de-Africanized' philosophers as a scientific and mobilizing given. Now négritude is a nonsense which, unfortunately, is still taught in African schools. This definition of 'negro' in relation to Africa is a kind of negation of ourselves … Négritude is not an objective criterion, for skin colour is a fact related to the conditions of the milieu... Among animals, has the bovine race the same colour? No! And some people want to determine man's nature according to his colour! Négritude is a product of history, a product of white people who practised systems of domination, exploitation, oppression, colonialism, and imperialism. The theoretical justification of this system is to deny Africans all human capacities …
African man thus has become the 'Negro' born to be exploited. Some leaders among us have thought it necessary to place themselves in the field of the adversary and to acclaim our nigritude. But a revolutionary, that is, a conscious man, never places himself on the field of the adversary … for, by so doing, we permit the adversary to destroy us with a racism which we had thought of as being anti-racist, and we give them new arms to destroy and despise us, since we affirm in the face of the world that 'if reason is Hellenic,'emotion is Negro'. Thus we now make a full confession: we Africans were emotion, irrationality, illogism, if not unreasonable, while they as the majestic heirs to Greco-Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Germano-Saxon civilisations have always been 'Reason'. Négritude therefore has been a subjective reaction. It is the expression of a depersonalization and alienation of Black human values…

It is interesting to note that nigritude has become now, at the time of African independence, the main weapon of mystifying and imperialist forces which aim at delaying African emancipation. In international conferences, 'negroes' do not speak of négritude, but 'non-negroes' [i.e. whites and their lackeys] refer to it. We believe in the uniqueness of the conditions of historical development of African people; we believe in the absolutely original characteristic of some forms of social organization and economic methods of Africa. But this is not idgritude. Affican man can and must assert his human values without having recourse to irrationality 11.

Undoubtedly, négritude began as the cultural reaction of westernised blacks against assimilation into European culture, and was an expression of the 'return to the motherland'. As a literature of 're-Africanisation', it was then an art of liberation. Hence it would be erroneous to perceive it as a movement of mystification and alienation, as Touré seems to suggest. Senghor, like Aimé Césaire and David Diop, wrote his first poems out of positive self-awareness rather than frustration, which cannot itself be a source of creativity. The awareness of African culture is the force that saved these writers from total acculturation. As Fanon analysed, being black was essential in this process, since skin colour is the a priori reality for blacks in racist societies, and this phenomenon cuts across class lines. To substantiate this assertion, remember that Fanon was first perceived as a 'Negro' before being recognised as a 'civilised and intelligent' physician 12. Blackness is the criterion that makes him identical to the poor and illiterate street sweeper. Négritude thus may not be as subjective a factor as Touré assumes. Its political limitations notwithstanding, it is a valid analytical tool in the study of race relations. As for the question of rationality, can it be assumed that Senghor has denied its existence in the African mind when he refers to 'emotion and rhythm as being Negro and reason as Hellenic ? Rather he intends to stress a dominant feature of Africanity and a major source of creativity. The critique of nigritude by Touré is a rejection of Senghor's politics, rather than an invalidation of the notion that a return to one's cultural background is the best means of achieving high creativity.
In other words, Touré's diatribes relate to his political divergences with Senghor. This campaign is part of the intense political conflict between these West African leaders, recently dramatised in the friction between their two countries 13. Hundreds of thousands of Guineans have been living in Senegal, and have been involved in a struggle against the Government in Conakry because of its tyranny, and the failure of its programme of economic development. Touré has condemned the assistance which Senghor allegedly has extended to these Guineans, and has decried it as a neo-colonialist scheme. The significant question is how and why this debate has turned against Guinean writers.
To understand this, one must summarise the history of political development since 1960. Guinea has been increasingly ruled in an authoritarian manner consistent with the need to fabricate an heroic image for Touré. Within this context, the party has become the focal institution, concerned with all aspects of the life of the country, individual as well as collective. Its bureaucracy holds supreme political, economic, judicial, and cultural powers. The P.D.G. has become the supreme guide in the struggle for cultural assertion. The recognition of Touré's supremacy proceeds from that of the party's sovereignty. Le Secrétaire Général et Responsable Suprême de la Révolution can and must exert all powers simultaneously, thus becoming the living hero, the embodiment of the nation, and the ultimate interpreter of national reality. Guinea has a parliament, a government, courts of justice, schools, and artistic ensembles; but all officials are appointed by Touré, and none can make an important decision without consulting him.
Ministers and deputies alike end their speeches with variances of this formula of thanks to 'Comrade, frère et ami Sékou Touré, Responsable Suprême de la Révolution, Commandant supreme des forces armées, Serviteur fidèle du peuple, Symbole de la résistance anti-colonialiste.' The President of the National Assembly summarised this very well when he wrote to Touré:

Vous vous êtes donné à votre peuple et aussi vous pouvez être certain que les députés issus de ce Peuple que vous avez façonné et formé à travers le PDG dont vous êtes l'animateur, dont vous êtes le souffle vivifiant… seront à la hauteur de leurs responsabilités… selon touiours votre enseignement 14.

The President intervenes in all matters in the name of popular sovereignty. Consequently, the Guinean régime has turned into an autocratic system with a democratic faqade, with Touré as the only spokesman and theoretician. To make a public speech without quoting him is seen as a sign of 'intellectualism' and 'individualism', and a lack of conformity to revolutionary principles, and hence will impair the speaker's promotion, if not his life. The failure by students, from the ninth grade to the University, to show a good knowledge of his ideas and poetry through extensive quotations may well lead to failure in the examinations. The Guinean universe has become, as has been symbolised in Dramouss, a world of Kafka in which freedom of expression and individuality have completely disappeared. Conformity or 'revolutionary realism', as it is referred to in Conakry, consists in dressing like the President, speaking like him, writing pamphlets in his honour, ending letters and answering the telephone with 'Prêt pour la Révolution' instead of the old formulae of courtesy.
This situation has made Guinea a one-man show, in which Touré serves as the only director and actor, while others must dance, applaud, or sing for him, according to his whim. Consequently, there is no limit to his creative capacity. His expertise covers all the fields of knowledge from philosophy to agriculture. Indeed, is he not the author of about 20 books, plus many long poems which students and teachers must memorise? In addition to this energetic productivity, is he not the best marriage counsellor, the omniscient adviser to the national soccer team, and the leading fashion expert? In the light of such divergent responsibilities, one wonders how he can manage the affairs of the state. Not surprisingly, a serious crisis generally unknown to outsiders has affected Guinea. It is the rise of this authoritarian rule and the President's prolific writing which help to understand the reaction against Laye Camara and Fodéba Keita since 1969.
Independence, as I have shown, gave a strong stimulus to all forms of art. This pattern, although not completely independent from the party, operated in a domain and on a scale beyond the President's jurisdiction. The development of this first decade, to some extent, testified to the classic Marxist view expounded by Leon Trotsky, as follows:

There are domains in which the party leads, directly and imperatively. There are domains in which it only co-operates. There are finally domains in which it only orients itself. The domain of art is not one in which the party is called upon to command. It can and must protect it and defend it, but it can only lead it indirectly 15.

The problem in Guinea was Touré's difficulty to reconcile his perception of his own role and image, with the existence of an autonomous domain staffed by able personnel and 'potential competitors'. To him, every educated Guinean is primarily an individual with political ambitions, and hence a possible competitor and traitor. Fodéba Keita and Laye Camara, although they served the Government in an effective and loyal manner, appeared especially dangerous because of their international stature. A high level of self-esteem in a leader, in general, cannot for long accept the presence of strong-minded individuals, and ultimately conflict will erupt.
As the Minister first for Internal Affairs and then Defence, Fodéba had displayed excellent administrative and organisational capacities, and by 1964 had become the second 'strong man'. Through the discipline and the loyalty he had created within the police and the army, and the respect he had commanded within the bureaucracy, it was assumed by some that he could seize power anytime he wished. Instead, he created the repressive system which has characterised contemporary Guinea, and put it at Touré's disposal, thereby expressing his loyalty. The proverb 'Kings don't like King-makers' soon proved to be true. One may argue that the magnitude of Fodéba's power precipitated his downfall, his arrest, and the destruction of his image. As for the soft-spoken, unassuming Camara, he had witnessed as an ambassador the inconsistencies of Touré's foreign policy in general, and the contradictions between the ideals of political union,between Ghana and Guinea and the realities of nation-states in particular. At any rate, they both began to fall into disgrace around 1965. Fodéba was arrested in 1969 as a conspirator, and in 1971 was condemned to death without trial, ironically in the military jail he had helped to build. Laye luckily found refuge in Dakar, where he has been living in hardship and poverty.
All their works, recordings as well as novels, have been banned in Guinea. Their names have become synonymous with shame. The régime has developed a smear campaign against their past achievements, denouncing them for having sold African culture to the West, and for having built their prestige on the 'spoils of this infamy' 16. Laye is accused of having revealed secret rituals, and even of not having been the author of the Dark Child 17. The Radiance of the King, according to this campaign, lacks political awareness, and is an example of hermetic works and- exercises in futility, for a European cannot condescend to immerse himself in the underdeveloped African world. A Dream of Afiica is interpreted as the tangible sign of the author's betrayal of the authentic Cultural Revolution. As for Fodéba, the propaganda apparatus of the party has depicted him as a selfish merchant and exploiter of African folklore, a ruthless and opportunist minister, and a dogmatic artist. One may also notice that even secondary (?) literary figures, such as Ray Autra and the historian Djibril Tamsir Niane, have been condemned to jail or to exile. The elimination of the old intelligentsia has created a vacuum in the realm of artistic creativity which Touré has tried to fill.
The Cultural Revolution has brought about almost complete centralisation and unity, in the sense that one man's opinions determine all. Art and history have thus been reinterpreted to conform to Touré's views and examples, and to ennoble his origin, as songs and writings stress that he belongs to the lineage of Samori Touré, a hero of African resistance. For example, Regard sur le passé — an — epic in honour of African resistance which secured a gold medal for the Guinean delegation to the 1969 Pan-African Cultural Festival held in Algiers, and a best selling record in French-speaking West Africa during the early 1970s — praises Samori's virtues and deeds, and ends as follows:

Ils ne sont pas morts, ces héros, et ils ne mourront pas.
Après eux, d'audacieux pionniers reprirent la lutte de libération nationale qui, finalement, triompha sous la direction d'Ahmed Sékou Touré, petit-fils de ce même Samori.
Le 29 Septembre 1958, la Révolution triompha, nous vengeant définitivement de cet autre 29 Septembre 1898, date de l'arrestation de l'Empereur du Wassoulou, l'Almamy Samori Touré 18.

Old epics and tunes have been readapted to sing the P.D.G.'s revolutionary rôle and Touré's enlightened leadership; and new compositions must deal with these themes. This policy has brought about a rigid control over creativity, a far-reaching process given the significance of music in the society and the lack of encouragement for writing. No major works have recently been published in Conakry except the President's books and poems, and these must be abundantly quoted by members of the 61ite to secure their positions. Thus, Guineans have been cut off from the mainstream of contemporary writing and reduced to be pupils of Touré.

Sékou Touré the poet

Touré's earliest, most popular, and perhaps best poems are those recorded on L.P.'s sung in chorus or in solo, or read in a theatrical manner with musical accompaniment. The following verses are extracted from a long epic poem singing the revolutionary rôle of the P.D.G., and linking it to the traditions of the anti-colonial struggle from South Africa to Morocco:

O PDG ! Sily est ton nom
Il signifie droiture, justice et constance dans toute oeuvre.
Il détruit le mal et renforce le bien dans toute action.
Il combat sans relâche le mari brutal et émancipe la femme.
Il enrichit le pauvre et appauvrit le riche sur l'enclume de l'équité
Les cases, les permanences, les mosquées, les églises
S'éclairent de ton idéal si beau !
O Fleuve qui ne tarit pas !
Fruit sans amertume !
Feu qui ne s'éteint pas !
Eau limpide et pure !
Tu donnes à ma vie raison et substance 19.

These excerpts, read by women, laud women's deeds and call for their liberation in very effective language:

Homme d'Afrique, comme toi,
Je veux vivre de liberté et de dignité,
Sous les rayons égalitaires du soleil de la réhabilitation,
Soleil d'Afrique rendu à nos peuples
Après la longue éclipse inscrite en lettres rouges
Dans le registre de l'histoire vécue.
La nuit a trop duré, sans lune et sans étoiles.
Tout a été pour moi mystère, fidèle compagne,
Qui te portais au dos quand tu portais
Le colon ou son féodal ami dans le hamac de la honte
En ce temps de travail forcé.
Femmes d'Afrique, levons-nous.
Comme le feu, nous sommes l'énergie
Comme l'air, nous sommes indispensables
Comme l'eau, nous sommes la source,
la source de toute vie animée
Unissons-nous et agissons en commun 20.

The following poem, read by a pupil, requests a revolutionary education:

Mon école, l'école de la Révolution,
Je te revendique, mieux je t'exige.
Je t'attends dans le succès de la réforme
Dans la véritable afficanisation,
Dans l'humanisation complète de ton programme et de tes méthodes.
Mon école, l'école de mon devenir,
Je t'attends dans la totale reconversion mentale
De ton vieux maître et de tes vieux manuels.
Car je ne suis pas un Gaulois aux yeux bleus
Je ne suis pas un homme sans civilisation
Je ne suis pas la pierre qui bâtit le destin des autres
Je veux que tu me libères des injures gratuites
Que tu réhabilites mon pays et son peuple
Que tu enrichisses mes valeurs, toutes mes valeurs 21.

These excerpts are interesting because of their didactic quality, the presence of some poetic images, and the writer's effort to control the flow of his expression. The language is clear and shows dialectical skills. These early poems may be considered as 'revolutionary' — that is, pragmatic songs aiming at social consciousness and mobilisation along party lines.

The poems written after 1969, on the other hand, denote a major change in Touré's mood and versification, as he has tried rhyming. A look at this poetry reveals intense passion, deep recrimination, and violent diatribes, as the following stanzas from 'La Cinquième colonne' show:

Ils sont étrangers, totalement étrangers
Car en troupeau ils suivent un berger
Celui qui nie et bafoue lajustice
Et les conduit vers un but factice
Fait de démission et reniement.
Ils sont étrangers, ces nègres devenus négriers
Ces lugubres instruments parlants
Ces égarés, ces vils négociants
De la dignité de leur Patrie d'origine
Qui n'ont d'Africains que la mine 22.

The following extracts from 'De la négritude à la servitude' criticise Senghor in the most violent and vulgar manner, and convey a correct idea of Touré's vocabulary and mood:

En parfait agent du cynisme
Qui brise l'élan du syndicalisme
Avec férocité et promptitude
Il voile son ingratitude
A l'égard des militants du nationalisme
Pour mieux servir le capitalisme.
A cette trahison le préparèrent ses études
Qu'il fit sans aucune lassitude
Atteignant le sommet du fantochisme
Qui, avec son capitulationnisme
Finit par le noyer dans la solitude,
Honni du Peuple et privé de sa sollicitude 23.

As these verses show, Touré has mastered the art of making jargon and catch-phrases, but not versification. His 'poetry' has form, yet lacks the rhythmic and lyric qualities, the subtleties and tone-colours which make a poetical expression. But, apparently, the President is more concerned with form than rules and essence.
Yet such works are considered as new literary standards, and as authentic expressions of the Cultural Revolution; hence, students must learn them as soon as they are published in Horoya (Conakry), the P.D.G. newspaper. The personality cult and an obsession with plots have become central to Guinea since the introduction of this programme. Furthermore, because Touré as a poet confuses artistic quality with propaganda, the result is a 'jumble' of dogmatic concepts and words which do not express 'revolution' but deep psychological problems. Finally, it is worth noticing that he speaks only French at meetings, and has not yet published any work in an African language, thereby creating a flaw in the system he has imposed. But Le Responsable SuprIme is an artist who is apparently above rules of consistency and versification, as well as the common law.

In conclusion, Guinea under the P.D.G. is a classic example of what paranoia and autocracy can inflict upon a society and individual freedom. Most of those who had the ability to criticise have been physically eliminated or imprisoned, and this has created a deep sense of insecurity among those who are still living, and has taught them to be prudent. Instead of the question of freedom of expression, in this context, one should rather speak of how to survive, and hence conform to a dogmatic and coercive system designed to exalt Le Responsable Suprême et Stratège de la Révolution. You either accept these premises, or you go to prison and face charges of treason, torture, and death. But conformity is not a completely safe path to survival either, since you may be arrested at any time for what you did or did not do, or failed to report to the Government. At this level, the issue is no longer freedom of expression, but merely sanity and the defective use of power, notably by Sékou Touré.

*An earlier version of this article was presented to the Conference on Conformity and Artists' Freedom to Dissent at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, March 1975. I am indebted to the Social Science Research Council and the University of Minnesota for supporting my research.
1. Such sharp ideological cleavages appeared in the panel discussions on culture, art, and négritude at the First PanAfrican Cultural Festival held in Algiers, 1969.
2. Unlike most African radio stations, the Voix de la Révolution, the Guinean network, broadcasts throughout the night and plays revolutionary poems and militant speeches by Sékou Touré. My study is neither exhaustive in the discussion of the pre-1968 literature, nor inclusive of the abundant poetic and historical writings existing among the Muslim élite in Fuuta- Jalon and in the region of Kankan.
3. These records were re-issued in 33r.p.m. a few years later: Keita Fodéba, Kanté Facelli, and Mouangué, ‘Afrique: chants et danses’, Le Chant du monde, G.U.LDX7438 1; and ‘Les Ballets africains de Keita Fodéba’, Vogue CLVLX297, Vols. I and 11. The cora is a lute-harp type of instrument with 21 strings, extremely popular among the Mandinka.
4. Keita Fodéba, Aube africaine (Paris, 1951).6. Ibid. 1965 edn. pp. 25-8.
5. Ibid. 1965 edn. pp. 25-8.
6. The Niger River Commission was established in October 1963 to bring about more co-operation in the region.
7. Frantz Fanon, Les Damnés de la terre (Paris, 1961), translated as The Wretched of the Earth (New York, 1968), p. 227.
8. Sékou Touré, L'Afrique et la Révolution (Switzerland, n.d.), p. 250.
9. A speech broadcast on the radio in 1974. Similar views were previously expressed by Sékou Touré in Pouvoir populaire, Vol. 16 (Conakry, 1969) , Défendre la Révolution (Conakry, 1969), and Le Chemin du socialism (Conakry, 1970).
10. Sékou Touré, L'Afrique et la Révolution, p. 237.
11. Ibid. pp. 188-93- The parenthesis in the third paragraph is mine, but corresponds to an explanation of négritude known as fantochisme, broadcast on the Guinean radio in March 1974.
12. Frantz Fanon, Peau noire, masques blancs (Paris, 1970), PP. 108-34
13. After the Portuguese-led invasion of Guinea in 1970, relations between Conakry and Dakar worsened because Touré accused Senghor of complicity. The two countries were on the brink of war during 1973, and the Voix de la Révolution made vicious daily editorials against Senghor throughout 1974 — Touré's poem, 'De la négritude à la servitude', set the tone of this campaign.
14. L'Agression portugaise contre la République de Guinée : livre blanc (Conakry, 1971), p. 264
15. Leon Trotsky, 'Literature and Revolution', in Paul N. Siegel (ed.), Trotsky on Literature and Art (New York, 1970), p. 57
16. An editorial broadcast on Conakry radio, 1974
17. Laye Camara received encouragement and suggestions from a Belgian journalist, essayist, and art collector living in Paris; it is possible that this expatriate suggested the idea of writing the biography and edited the manuscript. This process, common in the publishing business, has been intentionally misinterpreted by the Guinean regime to discredit Laye Camara. However, the details, authenticity, and clarity of the narrative testify to an African's penmanship.
18. Bembeyya jazz National, Regard sur le passé, side B, S.L.P. 10. The concluding songs in Mandinka compare Sékou Touré to Sundiata of the Mali Empire, Alfa Yaya Diallo of Labe in Fuuta-Jalon who was deported by the French, and to other God-entrusted leaders. Thus in the phraseology of Terence Ranger and Michael Crowder, one of the origins of modern nationalism lay in 'primary resistance'; and Touré is unique because he is both a political and consanguineous heir to Samori.
19. 'PDG', S.L.P. 17.
20. Ahmed Sékou Touré, 'Poèmes militants', S.L.P. 23.
21. Ibid.
22. Sékou Touré, 'La 5e Colonne', in L'Agression portugaise contre la République de Guinée: Livre blanc, p. 626.
23. Sékou Touré 'De la négritude à la servitude, in ibid. p. 632.,

Facebook logo Twitter logo LinkedIn Logo

[ Home | Victimes | Perpétrateurs | Bibliothèque | Recherche | BlogGuinée ]

Contact :info@webguinee.net
webGuinée, Camp Boiro Memorial, webAfriqa © 1997-2014 Afriq Access & Tierno S. Bah. All rights reserved.
Fulbright Scholar. Rockefeller Foundation Fellow. Internet Society Pioneer. Smithsonian Research Associate.