Torturé et fusillé le 18 octobre 1971
Ambassadeur à Paris (1961-1963)
Instituteur. Vétéran du PDG
Ambassadeur, membre du Comité central et du Gouvernment
West Africa. December 16, 1961, page 1381.
Diplomatic missions vary in importance from the quasi-redundant-those accredited to places linked only by obscure goodwill with their homeland to the key posts in difficult situations. This applies, possibly, to African missions more than others because, in the former category, many new African countries have sent missions to more countries than they have need for close relations with as yet, and, in the latter category, some countries rely on an Ambassador to smooth over the aftermath of a difficult national birth. Guinea's Embassy in Paris is obviously in the latter category. It has been especially in the news of late because a new period of slow, groping rapprochement between the two countries has been accompanied by the arrival of a new Ambassador. And the Ambassador, M. Tibou Tounkara, has also presented his letters of credit in London.
M. Tounkara replaced M. Nabi Youla, who has held the Paris post since Guinea's independence, last February, just when the new Franco-Guinean cultural agreement was first being mooted, and his move to London is intended as the prelude to a fuller representation there. At present, only Senegal and the Ivory Coast have fully-fledged Embassies in London while Mali, whose Paris Ambassador is also accredited to London and Bonn, maintains a small office in London.
When he presented his credentials in London last month M. Tounkara naturally made use of this small Kensington office of his country's partner in the Ghana-Guinea-Mali union and he intends to follow Mali's example soon and open his own London office. 'Eventually we shall have a Chargi d'Affaires in London and in two years we shall probably have a separate Ambassador there, he says.
It is not only because there has been something of a political thaw in Guinea that she is interested in developing her links with the West in general, including Britain. Her exports of bauxite and iron ore, already the basis of her economy, are still expanding and Britain, whose imports from Guinea amounted to almost £1.5m. last year, is a customer —potentially a big one— of both. The recent relaxation of commercial controls in Guinea, which accompanied the abolition of the monopolistic Comptoirs Guinéen de Commerce, has also been a kind of last-minute reprieve for British-owned, as well as French-owned commercial houses, such as the Unilever-owned Compagne du Niger Français. Moreover, the British bank of Hambros is to be part of the consortium to which the all-important new iron-ore reserves in the Nimba and Simandou mountains have been entrusted.
If there has been something of a thaw in Guinea—and many observers have gone so far as to see widespread disiliusionment with Eastern-bloc aid and technicians—how far has it really gone? M. Tounkara, a small, affable man more given to straight-from-the-shoulder talk than most Ambassadors, makes no bones about his country's need for the closest co-operation with the West.
“There has never been a deliberate Guinea move to the East”, he says. “You will remember the unfortunate circumstances of our break with France in the first place. When we voted ‘Non’ to the Community, for the sake of our freedom of action, the French retaliated, cutting off aid and trade and withdrawing technicians and managers in large numbers. We had to get aid and trade where we could find it-and quickly”.
Now he is hopeful that the worst is over. “I would not say there has been disillusion with Soviet-bloc aid because it was never our intention to rely on it. The abolition of the Comptoirs occurred because although the objective of a planned economy was sound, the means were not the right ones: people were not up to it. Now, we still do most of our trade with the West, and for the future the biggest potential lies with the West also”.
Tibou Tounkara was born 35 years ago at Labé in Guinea, son of a trader. After school at Conakry he went to the Teachers' Training College at Katibougou, near Bamako, and was a teacher in his home town for four vears and in Conakry for three years before taking up quasipolitical work, in 1955. He became director of the Maison des Jeunes, the youth organisation, and two years later he was in charge of the youth section of the Rassemblement Democratique Africain, the militant party of Houphouët-Boigny and Sékou Touré.
After independence he went into the civil service, as Head of the Youth and Sports Department, combining this with the political role of R.D.A. youth leader.
In July, 1960, he received his first diplomatic assignment: the Congo. “I was in Leopoldville five months but in that time I think I aged ten years”, says M. Tounkara. “But I must admit, it was the best time of my life. I was expelled three times and arrested by Mobutu”. On the politics of the Congo, M. Tounkara gets as heated as many others do. He considers the West made a “tragic mistake” in their handling of the situation. Today, Guinea, like everyone else, recognises the Cyrille Adoula régime.
In Paris today, M. Tounkara finds the diplomatic atmosphere between himself and the French “very correct indeed” and he is confident that the recently signed cultural agreement will be the precursor of others.