Biography of Ahmed Sékou Touré

Independence Leader and First President of Guinea Turns Big Man Dictator

King Hussein and Ahmed Sekou Toure
King Hussein Greets Ahmed Sekou Toure.

​Wikimedia Commons

Ahmed Sékou Touré (born January 9, 1922, died March 26, 1984) was one of the foremost figures in the struggle for West African independence, the first President of Guinea, and a leading Pan-African. He was initially considered a moderate Islamic African leader but became one of Africa's most oppressive Big Men.

Early Life

Ahmed Sékou Touré's was born in Faranah, central  Guinée Française (French Guinea, now the Republic of Guinea), near the source of the River Niger. His parents were poor, uneducated peasant farmers, though he claimed to be a direct descendant of Samory Touré (aka Samori Ture), the region's 19th-century anti-colonialist military leader, who had been based in Faranah for a while.

Touré's family were Muslim, and he was initially educated at the Koranic School in Faranah, before transferring to a school in Kissidougou. In 1936 he moved on to a French technical college, the Ecole Georges Poiret, in Conakry, but was expelled after less than a year for initiating a food strike.

Over the next few years, Sékou Touré passed through a series of menial jobs, while attempting to complete his education through correspondence courses. His lack of formal education was an issue throughout his life, and his lack of qualifications left him suspicious of anyone who had attended tertiary education.

Entering Politics

In 1940 Ahmed Sékou Touré obtained a post as a clerk for the  Compagnie du Niger Français while also working to complete an examination course which would allow him to join the Post and Telecommunications Department (Postes, Télégraphes et Téléphones) of colony's French administration. In 1941 he joined the post office and started to take an interest in labor movements, encouraging his fellow workers to hold a successful two-month long strike (the first in French West Africa).

In 1945 Sékou Touré formed French Guinea's first trade union, the Post and Telecommunications Workers' Union, becoming its general-secretary the following year. He affiliated the postal workers' union to the French labor federation, the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT, General Confederation of Labor) which was in turn affiliated to the French Communist party. He also set up French Guniea's first trade union center: the Federation of Workers' Unions of Guinea.

In 1946 Sékou Touré attended a CGT congress in Paris, before moving to the Treasury Department, where he became the general-secretary of the Treasury Workers' Union. In October that year, he attended a West African congress in Bamako, Mali, where he became one of the founding members of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA, African Democratic Rally) along with Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Côte d'Ivoire. The RDA was a Pan-Africanist party which looked towards independence for French colonies in West Africa. He founded the Parti Démocratique de Guinée (PDG, Democratic Party of Guinea), the local affiliate of the RDA in Guinea.

Trade Unions in West Africa

Ahmed Sékou Touré was dismissed from the treasury department for his political activities, and in 1947 was briefly sent to prison by the French colonial administration. He decided to devote his time to developing workers' movements in Guinea and to campaign for independence. In 1948 he became the secretary-general of the CGT for French West Africa, and in 1952 Sékou Touré became secretary-general of the PDG.

In 1953 Sékou Touré called a general strike which lasted for two months. The government capitulated. He campaigned during the strike for unity between ethnic groups, opposing the 'tribalism' which the French authorities were promulgating, and was explicitly anti-colonial in his approach.

Sékou Touré was elected to the territorial assembly in 1953 but failed to win the election for the seat in the Assemblée Constituante, the French National Assembly, after conspicuous vote-tampering by the French administration in Guinea. Two years later he became mayor of Conakry, Guinea's capital. With such a high political profile, Sékou Touré was finally elected as the Guinean delegate to the French National Assembly in 1956.

Furthering his political credentials, Sékou Touré led a break by Guinea's trade unions from the CGT, and formed the Confédération Générale du Travail Africaine (CGTA, General Confederation of African Labor). A renewed relationship between the leadership of the CGTA and CGT the following year led to the creation of the Union Générale des Travailleurs d'Afrique Noire (UGTAN, General Union of Black African Laborers), a pan-African movement which became an important player in the struggle for West African independence.

Independence and One-Party State

The Democratic Party of Guinea won the plebiscite elections in 1958 and rejected membership in the proposed French Community. Ahmed Sékou Touré became the first president of the independent republic of Guinea on October 2, 1958.

However, the state was a one-party socialist dictatorship with restrictions on human rights and suppression of political opposition. Sékou Touré promoted mostly his own Malinke ethnic group rather than maintaining his cross-ethnic nationalism ethic. He drove more than a million people into exile to escape his prison camps. An estimated 50,000 people were killed in concentration camps, including the notorious Camp Boiro Guard Barracks.

Death and Legacy

He died March 26, 1984, in Cleveland, Ohio, where he had been sent for cardiac treatment after becoming ill in Saudi Arabia. A coup d'etat by the armed forces on April 5, 1984, installed a military junta that denounced Sékou Touré as a bloody and ruthless dictator. They released about 1,000 political prisoners and installed Lansana Conté as president. The country was not to have a truly free and fair election until 2010, and politics remain troubled.

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Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "Biography of Ahmed Sékou Touré." ThoughtCo, Sep. 27, 2021, Boddy-Evans, Alistair. (2021, September 27). Biography of Ahmed Sékou Touré. Retrieved from Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "Biography of Ahmed Sékou Touré." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 20, 2023).