Ahmed Sékou Touré (1922 - 1984)
The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in
Profile of Ahmed Sékou Touré
Ahmed Sékou Touré was born in 1922, in Guinea, the son of a Muslim peasant farmer. One of seven children, he attended a school of Koranic studies at Kankan in Guinea, eventually graduating from a French technical school. As a young worker in the French colonial administration, the young treasury clerk became a trade union activist.
He became general secretary of the Postal Workers’ Union in 1945 and organised the Union Générale des Travailleurs d’Afrique Noir in 1956, later becoming the full-time head of the Guinea branch of France's Confederation Général du Travail.
Touré was a key player in the massive strike in 1953, which resulted in the first decisive victory of African workers over their colonial masters. This workers’ victory held out great promise for larger political triumphs under Touré’s able political leadership, which had begun in 1946 when he, together with other nationalist leaders, founded the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain.
In 1956 Touré was elected Guinea’s deputy to the French National Assembly in Paris, a member of the Guinea Legislative Assembly and the mayor of the city of Conakry.
After campaigning successfully for independence during the De Gaulle Referendum in 1958, he led his country out of the French Community saying that, "The notion of a continuing French community would maintain our status of indignity, and our status of subordination. We prefer poverty in liberty, to riches in slavery."
As first President of independent Guinea, Touré, a brilliant organiser and planner, introduced far-reaching reforms to his country. He brought the notorious landlords under the control of the Guinean government and oversaw the distribution of land (and thus effectively, wealth). To combat the debilitating effects of extreme underdevelopment in his country, Touré first introduced socialist measures and later, in the 1970s, he undertook an extensive programme of economic liberalization. Although modest in comparison to the needs of his people, the progress he facilitated endeared him to his compatriots who in turn continually returned him to power in democratic elections until his death in 1984.
Touré was a strong champion of African unity and Pan-Africanism. He wasted no time in attempting to strengthen ties with neighbouring and other African countries and thus lessen their collective dependence on former European colonisers. Moreover, to put these ideas into practice, he initiated the Guinea-Ghana-Mali Union, a proposal of union between African countries which preceded the idea of the African Union by 40 years.
Essentially the founder of the trade union movement in Guinea, Ahmed Sékou Touré’s name resonates in the hearts of the three million Guineans as the man who led them to freedom and for three decades thereafter. This great African intellectual, thinker, patriot and leader, eloquent poet, and brave freedom fighter, remains the idol of countless millions across the continent, commanding respect, awe and veneration. His contribution to African unity and the formation of the OAU and inspired leadership still serve as a beacon for the continent.