41. Telegram From the Embassy in Guinea to the Department of State1
1477. AF for Assistant Secretary Moose. Subject: Moose Meeting With Sekou Toure.
1. Summary: In intense, five-hour exchange August 3, President Toure made clear his interest in cooperation with the US, set forth his dedication to independence, dignity and self-respect, recounted Guinea’s struggle for independence and survival despite attempts to overthrow his regime, described the trauma of the 1970 invasion,2 defended incarceration of traitors and affirmed his respect for human rights.
Secretary Moose emphasized fundamental importance USG attaches to human rights, spoke of practical problems rights violations create with Congress, and asked whether prisoner releases would continue. Sensitive on this issue, Toure spoke of the strong popular revulsion against traitors and asserted the question of their release is a matter for GOG alone to decide. Toure’s half-brother Ismael pointed out that the President had not said the prisoner releases would not continue and that we might draw our own conclusions from that fact. Sekou Toure agreed with that interpretation. The exchange was an extremely useful one, enabling both sides to lay their principles and concerns on the table, and clearing the way for greater understanding, closer communications and perhaps cooperation on some African problems. End summary.
2. Afternoon August 3 Assistant Secretary Moose had intense five-hour exchange with President Toure, at the end of which they repaired to informal luncheon (7:15 p.m.) in a nearby room of the Presidential Palace. Present during the exchange were: Prime Minister Beavogui; Minister of Domain for Economics and Finance Ismael Toure; Minister of Information and Ideology Senainon Behanzin; Politbureau Perma[Page 125]nent Secretary and Party Inspector General Damantang Camara; Minister of Public Works, Urban Affairs and Housing Mohamed Lamine Toure; Minister of Plan and Economic Cooperation N’Faly Sangare; PermSec of Ministry of External Affairs Morou Balde (later joined by MinExtAff Fily Cissoko, just returned from Belgrade NAM meeting); T.W. Smith (AF/W); Will Petty (USICA); Bryant Salter (AF); Ambassador and DCM.
3. Atmosphere of meeting was friendly, frank but serious from the outset. Toure said he attached great importance to the meeting, which he pointed out was the first with a high-level USG visitor to Guinea in five or six years. Assembled group of some of his most important ministers attested to significance he attached to meeting and at same time put him on his mettle and may have robbed him of some flexibility. Toure spoke in measured tones, referring occasionally to notes, but increasing in conviction and vehemence as he expanded on the essential spirit and goals of his regime and the dangers that had threatened it over the past 20 years.
A. Toure assured Moose his wish for cooperation with the US is total and sincere; he did not expect full agreement with everything GOG does but he wants us to understand the spirit and principles that guide his government. He asked that we judge Guinea by its acts, not what people say about it. He said Guinea is not Communist nor a Communist puppet. He has had as much trouble with the Soviets and socialist states as he has with the West. Communism is alien to him. As he is deeply religious, lives by the principles of the Koran and would deservedly lose support of his people if he departed from those principles.
B. Central theme of GOG is dedication to independence, liberty, and the dignity, self-respect and equal rights of the individual. He said Guinean independence had developed and been strengthened through obstacles overcome, plots foiled and victories won. Toure described at some length the economic destitution of Guinea following its excommunication by France and withdrawal of 12,000 Frenchmen within a month after he opted for independence. Out of these trials has grown a deep mutual trust between Guinean people and Toure’s leadership. He asserted it is trust born of the principles of honesty, genuine interest in the welfare of the people and concern for human rights. He cited equality accorded women in Guinea (in contrast to many other African countries), lack of large differences in pay scale and retirement provisions (the same for government ministers as for lowest civil servant), pointed to fact that justice is free and appeal to the law and judicial authorities at all levels involves no monetary outlay. Nor does education, which has been vastly expanded and is free to qualifying students through university level. He described the principles underlying “pop[Page 126]ular democracy” in Guinea and underscored extensive role played by people’s organizations and local government authorities, asserting that his efforts to inform them, guide them and solicit their active participation in direction of the affairs of the country represent a more democratic approach to government than can be found anywhere else on continent. He added that he had criticized the Communist Party in Soviet Union for representing such a small percentage of the population.
C. Toure then spoke with strong emotion about his long struggle to maintain, first, Guinea’s independence and thereafter the integrity and stability of his regime. He described the vast propaganda campaign of distortion and vilification directed against him and the attempts to assassinate him and overthrow his regime. The 1970 Portuguese invasion was a major, traumatic event which shook Toure and the memory of which is still fresh and acutely painful and leads him to give unhesitating priority to defense of his regime. He accused the West Germans of complicity in the affair and repeatedly underscored his abhorrence of treachery and betrayal and spoke of the revulsion of the people against the traitors. He emphasized the active participation of the people in arrest, conviction and sentencing of traitors, many of whom were personal friends of his and whose defection was particularly painful. He cited Kassory Bangour, Karim Bangoura (former Ambassador to the US) and Catholic Archbishop Tchidimbo, whom Toure had personally recommended for the post against the candidate proposed by the Vatican. He asserted Tchidimbo had then been recruited by Focart and turned against GOG. Then however, in [garble] as a gesture of friendship and cooperation, Toure had acceded to President Tolbert’s appeal for release of Tchidimbo and had informed the Pope he would do everything possible to prepare the people to accept his release. Unfortunately, premature announcement of this by foreign news media put him in an awkward position, threatening to make it look to his people as though Tchidimbo’s release had been imposed on him as a condition for reconciliation with Senegal and Ivory Coast. He had therefore suspended Tchidimbo’s release until this unfortunate interpretation is forgotten. Pointing to verification and documentation by UN Security Council, OAU, etc., of the facts of the 1970 invasion, Toure said the question of release of prisoners is a sensitive one touching the feelings of widows and relatives of victims, and he maintained there would be hue and cry at release of those responsible for atrocities. He cited Koranic teaching that the leader cannot pardon traitors against the state; only the people can. In case of 1970 invasion, Toure pointed out that the people had condemned the traitors to death and it was he who had commuted this to prison sentences. He said that appeared somehow to be held against him, but he was prepared to accept the [Page 127] consequences. He cited cases of France, Morocco, Zaire, Senegal and others who had unhesitatingly executed traitors and assassins and had not incurred foreign criticism. He pointed out that all foreigners involved in the 1970 event had been released: Those remaining are all former GOG officials convicted of treason. Toure’s historical review stopped after the invasion and trials, omitting mention of the later arrests in connection with the 1976 “Foulah Plot”.3
D. Toure then went on to discussion of bilateral US-GOG matters and general African problems (see septels).4
4. Moose thanked Toure for eloquent and detailed account of history and conditions under which underlying GOG principles had been formed, especially the fight for independence. He said he was struck by fact that despite all charges and suspicions on the part of those who continue to oppose the GOG, our outlook is so similar on most African questions. He said if there was one problem that could divide us, it is the question of human rights: He sincerely hoped it would not. Moose emphasized great importance attached to human rights by Carter administration and said he welcomed Toure’s raising the subject, as he would like to discuss it further. Toure responded that human rights is one of the themes to be discussed at the 11th Party Congress in September, which he said would reaffirm GOG’s dedication to these rights. Citing the fact that one can walk in safety through any part of Guinea and referring to his invitation to Guineans abroad to return, he drew the picture of a country internally at peace with itself. He quoted from his own writings praising Presidents Kennedy and Carter for the deep moral courage of their stand on human rights and asserted that human rights considerations are central to his philosophy of government: The GOG supports all those who fight for human rights. Moose said it was not his intention to criticize or attack the GOG, it was simply that there were serious possibilities of misunderstandings on this important issue, and there were practical problems involved; [Page 128] he wanted to do all he could to foster understanding and cooperation. He asked whether the release of prisoners we had noted and welcomed during past months would continue. Toure replied that the prisoners had been condemned to death and it was hard to release them because of bitter feelings of the population. Moose asked whether prisoners could not be rehabilitated. Toure said that would follow their release. Moose said in light of government’s present confidence and stability, release of the prisoners now would be desirable as an act of humanity, but Toure again referred to 300 widows who would vociferously oppose. Moose asked how many prisoners there were, and Toure answered with some asperity that that is a matter of “public record”; Guinea is the only country that publishes such information. Moose explained that it was necessary to discuss the matter frankly, as we have difficulties with the Congress on the subject and we want to avoid misunderstandings. Toure retorted that there was already misunderstanding; the facts of the invasion had all been established by UN Security Council; he found it painful if, in pressing for release of prisoners, we were showing more concern for a few traitors than we did for the interests of the entire population and state of Guinea. These traitors had been condemned to death, and he had said “give them life”. By now thoroughly worked up, Toure asserted that this was a matter for Guinea alone to decide; he would not be pressured into releasing one prisoner by considerations of foreign aid; if aid donors want to withhold assistance, they can do so. President’s half-brother, Ismael Toure, intervened at that point and asked the President’s permission to summarize and interpret his views. He then said that while Guinea would never give in to pressure or submit to blackmail, we should recall Guinea’s releases of prisoners over the past year and more; nothing the President had said indicated that this would not continue. We would simply have to draw our own conclusion and trust the Chief of State on this. Sekou Toure agreed with this interpretation, and Moose said he would be glad to report that to Washington and would do what he could to explain the situation in the interest of continued strengthening of our mutual relations.
5. With that, the meeting ended and Toure invited the US representatives and several ministers to the lunch that had been waiting for some hours. The tense, charged atmosphere of the formal discussions fell away at once, and Toure, having made his defense of his 20 years in power, was relaxed and cheerful, providing an incisive, realistic analysis of various current African problems (septel). After the meal, he accompanied his guests down the stairs to the front entrance, said a warm goodby and expressed thanks and appreciation for the Moose visit to Guinea.
6. Comment: Toure came through as a strong, determined man, dedicated to underlying principles of independence, self-respect and [Page 129] development of Guinea to the benefit of all the people. His interest in the understanding of and closer economic association with the US appeared completely genuine, but his pride and resentment at being pushed hard on the human rights issue caused him to take a more uncompromising stance than appears to be the case in practice. Ismael Toure’s helpful intervention pointed to this, and a later conversation that prisoner releases will indeed continue, as we had been led to expect (ref B). In sum, the extended exchange between Moose and Toure was extremely useful, offering both parties opportunity to set forth their principles, views and concerns, and clearing the way for greater mutual understanding and closer communication and perhaps cooperation on various African problems. End comment.
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780329–0153. Confidential; Immediate.↩
- In November 1970, Portuguese soldiers and Guinean insurgents attacked Conakry, intending to capture Amilcar Cabral, the leader of the independence movement in Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau) who was living in Guinea, and overthrow Sékou Touré. The invaders freed some prisoners and destroyed some infrastructure, but they retreated after they could not find Cabral or Sékou Touré. Portugal denied involvement, but a UN mission determined that Portugal had backed the invasion. The National Assembly of Guinea sentenced 92 people to death on charges of treason for alleged assistance to the invaders. (“Guinea Dooms 92 in Treason Trial,” New York Times, January 25, 1971, p. 1)↩
- In telegram 1561 from Conakry, August 5, 1976, the Embassy reported that a “wave of arrests for alleged conspiracy against Guinean government continues.” “During a long emotional speech Sekou Toure said arrested fifth columnists had disclosed that conspiracy was supported by ʻFrench Republic, West Germany and South Africa, with financial help from Senegal and Ivory Coast and assistance from Governments of Gabon and Zaire.’ Sekou Toure vehemently denied popular rumors that arrests were a vendetta against Foulah tribe.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760302–0146)↩
- In telegram 1478 from Conakry, August 7, the Embassy reported Moose’s exchange with Sékou Touré on general African issues including: Guinean support for ECOWAS, the offer of Guinean peacekeeping troops in Namibia, Rhodesian negotiations, apartheid in South Africa, and the problem of coups in Africa. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780329–0154) In telegram 1479 from Conakry, August 7, the Embassy reported on Sékou Touré’s interest in U.S. aid. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780332–0113)↩