Guinea Gains Independence from France Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

French colonies in Africa were provided the choice of more autonomy or complete independence from France—Guinea chose independence. By doing so, Guinea lost its vital supporting economic link with France. The resulting economic and financial difficulties forced Guinea deeper into economic crisis and into the socialist orbit. The people would suffer extreme hardship and poverty.

Summary of Event

In 1956 the Loi Cadre Loi Cadre (1956) (outline law institutionalizing the devolution of powers) granted internal self-government to French colonies in Africa. Under this law, however, France retained control over foreign policy, defense, and economic development. The decolonization process in French African colonies would be made more significant by several factors, including the election of General Charles de Gaulle in 1958 as the president of France; the United Nations-sponsored election, which obliged France to set a date for the independence of Togo, the U.N. territory administered by France; and the impending independence of the Gold Coast (later Ghana) and Nigeria. Nationalism;Guinea Postcolonialism;Guinea Anticolonial movements;Guinea France;colonial empire [kw]Guinea Gains Independence from France (Oct. 2, 1958) [kw]Independence from France, Guinea Gains (Oct. 2, 1958) [kw]France, Guinea Gains Independence from (Oct. 2, 1958) Nationalism;Guinea Postcolonialism;Guinea Anticolonial movements;Guinea France;colonial empire [g]Africa;Oct. 2, 1958: Guinea Gains Independence from France[05920] [g]Guinea;Oct. 2, 1958: Guinea Gains Independence from France[05920] [c]Independence movements;Oct. 2, 1958: Guinea Gains Independence from France[05920] [c]Government and politics;Oct. 2, 1958: Guinea Gains Independence from France[05920] [c]Geography;Oct. 2, 1958: Guinea Gains Independence from France[05920] Touré, Ahmed Sékou Gaulle, Charles de [p]Gaulle, Charles de;French colonialism Nkrumah, Kwame

Coming to power in an era characterized by acute nationalist expressions in Africa, de Gaulle believed it was necessary to devise a scheme that would grant partial independence to French colonies, which would allow France to retain some influence and control. The choice between nationhood and partial autonomy for the protostates of Africa would be accomplished under the constitution of the Fifth Republic. De Gaulle made the acceptance of this quasi-federal French Community French Community (the Communauté française d’Afrique, or CFA) constitution by its colonies in Africa a condition for staying within the French Community. He emphasized that to reject the new constitution was to quit and be independent of France entirely. A referendum was therefore conducted in 1958, in which the colonies were told to choose between total independence and subsidized partial autonomy within a French Community.

In the referendum held on September 28, 1958, the Guineans would deliver a resounding vote of “no” under the leadership of Ahmed Sékou Touré and his Parti Démocratique de Guinee Parti Démocratique de Guinee (PDG). His campaign for the rejection of French Community membership centered on his speech of August 25, in which he affirmed the belief that “poverty in liberty” is preferable to “wealth in slavery.” A combination of a radical base of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA) and Touré’s uncompromising radical posture ultimately succeeded in upturning an envisaged junior partnership position in the French Community. The party leadership and the entire country therefore endorsed immediate independence. Unlike Guinea, however, the French West and equatorial African colonies voted to accept de Gaulle’s proposal of autonomy as separate states within a French Community.

Guinea became an independent nation on October 2, 1958, with Touré, a former labor-union activist, as president. French government administration quickly withdrew from the colony. The new republic was left without civil servants, government assistance, movable equipment, and the necessary staff power and human resources to run a modern nation. The former colonial master also discontinued all economic aid and technical assistance, withdrew investment, and closed its market to Guinean goods. The United States also refused to recognize the newly independent state for fear of antagonizing France.

Touré, faced with an impending economic collapse of unprecedented magnitude, introduced a new currency, the Guinean franc—the sily (the elephant)—and turned to the Soviet Union and other communist countries for immediate assistance. Touré adopted a policy of centralization and nationalization and began to pattern his economy after Cuba’s, whose structure Touré greatly admired. The Soviet bloc thereafter built a strong foothold in the country.

Ghana also rendered great assistance. After its independence in 1957, it had assumed a leadership role in Africa. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s president, had always made it clear that, once his country had become free, he would try to lead the rest of the continent to independence. He thus became the undisputed leader of what came to be called the Pan-African Freedom Movement Pan-African Freedom Movement[PanAfrican Freedom Movement] . With the withdrawal of French economic and technical assistance to Guinea in 1958, Nkrumah Foreign aid;Ghana immediately extended to Guinea a loan of 10 million pounds. The two statesmen also announced the immediate formation of a union between their two countries: the Ghana-Guinea union. This gesture of solidarity had an immense influence on the countries that had voted “yes” in the referendum, as they, too, began to reconsider their positions. Senegal and French Soudan came together to form the Mali Federation, and in 1959, they, too, demanded and received complete independence while remaining members of the French Community. By November, 1960, all French territories in Africa had become independent. The community envisaged by de Gaulle had finally disintegrated, and French West Africa also ceased to exist as a single administrative entity. Symbolically, the Ghana-Guinea union was broadened in 1961 to become the Ghana-Guinea-Mali union.

Under Touré, Guinea became the first openly Marxist state in Africa. At independence, Touré established a one-party state that imprisoned opposition members at the dreaded Boiro Camp and that exiled hundreds of political critics. Human rights;Guinea Because of this repression, a sizable proportion of the middle-class elite fled the country, creating a dearth of administrative and professional personnel and entrepreneurs. With the adoption of the socialist strategy, postindependence Guinea merged the functions and membership of the ruling political party, the PDG, with the structures of government and public bureaucracy. The unified party-state structure would exert enormous control over the country’s economic and political life.

Diplomatic relations with France were suspended in 1965, and the Soviet Union replaced France as the country’s main source of technical and economic assistance. With the movement into the Soviet orbit of influence, Touré pursued a revolutionary socialist agenda, which further repressed political opposition. Faced, however, with the central government’s bankruptcy and with widespread protests against the regime, Touré would, by 1977, relax restrictions, offer amnesty to exiles, and release scores of political prisoners. The tie with the Soviet Union was also loosened in the hope that this would facilitate increased Western aid and private investment. After Touré’s death in March, 1984, the socialist “experiment” was discontinued.

Significance

Touré took a step that not only provided Guinea the independence and freedom that was impossible in the French Community but also, by his action, broke apart the federation the French had struggled to preserve. Guinea’s independence in 1958 would also help to advance a wave of decolonization that ultimately swept across Africa. Because Guinea was the only French colony to reject de Gaulle, it lost its economic support. The resulting economic and financial difficulties forced Guinea deeper into economic crisis and into the arms of the Soviets. Guineans suffered extreme hardship and poverty.

The withdrawal of French administration from Guinea also provided the practical realization and first real test of Nkrumah’s philosophy of Pan-Africanism and African brotherhood. Under the philosophy of African unity, Nkrumah injected massive aid into the fledgling state to frustrate the French policy in Guinea. This would ultimately provide for Nkrumah a safe haven after he was overthrown in a military coup in February, 1966, while on a visit to China. Nkrumah was offered political asylum by his ally and friend. Touré also offered to step down for Nkrumah as president, but Nkrumah rejected the offer; he agreed to serve as copresident.

Also, in solidarity with the Guineans at independence, hundreds of Africans from other countries would volunteer to work for Touré’s regime and thereby prevent a descent into anarchy and instability. Unfortunately, Touré’s high-handedness and radical posturing not only created problems for the economy but also resulted in the exodus of a sizable percentage of Guinean intellectuals, entrepreneurs, and skilled labor. Nationalism;Guinea Postcolonialism;Guinea Anticolonial movements;Guinea France;colonial empire

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cooper, Frederick. Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. A comprehensive book that focuses on the trends that drove Africa’s political climate in the twentieth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davidson, Basil. Modern Africa: A Social and Political History. 3d ed. London: Longman, 1995. Reviews the social and political history of Africa in the twentieth century and surveys the colonial era, from the liberation movements to independence and beyond.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Klein, Martin A. Slavery and Colonial Rule in French West Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Author makes an extensive use of archival and secondary materials to shed greater light on slavery and colonialism in Africa. A thorough and rich account of developments in French West Africa in the nineteenth and twentieth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Manning, Patrick. Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa, 1880-1995. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. A critical survey of the effects of precolonial African heritage, interactions with colonial rulers, colonial rule, the transition to independence, and global economic and cultural forces on Francophone African countries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schmidt, Elizabeth. Mobilizing the Masses: Gender, Ethnicity, and Class in the Nationalist Movement in Guinea, 1939-1958. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 2005. Raises major theoretical and methodological issues on anticolonial nationalism. It provides a brilliant study of the end of colonialism in Guinea. Part of the Social History of Africa series.

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