Ahmed Sekou Touré was the first president of Guinea. He is honored across French West Africa for being the first president to have dared to say No to France.
In 1958, French President Charles de Gaulles, under pressure to grant independence to French colonies, organized a constitutional referendum. African colonies had the choice to approve the constitution and be granted gradual independence or become independent right away. Guinea is the only country that rejected the constitution and demanded its independence. In a famous speech, Touré said: “It is better to be poor and free than to live in luxury and be a slave.”
All this wouldn’t have been done without his birth and responsibility.
Ahmed was born in 1922, in Guinea to a Muslim peasant farmer, One of seven children. After graduating from French technical school, he became a trade union activist.
In 1945, he became general secretary of the Postal Workers’ Union, and organized 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.
He was a key player in the massive strike in 1953, which resulted in the first decisive victory of African workers over their colonial masters.
In 1956, he 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, “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 President of independent Guinea, he 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). Touré was a strong champion of African unity and Pan-Africanism. He wasted no time in attempting to enhance ties with neighboring and other African countries and thus lessen their collective dependence on former European colonizers. Moreover, to put these ideas into practice, he initiated the Guinea-Ghana-Mali Union, a proposal for union between African countries which preceded the idea of the African Union by 40 years.
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.