THERE is little evidence in Guinea today of the sense of urgency and vigor that the idea of this small West African republic evokes in the minds of foreign observers. The gap between image and reality is the most obvious aspect of Guinea. An atmosphere of lethargy pervades commercial and government offices in Conakry, the capital city. The few private merchants remaining in business complain of drawn-out and tedious negotiations necessary before permission is granted and foreign exchange released to import commodities through the state trading agency. The local branch of Paterson and Zachonis, a commercial firm operating throughout West Africa, eliminates the need for foreign exchange by exporting only enough skins and hides to cover the cost of goods it imports from England and France,
The crumbling roads in Conakry and upcountry reflect a continuing lack of maintenance, while the few attractive apartment buildings are rapidly deteriorating as a result of neglect and a shortage of personnel capable of repairing elevators, plumbing, and electrical fittings. In the large department stores, such as Printania and the government-owned Nafaya, queues of people jostle one another for the privilege of buying a variety of shoddy goods, ranging from Czech and Russian canned goods to unfamiliar brands of cigarettes and candy. These soon appear at highly inflated prices in the many hole-in-the-wall native stores around Conakry and its suburbs.
Because of the lack of many consumer durables and the limited variety and indifferent quality of most of the goods available, there is a great deal of accumulated purchasing power seeking an outlet. This is reflected in the high prices for services, such as hotel accommodations, apartment rents, or restaurant meals; the amount of private building of houses, the materials for which are generally obtained through bribery from government supplies intended for public works projects; and the high incidence of smuggling across the borders of Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Liberia. Much of this situation is due to the weakness of the currency and the cumbersome state trading mechanism.
Guinea has generally maintained a favorable trade balance of somewhat over $1 million annually with countries outside of the Soviet bloc, while its visible trade deficit with the bloc amounted to over $13 million in 1961. A continuing amount of the country’s exports will be tied up in the future in paying off the debt obligation to the bloc as a result of the various bilateral agreements concluded after independence.
Trade with France continues to decline, although Guinea still exports as much as 30 percent of its products to France and takes about 17 percent of its imports from the franc zone. Exports to the United States, mostly coffee and alumina, represent about 6 percent of Guinea’s exports, while the republic takes almost an equal amount in surplus agricultural commodities - wheat and rice — and electrical equipment.
Guinea’s main agricultural exports are bananas, pineapples, palm kernels, peanuts, coffee, hides and skins, sesame, and quinine bark. Of these, only banana and peanut production have increased, all other crops showing a decline. Much of the decline is attributable to the lack of fertilizers and insecticides following the introduction of the state trading agencies.
With one exception, the production of minerals has also declined. Exports of bauxite, diamonds, and iron have fallen off. Only the production of alumina by FRIA, the single large manufacturing industry in Guinea, has increased. This company is owned by a consortium of American, French, British, Swiss, and German companies. The largest interest is held by the American company Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation, whose 48 percent interest is guaranteed by the United States government for over $75 million. Organized in 1956, the company began producing in 1960, with facilities capable of producing 480,000 tons of alumina per year.
Up until early 1962, there was one other major company producing bauxite in Guinea. Bauxites du Midi, an Alcoa subsidiary, had been producing more than 300,000 tons of bauxite per year and had made preliminary investment in a projected alumina plant similar to that of FRIA. Disagreement with the government over new conditions it imposed led to the nationalization of the company in February, 1962. Production since that time has been negligible.
Other than the FRIA operations, there is little manufacturing industry in Guinea. Although the government has made it clear that industrialization is to be one of the primary objectives of its economic planning, only a few small plants manufacturing soap, plastics, fruit juice, and beer exist, and only one of these has been developed since independence.
Building the schools
A substantial part of Guinea’s expenditures so far has gone into construction of school facilities. This has been coincidental with the educational reform of 1961, which aimed at the reorganization of the school structure, and Africanization and monopoly of education by the state.
All private schools, primarily Catholic, were taken over by the government, and political education was introduced in the form of classes given at the end of the school year by government officials and high civil servants. Instruction is given in the role of labor unions and the youth movement, in the administrative structure of the government and the Democratic Party of Guinea, and in foreign policy.
More important to the government has been the need to introduce new textbooks and curricula under its program of Africanization, in an attempt to replace traditional historical and political images of Africa, as presented in French textbooks, with a more suitable African interpretation. One text already being used is Histoire de l’Afrique Occidentale by Suret Canale and Niane Djibril, which is a Marxist interpretation of West African history with an anticolonial emphasis. Subjects such as history and geography will eventually be taught only by Guineans.
The emphasis on educational development and reform has yielded good results in terms of increased school construction and the tripling of enrollment since independence. In Conakry, the construction of a polytechnic school by the Russians is nearing completion. It will be the first institution of higher learning in Guinea and will be staffed primarily by Russian instructors, teaching science and mathematics.
Despite many of the conditions of political instability — inflation, urban unemployment, unstable currency, consumer shortages - there is little evidence of political unrest in Guinea. This circumstance is the natural consequence of the effective countrywide organization of the Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG), under the popular personal leadership of Sékou Touré, President of the republic of Guinea and executive secretary of the party.
Organized on vertical lines, the party mechanism reaches down to the lowest level through the village committees. Above these are the regional committees, or party sections, and at the top of the pyramid is the National Political Bureau (BPN). The BPN is the ruling organ of the party, and its 17 members are elected for three years by the National Party Congress, the latter comprising the BPN and ten delegates from each of the 45 party sections. Party members occupy the key positions in all organizations, whether village committees, labor unions, or the youth movement (JRDA), and everyone is charged with instructing the people in the theories and goals of the PDG, as established by its leadership.
Under the national constitution adopted on November 12, 1958, legislative powers are vested solely in the National Assembly. The Assembly consists of one house composed of deputies elected on a national list by direct universal suffrage or by referendum. After the last election prior to independence, 58 seats were held by the PDG and 2 seats by the Socialist Party, which subsequently merged with the PDG, giving the latter absolute control. The major preoccupation of Sékou Touré and the hierarchy of the PDG is their political image at home and abroad. Since 1958, when Touré and Guinea were precipitated into international prominence with their resounding negative to De Gaulle’s Community, Touré has succeeded in projecting and extending the influence of the Guinean idea and image far beyond the physical size and economic importance of the country. Guineans hold important positions in every Pan-African organization of consequence.
Touré has established himself as a rival to Ghana’s Nkrumah as a champion of Pan-Africanism, has courted assiduously the leaders of the Monrovia and Casablanca groupings of independent African states, and has effectively presented himself to the African man in the street as leader of the one African state that truly controls its own destiny.
The Soviet alliance
The apparently wholesale capitulation of Guinea to the Soviet bloc immediately after independence was dictated by the necessity of economic survival after the precipitate withdrawal of the French and the subsequent cold shoulder for the new nation from France’s allies. Guinea’s adoption of Communist techniques of party organization, economic control through nationalization, state domination of commerce, and regimentation of the population through control of the labor unions, youth movements, and the educational system convinced both East and West that it was another Soviet satellite in the making.
The earlier sense of indebtedness and almost adulatory attitude of the Guineans toward the Soviets have yielded to the sober realization that the East Europeans are just as prone to costly errors in development as anyone else. Discontent with the quality of East European food products and the frequent breakdown of machinery and equipment is often openly voiced. On the personal level, friction has developed in some of the projects involving cooperation between Guinean laborers and East European or Red Chinese workers — the Communists increasingly frustrated by the low-pressure attitude toward work of the average Guinean, the Guineans irritated at the vigorous urging of their instructors. As a result, there has been a reassessment on both sides of the basis of the Soviet-Guinean alliance. The continuing nature of Soviet projects in Guinea and Guinean obligations in terms of barter agreements and debt servicing eliminate any likelihood of mutual abandonment, but the privileges and the prohibitions of the alliance have been more clearly delineated.
Credits and grants from the Soviet bloc are estimated at over $100 million, and Russian projects which are under way include the polytechnic institute, a completed radio transmitter, port modernization, airport construction, and railway improvements. Other East European countries are involved in operating trawlers and training Guinean crews, constructing a dam to increase the hydroelectric capacity of the country, and building a hospital. Red China has provided a $24 million loan for agricultural purposes, and over 150 Chinese are working at cooperative and agricultural centers, on rice and tea plantation experimental projects.
United States assistance so far has included shipments of surplus wheat and rice, scholarship and teacher programs. Negotiations are in progress on a project for setting up a school of administration and for a rice improvement scheme involving the reclamation of 35,000 acres for rice cultivation. Aid from Ghana, West Germany, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and a number of other countries has been increasingin volume, but so far there is little evidence of any impact on the Guinean economy.
The best indication of the changing Guinean outlook came as recently as last October on the occasion of the visit of President Sékou Touré to the United Nations. At the request of the Guinean President, a meeting was set up with President Kennedy, which, though generally ignored by a United States press preoccupied with the Cuban crisis and pending national elections, gave a big boost to improving Guinea’s relations with the United States.