How France Brutally Responded to Guinea’s Demand for Independence in 1958

On October 2, 1958, Guinea declared itself an independent republic, becoming the first French colony in sub-Saharan Africa to break free from colonial rule. The decision was met with hostility from France, which retaliated by systematically dismantling and destroying the infrastructure and resources it had developed in the country during its years of occupation.

How France Brutally Responded to Guinea's Demand for Independence in 1958

In a referendum held on September 28, 1958, France presented its colonies with two options: autonomy within a newly formed French Community or immediate independence. While other colonies opted for autonomy within the French Community, Guinea, led by Ahmed Sékou Touré and his Democratic Party of Guinea-African Democratic Rally (PDG), decisively chose independence with an overwhelming majority. The PDG, having secured 56 out of 60 seats in the 1957 territorial elections, was a clear reflection of the aspirations of the Guinean people.

Ahmed Sékou Touré, a prominent political figure who eventually ascended to the position of Guinea’s first President, proclaimed the following statement:

We, for our part, have a first and indispensable need, that of our dignity. Now, there is no dignity without freedom. We prefer freedom in poverty to riches in slavery.

France revenge on Guinea for asking for independence
Ahmed Sékou Touré, Guinea’s first President

In the aftermath of Guinea’s vote for independence, France ignored Guinea’s request for diplomatic recognition and launched a deliberate campaign to dismantle and destroy the infrastructure and resources they had developed within the country. This calculated act of destruction was intended to undermine Guinea’s newfound sovereignty and serve as a warning to other French-speaking territories harboring similar aspirations.

Reports from that time paint a grim picture of the French retreat. All French civil servants, doctors, specialists, and teachers left immediately. French officials also went to great lengths to strip Guinea of anything they deemed valuable. For those things they couldn’t carry, they destroyed them, leaving the newly-free Guineans to start from scratch. Lightbulbs were unscrewed, plates were taken, sewage pipeline plans were taken, water and even life-saving medicines were destroyed instead of being left for the Guinean population.

The French government additionally stopped paying the pensions of Guinean soldiers who had fought for France in World War 2.

The process of Guinea gaining independence is one of the most turbulent in sub-Saharan Africa. Following the 1958 referendum, France ostracized Guinea, and no other Western nation demonstrated the courage to extend support to Guinea, fearing that it would strain their relations with France. This fear extended even to fellow French African leaders, who refrained from assisting Guinea.

Fortunately, amidst this caution, some countries showed solidarity with the newly-independent nation. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana extended a substantial loan, demonstrating a willingness to help despite the potential consequences. Beyond the African continent, Guinea found support from the Communist bloc countries, who became willing backers, offering approximately $127 million in aid, with a significant portion coming from the Soviet Union.

The financial assistance provided by Ghana and the Communist bloc countries played a crucial role in helping Guinea rebuild its infrastructure and develop its economy.

The French reaction to Guinea’s pursuit of independence in 1958 stands as a powerful reminder of the hurdles African nations encountered in their fight for self-determination. It highlights the lengths to which former colonial powers are willing to go to maintain control.

Uzonna Anele
Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.

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