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Fictions of African Dictatorship

Cultural Representations of Postcolonial Power

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Edited By Charlotte Baker and Hannah Grayson

Fictions of African Dictatorship examines the fictional representation of the African dictator and the performance of dictatorship across genres. The volume includes contributions focusing on literature, theatre and film, all of which examine the relationship between the fictional and the political. Among the questions the contributors ask: what are the implications of reading a novel for its historical content or accuracy? How does the dictator novel interrogate ideas of veracity? How is power performed and ridiculed? How do different writers reflect on questions of authority in the postcolony, and what are the effects on their stories and modes of narration? This volume untangles some of the intricate workings of dictatorial power in the postcolony, through twelve close readings of works of fiction. It interrogates the intersections between real and literary space, exploring censorship, political critique and creative resistance. Insights into a wide range of lesser known texts and contexts make this volume an original and insightful contribution to scholarship on representations of dictatorship.

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1. The Image of Sékou Touré: Art and the Making of Postcolonial Guinea (Angie Epifano)

← 12 | 13 →

ANGIE EPIFANO

1    The Image of Sékou Touré: Art and the Making of Postcolonial Guinea1

From outward appearances, President Touré is the living national hero for Guineans. He supposedly knows everything and everything stems from him and passes through him. He sets the standards.

LANSINÉ KABA, 1981, p. 53

Le Responsable Suprême de la Révolution [The Supreme Leader of the Revolution], Silly, Le Commandant en Chef des forces armées populaires et révolutionnaires [The Commander in Chief of the Popular and Revolutionary Armed Forces], Le Président [President] – are just a few of the many titles that Sékou Touré (1922–1984) earned during his lifetime.2 Often described as one of the most charismatic men in modern history, Touré was the lifeblood of the Guinean independence movement and postcolonial government.3 Touré manipulated every aspect of Guinean ← 13 | 14 → life to be a perfect reflection of his ideologies and fabricated persona. He imagined postcolonial Guinea as a direct descendent of the precolonial Wassoulou Empire, ruled by Samory Touré (c. 1830 to 1900), and articulated a desire to regain this empire’s lost power.4

A body of remarkable photographs produced throughout Touré’s reign illustrates his endeavours to transcend the boundaries of time and space, appropriating past glories for his present aims. These photographs of Guinean citizens and material culture, ranging from clothing to festivals to streetscapes, collectively reveal the dictator’s strategic manipulation of the country, and form the basis for analysis here. As this chapter will demonstrate, at the heart of Touré’s power was his ability to craft, perform, and maintain a cohesive cultural narrative that united the new nation. This chapter examines this body of material in order to understand how photographs affected the development of nationalism in this West African state. I argue that the essence of Guinean identity became the image of, and mythology surrounding, President Touré.5 National ideology was visually circulated through public displays of portraits of Touré and coded allusions to his persona.6 This circulation contributed to a metonymic relationship in which Touré stood in for the Guinean people and nation, ← 14 | 15 → while the Guinean people also stood for Touré himself and his vision of the new nation.

From the earliest existence of the colony, Guinea was a thorn in the side of French colonial authorities, which constantly struggled to maintain peace and order in the seemingly lawless colony.7 French governors and military officials in the late nineteenth century repeatedly discussed the difficulties at maintaining peace in Guinea. The colony was one of the last to be officially pacified, in 1898, and even after this point insurrections continued to break out for several decades. The most notorious of these insurrections was led by the Peul leader, Alfa Yaya of Labé, who continued to fight the French into the late 1910s. The Guinean hero Almamy Samory Touré was the most famous nineteenth-century revolutionary, and today is considered to exemplify Guinea’s fierce sense of independence.8 Samory Touré founded, presided over, and defended the last African-ruled empire in precolonial Guinea, the Wassoulou Empire.9 He is internationally viewed as one of the greatest heroes of West Africa, but is especially important to the people of Guinea and his visage dots Conakry to this day. The story of Samory exists in an ambiguous realm between fact and fiction; his accomplishments and origins continue to be reimagined and elaborated upon to this day. The publication of a 1963 American children’s book exemplifies the dissemination of narratives about the Almamy on an international scale. Although written in English and sold in the United States, the story is based on research that was financially supported by Sékou Touré’s regime.10 ← 15 | 16 →

As the story goes, Samory was born in 1830 to ‘humble beginnings’ in Bissandugu, Guinea.11 By the age of thirteen, he was already widely renowned for his ‘military skills, regal bearing, and splendid physique,’ and quickly rose to power.12 From the 1860s onward, Samory steadily began to gain control of more land, wealth, and people, and ‘founded’ the Wassoulou Empire – the first and last independent Malinké kingdom in West Africa.13 During this period, the French annexed ‘Guinea’ and placed the region under their control.14 The French first encountered Samory in the late 1870s, yet the two sides did not come into conflict with one another until 1881 when the French ordered Samory to leave several key ports on the Niger River.15 For the next seventeen years, conflict reigned in Guinea.16 Samory’s army held out until 1898 when they were finally defeated. Samory himself was captured and exiled to Gabon, where he died under contentious circumstances in 1900.17

The tale of Samory marked the beginning of a power struggle between Guinea and France that lasted for decades, which eventually came to a head ← 16 | 17 → with the famous ‘Vote for No’ campaign.18 In 1958, French president Charles de Gaulle attempted to reaffirm African colonies’ commitment to the French state by calling an election across French West Africa that would determine whether colonies would remain connected to France or would leave the empire. African voters were given two options: yes, remain part of the empire, or, no, leave the empire. On 28 September 1958, Guinea shocked the world by becoming the first French colony to declare independence.19 The French withdrew from Guinea, and in the process, destroyed a large portion of the infrastructure in and around Guinea’s largest cities. In the following months, the charismatic politician Sékou Touré was elected president. His political party, the Parti démocratique de Guinée [PDG, Democratic Party of Guinea], consolidated power and declared itself the only party in the new République de Guinée [Republic of Guinea].20 Touré and the PDG faced the monumental role of simultaneously uniting the nation, maintaining a balance of power between ethnic groups, and validating their nation’s right to exist on a global scale.21 These difficulties bore heavily upon the country and contributed to Touré’s formation of an autocratic dictatorship. Although Touré’s policies were far from liberatory they were perceived as necessary to ensure that Guinea would survive and thrive. Guinea’s complex history shaped Touré’s political decisions, which affected national cultural policies, which, in turn, further influenced Touré’s politics.22

After gaining independence, almost overnight Guinea became an extension of Touré himself. National cultural policies were enforced that monitored and controlled art making and consolidated creative thought into Touré’s hands.23 These policies were Touré’s brainchildren that were implemented ← 17 | 18 → by government agents and other politicians. He used these policies to reify Samory and vilify the French. For Touré, this endeavour was of utmost importance. Its gravity is best exemplified in the 1968 national cultural festivities honouring ten years of Guinean independence. After weeks of celebrations revolving around Samory and the Wassoulou Empire, the dénouement of these activities comprised a series of ceremonies marking the return of Samory’s remains to Guinea.24 This monumental event was at the heart of Sékou Touré’s identity as a ruler and desired identity for Guinea itself. From the start of his rule, Touré had maintained that he was a direct descendent of Samory. Later, Touré would go so far as to claim to be the reincarnation of Samory.25 This physical connection allowed Touré to place postcolonial Guinea within a lineage of African independence fighters, thereby shoring up his own validity and that of the nation.26 The narrative was transformed into a communal history that bypassed ethnic differences and concretely defined the Guinean people and a Guinean identity.27 Over the following decades, Touré used the image of Samory to visualize Guinea as an extension of the Wassoulou Empire, with himself as the Samory-like nucleus.28

Cities and villages were encoded with visual and textual references to Touré, making it impossible to escape his image. Touré’s daily outfit of stunningly white slacks, a short-sleeved shirt, and a somewhat boxy hat became so famous that the hat itself is now simply called a ‘Touré hat’ (Figure 1).29 These sartorial choices were reminiscent of Samory’s own ← 18 | 19 → costuming, and linked the two men through time. Touré’s fame was not produced by mistake, but was part of the leader’s carefully crafted agenda of decolonizing, modernizing, and uniting Guinea. After the mayhem caused by France’s violent withdrawal from the country, Touré recognized that Guinea’s success as a nation necessitated unity. In order for this to happen, Guineans had to put aside ethnic differences and begin defining themselves first as Guinean. This proposal necessitated the implementation of a national cultural system that would create ‘horizontal comradeship’ between ethnic groups.30

img1

Figure 1: Photograph from Festivals Culturels Nationaux, page 112. Caption reads, ‘Le President Ahmed Sékou Touré et son hôte de marque au Palais du Peuple.’

Between 1959 and 1961, Touré implemented a ‘demystification’ programme that was ostensibly meant to ‘civilize’ the rural population by rooting out ← 19 | 20 → ‘detrimental’ cultural practices.31 The PDG described demystification using positive language that focused on the ‘backward’ and divisive nature of non-Western cultural practices.32 Further, the PDG claimed that there would be economic benefits to demystification, since the programme would theoretically modernize the country and eventually foster international trade partnerships.33 In reality, demystification was an iconoclastic movement that destroyed an untold number of objects and eradicated centuries-old traditions.34 As part of demystification, Guinean soldiers were deployed across the country, where they destroyed ‘pagan’ material culture and forcibly converted entire villages to either Islam or Christianity.35 The final deathblow to polytheism and traditional arts was a law passed circa 1959 that made it illegal for Guineans to practise any ‘discriminatory cultural development.’36 It was specifically aimed at outlawing any custom that was determined to be unique to a specific ethnic group – activities deemed ‘individualistic,’ anti-Guinean, and detrimental to the nation itself.37 A wide range of activities were made illegal, including the carving of masks, the production of ethnically relative literature, and the practising of polytheistic religions. Along with demystification, this law led to the near eradication of highly developed cultural activities and, from the mid-1960s onward, limited freedom of expression more broadly.

The problems caused by demystification were either lost on or ignored by Touré, who, in 1961, declared that Guinea was successfully and sufficiently ← 20 | 21 → modernized.38 Around this time, Touré began to develop a model for a ‘liberatory’ culture that was a mixture of traditional arts and his own persona.39 The most famous example of this was the dance troupe Les Ballets Africains [The African Ballet], whose performances blended different ethnicities’ traditional dances and Western dance styles.40 Touré’s hodgepodge of cultures was almost seamlessly integrated into daily life through bureaucratic structures that touched the lives of every Guinean.41 Touré imagined a ‘correct’ and an ‘incorrect’ way to enact culture, which created a dichotomy between those who were ‘genuine’ Guineans and those who were not (Figure 5).42

Guineans condemned as Western, or non-genuine, were charged with crimes under the ‘discriminatory cultural development’ law, and were labelled anti-Guinean conspirators. Often these ‘individualistic artists’ would be charged with attempting to assassinate Touré or leading a military coup to overthrow the PDG.43 Although there were probably attempts against Touré’s life, many of these tales were fabricated to discredit ← 21 | 22 → artists and political opponents. The conspiracies offered the double benefit of eliminating anti-PDG persons, while also keeping the nation in a perpetual state of paranoia and arrested political development.44 Touré’s heroic, god-like ability to constantly escape near death situations solidified his Samory-like mythos and iconicity.

Touré purposefully raised himself to this superhuman level in order to justify his rewriting and manipulation of Guinean culture, and his iconic visage was propagated by state sponsored art that played on these ideas (Figure 1). Such imagery included photographs from the 1977 book 9e et 10e Festivals Culturels Nationaux [The 9th and 10th National Cultural Festivals], which documents the 1977 Guinean National Cultural Festival that was attended by hundreds of thousands of Guineans.45 These important photographs reveal Touré’s complete domination of Guinean life and art, and are representative of Guinean art from the postcolonial period. The image of Touré did not just refer to Touré the man, but was instead a simulacrum that made reference to an idealized image of Guinea. Guinean nationalism was defined by these layered imaginings and imagings of Touré.

Touré’s central position in Guinea is immediately reflected in his prominence on the cover of the book 9e et 10e Festivals Culturels Nationaux, published by the République de Guinée in 1977 (Figure 2). A large, closely cropped image of Touré dominates a montage that includes similarly clipped photographs of performers in the middle of their acts. The photograph of Touré is highly contrasted, which transforms his crisp, white suit into a stark highlight that jumps off the page. He stands in a firm, yet humble pose, with one arm hiding behind his back as the other is raised in a gesture of greeting or acknowledgement. The images of performers in the background suggest that Touré is celebrating their performances, while simultaneously welcoming us to the festival. On a coded level, Guineans are reminded of Touré’s centrality in defining and judging culture. His presence signifies that the artistic productions contained in the book are genuine and should be consumed. Within the book, viewers encounter ← 22 | 23 → several types of photographs that reinforce Touré’s nationalist ideology. Two particular types are most prevalent: Touré as a physical background and Touré as an invisible reference.

img2

Figure 2: Cover of the book 9e et 10e Festivals Culturels Nationaux by the République de Guinée, 1977. ← 23 | 24 →

Touré appears as a physical background in countless photographs from Festivals Culturels and other postcolonial images (Figures 1 and 3). Often Touré’s image is positioned as the backdrop of a city street, performance, or public speech. In one noteworthy image, Guinea’s national choir performs in front of a gargantuan print of the president, which dwarfs the seemingly miniscule singers. Other photos reveal that the portraits of Touré are often massive products that physically dominate its environment, whether a discrete interior or an entire landscape. Touré’s presence is forcibly unavoidable.

img3

Figure 3: Photograph from Festivals Culturels Nationaux, page 98. Caption reads, ‘Son entrée dans la salle des Congrès après sa brillante réélection. Le chef de l’Etat à gauche fait.’

In other photographs, Touré himself dominates the foreground, while his portrait provides the background (Figures 1 and 3). These images allow us to compare the portrait with the man, and the differences are startling. The portrait captures a youthful, effervescent Touré who appears unfazed by the fast paced, complicated world surrounding him (background of Figure 1). Perhaps this portrait was made immediately after Touré took office; it certainly alludes to the bright spirits of a newly born nation. The ← 24 | 25 → real Touré, however, bore the weight of age and a difficult presidency. In later portraits his face is lined and his body is small and vulnerable compared to his iconic self. This face was not plastered across the nation.

Touré’s portrait is imbued with many layers of meaning, most notably religious and historical connotations. Touré, like Samory before him, was seen as a religious figure comparable to the Prophet Mohammed and the Archangel Michael.46 The use of portraiture across Guinea supplemented Touré’s divine status and visually reinforced his primary position in religious ideology. Art and daily activities performed in front of the portrait inherited a connection to these themes, which validated their position as genuine nationalist actions. Guineans could thus be reassured that the art they practised and viewed was nationally acceptable. Art performed or created away from the watchful eyes of Touré became anti-Guinean, colonial, and individualistic (Figure 5). Even when not physically present, Touré’s image was a constant, which policed culture and inspired proper nationalist sentiment.

In a 2012 article, Benjamin Ngong argues that clothing bears a social code in postcolonial African nations that reinforces the values of a certain political group.47 Using Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of habitus, Ngong demonstrates how,

Le vêtement participe d’un processus de légitimité du pouvoir et d’instauration de la violence symbolique qu’un groupe politique dominant impose à l’autres.48 ← 25 | 26 →

[Clothing participates in a process of legitimating power and the establishment of a symbolic violence that a dominant political group imposes on others.]

In Guinea, Touré used clothing as an ideological tool comparable to a ‘un glissement sémantique’ [a semantic shift], which was integral to maintaining power and oppression in African nation-states.49 Clothing had the ability to travel through space and remind Guineans not only of proper cultural practices, but also of the consequences of improperly performing culture.50

A photograph published in tandem with Guinea’s 1970 National Cultural Festival visualizes the dramatic importance of clothing under the Touré regime (Figure 5).51 Almost every government-issued image of Touré shows him wearing his signature white suit and hat. Immediately after Touré consolidated his power, the Guinean people were encouraged to emulate their leader’s fashion choices. Everyone, from students to PDG officials to generals, began to wear the white suit and Touré hat (Figure 4). Even women took part by wearing copious amounts of white, often with images of Touré’s face printed on the fabric. In this political landscape, clothing was heavily policed; men’s clothing was especially regulated, and was the subject of propaganda campaigns.52 In Figure 5 we see a striking image of a Guinean man wearing a European-style suit and hat that functioned in this propagandistic milieu. The corresponding caption tells us that the man has turned his back on African civilization, and exemplifies the main ills of Western influence on Guinea and on Africa.53 ← 26 | 27 →

img4

Figure 4: Photograph from the 9e et 10e Festivals Culturels Nationaux, page 124. Caption reads, ‘Le Commandant Fidel Castro et le Président Ahmed Sékou Touré devant les couleurs.’ Note that the individuals in the background are dressed identically to Touré. ← 27 | 28 →

img5

Figure 5: Caption, ‘C’est le prototype de l’intellectuel qui a tourné le dos aux valeurs de civilisation africaine. Parti de l’Afrique qu’il ignore, il va pour un Paradis qu’il n’atteindra jamais.’ Photograph taken from page 37 in the accompanying book on Le Festival Culturel National. Photographer unknown, taken in Conakry. ← 28 | 29 →

The man’s dark three-piece suit and fedora stand in sharp visual contrast to the crisp, white two-piece suits and Touré hats that were worn by other Guinean men (compare Figures 4 and 5). The man’s sartorial duplicity played the double role of reminding Guineans what not to wear, as well as what to wear. This photograph reflects Touré’s belief that clothing choices could reveal a person’s political and national leanings.54 Simply by wearing the wrong clothing, men could be read as malicious and anti-Guinean. This photograph would have been an effective visual tool for maintaining control over Guinea’s population and functioned in two semantic languages described by Ngong as, ‘l’un, visuel, est le langage d’autorité propre aux dominants’ [one that is visual, it is the dominant language of authority].55 Touré’s cultural policies were, in part, incredibly effective due to their local specificity that made use of long-standing Guinean concerns and beliefs that stretched back to the days of Samory.

One of the last known photographs taken of Samory after his capture and before his exile in 1898 shows him in his iconic outfit.56 Samory wears white slacks and top with a boxy white hat – an oddly familiar combination of garments. In a drawing from the 1979 book Festival National, the government-sponsored artist imagined a dreamy monument to Samory where a bust of the hero wears a white top and boxy, white hat. These images of Samory were not coincidental. Touré’s clothes were directly based on photographs of Samory, which created a visual connection between the two men. This was furthered by state produced art that purposefully imagined Samory in this signature style. Clothing allowed Touré to physically embody Samory, and allowed any rendition of the president’s clothes to act as direct, visual reminders of Samory.

The second type of photograph – Touré as an invisible reference – further solidified his hold on Guinea’s cultural landscape (Figure 6). In ← 29 | 30 → Figure 6, we see a choir performing in front of a massive mural of an anonymous, young soldier who waves the military triumphantly forward. The masculine mural is a powerful, dramatic, and heroic scene, the intensity of which is heightened by the female singers in the foreground. Here, the image of the military acts as the singers’ protector, or saviour. Although the image is striking, there is no aesthetic reason why this background scene – designed for a supposedly peaceful cultural festival – had to be of a conquering military. The reason for this choice lays predominately in the nationalist agenda of Touré and the PDG that was played out in the National Cultural Festivals.

img6

Figure 6: Photograph from Festivals Culturels Nationaux, page 50. Caption reads, ‘Beyla: L’ensemble choral exécute son chant.’

Touré acquired dozens of titles that were well known across the country. His most common and important titles involved his connection to Guinean independence and his role as commander of Guinea’s armed forces, such as Commandant en Chef des forces armées populaires et révolutionnaires [Commander in Chief of the Popular and Revolutionary Armed Forces]. Although Touré was never in the military, his connection to Samory Touré reinforced the idea that he was a military genius comparable to Samory. Touré’s anti-individualistic laws decried artists who produced anti-Guinean art. As discussed earlier, Touré invalidated and destroyed these artists by ← 30 | 31 → disseminating conspiracy theories regarding threats against himself. In the official narratives, military intervention unfailingly countered these threats.57 The conspiracies fostered national fear and paranoia that made Guineans dependent on military protection and Touré’s ‘heroic’ leadership. Touré and the military became interconnected, interchangeable symbols that existed in a fluid state of metonymy. Images of Touré, the part, stood in for the military, the whole, while the military also stood in for Touré.

The military image in the background of Figure 6 is therefore a form of reverse metonymy, in which the military is meant to evoke Touré. Here, the female singers are not only protected by the military, but are also protected by Touré. Since his image defined postcolonial Guinea, images of the military and Touré also conjured up ideas of the entire nation. In this schema, the singers are backed by the military, which stands in for Touré, who then refers to the entire Guinean nation. In this way, images in postcolonial Guinea became deeply encrusted with national meaning that always referred back to the ideal state.

In another photograph from the book, we see this at play, but instead of the military in the background the military is brought into the foreground in the form of a dance troupe of boys wearing military costumes. The clothing, gesture, and posture of the young dancers are nearly identical to that of the soldier in Figure 6. The only major difference is the direction of their gestures, the boys gesture outward to the audience, while the painted soldier gestures backwards to the troops behind him. In a photograph of young boys dressed in uniform, the boys use mimesis to become the military in their performance. The boys become soldiers in the Guinean military through their clothes and gestures. Their actions are not just their own, but are connected to the larger body of the military, Touré, and the Guinean state. This reflects how Touré was able to seamlessly incorporate Guineans of all ages, especially the youth, into his fabricated notion of the Guinean state. Through mimesis and a fluid use of metonymy, Guineans themselves became referents to Touré as man, ideology, and nation. Touré validated his power through cleverly crafted ← 31 | 32 → images that connected himself, contemporary culture, and the entire nation with Samory Touré and the Wassoulou Empire.

In response to Guinea becoming independent, Touré had to imagine narratives that would inspire nationalist dedication and fervour in Guinea. As the first nation in French West Africa to gain independence, Touré had the eyes of the world on his back and its weight atop his shoulders. ‘Western’ expectations of nationhood had to be met in order to verify and validate Guinea’s right to independence. Failure on its part would have reaffirmed Western stereotypes of ‘Non-Western’ inferiority.58 Nationalist ideology was therefore a matter of independence or slavery for Guinea, as well as the other colonies in West Africa. In Guinea, art was the most effective way to imagine, specify, and spread nationalist ideology to the nation’s masses. The imagery and cultural performances discussed in this chapter were integral to solidifying conceptions of national identity in Guinea through the repetition of key historical and religious elements.

In Guinea, references to Touré were a daily occurrence across the country. Similarly, Samory’s history was a household narrative that paralleled the image and ideas of Touré. The nearly universal presence of Samory and Sékou Touré in Guinea, allowed Touré’s nationalist ideology to circulate to every corner of the postcolonial nation. Popular art, in the form of photographs and clothing, acted as keys that unlocked Guinea’s means for decolonization. However, freedom from oppressive colonization did not come without a price. The violence of the colonizers upon Guineans eventually bred violence upon others by Guineans.

In Guinea, Touré broadly conceived of the intelligentsia, artists, and anti-PDG activists as the ‘other.’ PDG language portrayed cultural policies as reformulations of Wassoulou-era practices, which reinforced notions of postcolonial Guinea’s genuine qualities. However, the idealized image of Guinea that Touré disseminated on a national and international level hid the bloody reality of PDG policy.59 Touré’s policies suppressed independent ← 32 | 33 → cultural production by expounding the ‘eradication of the individual.’60 ‘Eradication’ was not just a euphemism, but was physically enacted. It is unknown how many Guineans were punished, executed, or exiled for their political beliefs or artistic creations; some scholars estimate that tens of thousands of people were sent through the country’s concentration camps and prisons. The use of violence against artists and political opponents was imagined as a natural, necessary aspect of postcolonial nationalism, and allowed Touré to maintain rigorous control over the young nation.

Certainly, Guinean art was controlled and dominated by Sékou Touré. Demystification and the implementation of Touré-sponsored, cultural ideology transformed Guinean art from creative, individual expression into a series of government-sanctioned images with both implicit and explicit references to Touré. Touré used this art to imagine himself as the precolonial, Guinean hero Samory Touré, and to imagine postcolonial Guinea as a descendent of the Wassoulou Empire. In the face of a cultural void, Guineans held onto Touré’s fabricated imagery and internalized his vision of postcolonial Guinea as a return to an empiric past. Postcolonial nations have been forced to find ways to cope with their subordinated position in global politics, while simultaneously uniting their populations. In Guinea, art was a source of national agency that has acted as an enduring bond that, to this day, continues to unite the nation.

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———, Mobilizing the Masses: Gender, Ethnicity, and Class in the Nationalist Movement in Guinea, 1939–1958 (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005). ← 35 | 36 →

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Thompson, Krista, ‘The Evidence of Things Not Photographed: Slavery and Historical Memory in the British West Indies.’ Representations 113, no. 1 (Winter 2011): 39–71.

Unknown, L’Almamy Sékou Touré, pencil, 1979 from Festival National.

——, ‘Samory, Prisoner in Gabon,’ photograph, circa 1898. Digital International Mission Photography Archive, University of Southern California Libraries. <http://cdm15799.contentdm.oclc.org>.

——, ‘Sekou Touré Dwarfed by his Own Portrait,’ photograph (Getty Images). In Cold War and Decolonization in Guinea, 1946–1958 by Elizabeth Schmidt, 185 (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2001).

Visonà, Monica Blackmun, ‘Warriors in Top Hats: Images of Modernity and Military Power on West African Coasts.’ A Companion to Modern African Art, edited by Gitti Salami and Monica Blackmun Visonà (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2013).


1 This research was supported by grants from the Lewis & Clark College Student Academic Affairs Board and the University of Chicago’s African Studies Workshop. I would also like to thank the West African Research Center in Dakar, Senegal, as well as the archivists at the Archives Nationale in Conakry, Guinea, for their support. I am also grateful for suggestions from Ben David, Cécile Fromont, Matt Johnson, Nora Lambert, and Dawn Odell.

2 ‘Silly’ is Susu for ‘elephant’. The mascot for the Guinean national football (soccer) team is the elephant. This has led to deep contestations between Guineans over the use of the elephant as a national symbol, since many Guineans still read the elephant as a representation of Touré.

3 The photographs reproduced here are orphan works and I have done my due diligence to try to determine the original owners and producers of these images. If anyone has any further information regarding the makers of these photographs, please contact me at the University of Chicago.

4 Throughout this chapter I regularly discuss Samory Touré and Sékou Touré. In order to avoid confusion, I will refer to Samory Touré as ‘Samory’ and to Sékou Touré as ‘Touré.’ Wassoulou is also often spelled ‘Ouassoulou’ in French documents; I will exclusively use the Anglophone spelling for consistency.

5 République de Guinée, 9e et 10e Festivals Culturels Nationaux (Conakry: République de Guinée, 1977).

Under Touré’s regime, Guinea held annual cultural festivals to celebrate aesthetic achievements from the past year. Dignitaries and artists from across the communist world were invited to participate and watch. The festivals were not only intended to bolster Guineans nationalist identities, but also demonstrate the glory of the Guinean nation on an international scale.

6 Julie D’Andurain, La Capture De Samory (1898): L’achèvement De La Conquête De L’Afrique De L’Ouest (Paris: Éditions Soteca, 2012), 1–27. The Wassoulou Empire stretched across Eastern, South Eastern, and East Central Guinea; it extended into contemporary Mali, and had close ties with contemporary Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Samory and his subjects were primarily Malinké and today the empire is a special point of pride for Malinké Guineans.

7 K. Madhu Panikkar, ‘Guinea: A Case Study’ in Revolution in Africa (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1961), 139–95.

8 ‘Almamy’ is an Arabic title given to Muslim West African leaders that roughly translates to ‘Commander of the Faithful.’ Samory received this title in the late 1870s. He was often lauded for his faith and knowledge of the Quran, and is often visually depicted holding pages from the Quran.

9 Panikkar, ‘Guinea: A Case Study’, 139–95.

10 Matthew Meade, Rolland Snellings, et al., Samory Touré (Brooklyn, NY: Nommo Associates Inc., 1963).

This book was part of Guinea’s involvement with the American Black Panther movement and black American liberation struggles in the 1960s. There is tangential evidence that a similar children’s book was published in French in Guinea, however, I have not found a copy of such a document. The story told in the children’s book does match up almost identically with stories recorded by the French and Guineans in the 1930s, which are housed in the national archives in Conakry. Further, the Guinean state newspaper published a similar account of Samory’s life in 1968 to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of independence.

11 Meade et al., Samory Touré, 2.

12 Meade et al., Samory Touré, 3.

13 Meade et al., Samory Touré, 4. Meade claims that, at its height, the Wassoulou Empire included over 100,000 miles of Niger River delta land. Population estimates vary, but some Guineans claim that Samory controlled tens of thousands of people.

14 J. P. Daughton, An Empire Divided: Religion, Republicanism, and the Making of French Colonialism, 1880–1914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 1–12.

15 Les Archives Nationales du Sénégal, Dakar, Senegal.

16 Samory Touré, 6–9.

17 Panikkar, ‘Guinea: A Case Study’. There is debate over whether Samory died of natural causes or was executed by the French.

18 Elizabeth Schmidt, Mobilizing the Masses: Gender, Ethnicity, and Class in the Nationalist Movement in Guinea, 1939–1958 (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005), 1–20.

19 Schmidt, Mobilizing the Masses, 1.

20 Schmidt, Mobilizing the Masses, 1.

21 Elizabeth Schmidt, Cold War and Decolonization in Guinea, 1946–1958 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007), Chapter 1.

22 Daughton, An Empire Divided, 260–2.

23 Mike McGovern, Unmasking the State: Making Modern Guinea (London: The University of Chicago Press, 2013), 3–5.

24 Les Archives Nationales. Conakry, Guinea.

25 Panikkar, ‘Guinea: A Case Study’, 150.

26 D’Andurain, La Capture De Samory. Touré’s biological connection to Samory is debated to this day. There is a possibility that Touré was a distant relative of Samory, however, there is almost no way that he could have been a grandson or great-grandson, as he typically claimed.

27 Combatting ethnic differences was, and still remains a huge concern for Guinea. The country is comprised of a number of different ethnic groups that are each culturally and historically distinct. The primary groups are the Peuhl, the Malinké, the Susu, and the Forestière, with almost a dozen smaller ethnic groups living in Guinea as well.

28 Les Archives Nationales. Conakry, Guinea.

29 Claude Rivière, Guinea: The Mobilization of a People (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977), 30–40.

30 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. edn (London and New York: Verso, 1991), 7.

31 Victor David Du Bois, The Independence Movement in Guinea: A Study in African Nationalism, PhD dissertation (Princeton University, Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1962).

32 McGovern, Unmasking the State, Note 1 for Chapter 1, 245.

33 McGovern, Unmasking the State, Note 1 for Chapter 1, 245.

34 McGovern, Unmasking the State, Note 1 for Chapter 1, 245.

35 Although Samory was Muslim, he gave Guineans the choice of converting to either Islam or Christianity. This was quite unique and is still celebrated by Guineans today as a sign of their country’s progressive attitudes toward religion.

36 Guinea National Commission for UNESCO, Cultural Policy in the Revolutionary People’s Republic of Guinea (France: UNESCO, 1979), 31.

37 Ibid.

38 Les Archives Nationales. Conakry, Guinea.

39 Guinea National Commission for UNESCO, Cultural Policy, 72. Touré’s cultural policies were marred by seemingly bizarre inconsistencies. During demystification Touré decried the negative effects of polytheism and tradition on the Guinean people and nation. However, just a few years later he had claimed that Guinea had to embrace its precolonial, African past in order to modernize. He is now best remembered for his pan-Africanist and pro-African rhetoric that in many ways oppose his demystification-era ideology.

40 Ramon Sarro, The Politics of Religious Change on the Upper Guinea Coast: Iconoclasm Done and Undone (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press for the International African Institute, 2009).

41 Les Archives Nationales. Conakry, Guinea. Touré’s bureaucratic structure was modelled after the USSR and Cuba; in the early years of independence, PDG officials worked closely with officials from these nations to build a political system that supported a single-party, single-ruler state. Due to Guinea’s small size and Touré’s incredible ability to mobilize people, these systems were implemented in a short period of time and were effectively involved in the lives of every citizen within less than a decade.

42 Guinea National Commission for UNESCO, Cultural Policy.

43 Les Archives Nationales. Conakry, Guinea. Lansiné Kaba, ‘The Cultural Revolution, Artistic Creativity, and Freedom of Expression in Guinea,’ The Journal of Modern African Studies, no. 2 (1976): 201–18.

44 McGovern, Unmasking the State.

45 République de Guinée, 9e et 10e Festivals Culturels Nationaux (Conakry: République de Guinée, 1977).

46 9e et 10e Festivals Culturels Nationaux is part of a class of books and pamphlets published by the Guinean government in conjunction with the nation’s annual cultural festivals. The genre consists of a combination of poorly printed black-and-white photographs, brief captions, essays typically by Touré himself, and tables listing the various participants and winners in the year’s competitions. No authors or photographers are listed in any of these books, and I have yet to find documentation on this information. Every aspect of the book is set forward as a product of the state itself, and individual identities are erased.

47 Benjamin Ngong, ‘Costume et pouvoir: La Fonction comminatoire du vetement dans la politique postcoloniale en Afrique,’ In Imaginary Spaces of Power in sub-Saharan Literatures and Films, Edited by Alix Mazuet (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012), 88–91.

48 Ngong, ‘Costume et pouvoir’, 93.

49 Ngong, ‘Costume et pouvoir’, 114.

50 Ngong, ‘Costume et pouvoir’, 100–4. Although Ngong does not use Guinea in a case study, many of the elements that he discusses in relation to other African dictators are mirrored in the case of Touré.

51 République de Guinée, 9e et 10e Festivals Culturels Nationaux, 37.

52 The Touré regime’s fixation on clothing has often been perceived as a copy of Leninist social rhetoric. However, this understanding is based on an essential misperception of Touré as a simple copycat, and does not consider the uniquely Guinean context of his policies.

53 Le Festival Culturel National De La République Populaire Révolutionnaire De Guinée, 37.

54 Ngong, ‘Costume et pouvoir’, 104–14. Ngong makes the point that clothing was a system that connected people around a central source of power and wealth, typically in the form of the singular dictator.

55 Ngong, ‘Costume et pouvoir’, 105.

56 Unknown, ‘Samory, Prisoner in Gabon,’ photograph, circa 1898, Digital International Mission Photography Archive, University of Southern California Libraries.

57 Kaba, ‘Guinea: Myth and Reality of Change.’

58 Anderson, Imagined Communities, 11; Bhabha, ‘Of Mimicry and Man’, 126–8.

59 Kaba, ‘The Cultural Revolution’, 210.

60 McGovern, Unmasking the State, 260. Although not often discussed outright, political prisoners and their families were held in a concentration camp and prison system located in the heart of Conakry. The camps and prison are now Camp Boiro, a military facility located on the Route de Donka across from the Grande Mosquée Fayçal.