Ahmed Sékou Touré rose to prominence as one of the key figures who fought for West African independence from European colonizers. Touré was the president of Guinea from 1958 until his death on this day in 1984.
Touré was born January 9, 1922, in Faranah, French Guinea, to a poor family. As a Muslim, Touré studied at the Koranic School in Faranah before transferring to another facility. In 1936 at the age of 14, he attended the Ecole Georges Poiret in Conakry before getting expelled for a food fight.
Touré toiled in a series of odd jobs and attempted to complete his studies before largely leaving that dream behind, Touré discovered a passion for the plight of workers and became involved in a labor union. Working as part of the Postal Workers Union (PTT), Touré studied the works of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin and applied those philosophies to his rule later.
After rising in the ranks of the PTT, he became the leader of the Guinea Democratic Party in 1952, which was the local portion of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain or RDA. The RDA were known for fighting for the decolonization of Africa as a whole.
In 1958, Touré’s leadership in the RDA would be elevated as he negotiated for French Guinea to become independent of France. In 1958, Guinea was the French-colonized nation in Africa to break free of its rule, which led to a harsh divide between the countries.
As president, Touré’s tenure was celebrated by Africans for obtaining independence for his country. Anti-colonialists and Pan-Africans touted Touré as a symbolic force for change, although he ruled his country under the unfavorable principles of Marxism. Countrymen criticized the president for his mishandling of government affairs, although he continued to rally for African independence.
Touré was a friend of African-American civil rights leaders Malcolm X and Kwame Touré (formerly Stokely Carmichael). The President also named American president John F. Kennedy as one of his closest allies and friends.
Running unopposed for decades and driving Guinea to financial ruin, Touré’s tenure as president would come to an end in Cleveland, Ohio, as he was undergoing cardiac treatment, after suffering heart troubles in Saudi Arabia the day prior.
Just days after his death, Guinea armed forces staged a coup and ousted the Guinea Democratic Party rule, executing key members of the regime and freeing just more than a 1,000 people..
Touré’s legacy as the president of Guinea may not be one of high praise, but as a Pan-Africanist and anti-colonial figure, his work cannot be disputed in those areas.
Watch a video on Ahmed Sekou Toure’s pan-Africanism here: