Ture leading the PDG and the people of Guinea to vote yes to complete independence (while other French colonies like Senegal, Mali, and Burkina Faso voted to stay within the control of French colonial authority) is impressive. And, the resulting brutality inflicted on the Guinean people by the French as punishment for their vote for independence tells the story of the self-determination of the people of Guinea. This history is movie level material. The people of Guinea faced and overcame incredible obstacles in establishing and maintaining their country's independence, and Ture's leadership was a major element in that process. If you don't know that history, it is one well worth studying, but the focus of this piece is to highlight the message of Sekou Ture to African people to pursue, preserve, and protect our dignity more than anything else.
Ture understood the importance of dignity and the key role it plays in our ability to alleviate our oppression and chart our own direction as a people. You see, dignity is at the core of why we need Pan-Africanism. Lack of dignity is the reason we suffer as we do as a people. And, our inability to recognize the importance of dignity in our struggle is the reason we often struggle to maintain forward progress.
Dignity cannot be won by electing people to political offices. It cannot be achieved by acquiring large sums of money. It cannot even be accomplished by us pooling our monies together. Dignity, as Ture often wrote and said, is our ability as a people to demand respect for ourselves. The key ingredients for upholding dignity are maintaining integrity in everything that we do and demanding that everyone respect us with the same degree of respect that people demand for themselves. Since most of the African elected officials in the world are loyal only to capital, and not our people, their participation in capitalist politics does absolutely nothing to uphold our dignity as a people. And, since so many of us believe, incorrectly, that economic independence comes before political consciousness, we will not, and cannot, achieve dignity through money accumulation. Since the only model most of us know for financial management comes from the very same capitalist system that placed us, and keeps us, in an oppressive condition, clearly following the dictates of this system is not going to produce our salvation.
When France was fighting so vigorously to keep Guinea in a state of servitude and the U.S., Britain, and the former Soviet Union were viewing Guinea simply as a political and economic football (Guinea boasts the worlds most lucrative bauxite reserves. Bauxite produces aluminum products like car rims, soda cans, foil, everything made from aluminum) in 1958, Ture's insistence that the Guinean people focus exclusively on dignity is a key lesson for those concerned about our liberation today.
After Guinea's courageous battle for independence from France in 58, Guinea immediately fought for admission into the United Nations. They did this not because of any great respect they had for the United Nations as a neutral vehicle for people's rights, but because gaining admission served as a tactic to validate their independence from France, the U.S., and all the imperialist powers. When Ture visited the U.S. for his first state visit in 1959, the government leaders in the Eisenhower administration, operating with full racism and contempt for African people, devised that all they needed to do was offer Guinea economic aid packages in order to sway Guinea into the Western capitalist camp. At that time, Guinea was very easily one of the newest, and poorest, countries in the world. Economic aid was desperately needed to correct problems caused by France's terrorist strangling of Guinea's limited resources as a method of attempting to force the young country to stay within French control. Still, defying the frustration and irritation of U.S. officials, Ture steadfastly explained to them repeatedly that Guinea was not interested in aid. Although he explained it often, including during his admission address at the United Nations, U.S. officials, due to their inability to see African people as free thinking people, were completely unable to grasp why these poor Africans would reject imperialism's hand of assistance. For the former slave masters, the reason for this could only be Ture's desire to become a part of the Soviet Block, although Ture made it quite clear that Guinea's interests were in African unity and that his country would stay neutral in the East-West cold war conflict.
What Ture asked the U.S. for during that visit was for them to respect Guinea as a free country, despite Guinea's technological shortcomings. In Ture's mind, and in the mind of the PDG, this request would be all they needed. And, if imperialism could have granted this request, which Ture soon figured out was impossible, it would have been all that Guinea and all of Africa needed to reclaim our destiny.
French, U.S., German, and British imperialism schemed on how to manipulate the new African country and its leader to ensure that their interests in pilfering Guinea's bauxite resources would continue unabated. As a result, they felt that Ture's refusal to accept their aid signaled an obstacle to their objectives. What they didn't understand, and what they are incapable of understanding then and today, is that Ture meant what he said when he said Guinea and Africa prefer dignity in poverty to slavery in riches.
That statement by Ture is one the African masses, and all oppressed people, would do well to reiterate today. Our struggle as African people is not one of begging and convincing the capitalist system to recognize our dignity. We cannot win by placing all of our efforts in begging them not to shoot us down in the streets. By accepting their aid packages, as was done recently in Ghana when that country agreed to a contract to permit U.S. imperialist military bases to expand in Ghana. What Ture taught us was that the Guinean people, at least some of them, knew that freedom cannot be won without a price. Or, as Dr. Martin Luther King said "if we want freedom we are going to have to suffer for that freedom."
There is no alleviation of oppression without discomfort. Our problem today is too many of us believe we can eliminate our condition by taking shortcuts. By avoiding difficult struggle. That is not possible. The only way we will win is by confronting difficult struggle head on and doing it with commitment and integrity. By using those principles to learn to work together. By realizing that by working together, we can learn to solve our problems together. Despite extensive propaganda against the PDG in general, and Sekou Ture in particular (our enemies write our history), one of the interesting comments from U.S. officials during that 1959 state visit was how impressed they were with the PDG delegations consensus decision making. Although Ture was their only spokesperson, it was clear to the U.S. government participants in those state meetings that decisions were made by the Guineans collectively. They commented on how often Ture had to confer with his delegates. This type of democratic process only happens with hard work. And, all of this hard work and commitment that the PDG showed during this visit reflects a strong sense of dignity. Something we desperately need to study and resurrect in our struggle today.
Malcolm X, in his personal diary, talked about how impressed and inspired he was by Ture's insistence during one of their meetings that Malcolm focus his work "with our people in the U.S." on us achieving our dignity. What Malcolm took from those comments, and what Ture meant by them, was that our freedom is tied to achieving that dignity. Pan-Africanism - the total liberation and unification of Africa under scientific socialism, is simply the manifestation of our dignity being achieved as a people. A testament to us coming together, subverting our collective egos, and unifying as a method of solidifying our power against those who would oppress us. This very action demonstrates us reclaiming our dignity and by the very act of Pan-Africanism, we will instantly demand respect. So, Pan-Africanism is the vehicle that stops the police shootings and all the other oppressive acts aimed against us. And we do that not by imitating the capitalist system that oppresses us, but by acting decisively to destroy it.
This is the lesson Sekou Ture taught us. Its the practice he maintained until his death. Even without any money or resources, he used dignity to shake the U.S. with his resistance to the (U.S. inspired) assassination of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in 1961. And Guinea's union with Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah caused the same concerns when proposed. Just two years before his death, Ture, during a state visit to the U.S., upset US. officials, including then President Ronald Reagan, by going to Howard University at the invitation of the All African People's Revolutionary Party, to speak to the African masses. Dignity. Respecting ourselves, demanding others respect us, and being willing to pay whatever price to accomplish this. The minute we hear Ture's lesson to us on this question, our freedom will come to us overnight.