(1959) Sekou Touré, “The Political Leader Considered as the Representative of a Culture”

Republic of Guinea President Ahmed Sékou Touré, Andrews Air Force Base, USA, 1982
Courtesy US Department of Defense (DF-SC-83-08641)

On October 2, 1958 Sekou Touré, proclaimed Guinea’s independence from France and became its first president.  One year later he gave a speech in Conakry, the capital in which he outlined the role of political leaders in reflecting and developing the culture of their nations.   That speech appears below.

Since culture is not an entity or a phenomenon which is separate or separable from a people, the political leaders who have, in a free and democratic manner, acquired the confidence of that people with a view to directing it along the way it has chosen, are at the same time the expression of the aspirations of their people and the representatives or defenders of its cultural values.

The culture of a people is necessarily determined by its material and moral conditions. The man and his surroundings constitute a whole.

Every free and sovereign people finds itself placed in conditions more favourable to the expression of its cultural values than a colonized country, deprived of all freedom, whose cultué sustains the nefarious consequences of its state of subjection. Whether it is a question of a free people or of a colonized people, the political leader who truly remains the authentic expression of his people is the one whose thought, sense of existence, social conduct and objects of action are in perfect harmony with the characteristics of his people.

Whether he tends, in a conservative spirit, to ensure the maintenance of an old economic, social and moral equilibrium, or in revolutionary manner, to replace the old conditions, by new conditions more favourable to the people, the political leader is by the very fact of his communion of ideas and action with his people, the representative of a culture. That culture may be reactionary or progressist according to the nature of the aims set for the action of the political movement to which the people have committed themselves.

The man, before becoming the leader of a group, a people, or party of the people, has inevitably made a choice between the past and the future. In this way he will represent and defend the values, or he will sustain and give impulsion to the development and constant enrichment of all the values of his people, including the cultural values, which by their content and their form will express the realities of the conditions of existence of the people, or the need which they experience or feel for a transformation.

In consequence, whatever may be the fundamental character of a culture, reactionary or progressist, the political leader who is freely chosen by a people, maintains a natural link between action and the culture proper to his people, since, in any event, he could not act effectively upon the people if he ceased to obey the rules and values which determine their behaviour and influence their thought.

Why are the great thinkers of capitalism not accepted by the peoples who have chosen other ways of evolution? The leaders of the popular democracies could not represent a culture which was capitalist in essence for the good reason that their peoples have chosen the socialist system.

Arab culture is equally different from Latin culture because of the fact that the Arab peoples and the Latin peoples obey different thoughts and different rules of life.

In addition to the material and technical state in which a people finds itself, their mental, philosophic and moral state gives their culture a form of expression and a significance which are proper to them, quite independent of the extent to which they have a decisive influence on the general cultural context.

The imperialists use scientific, technical, economic, literary and moral cultural values in order to maintain their regime of exploitation and oppression. The oppressed peoples equally use cultural values of a contrary nature to the former, in order to make a better fight against imperialism and to extricate themselves from the colonial system. If scientific knowledge, modern techniques and the elevation of thought to the level of higher human principles for the perfecting of social life, are necessary for the enrichment of a culture, they none the less retain the capacity of being used for contradictory purposes.

It is at this point that the cultural value of a people must be identified with the contributory value which it may represent in the development of universal civilization in establishing between human beings concrete relations of equality, solidarity, unity and fraternity.

Thus, the true political leaders of Africa, whose thought and attitude tend towards the national liberation of their peoples can only be committed men, fundamentally committed against all the forms and forces of depersonalization of African culture. They represent, by the anti-colonialist nature and the national content of their struggle, the cultural values of their society mobilized against colonization.

It is as representatives of these cultural values that they lead the struggle for the decolonization of all the structures of their country.

But decolonization does not consist merely in liberating oneself from the presence of the colonizers: it must necessarily be completed by total liberation from the spirit of the ‘colonized’, that is to say, from all the evil consequences, moral, intellectual and cultural, of the colonial system.

Colonization, in order to enjoy a certain security, always needs to create and maintain a psychological climate favourable to its justification: hence the negation of the cultural, moral and intellectual values of the subjected people; that is why the struggle for national liberation is only complete when, once disengaged from the colonial apparatus, the country becomes conscious of the negative values deliberately injected into its life, thought and traditions… in order to extirpate them in the conditions of its evolution and flourishing. This science of depersonalizing the colonized people is sometimes so subtle in its methods that it progressively succeeds in falsifying our natural psychic behaviour and devaluing our own original virtues and qualities with a view to our assimilation It is no mere chance that French colonialism reached its height at the period of the famous and now exploded theory of ‘primitive’ and ‘pre-logical mentality’ of Lévy-Bruhl. In modifying certain forms of its manifestations, although it apparently tries to adapt itself to the inevitable evolution of the oppressed peoples, colonization has never engendered, under the most diverse and subtle aspects, anything but a moral, intellectual and cultural superiority complex towards the colonized peoples. And this policy of depersonalization is all the more successful since the nature of the degree of evolution of the colonized and colonizer is different. It is all the more deeply rooted where domination is long-lasting.

In the most varied forms, the ‘colonized complex’ taints evolution and imprints itself on our very reflexes. Thus the wearing of a cap and sun-glasses, regarded as a sign of western civilization, bears witness to this depersonalization which runs counter to the current of our evolution.

Nevertheless, it is wrong to think that one people, one race, one culture possess by themselves all the moral, spiritual, social or intellectual values: to believe that the truth is not necessarily to be  found elsewhere than in one’s own national, racial or cultural background is an Utopia.

We have already said that human discoveries, intellectual acquisitions, the expansion of knowledge do not belong exclusively to anyone. They are the result of a sum of universal discoveries, acquisitions and expansion in which no people has the right to claim a monopoly.

The immigrants into the United States did not leave behind them at the frontiers of their respective countries all that they acquired in the intellectual field; they did not have to reinvent sailing ships, iron tools or gunpowder. They used them for their own needs before certain colonial powers thought of claiming their discovery and the rights of ownership in them.

It is not because he symbolizes the colonial presence that the French gendarme in garrison at Dakar or Algiers is the ‘proprietor’ of the process of liberating the atom. And yet it is in this form and by similar intellectual approaches that colonialism has established the principle of its superiority.

Our school books in the colonial schools teach us about the wars of the Gauls, the life of Joan of Arc or Napoleon, the list of French Départements, the poems of Lamartine or the plays of Moliere, as though Africa had never had any history, any past, any geographical existence, any cultural life… Our pupils were only appreciated according to their aptitude in this policy of integral cultural assimilation.

Colonialism, through its diverse manifestations, by boasting of having taught our elite in its schools science, technique, mechanics and electricity, succeeds in influencing a number of our intellectuals to such an extent that they end up by finding in this the justification for colonial domination. Some go so far as to believe that, in order to acquire the true universal knowledge of science, they must necessarily disregard the moral, intellectual and cultural values of their own country in order to subject themselves to and assimilate a culture which is often foreign to them in a thousand respects.

And yet, is not the knowledge which leads to the practice of surgery taught in the same way in London, Prague, Belgrade and Bordeaux? Is the procedure for calculating the volume of a body not identical in New York, Budapest and Berlin? Is the principle of Archimedes not the same in China and in Holland? There is no Russian chemistry or Japanese chemistry, there is only chemistry pure and simple.

The science which results from all universal knowledge has no nationality. The ridiculous conflicts which rage about the origin of this or that discovery do not interest us, because they add nothing to the value of the discovery.

But, however much it may dissemble, colonialism betrays its intentions in the organization and nature of the education which it claims to dispense in the name of some humanism or other, I know not what. The truth is that, to start with, it had to satisfy its needs for junior staff, clerks, book-keepers, typists, messengers etc. The elementary character of the education dispensed bears sufficiently eloquent witness to the object in view, for the colonial power took great care, for example, not to set up real administrative colleges for young Africans which might have trained genuine executives, or to teach the real history of Africa and so forth.

What would have happened on the morow of the Independance of Guinea, if we had not ourselves created, during the period of the Outline Law, our own administrative college? The administrative life of the Republic of Guinea would have faced us at Government level with a multitude of problems which we could only have solved in empirical fashion.

This determination to keep the populations in a constant state of inferiority marks both the programmes and the nature of colonial education. It was desired that the African teacher should be and should remain a teacher of inferior quality, in order to keep the quality of teaching in Africa at an inferior level. In contrast, an obstacle was placed in the way of African officials attaining to senior rank by insisting on the equivalence of diplomas. This diversion was so well managed that some of our trade union comrades, although anti-colonialist, fought furiously about these problems of the equivalent value of parchments instead of directly attacking the fundamental reasons for this policy of hocus-pocus.

Special teachers, special doctors! what the colonial system needed was men to produce, men to create, labourers, woodcutters in the Middle Congo or the Ivory Coast, peasants in the Sudan or Dahomey, and so forth. The colonists of French West Africa and French Equatqrial Africa, the powerful colonial companies of the Belgian Congo and Rhodesia would not installed themselves in Africa had it not been for the wealth of Africa in its soil and its men, regarded as an instrument to exploit that wealth. And it was in order to resist the great endemic scourges which threatened the quantitative equilibrium of the population by reducing manpower that the colonial power created the corps of African doctors, with the determination to make them a subordinate corps, of ‘medical workers’.

Thus, on the level of pure knowledge, on the level of universal knowledge, the education dispensed in Africa was deliberately inferior and limited to those disciplines which would allow the better exploitation of the population. In addition, primary and secondary education was constantly directed towards depersonalization and cultural dependence.

We must denounce that false sentimentalism which consists in believing ourselves indebted to the contribution of a culture imposed to the detriment of our own. The problem must be tackled objectively. How many of our young students, even without realizing it, judge African culture by assessing it according to the hierarchy of values established in this field by the culture of the colonial power?

The value of a culture can only be assessed in relation to its influence in the development of social conduct. Culture is the way in which a given society directs and utilizes its resources of thought.

Marx and Ghandi have not contributed less to the progress of humanity than Victor Hugo or Pasteur.

But while we were learning to appreciate such a culture and to know the names of its most eminent interpreters, we were gradually losing the traditional notions of our own culture and the memory of those who had thrown lustre upon it. How many of our young schoolchildren who can quote Bossuet, are ignorant of the life of El Hadj Omar? How many African intellectuals have unconsciously deprived themselves of the wealth of our culture so as to assimilate the philosophic concepts of a Descartes or a Bergson?

So long as we argue solely in the light of this external acquisition, so long as we continue to judge and to make our determinations according to the values of colonial culture, we shall not be decolonized and we shall not succeed in giving our thoughts and acts a national content, that is to say a utility placed at the service of our Society. So true is it that every culture worthy of the name must be able to give and to receive; we can only regard foreign cultures as a necessary contribution to the enrichment of our own culture.

The surroundings determine the individual; that is why the peasant in our villages has more authentically African characteristics than the lawyer or doctor in the big towns. In fact the former, who preserves more or less intact his personality and the nature of his culture, is more sensitive to the real needs of Africa.

There is no indictment to be drawn up against intellectualism but it is important to demonstrate the depersonalization of the African intellectual, a depersonalization for which nobody can hold him responsible, because it is the price which the colonial system demands for teaching him the universal knowledge which enables him to be an engineer, a doctor, an architect or an accountant. That is why decolonization at the individual level must operate more profoundly upon those who have been trained by the colonial system.

It is in relation to this decolonization that the African intellectual will afford effective and invaluable aid to Africa. The more he realizes the need to free himself intellectually from the colonized complex, the more he will discover our original virtues and the more he will serve the African cause.

Our incessant efforts will be directed towards finding our own ways of development if we wish our emancipation and our evolution to take place without our personality being changed thereby. Every time we adopt a solution which is authentically African in its nature and its conception, we shall solve our problems easily, because all those who take part will not be disorientated or surprised by what they have to achieve; they will realize without difficulty the manner in which they must work, act, and think. Our specific qualities will be used to the full and, in the long run, we shall speed up our historic evolution.

How many young men and young girls have lost the taste our traditional dances and the cultural value of our popular songs; they have all become enthusiasts for the tango or the waltz or for some singer of charm or realism.
This unconsciousness of our characteristic values inevitably leads to our isolation from our own social background, whose slightest human qualities escape us. In this way we finish by disregarding the real significance of the things which surround us, our own significance.

In contrast, the African peasants and craftsmen are in no way complicated by the colonial system, whose culture, habits and values they do not know.

Is it necessary to emphasize that, in spite of their good will, their discipline and their fidelity to the ideal of freedom and democracy, in spite of their faith in the destiny of their country, the colonized who have been educated by the colonizer have their thought more tainted by the colonial imprint than the rural masses who have evolved in their original context.

Africa is essentially a country of community government. Collective life and social solidarity give its habits a fund of humanism which many peoples might envy. It is also because of these human qualities that a human being in Africa cannot conceive the organization of his life outside that of the family, village or clan society. The voice of the African peoples has no features, no name, no individual ring. But in the circles which have been contaminated by the spirit of the colonizers, who has not observed the progress of personal egoism?

Who has not heard the defence of the theory of art for art’s sake, the theory of poetry for poetry’s sake, the theory of every man for himself?

Whereas our anonymous artists are the wonder of the world, and everywhere we are asked for our dances, our music, our songs, our statuettes, in order that their profound significance may be better known, some of our young intellectuals think that it is enough to know Prévert, Rimbaud, Picasso or Renoir to be cultivated and to be able to carry our culture, our art and our personality on to a higher plane. These people only appreciate the appearances of things, they only judge through the medium of their complexes and mentality of the ‘colonized’. For them, our popular songs are only of value so far as they fit harmoniously into the western modes which are foreign to their social significance.

Our painters! they would like them to be more classical; our masks and our statuettes! purely aesthetic; without realizing that African art is essentially utilitarian and social.

Mechanized and reduced to a certain restrictive form of thought, habituated to judge in the light of values which they have not been allowed to determine for themselves, educated to appreciate according to the spirit, thought, conditions and will of the colonial system, they are stupefied every time we denounce the nefarious character of their behaviour. But if they interrogated themselves, in the light, not of their theoretical knowledge of the world, but by attaining to selfconsciousness, about the true values of their people and their motherland, if they asked themselves what their conduct contributes to all Africa turned towards its objectives of liberation and progress, of peace and dignity, they would judge and appreciate our problems.

They do not realize that the slightest of our original artistic manifestations represents an active participation in the life of our people. They divorce themselves from the culture of the people, the art of real life.

In all things there is form and substance, and what is of prime importance in African art is its effective and living content, the profound thought which animates it and makes it useful to Society.

Intellectuals or artists, thinkers or researchers, their capacities have no values unless they really concur with the life of the people, unless they are integrated in fundamental manner with the action, thought and aspirations of the populations.

If they isolate themselves from their own surroundings by their special mentality of the colonized, they can have no influence, they will be of no value to the revolutionary action which the African populations have undertaken to liberate themselves from colonialism, they will be outcasts and strangers in their own country.

This intellectual decolonization, this decolonization of thoughts and concepts may seem infinitely difficult. There is, in effect, a sum of acquired habits, of uncontrolled behaviour, a way of living, a manner of thinking, the combination of which constitutes a sort of second nature which certainly seems to have destroyed the original personality of the colonized.

It is not intellectual approaches, nor even a sustained and patient labour of readapting the will which will achieve the purpose. It will only be enough if there is reintegration in the social background, a return to Africa by the daily practice of African life so as to readapt oneself to its basic values, its proper activities, its special mentality.

The official, who lives constantly among other officials, will not give up his bad colonial habits, because they represent a daily practice for himself and the circles in which he lives. He will not succeed in defining himself in relation to the African revolution, he will continue to define himself in relation to himself as an official living in administrative circles. He will have reduced his human objectives solely to an administrative career.

The artist who is proudly convinced that it is enough for him to be known in order to express the African personality in his works, will remain a colonized intelligence, an intelligence enslaved by colonial thought.

Take the example of the Ballets of our comrade Keita Fodeiba which for several years have been touring the world to reveal through the medium of that traditional mode of expression, African dancing, the cultural, moral and intellectual values of our Society. And yet it was not at the Paris Opera or the Vienna Opera that these artists were initiated. Their choreographic initiation merely starts from their authentically African education and the national consciousness of our artistic values. The troupe is an anonymous troupe in which there is no first or second star. The singers only know the popular songs of Africa as they learned them in their far-off village. The value of the troupe of our comrade Keita Fodeiba is its authenticity, and it will have done more to reveal the social and choreographic values of Africa than will ever be done by all the works of colonial inspiration which have been written on this subject. And that because no author has been able or has understood how to interpret the internal significance of the dance, which is, in Africa, a part of the social and intellectual life of the people.

It is not enough to write a revolutionary hymn to take part in the African revolution; it is necessary to act in the revolution with the people—with the people and the hymns will come of their own accord.

In order to exercise authentic action, it is necessary to be oneself a living part of Africa and its thought, an element in that popular energy which is totally mobilized for the Liberation, progress and happiness of Africa. There is no place outside this one combat either for the artist or the intellectual who is not himself committed and totally mobilized with the people in the great struggle of Africa and of suffering humanity.

The man of Africa, yesterday still marked by the unworthiness of others, still excluded from universal enterprises, set at a distance from a world which had made him inferior by the practice of domination, this man, deprived of everything, stateless in his own country, seated naked and impoverished on his own wealth, is suddenly re-emerging into the world, to claim the fulness of his human rights and an entire share in universal life.

This attitude is not without doing some damage to the caricatured image which the colonial conquest had projected here and there, of the black man, doomed, according to them, to congenital incapacity. It is not the least of the errors of certain civilizations to shut themselves up in egocentric considerations in judging what is foreign to them and could not either satisfy their special criterions or their historic tradition, nor correspond to their hierarchy of conventional values.

It is a very heavy responsibility borne by the civilizations of conquest that they oriented their forces towards the destruction of human societies whose values they had neither the capacity nor the power to appreciate objectively. Contemplating the ruins of this destruction, the world of thought and the world of research are to-day in communion in the same anxious effort to try to snatch from the destroyed civilizations the secret of the unknown values which enabled them to develop according to an intellectual process, the universal knowledge of which is forever lost.

The crime of Fernando Cortez in torturing the last Emperor óf the Aztecs appears less as the misdeed of a man than as an irremediable error on the part of the civilizations of conquest.

In judging in the light of their own proper surroundings, in determining according to the values of their own proper cu1ture, the civilizations of conquest, far from encouraging the development of human values, have reduced their possibilities of expression and, of set purpose, subjected them partially to ferocious exploitation and generalized oppression.

But the reign of force and fraudulent possession is henceforth doomed to disaster, for there no longer exists any external influence, any foreign pressure which can bend a people to the laws of dispossession and domination. In the slow progress of the human universe, which is given sanction in proportion to the development of the universal conscience, brute force and illegitimate sway are becoming increasingly on the fringe of man’s positive values.

Africa which only yesterday was still the plaything and the take of boundless appetites, the mute witness of the slow degradation of the noblest social mentalities, is to-day totally committed to the road of its freedom, its dignity and its complete rehabilitation. Yesterday dominated, but not conquered, Africa is determined to deliver its special message to the world, and to contribute to the human universe the fruit of its experiences, the whole of its intellectual resources and the teachings of its proper culture.

The moral personality of Africa, long denied through the medium of the most fantastic interpretations and the grossest historical falsifications, barely precedes the growing manifestation of the African personality, which the forces of conquest and domination can no longer reduce with impunity.

The Negro, whatever may be his place of asylum, whatever his natal region, has finally liberated himself from the weight of a factitious inferiority inflicted upon him by the domination, from the moment that he reappeared in his full and entire authenticity, legitimately proud of the ability to reclaim control over his destiny and full responsibility for his history.

In truth, there could be no confusion between the apparent submission of the African peoples and their profound determination to escape from depersonalization. ‘To submit in order to save yourself’, ‘to accept in order to endure’, that has been the hard philosophy of the Negro snatched from his origins, or deprived of his free will.

No malediction will have weighed so heavily upon a people as that born of a coalition of race and interests to achieve, in the same enterprise, enslavement or destruction, exploitation or ruin.

But the domain of man, growing and extending beyond the bounds of the world, could not tolerate those enclosed estates which the feudal nations appropriated to themselves under the sign of force: the man of to-day requires the whole earth, a total solidarity and a full participation in its works and its enterprises. Partly by necessity and partly by conscious determination, man is proceeding to eliminate the individualistic and racist heresies of which the Negro world will have been the last tragic victim.

The gates of the future will not open before a few privileged ones, nor before a people elect among peoples, but they will yield to the combined thrust of peoples and races when the efforts of all peoples allied by the need of a universal fraternity are joined together and complete each other.

However near this time may be, and however powerful human hopes for a fruitful and unlimited future, universal reconciliation cannot become effective until the excluded peoples have achieved their total independence, exercised their entire dignity and ensured their full blossoming. To meet its requirements and abdicate none of its human responsibilities, Africa is drawing untiringly upon its own sources so as to perfect its authenticity and enrich the nourishing sap from which it has arisen throughout the obscure milleniums of history.

Harmonizing the resources of his thought with the pitiless laws of a world led and directed by the necessities of a constant development, having recourse to the hard disciplines of concrete knowledge as much as to his own moral and spiritual riches, the Negro is committed to maintain intact the values and outlook of an original culture which has survived all the extreme vicissitudes which have marked its estiny.It is just as superfluous to inquire what might or might not have been good as to try to determine opportunities lost or missed. Only error, analysed objectively according to its causes and effects, brings the mind a constant enrichment and gives man the positive achievement of experimentation.

Negro culture, preserved from any profound alteration, flows into universal life, not as an antagonistic element, but with the anxious care to be a factor of equilibrium, a power for peace, a force of solidarity in favour of a new civilization which will outdistance the great hopes of mankind and fashion itself in contact with all the currents of thought.

The future cannot be conceived as a reiteration of the past, no, as a closed field reserved solely for those human societies which are secretly initiated or arbitrarily privileged.

The future will be the sum of cultures and civilizations which do not measure their special contribution or drive a bargain in respect of their singular values. To reach these successive summits it is not too much for each one to join his efforts with those of others, to deliver to the world his intellectual resources and his scientific and technical knowledge, for no people, no nation, can move and grow except with and by the others. Any doctrine of cultural isolation of cellularization, whether its motives are a proud superiority or an unacceptable group selfishness, conceals a fatal error in consequence of which the isolated particle will succumb.

Without even wishing to respond to the unnatural challenge of the racist ideal, which insolently claims to harness for itself alone the sap and the fruits of the world, the Negro is convinced that his mere presence entitles him to a full and complete participation in human works, not as a denatured or outdone element, but in the character of a new power, of an unexploited intellectual force whose potentialities are relevant to the universal enterprises of progress, justice and human solidarity.

In the domain of thought man can claim to be the brain of the world, but on the plane of concrete life, where every intervention affects the physical and spiritual being, the world is always the brain of man, for it is at that level that the totality of thinking powers and units are found, the dynamic forces of development and perfection, it is there that the fusion of energies operates and that in the long run the sum of man’s intellectual values inscribed. But who can claim to exclude a particular group of thought, a particular form of thought, or a particular human family without by that very fact putting himself beyond the pale of universal life?

The right of existence extends to presence, conception, expression and action. Any amputation of this fundamental right must be set down as a debit to mankind’s account.

It is, for the rest, a difficult mission which the Negro has set himself who has chosen to be at the same time the intellectual instrument of the rehabilitation of a race and the messenger of a culture dispossessed of its right of free expression, and whose profound content and real significance have been falsified by the multiple interpretations given to it by the outside world.

But this action undertaken by the messengers of our culture cannot be isolated from the general movement for the reconquest of the rights of expression and means of development of the people of Africa, totally mobilized in the struggle for their dignity and their liberty, on the side of the equality of men and peoples.

The process of the participation of the Negro in universal achievements stems in the first place from the African personality, which cannot be validly reconstituted by the intermediary of wills or forces external to Africa, or outside the factors of independence and unity on which the destiny of the Negro world reposes. The cultural compromises which the domination has established by way of contact and by way of constraint, impose a complete reconversion upon the man of Africa so that his authentic personality, the full possibilities of his singular values and the means of employing his human resources may all reappear.

In the independence of its young sovereignty, that is the way which the people of Guinea have unanimously engaged themselves for the total liberation and effective unity of the African people so as to accelerate their march towards technical, economic a cultural progress in a society in perfect social and equilibrium and in a world of real human civilization.