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Get to Know Barry Diawadou, the Guinean Independence Hero the Government Prefers to Forget

Barry Diawadou via la capture d'écran de la vidéo Camp Boiro: 45 ans après sur YouTube

“Barry Diawadou Leader of Guinean Independance. Executed at Camp Boiro in 1969″ via a screenshot from the video, Camp Boiro: 45 years later on YouTube

The state-backed history of Guinea is selective in who it remembers and forgets, meaning that important historical figures who were not loyal to the dictatorship established after independence and still in place nearly sixty years later seldom get the lip service they deserve from the country's leadership.

On national holidays not one word is uttered in commemoration of Barry Diawadou, or Barry Ibrahima, also known as Barry III.

Neither does the state recognise many of the others who lie in graves, whose locations are unknown even to their relatives, that it slandered, arrested, expropriated, tortured and finally killed. No attempt has been made to rehabilitate these heroes posthumously and recognise their achievements in the independence struggle, and yet their executioners are praised often enough.

Barry Diawadou and Barry Ibrahima were leaders of the Guinean Independence before they fell victim to Sékou Touré's predatory post-independence regime. Sékou Touré was elected as the first President of Guinea, serving from 1958 to his death in 1984. He imprisoned or exiled his strongest opposition leaders. It is estimated that 50,000 people were killed under his regime.

Diawadou in particular, stands as compelling figure in the country's exit from colonialism.

A graduate of the department of Administration at the Ecole Normale William Ponty de Gorée, Diawadou served in World War II and obtained the rank of chief sergeant. He was elected several times as a member of the French National Assembly.

In an article published on the website “La Plume Plus”, Mody Boubakar Diallo writes:

Il fut le premier leader guinéen à donner le mot d’ordre à ses militants de voter ‘’ Non’’ au référendum proposé par le général De Gaulle, en vue d’une indépendance de la Guinée. Par ailleurs, il fut le premier leader à renoncer à tous les avantages dont il bénéficiait auprès de la France à savoir: Sa pension d’ancien combattant, ses biens matériels, sa pension de député à l’assemblée nationale française, sa nationalité française, tout ceci dans le seul but de favoriser l’accession de son pays à l’indépendance totale par patriotisme. En plus de tout cela, en 1959, quelques mois après l’indépendance, il refusera fermement l’offre de la France , de mettre à sa disposition de l’argent et une armée, pour un vote en faveur du « oui » évitant ainsi un bain de sang à son peuple. A noter que Barry Diawadou sauva de justesse le président Sékou Touré en lui recommandant de refuser de monter dans l’avion militaire devant le conduire à Dakar. La raison était très simple, les français voulaient le larguer en haute mer après son discours du 25 août 1958 à De Gaulle.

He was the first Guinean leader to call on his supporters to vote “no” in the referendum proposed by General De Gaulle [on membership of the French Community].  Moreover, he was the first leader to renounce all the benefits he was entitled to from France, namely his veteran's pension, his property, his salary as a member of the French National Assembly, and his French nationality; all for the sole purpose of promoting the transformation of his country towards full independence through patriotism. In 1959, some months after independence, he flatly refused France's offer to put at his disposal a salary and army in exchange for a “yes” vote, thus avoiding bloodshed for his people. [Ed:The referendum requested by France asked whether, after independence, Guinea would wish to remain within a newly formed francophone commonwealth]. It should also be noted that Barry Diawadou narrowly saved President Sékou Touré by advising him not to board a military aircraft bound for Dakar. The reason [for his advice] was simple, the French wanted to throw [Touré] out over the sea after his speech on August 25, 1958, addressed to De Gaulle.

In his book entitled Guinée, Le temps de Fripouilles (English: Guinea, The Era of Buggers)  Sako Kondé praises Diawadou's integrity and recalls an exchange between him and Touré during those turbulent times:

Un homme d’une honnêteté intellectuelle et d’un sens du bien public exemplaires. Certains ont pu dire de lui qu’il était « trop droit pour réussir en politique ». C’est sans doute, vrai… Beaucoup d’entre eux se souviennent de cette entrevue qu’il eut avec Sékou Touré à la veille du référendum : celui-ci vint le trouver pour lui dire en substance : « Le sort de la Guinée est entre tes mains ; tout dépendra de toi”

A man of true intellectual honesty and an exemplary sense of public good. Some could say he was “too honest to succeed in politics”. This is probably true… Many among them remember a meeting that took place with Sékou Touré on the eve of the referendum. He [Touré] came to him [Diawadou] and said in essence: “The fate of Guinea is in your hands, everything will depend on you”.

In his own book Expérience Guinéenne et Unité Africaine, (English: The Guinean Experience and African Unity) Sékou Touré, writing before his descent into total despotism, noted approvingly of Diawadou:

A l’avance, je vous dirai que chez ce camarade, nous avons constaté une parfaite loyauté.

I will tell you right now that with this comrade, we have found a man of perfect loyalty.

Sako Kondé describes the political situation that prevailed in Guinea and its evolution following the country's accession to independence:

A la veille du référendum il y avait, outre la section guinéenne du R.D.A., deux principales formations politiques minoritaires : le Bloc Africain de Guinée (B.A.G.) et le Mouvement Africain Socialiste (M.S.A.), dirigées respectivement par Barry Diawadou et Barry Ibrahima dit Barry III, tous deux assassinés depuis par leur ancien adversaire. L’« accord » entre ces deux partis et le P.D.G. intervint dans les tout premiers jours de l’indépendance. Sékou Touré pouvait alors exulter et déclarer que « notre peuple avait » transcendé les contradictions mineures qui le divisaient en de nombreux partis politiques » ; et que leur « unité » « donnait à l’option de la Guinée son entière signification politique et morale ». La population venait de rejeter la Communauté à plus de 94 %, conformément aux consignes concordantes de tous les dirigeants de parti. Mais s’agissait-il véritablement d’accord, d’unité ? Les faits n’allaient pas tarder à montrer que cette obscure convention entre états-majors n’était rien d’autre que l’arrêt de mort des partis minoritaires. Certes, leurs deux dirigeants étaient entrés dans le gouvernement P.D.G. Mais, en pratique, ils étaient désormais coupés de leur base, laquelle fut, en quelque sorte, aussitôt phagocytée par le parti unique. Et, déjà, le chef de cette dernière formation fourbissait ses armes et construisait, pièce par pièce sa machine à asservir.

On the eve of the referendum there was, besides the Guinean section of the RDA (African Democratic Rally, a sub-group of the PDG, the Democratic Party of Guinea), two main political minority groups: the African Bloc of Guinea (BAG), and the African Socialist Movement (MSA), led respectively by Barry Diawadou and Barry Ibrahima (Barry III), who were both later killed by their [shared] adversary. The “agreement” between these two parties and the PDG  took place during the very first days of independence. Sékou Touré could then gloat and declare that “our people had risen above the petty disagreements which divided the country into numerous political parties”; and claim that their “unity” made possible “Guinea's full political and moral significance”. The population had just rejected the French Community, with more than 94% [voting ‘No’], at the request of all party leaders.  But was it truly a matter of agreement, or unity? […] This shady deal among the general staff was nothing more than a death sentence for the minority parties. Certainly, their two leaders had entered the PDG government. But in practice, they were already cut off from their base, which was, in some way, immediately swallowed up by a single party.

The cunning Sékou Touré, meanwhile, was already a dictator-in-the-making.

Barry Diawadou est tombé victime d’un adversaire (Sékou Touré) bien plus à l’aise dans les marécages de la basse « politique politicienne » que sur le chantier de la construction nationale. L’histoire sait jouer des tours révoltants où l’on voit les tricheurs, les ignares, prendre le pas sur les honnêtes, les capables. Ce fut bien à un de ces tours qu’on assista en Guinée dans les premiers jours de l’indépendance. Que retenir de tout cela ?

Barry Diawadou fell victim to an adversary [Sékou Touré] more comfortable in “dirty-dealing politics” than in building a nation. History is full of dirty tricks whereby the cheaters and the ignorant take precedence over the honest and capable. […] What can we take away from this ?

The website campboiro.org describes Sékou Touré's persecution of Barry Diawadou and his family. Diawadou was executed by firing squad in 1969 following his trial and conviction in absentia of plotting against the regime.

His father, his brothers, one of his sons, two nephews, and a son-in-law all spent time behind bars. Diawadou's brother also died a prisoner. Below is a video which retraces the memories of families in this prison:

Camara Kaba 41, in his book Dans la Guinée de Sékou Touré: Cela a Bien eu Lieu, (English: Living in Sékou Touré's Guinea: How it Happened)  offers a harrowing description of the fate of a group of political prisoners under the Touré regime:

Ils étaient méconnaissables avec leur maigreur extrême et surtout avec leur barbe de plusieurs mois. A gauche de Fodéba, son ami Fofana Karim, ministre des Mines et de la Géologie. Kaman était à l’extrême droite. Il creusait sa tombe sous les baïonnettes de ses soldats d’hier.

They were unrecognisable with their extreme gauntness and especially their months-old beards. To the left of Fodéba, his friend Fofana Karim, Minister of Mines and Geology. Kaman was on the far right. They dug their graves under the the bayonets of the soldiers of yesterday.

This post was originally published on the Konakry Express.

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