Boubacar (Bubakar) Diallo Telli: The Tragic Death of a great African

The tragic death of Boubacar Diallo Teli, the first general secretary of the Organization of African Unity shocked the world. What was most shocking, however, was the circumstance of his death. As his biographer Andre Lewin described it, his death took place on March 2,  1977, in the morning in cell 52 of Camp Boiro, in Conakry: “ He was transferred there two weeks earlier, and the letter D on the hermetically sealed metal door of his cell indicates “Black Diet”, that is, no food or water, while the air, light and the rumors of the camp penetrate parsimoniously by the slender flare at the bottom of the leaf. Several other prisoners of the “Fulani plot” of the previous year (almost all of them), treated like him, die under the same conditions. After some symbolic samples that will be used for ritual sessions, their bodies will be buried without religious ceremony in the cemetery of Caporo, and their belongings burned.”

Such awful end, 32 years ago, of a champion of Black Africa against colonialists and one of the continent’s most able diplomats, puts the minds of young Africans today in a state of perplexity. How can Sekou Toure, who claimed the mantel of the father of African independence and unity along with Kuwamen Nkruma, would commit such horrible act against the very person who helped to build the organization of African Unity, and skilled diplomat who helped Guinea to be admitted in the UN despite France opposition and effort to derail the process? But time will tell us that Sekou Toure was not a hero but a pathological dictator who jailed and killed all the intellectuals Guinean, whom he was suspicious of and was always afraid that they are trying to get him. By eliminating all the intellectual class for fear of being opposed, Sekou Toure has deprived the newly independent Guinea all its potentials for building a progressive nation. Something that Guinea is still struggling with after sixty years of independence.

    Who was Boubakar Diallo Telli

Diallo-Telli describes himself in this order, as a Pullo (Fulani), African, Guinean, and Muslim. In a New York Times article published on July 22, 1964, he has been described as “…a Moslem who has made a name at the United Nations over the last six years as a fighter for the rights of Black Africa without showing bitter-ness. He has earned the title of “hadji” (pilgrim)—though he does not use it—by making the pilgrimage to Mecca in 1956. He yields to nobody in his insistence on full independence for all Africans, but he is not needlessly belligerent. Mr. Diallo is not only respected but also liked by most of the delegates whose policies he fights.”

   Education Background and Early Career

Boubacar Telli Diallo was born in 1925 in the small village of Porédaka, in the heart of the Fuuta Djallon massif, called also Middle Guinea. He entered the Qur’anic school and then Poredaka primary school early at the age of six. His demeanor of an intelligent and hardworking child earned him the admiration and encouragement of the township chief.

In 1940, at the age of 15, his family moved to Teliko, close to the city of Mamou and he transferred to the school of the city. Shortly thereafter, on the advice of his French teachers, he was sent to Conakry, capital of the colony. He continued his studies at the Upper Primary School, the future classical high school of Donka, in the suburbs of the city. Despite brilliant results, Diallo Telli does not pass the Baccalaureate (High School Diploma).

Eager to continue his education, Telli did what most of his Guinean countrymen do including those from Fulani families somewhat wealthy, that is he traveled to Dakar, the then capital of french west Africa. Arrived in Dakar, Telli enrolled in School William Ponty of Sebikotane an institution created in 1903 by the French colonial administration to prepare the next intellectual elite of West Africa. However, Telli’s family did not have the means to support him for a long time and as a result, he was not able to continue his studies but manages to enter the colonial administration at a modest level. That was in 1946 and Diallo Telli was 21 years old.

While employed in the general services of the General Government of French West Africa in Dakar as an official of the AOF Common Secondary, a young French administrator with whom he works, Pierre Cros, evokes in front of him the possibility of making an otherwise interesting and brilliant career in the colonial Administration or Judiciary, thanks to the National School of France overseas (ENFOM). But for that, you must have your Baccalaureate and then go to Paris. Diallo Telli, therefore, benefits from the special provisions adopted at the time for the promotion of young African executives. They allow those who are graduates of the William Ponty School, particularly, to pass their Baccalaureate to continue higher studies in France.

The school year 1946-1947, therefore, sees Telli return to the school of Dakar to prepare the two parts of the baccalaureate which he succeeded. One of the professors who taught Telli at that school was Jean Suret-Canale a member of the French Communist Party. The same Jean Suret-Canal will be ten years later among the very few French teachers who will agree to stay in Guinea after independence, under a local Guinean contract, against the expressed will of the French government of the time who will punish them by ending their links with the French Administration or penalizing them by refusing to count in their seniority the years spent teaching in that country.

Once awarded the prestigious diploma, Telli leaves for France and immediately enrolled in the Faculty of Law and Economics of Paris, located in the Pantheon, in the Latin Quarter. In addition to a degree in law and economics, Telli also assiduously prepares for the entrance exam for ENFOM. It’s a true student life in Paris that Telli saw during those few years. In the summer of 1951, Diallo Telli, who had just obtained a degree in law and economics, was awarded first prize in the “B” competition of the French National School of Overseas, reserved for young people who were already civil servants.

The beginnings of a rich career of a public servant

Major of his promotion, instead of choosing the sector “General Administration” which was then the most popular, he chose the “Judiciary” section. As soon as he graduated from the National School of France overseas with his classmates from 1951 to 1953, Diallo Telli was assigned, according to his choice, to the Overseas Judiciary, whose framework was jointly managed. by the Minister of Justice and that of France from overseas. He is appointed to the position of substitute of the public prosecutor at the third-class court of Thiès in Senegal, a position that has just been created. But he will not last in the Capital of Rail.

After Thiès, he first became cabinet chief of the High Commissioner of AOF, West Africa, in Dakar, in 1955. He then applied for the post of Secretary-General of the AOF and was finally selected for this position. In April 1957, when he was 32, he became the highest‐placed African in the French West African administration, as Secretary-General of the Grand Council of French West Africa, the parliament of the eight French West African territories, where he met Sekou Toure for the first time.

The 18 months he will spend in this position will allow him to become familiar with the functioning of parliamentary institutions, and especially to meet some big names like Léopold Sédar Senghor, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Lamine Guèye, Modibo Keïta, Fily Dabo Sissoko, Djibo Bakary, Hamani Diori, Ouezzin Coulibaly and many others African leaders.

   From the UN to OAU and then to the death at the Camp-Boiro

On September 28, 1958, therefore during the referendum on the Constitution organized by France after the return to the affairs of General de Gaulle, a huge majority of the Guinean people follow the instructions of Sékou Touré and the Democratic Party of Guinea and vote “no”, clearly meaning his choice in favor of immediate independence. The desire to make its official entry into the international community by becoming a member of the United Nations organization is then one of the first manifestations of the independence of any new State. Sekou Toure therefore rightly pays great attention to the problem of Guinea’s admission to the UN. After the referendum of 1958, Diallo Telli made the choice to come to serve his country. Aware of his potential, Sékou Touré charged him with admitting Guinea to the UN. Telli succeeds in a few weeks, despite the delaying maneuvers in Paris.

Guinea delegate Diallo Telli at the UN General Assembly.

Ambassador to Washington and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Telli quickly asserts himself within the Afro-Asian group. He has earned a reputation for volubility and at the same time for the efficient direction of the debate. He is always accessible to the press and always ready to expound his views. Arrived in New York at the end of 1958, he will represent Guinea to the UN until June 1960, then again from March 1961 until August 1964, when he will take up his post in Addis Ababa at the head of the OAU (Organization of African Unity) secretariat, where his name is imposed when in 1963 this African body was created. He will be the secretary-general for two terms, until 1972, when he is not re-elected, largely because of the reluctance of Sekou Toure, before whom he has repeatedly had to justify his loyalty.

  Despite many advice, especially those of his wife Kadidiatou, he returned with his family to Conakry, where he became Minister of Justice. His experience and his temperament often push him to be too frank and therefore imprudent.

     The so-called “Fulbe Plot”

From 1960 to 1984 just two weeks before his death, in order to eliminate his potential rivals, Sekou Toure and his army made many claims of dismantling several imaginary coups and plots aimed at destabilizing his regime, guided, according to him, by people whom he calls agents of imperialists and enemies of the people. In each of those events, the victims were arrested and shot to death or killed by starvation while in jail. Among his countless victims are former Ministers, political operatives, high-ranking military officials, teachers, and wealthy businessmen. In July 1976, Sekou Toure announces again that a plot against him was foiled. This time the” commanditaires” were Fulbe. The operation was aimed primarily at liquidating Telli Diallo whose international notoriety indisposed the head of the Guinean state. And, because of this, the arrest was long overdue. Thus, all Guineans who had expected this tragic outcome were astonished to see the former Secretary-General of the OAU return to his country soon after the non-renewal of his mandate in June 1972 at the Rabat summit.

On July 19 Diallo-Telli was arrested and sent to Camp Boiro. Along with him, several personalities were arrested. Among them were two ministers of the government, Alpha Oumar Barry and Alioune Dramé, a magistrate Souleymane Sy Savané, a garrison commander Lamine Kouyate and one of his lieutenants, Alhassane Diallo.

“On August 9th, his first [forced] “confessions” were publicly broadcast,” Lewin writes, “on a plot of which he is the inspiration, but they appear insufficient to Sekou Toure, who asks that this “ungrateful” who owes him everything should be “re-examined”. The revolutionary committee, led by Ismael Toure, knows how to use the right methods: on August 22nd, new confessions even more improbable than the first ones are diffused. He admits that he was recruited for the CIA by Henry Kissinger himself and must take the lead of a government favorable to Western interests, after eliminating Sékou Touré and ending the Revolution.”

The silence then falls. Diallo Telli “confessed” what was expected of him. At the camp, he shows great courage and shows his religious faith. “In December and January,” according to Andre Lewin, “he exchanges some surprising letters with Sékou, who accuses him once again of having betrayed the Guinean revolution and to represent the “anti-people class”, while he himself, still addressing his “dear President “, congratulates him on the “political turn so much desired by our people “and is beginning to manifest itself in both foreign and domestic politics. For the rest, he relies on Allah.” One month later Diallo died in his prison cell at Camp Boiro. He was arrested while his name was circulating for an African candidacy for the post of Secretary-General of the UN.

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