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1958

The Cold War comes to Africa, as Guinea gains its independence

The former French colony of Guinea declares its independence on October 2, 1958, with Sekou Toure as the new nation’s first leader. Guinea was the sole French West African colony to opt for complete independence, rather than membership in the French Community, and soon thereafter France withdrew all aid to the new republic.

It soon became apparent that Toure would pose a problem for the United States. He was fiercely nationalistic and anti-imperialist, and much of his wrath and indignation was aimed at the United States for its alliances with colonial powers such as Great Britain and France and its refusal to openly condemn the white minority government of South Africa. More troubling for U.S. officials, however, was Guinea’s open courting of Soviet aid and money and signing of a military assistance agreement with the Soviet Union. By 1960, nearly half of Guinea’s exports were going to eastern bloc nations and the Soviets had committed millions of dollars of aid to the African republic. Toure was also intrigued by Mao’s communist experiments in China.

Toure played the Soviet Union and the United States against one another to get the aid and trade he desired. While Guinea’s relations with the United States got off to a rocky start (American newspapers routinely referred to the nation as “Red” Guinea), matters improved during the Kennedy administration when Toure refused to accommodate Soviet aircraft wishing to refuel on their way to Cuba during the missile crisis of 1962. In 1975, Toure changed course and allowed Soviet and Cuban aircraft to use Guinea’s airfields during the Angolan civil war, then he again reversed position by revoking the privileges in 1977 and moving closer to France and the United States.

The concerns of U.S. officials over communist influences in Guinea, and the up-and-down relationship with Guinea were but precursors of other difficulties the United States would face in postcolonial Africa. As Guinea and other former colonies achieved independence during the post-World War II period, Africa became another battleground in the U.S.-Soviet conflict.

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