Ahmed Sékou Touré (January 9, 1922 - March 26, 1984) was a politician who served as President of Guinea from the nation's independence in 1958 to his death in 1984. He is recognized as one of the leading Guinean politicians responsible for independence from France. He was the great-grandson of Mandinka Muslim cleric Samori Toure, leader of an independent Islamic state in West Africa. After declaring his political party, the Democratic Party of Guinea (Parti démocratique de Guinée, PDG), the only legal political party in 1960, he served four seven year terms unopposed as a functional dictator.
Sékou Touré was born on January 9, 1922 to a devout Muslim family in Faranah, then part of French Guinea. His family were noted aristocrats within the Mandinka ethnic group, being descendants of Muslim king Samory Touré, founder of the Wassoulou Empire, a notable pre-colonial Islamic empire in West Africa. Touré was first educated in the local Qur'anic school before transferring to lower-primary school in Kankan. He eventually enrolled in the Georges Poiret Technical School, but was expelled shortly after this for leading student protests against food quality. He joined a union following his expulsion and began to study the works of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. In 1941, he began working as a postal clerk in Conakry.
He became first politically active from this postal clerk position, founding the Post and Telecommunications Workers' Union (SPTT), the first trade union in French Guinea. He also was a founding member of the African Democratic Rally (RDA), a broad coalition of French African colonial parties. In 1952, he became secretary of the RDA's Guinean branch, the PDG. He would participate in the coordination of various strikes and labor unions for the next few years, until being elected representative of Guinea to the French national assembly and Mayor of Conakry in 1956. In 1958, Guinea participated in a French constitutional referendum, where colonies would get the choice to either seek further integration with metropolitan France or become autonomous communities within a larger French Community. Rejection of the constitution meant independence, which Guinea was the only colony to vote for in 1958, making Touré president. This meant all French aid ceased to the country, although the rest of French West Africa gained independence by 1960.
1960 was also the year Touré declared the PDG as the sole political party in Guinea, although it had been functioning as the sole party since 1958 anyways. Touré held virtually all governing power for the next 24 years of his rule. His policies were strongly Marxist, with his government nationalizing foreign companies and centralizing the economy. This resulted in him winning the Lenin Peace Prize in 1961. During his reign he exiled or imprisoned those opposed to his regime. Widespread opposition increased to his rule as he continued to reject French aid and failed to improve the economy and democratic rights, with him being quoted as saying "Guinea prefers poverty in freedom to riches in slavery." Amnesty International found that, between 1969 and 1976, 4,000 citizens within Guinea were arrested for political purposes, with 2,900 having an unknown fate. Touré is estimated to have killed 50,000 people during his time as President, with many having been held in concentration camps, most famously Camp Boiro. Mass graves were uncovered containing many of his victims in 2002. Later in life, he sought greater American investment, despite having rejected the US throughout most of his rule. Towards the end of his tenure, the average annual income in Guinea was $140, life expectancy was 41 years and the literacy rate was a measly 10%. Touré died on 26 March, 1984 in Ohio following surgery for heart failure sustained in Saudi Arabia. A new constitution was nearly enacted which would have elected the leader of the PDG to a seven year term as president automatically, which was then to be confirmed by voters. A military coup launched against the party mere hours before Touré's successor was to be chosen, causing the army to take over the government. The coup denounced Touré's government as a "bloody and ruthless dictatorship." The National Assembly and the Constitution were both suspended, while the PDG was abolished.