by William Harrop
When I arrived as Chief of Mission to the Republic of Guinea in May 1975, Sekou Touré, the father of “African Socialism”, had been president for 17 years. He had founded a repressive Communist dictatorship. Guinea was a favorite of Moscow: the Soviets had built the university, the airfield, a railroad, a bauxite industry. The USSR had furnished advanced military equipment, technicians and training. The Soviet Embassy in the capital Conakry had a staff of 950—compared to our presence of 15 Americans! U.S. Peace Corps volunteers had been expelled.
Huge Soviet TU-95 bombers (called “Bears” by NATO intelligence), configured for electronic surveillance, began to refuel regularly in Conakry. Operating between Moscow, Conakry and the other Soviet clients in Angola and Cuba. These bombers tracked—and occasionally harassed—the NATO Atlantic fleet. I protested to President Touré that authorizing these flights involved Guinea in the Cold War, but to no avail. An admirer of John F. Kennedy, he insisted Guinea was non-aligned despite his ideological affinity for the Soviet bloc. But he was too beholden to the Russians to deny them military landing rights.
I looked for a source of leverage to force his hand. The answer was apparent. Food production had collapsed under Sekou Touré’s rigidly enforced but dysfunctional collective farming. Guinea had become dependent upon American grain supplied under our Public Law 480 agricultural assistance program. We “sold” American commodities to the Guinean Government for non-convertible sylis, the local currency. The United States held a large account of essentially worthless Guinean sylis, as we did of Polish zlotys and Indian rupees.
Knowing that it would be difficult for the Carter Administration to authorize an explicit link between humanitarian PL-480 assistance and U.S. security concerns, I acted on my own to string out the annual PL-480 negotiations—all the while reminding President Touré that permitting the TU-95 Bear flights was a hostile act against the Western Alliance and the United States. Touré, who liked to communicate with his people through public billboards, mounted signs that cried, “Down with Food Blackmail“. Only I knew what that meant. But he stopped the Bear Flights, and our fleet was relieved of the Soviet surveillance.
Amb. William C. Harrop served in the U. S. Foreign Service from 1954 to 1994. During his long career, he held ambassadorships to Guinea, Kenya and the Seychelles, Zaire, and Israel. He was deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa, 1977-80, and inspector general of the Foreign Service, 1983-86. Ambassador Harrop is a member of the board of directors of American Diplomacy Publishers, this journal’s parent organization.