Focusing on party politics and mass communication in Guinea, this book examines the regime of the Parti Démocratique de Guinée (PDG), which led Guinea to independence in 1958 and governed the country until it was overthrown by a military coup in 1984. Camara posits that the PDG and its charismatic leader, Sékou Touré, strove to build a noncapitalist African society that was free of foreign political, economic, and cultural domination. It championed "the people" as its source of sovereignty and legitimacy. Having come to power through democratic elections and claiming Guinea's independence on the basis of a popular referendum, the PDG was, in its early days, the embodiment of popular democracy. However, plots fomented internally and externally rendered the party increasingly intolerant of dissent, and by the late 1960s the PDG regime was engaging in systematic repression of its real or imagined opponents. Despite its enormous coercive powers, the state was unable to sustain itself by repression alone. Rather, Camara argues, mass communication, political propaganda, and ideological indoctrination were the forces that preserved the regime for twenty-six years.
After briefly exploring the evolution of the PDG's political philosophy and the stages in the nation's political development, Camara's study focuses on the regime's use of mass communication to indoctrinate and mobilize its followers. Assessing the impact of state-run radio, television, print media, and film, Camara argues that these standard forms of mass communication had limited impact. A relatively small percentage of the Guinean population was literate in French and had access to these expensive, urban-based media. The PDG therefore relied on other forms of mass communication to deliver its message.
Camara argues that the population was mobilized primarily through mass education, religion, sports, and culture. Music and dance associations and party griots helped popularize PDG ideals. Women's, youth, and religious organizations promulgated the party's message. At the local level, the party regularly held mass meetings in which party directives were presented and discussed. These forms of mass communication had been key to mobilization during the nationalist period, and they remained critical to party organization after independence.
According to Camara's top-down schema, communication between party officials and the masses was essentially a one-way street; messages were communicated to the populace from on-high. Although Camara mentions "radio trottoir"—the political rumor mill that ran parallel to official channels, the political satire of well-known artists, and the 1977 market women's revolt—he does not examine in detail various popular forms of mass communication that might have spread alternative messages. One example immediately comes to mind. During the independence struggle, most party songs were produced anonymously by nonliterate urban women. While male party leaders had applauded many of these songs, they had condemned others for their sexually explicit, taunting lyrics. Yet PDG women kept composing and singing such songs. Were these independent-minded women completely co-opted—or silenced—by the party after independence? What was the connection between these women and those who revolted against the government's economic policies in 1977? Unfortunately, Camara does not delve into such intriguing questions.
Camara's book provides a critical perspective on Sékou Touré's Guinea by a former PDG insider who was a product of the party's youth organization and national educational system and who worked as a journalist in the party's mass communication network. With numerous contacts among the Guinean political elite, he was able to conduct oral interviews with former party officials, PDG dissenters, political detainees, teachers, journalists, and religious leaders. He supplemented this oral data with information gleaned from a wide range of secondary works, including many written by Guineans of diverse political perspectives. Unfortunately, relatively little of his data was culled from primary documents. Most official party papers were destroyed by the military following the 1984 coup. While Camara notes that he salvaged his own collection, some of which was amassed in the early 1980s during his service in the presidential press bureau, he rarely cites these significant primary sources. Such criticism aside, Camara's book is a welcome addition to the literature on independent Guinea, little of which exists...