When I arrived as Chief of Mission to the Republic of Guinea in May 1975, Sekou Toure, 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 Toure 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 Toure'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...