It was a classic "Catch-22," said the frustrated banker from New York.
Guinea was applying for a loan, but President Ahmed Sekou Toure refused to release such basic data as Guinea's foreign exchange reserve figures, the amount of its external debt, debt-ratio payment amounts or the country's import-export figures from which the bank could make a judgment, the banker added.
"The International Monetary Fund has the figures but they're under a strict agreement not to release them unless Toure personally okays it," he said.
Toure's personal approval is the key to getting almost anything accomplished in Guinea. The government plods along because virtually every decision must pass for approval in front of "The Supreme Guide of the Revolution."
The 60-year-old son of a poor peasant family from the savanna interior town of Faranah, Toure's demeanor is deceptively gentle at first encounter. He exhibits a penchant for small talk and regularly invites businessmen and visiting journalists to join him for dinner.
Dining with him one late evening, I found it difficult to reconcile Toure's concern for the sick family of a French woman at the table with his history as a pre-independence trade union militant who, after taking office, executed five teachers in 1961 for leading a strike or with his violent repression of any antirevolutionary sentiment.
Some of the hidden steeliness came forth when Toure's mouth hardened while he expressed his deep disdain for Guineans who feel they must live with imported luxuries, such as air conditioners. As he spoke, he raised his voice slightly to be heard above the steady hum of his own air conditioner.
Toure has studied Marx and Lenin but he volunteered in an interview that he is not a Marxist-Leninist because he believes in God. "Our revolution means that we will make men and women equal, without a hierarchy," said Toure, a devout Moslem. "Our socialism has faith in God and man," he added.
After independence, Toure attacked and weakened caste and clan allegiances to try to replace them with a loyalty to him, the Democratic Party of Guinea and the state, in that order, western diplomats said. Simultaneously, Toure led a campaign that demystified the hold of Moslem mystics on Guinea's three-quarters Moslem population, debunked the spiritual fetishes of traditional African religious adherents and brought the 5 percent Roman Catholic minority to heel. He even destroyed the independent trade union movement, once his power base.
Yet, Toure overlooked one institution--the generations-old loose association of women market traders. When he banned all retail trade in 1977, they rose in an angry protest that forced him to back down. Toure has been retreating on his earlier economic positions ever since.
Guinean observers said Toure was personally hurt by the women's protest. Women have been and still are Toure's fiercest devotees because he has sought equal rights for them. He has changed marriage laws, weakening the traditional systems that treated women as chattels. Women can now own property, have equal access to education and occupy high party and government posts.
"Toure is a political animal with a large ego, more than an economic politician," said one western analyst. "He is more flexible on economic issues than on political ones."
Still, major contradictions persist about Toure's pronouncements and his practices. His revolution is based on the intellectual, cultural and moral uplifting of mankind. But those who take a dissenting stand on Toure's revolution risk prison, repression or death.
But as Toure has mellowed, the purges have been replaced by a blossoming personality cult. In November, Toure sat through three weeks of a national festival featuring villagers' skits praising him.