The Foreign Service Journal, February 2011

F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 1 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 45 clasped Vice President George H.W. Bush’s shoes tightly as we were being shoved into the dense crowd of dignitaries in a sweltering room inside Conakry’s Grand Mosque. The day before, I had joined White House Secret Service agents to in- spect the mosque and verify with the grand imam that “infidels” would be allowed to enter the mosque to observe the funeral of independent Guinea’s first president, Ahmed Sékou Touré. One of modern Africa’s founding fathers, Sékou Touré was known to his people as the Grand Syli (Great Elephant). Everything checked out, so we thought the U.S. delega- tion was finally ready to participate in the daylong funeral ceremonies planned for March 30, 1984. But as it happened, despite our best efforts, we were still not prepared for the chaos that engulfed us. To start with, so many VIPs had come from around the world that there was not enough room for all their planes at Conakry’s dilapidated, pre-independence airport. Just find- ing space for Air Force One and the cargo plane (carrying a couple of limousines) used by Vice President Bush and his party had been a real challenge, especially in the absence of any certainty about who was in control of the host govern- ment following Touré’s death. That problem solved, we still had to get the vice presi- dent’s entourage to the first ceremony at the national sta- dium, where heat exhaustion became a concern as the temperatures and humidity both approached the 100-degree mark. The scene was total disorder, with people milling about in all directions. It looked like one of Africa’s big open markets. A Wrong Turn I was struck that nobody (except the Secret Service agents) seemed to notice the pandemonium. We didn’t even realize the ceremonies in the stadium were over until the agent from the Guinean Foreign Ministry assigned to the U.S. delegation told us we could leave. The Secret Service agents did their best to open a path for Vice President Bush to enter his limousine but, to their hor- ror, he somehow got into the bus waiting for African presi- dents. This unexpected development obliged the agents to run alongside the bus in congested streets for the couple of kilometers separating the stadium from the mosque. The weather and the attire of the day, black suits and ties, soon took a heavy toll on them. Meanwhile, I was in my assigned position at the mosque, ready to welcome the vice president and the U.S. ambassador to Guinea, James Rosenthal. When they arrived, we joined other Christian presidents and prime ministers headed for the side room that had been designated the day before as our entry point into the mosque. The room was so small that we immediately felt like a can of sardines in a sauna. T HE G RAND S YLI ’ S F UNERAL A RETIRED FSO RECALLS HIS PART IN THE CHAOTIC BURIAL OF AN A FRICAN PRESIDENT MANY YEARS AGO . B Y M ARK G. W ENTLING Mark G. Wentling spent nine years with the Peace Corps be- fore joining USAID in 1977. As an FSO, he served in Niamey, Conakry, Lome, Mogadishu, Dar es Salaam andWashington, D.C., before retiring from the Senior Foreign Service in 1996. He is currently the USAID country program manager for Burkina Faso. I