A West African country, Guinea was formerly known as French Guinea and is sometimes called Guinea Conakry to separate it from its neighbor, Guinea Bissau. Conakry is the largest city, seat of government, and capital.
Guinea’s area is 246,000 sq. km and the country forms a crescent with a curve from its western border to the Atlantic. Mali, Senegal, and Guinea-Bissau share the northern border and Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Côte d’Ivoire are to the south. The Niger River flows east and arises in Guinea.
The 10,000,000 people in Guinea are part of 24 ethnic groups. The main groups are the Fula, Mandinka, and Susu.
The modern state of Guinea did not come into existence until 1958, but the history of Guinea stretches back well before European colonization.
After the fall of the major West African empires, various kingdoms existed in what is now Guinea:
Fulani Muslims migrated to Fouta Jallon in Central Guinea and established an Islamic state from 1735 to 1898 with a written constitution and alternate rulers. Fouta Djallon is a highland region in the center of Guinea. The indigenous name in the Pular language is Fuuta-Jaloo. The origin of the name is from the Pular word for the region plus the name of the original inhabitants, the Yalunka or Jalonke.
The Wassoulou empire sometimes referred to as the Mandinka Empire was a short-lived (1878–1898) empire, led by Samory Touré in the predominantly Malinké area of what is now upper Guinea and southwestern Mali (Wassoulou). It moved to Ivory Coast before being conquered by the French.
From 1880 until his death, Samori’s ambition was opposed by the expansion of the French. He entered into combat with the colonial army, defeating them on several occasions, including a notable victory on 2 April 1882, at Woyowayanko in the face of French heavy artillery.
On 29 September 1898, he was captured by the French Commandant Goudraud and exiled to Gabon, marking the end of the Wassoulou Empire.
Governments Since Independence
On October 2, 1958, Guinea earned its independence. The country’s rulers have been autocratic and Guinea is one of the world’s poorest countries.
Ahmed Sekou Toure was the president when the country gained independence. He ruled by using violent repression until he died on March 26, 1984. Lansana Conte became president after a short coup. He also ruled as a despot until he died in 2008. Guinea’s economic situation did not improve despite large aluminum resources.
Moussa Dadis Camara took control on December 23, 2008 as the leader of a junta. The junta ordered protesters attacked on September 28, 2009. Its soldiers have been accused of mutilation, rape, and murder in these attacks.
Camara was shot by an aide during a dispute on December 3, 2009. When Camara went to Morocco for medical treatment, his vice-president, Sekouba Konate, returned from Lebanon to run the country.
On January 12, 2010, Camara went to Burkina Faso and issued a statement pledging a return to civilian rule within six months. The agreement stated Camara would continue his medical recovery outside Guinea and the military would not intervene in the elections. The junta appointed Jean-Marie Dore as Prime Minister of the transition government on January 21, 2010.
In June and July 2010, the elections occurred and were the first free and fair votes since independence. After the first rounds, Cellou Dalein Diallo and Alpha Conde were the winners and set to move into the second round. These elections were postponed due to allegations of fraud.
Regions and Prefectures
Guinea is 10 degrees north of the equator and covers 245,857 sq. km. There are four regions with distinct characteristics. Those include Maritime Guinea, Mid-Guinea, Upper-Guinea, and Forested Guinea. The seven administrative regions are Kankan, Kindia, Nzerekore, Labe Faranah, and Mamou. These are subdivided into 33 prefectures.
Guinea’s land area is approximately the size of the U.K. Its land border is 3,400 km and the coastline is 300 km. The four regions are Basse-Cote, Fouta Djallon, Sahelian Haute-Guinea, and the jungle areas. The mountains are the source of the Niger, Senegal, and Gambia rivers. Mount Nimba is the highest point at 1,750 m.
Guinea’s large natural resources include 25 percent of the bauxite reserves known in the world. There are also deposits of gold, diamonds, and other metals. Hydroelectric power has potential as well. There are also plants for juices, beer, soft drinks, and tobacco. 80 percent of the people in Guinea are employed in agriculture. Early in the country’s history, Guinea was a major exporter of coffee, peanuts, palm oil, pineapples, and bananas.
In addition to bauxite, Guinea also has large diamond, iron, and gold deposits. Uranium may also be present but its quantities are unknown. Agriculture and fishing are potential growth areas. Guinea’s poor infrastructure and corruption hinder development.
80 percent of Guinea’s foreign exchanges result from bauxite mining in the northwest. The main bauxite company is Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinea (CBG). CBG is 49 percent government owned and the remainder is owned by Alcan and Alcoa. Other bauxite companies are the Compagnie des Bauxites de Kindia, Dian Dian, and Alumina Compagnie de Guinee. The government owns significant parts of these companies.
Large-scale gold and diamond mining also occurs. AREDOR is a diamond-mining venture partly owned by the Guinean government. The largest gold mining operation is also partly government owned.
Problems and Reforms
In the 1990s the government adopted policies to privatize commercial activity and reduce state involvement. If implemented, there is potential for development, but this has been hindered by corruption, lack of stability, and lack of transparent budgeting.
Some of these reforms include ending agriculture restrictions, creating a proper exchange rate, increasing education spending, and cutting bureaucracy. In 1996, the president promised additional reforms and appointed a new government. The country continued reforms in 1996 and 1998 under IMF agreements.
Guinea’s investment code was modified in 1998 to stimulate the economy. There is no discrimination between foreign and domestic investment. Outside Conakry, foreign investment is given more favorable terms. A commission reviews all investment proposals. There is an agreement between Guinea and the U.S. providing political risk insurance to American investors. There is also an arbitration system that was installed to quickly resolve disputes.
In 1999, a cabinet change led to increased corruption and mismanagement. This slowed the pace of reforms.
Water and electrical utilities were operated privately until 2001. Due to inefficiency and corruption, the foreign private investors departed the country.
In 2002, due to the government’s failure to meet criteria, the IMF suspended Guinea’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF). While the government met spending goals in social sectors, military spending contributed to a fiscal deficit. This loss forced the government to seek finances from the Central Bank.
Reforms were begun in 2004 under Prime Minister Diallo. Gasoline price controls have been loosened, exchange rates have been allowed to float, and government spending has been reduced. Inflation is still a problem, reaching 30 percent in 2005. Currency depreciation is also occurring with 5,554 Guinea francs to the dollar in 2006.
Most roads are in poor repair. Water and electricity are also in short supply.
Despite these problems, foreign investors still come to Guinea. Large, multi-national corporations like Global Alumina, Alcoa, and Alcan have invested in mining and refining operations. Hyperdynamics Corporation, an American oil company, also signed an agreement to develop offshore oil deposits.
Unemployment in Guinea’s youth is a major problem. While they see economically prosperous countries in the media, their inability to find work is frustrating.
In 2006, Guinea entered into a production agreement with Hyperdymanics Corporation out of Houston, Texas to explore offshore oil deposits.
Rail and domestic air services are insufficient and offer inadequate services. Most automobiles are over 20 years old. Guinea’s locals rely on taxi and small buses for travel. A small amount of river traffic also exists on the Niger and Milo rivers.
A new railway and deep-water port are expected to be built at Kalia and Simandou (south) due to planned iron mining. A new port near Simandou North is also set to be constructed due to additional iron mining.
The largest airport is the Conakry International Airport.
Guinea has a population of 12.4 million.The capital and largest city, Conakry, is Guinea’s economic and cultural hub.
French is the official language and other common languages are Susu, Pular, Maninka, Kissi, Kpelle, and Loma.
There are 24 ethnic groups in Guinea. 40 percent of the people belong to the Fulani and are mostly found in the Futa Jallon region. Of the remainder, 30 percent are Mandinka and 20 percent the Soussou. Other groups include the Kpelle, Kissi, Toma, and Zialo. There are 10,000 non-Africans.
85 percent of the people practice Islam, 10 percent are Christian, and 5 percent hold indigenous beliefs. Of the Muslims, most are Sufi or Sunni. Of the Christians, there are Roman Catholics, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Anglicans. The government recognizes the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are active. Small communities of Baha’i, Hindus, and Buddhists also live in Guinea.
There are four branches to the country’s armed forces. The army is the largest branch with 15,000 personnel and is responsible for securing the borders. There are 700 in the air force, which has several Russian planes and transports. 900 personnel are in the navy. The navy operates small patrol boats and barges.
Since the 1987 Bamako Initiative, Guinea has been reorganizing its healthcare system to promote comm
unity-based methods. This increased accessibility dramatically. There was also effort to extend all health care areas to improve indicators.
HIV/AIDS in Guinea
While the levels of HIV/AIDS are much lower than other African countries, Guinea is still considered to be facing an epidemic. At the end of 2004, estimates show 170,000 infected with HIV/AIDS.
The World Health Organization estimated 95.6 percent of women and girls in Guinea had suffered female genital mutilation in 2005.
Guinea’s musical tradition is rich and diverse as it is in other West African countries. A musical group, Bembeya Jazz, became rose in popularity in the 1960s after independence.