Guinea (country, Africa)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Guinea (country, Africa)

Guinea (gĬn´ē), officially Republic of Guinea, republic (2015 est. pop. 12,092,000), 94,925 sq mi (245,856 sq km), W Africa. It is bounded on the north by Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, and Mali; on the east by the Côte d'Ivoire; on the south by Sierra Leone and Liberia; and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean. Conakry is the capital and chief city.

Land and People

A humid and tropical country, Guinea comprises an alluvial coastal plain, the mountainous Fouta Djallon region, a savanna interior, and the forested Guinea Highlands, which rise to c.5,800 ft (1,770 m) in the Nimba Mts. Guinea's main ethnic groups are the pastoral Fulani and the agrarian Malinké, Susu, and other peoples. Although French is the country's official language, each ethnic group has its own language. About 85% of the population is Muslim; the rest are either Christian or followers of traditional religious beliefs.


Predominantly agricultural, Guinea produces rice, coffee, pineapples, palm kernels, cassava, bananas, and sweet potatoes. Livestock raising (cattle, sheep, and goats) is important in the highlands. The country has about a third of the world's bauxite deposits, which are mined jointly by Guinea and international companies. Gold, diamonds, and iron ore are also mined. Minerals account for more than 70% of all exports.

Alumina, made from bauxite, is also a leading export; other exports include fish, coffee, and a variety of agricultural products. The main imports are petroleum products, metals, machinery, transportation equipment, textiles, and grains. Guinea's chief trading partners are Russia, the United States, France, South Korea, Spain, and Belgium. Guinea has some light industry, but inadequate transportation facilities have hampered industrialization. Rail lines connect some large cities, and there are airports at Conakry and Kankan. Expansion of the mineral industry has led to improvement of the road network.


Guinea is governed under the constitution of 1990 (suspended after an army coup in 2008). The president, who is the head of state, is popularly elected for a seven-year term; there are no term limits. The prime minister, who is the head of government, is appointed by the president. The unicameral legislature consists of the 114-seat People's National Assembly, whose members are popularly elected for five-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 33 prefectures and one special zone (the capital).


Early History

The northeastern plains of present-day Guinea belonged to medieval Ghana and later to the Mali empire (see under Mali, History). In the early 18th cent., a Fulani feudal state was established in the Fouta Djallon region. European exploration of the Guinean coast began with the Portuguese in the mid-15th cent.; by the 17th cent. French, British, and Portuguese traders were competing for slaves and by the 19th cent. for palm oil, peanuts, and other products. Anger over excessive levies exacted from French traders by local chieftains led France to proclaim a protectorate over the Boké area of Guinea in 1849. After a series of wars and agreements with other tribal chiefs, France took control of much of the rest of Guinea and annexed it under the name Rivières du Sud [rivers of the south]. In 1891 it was constituted as a French colony separate from Senegal, of which it had hitherto been a part. Its name was changed to French Guinea in 1893, and two years later it became part of French West Africa.

Guinean resistance to French rule was not quelled until 1898, however, and sporadic revolts continued into the 20th cent. Little economic development occurred under the colonial regime until just before World War II, when exploitation of Guinea's rich bauxite deposits began. The parallel growth of a radical labor movement led to the rise of Sékou Touré, a union leader who also headed the Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG), a branch of the intercolonial Rassemblement Démocratique Africain.

Guinea under Sékou Touré

Under Touré's leadership, Guinea became the only colony to vote against the constitution of the French Community in 1958 and to opt for complete independence, which was achieved on Oct. 2, 1958. France retaliated by severing relations and withdrawing all financial and technical aid. Guinea cultivated close relations with the Soviet Union but expelled the Soviet ambassador in 1961 for alleged interference in the country's internal affairs. Touré also advocated African unity and steered the country into a union (largely symbolic) with Ghana in 1958; Mali joined in 1961.

In the late 1960s, Guinea sought improved relations with the West, although its basic international posture was one of nonalignment. Touré fostered Pan-Africanism, and in 1966, when Ghana's President Kwame Nkrumah was deposed, Touré welcomed him to Guinea as joint president. Under Touré, who held the presidency from the date of independence until his death in 1984, Guinea was a one-party Marxist-socialist republic. Touré was also head of the government and the PDG; in 1972 he relinquished the post.

In 1970 the country was invaded from Guinea-Bissau (then Portuguese Guinea) by a small force that included Guinean exiles opposed to Touré. The invasion was unsuccessful, and several political trials and executions followed. Guinea actively supported the independence movement in Guinea-Bissau, and Conakry was the movement's headquarters. In 1973, Guinea took greater control of the foreign-owned bauxite industry. Eventually, Touré's isolationist policies, brutal suppression of political opponents, and economic failures lost him public support. A softening of Touré's policies was evident toward the end of his tenure; he abandoned Marxism, normalized relations with France, and secured aid packages from both France and Arab nations.

The Conté Regime

Immediately after Touré's death, a military coup brought the Military Committee of National Recovery (CMRN) to power under Col. Lansana Conté. In 1989, under domestic and foreign pressure, Conté announced that civilian rule would be restored. Also in 1989, French funds were provided for the construction of a hydroelectric plant on the Konkouré River. A new constitution was approved in 1990, and in 1991 the CMRN was replaced by a transitional government, still under Conté.

In 1993, Conté won the presidency in the country's first multiparty presidential election, which was boycotted by some opposition groups and marred by accusations of fraud, as well as by scores of killings in the election campaign. An army revolt was put down in 1996. Conté was reelected in 1998, but the vote was denounced by opposition groups as rigged. From the mid- to late 1990s, Guinea received close to 400,000 refugees from the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Beginning in the late 1990s, Guinea saw the gradual suspension of foreign aid to Conté's government. The loss of aid has hurt Guinea's economy.

In 2000–2001, Guinean villages along the borders of Liberia and Sierra Leone were raided by foreign rebels, and the Guinean army counterattacked across the border in retaliation. The constitution was amended in 2001 to permit the president to run for a third term; at the same time the presidential term was extended from five years to seven. In Dec., 2003, Conté was reelected; opposition candidates boycotted the election. Fighting erupted between ethnic groups in the Forest Region (SE Guinea) in mid-2004; the hostilities were aggravated by an influx of combatants from nearby Liberia, and the region remained unsettled through 2005. Meanwhile, in Jan., 2005, there was an attempt to assassinate Conté, apparently as part of a failed coup. Former Liberian leader Charles Taylor was later accused of backing the plot in revenge for Conté's support for the rebels who forced Taylor from power.

Rising prices and discontent led unions to call a five-day general strike in Feb., 2006, which ended when the government made concessions. In Apr., 2006, the ailing Conté removed his prime minister, Cellou Dalien Diallo, from office for "serious misconduct," in an apparent power struggle over reform; a reorganization of the government, which would have strengthened Diallo's position, had been announced, but it was reversed by Conté. Continued economic problems and the failure of the government to deliver on its February concessions led to a new general strike in June; the nine-day strike was marked by violence, and again ended only after government concessions.

Antigovernment strikes and demonstrations, also marked by violence, erupted again in early 2007. An 18-day strike in January ended when the president agreed to appoint a new prime minister, but when he appointed his chief of staff a second strike was called in February. Contē then agreed to appoint a prime minister acceptable to the labor unions, and Lansana Kouyaté, a diplomat, was named to the post and a new government was appointed in March. Two months later there was more than a week of rioting in the capital by soldiers, who demanded better pay and housing and the replacement of the defense minister. Legislative elections due before June, 2007, were subsequently delayed into 2008, and Conté worked to diminish the new government's powers.

In May, 2008, Conté replaced Kouyaté with Ahmed Tidiane Souaré, a political ally. The move sparked a brief army mutiny over promised but unpaid pay hikes, but it ended after the government again promised the army its back pay and fired the defense minister. When Conté died in Dec., 2008, after a long illness, the army, led by Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, quickly seized power. Camara was named president of the junta, the National Council for Democracy and Development, and an international banker, Kabiné Komara, was named prime minister.

Camara, who had declared he would not to run for president when elections were held (postponed in Aug., 2009, to Jan., 2010), hinted in Aug., 2009, that he would run, which led to a large opposition demonstration in the capital in September. The demonstrators were brutally attacked and assaulted by Guinean troops, resulting in the death of scores and provoking an international outcry. In December, Camara was wounded in an assassination attempt and was evacuated to Morocco for treatment; Sékouba Konaté, the vice president and defense minister, was named interim leader.

In Jan., 2010, the convalescing Camara was brought to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, while Konaté negotiated with opposition leaders concerning the reestablishment of civilian rule. Jean-Marie Doré was appointed prime minister, and a mixed civilian and military interim government was formed in February. The June, 2010 presidential elections forced a runoff between former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo, the largest vote-getter, and opposition leader Alpha Condé. The second round, however, was delayed for months by a series of issues, including the fraud convictions of two senior election commission members and tensions, including violence, involving the two candidates and their supporters.

In the November runoff, Condé was elected president, but Diallo challenged the result, charging fraud, and there were post-election clashes between supporters of the two candidates and with Guinea's security forces. International observers, however, said that they had no evidence of systematic fraud, and Guinea's supreme court rejected fraud allegations made by both candidates because of insufficient evidence. Condé subsequently named Mohamed Said Fofana as prime minister. The president survived an assassination attempt in July, 2011.

The first half of 2013 was marked by increasing tensions between the government and opposition over the delayed legislative elections (originally planned for 2011); antigovernment protests at times turned violent. In July both sides finally agreed to hold the elections in Sept., 2013. Although Condé's Rally for the Guinean People (RPG) won the election, it only secured a majority of the seats with the help of coalition allies; the supreme court again rejected the fraud allegations made by the parties. Fofana remained prime minister after the election.

In Dec., 2013, an outbreak of Ebola virus apparently began in SW Guinea near the Liberia and Sierra Leone borders, and subsequently became epidemic in many parts of Guinea and nearly all of Liberia and Sierra Leone, killing some 11,300 people in the three countries by 2015. More than 2,500 died in Guinea. Delays in the holding of local elections, which were to be held in early 2014, led to new tensions between the government and opposition in 2014 and 2015. The Oct., 2015, presidential election resulted in a first-round win for Condé. Diallo, who placed second, accused the government and the electoral commission of fraud. Fofana stepped down as prime minister in Dec., 2015; Mamady Youla, a business executive, succeeded him.


See C. Riviere, Guinea (1977); T. E. O'Toole, Historical Dictionary of Guinea (2d ed. 1987).

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