Guinea Profile (A Brief History)
Updated: Nov 29, 2020
Guinea, officially the Republic of Guinea, is a Western African country located along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The country is also referred to as Guinea-Conakry to differentiate it from other countries that also go by the name, Guinea. Conakry is the capital city of Guinea. Guinea comprises of several ethnic groups such as the Mandinka, Susu, Koniaka, Kissi and Kpelle. French remains the official language of the country, with several vernacular languages which include Arabic, English, French, Fulani, Malinké, Fula, Mandika, Susu, Tima, Koro, Kpelle, and Kissi being used as well.
Early history of Guinea
Not much is known about the earliest inhabitants of modern-day Guinea, but archeological evidence suggest that it was settled by hunter-gather groups about 30,000 years ago. The territory presently known as Guinea has belonged to a series of prominent West African Sudanic empires; and the Ghana Empire was probably the first to dominate the territory. The Guinea territory later came into the possession of the Sosso kingdom sometime between the 12th and 13th centuries and the Islamic empire of Mandinka Mali would later defeat the Sosso ruler in 1235 to become the new owner of the Guinea territory.
About the year 1460, the Songhai empire started expanding and grew more powerful and richer as the Mali Empire began its decline. It overpowered the Mali empire and prospered for several years until the demise of its ruler, Askia Daoud in 1582. From then the Songhai empire began to grow weaker and was subdued three years later by invaders from Morocco.
The Moroccan inability to effectively rule the territory led to its break-up into various smaller kingdoms. One kingdom that emerged thereafter was the Futa Djalon kingdom of the Fulani Muslim group located in Central Guinea. Another notable kingdom was the Wassoulou empire which occupied the Malinke area (present day Upper Guinea) and the southwest region of Mali.
Arrival of Europeans in Guinea
In the 16th century European merchants arrived in the region of Guinea and with their entrance slave trade escalated in the region. The Europeans exploited the traditional regional slave practices they met on the ground and turned it into full-blown slave trade. By the mid-nineteen century French military forces began to penetrate the hinterlands of the Guinea region.
Samori Toure, the founder and leader of the Wassoulou Empire mounted a strong resistance against French occupation in 1882 with a well-structured and equipped army. However, the French took advantage of the ongoing rebellion of some of Toure's subjects who were opposed to Islamic teachings and were able to penetrate further into the territory.
Colonization of Guinea
Between 1886 and 1889 the French forced Toure to sign several treaties that would cede control of the Malinke area. With the final defeat of Samori Toure's army in 1898, France got absolute control of the entire Guinea region. Having negotiated the borders with neighboring British and Portuguese colonies, France established the Guinea region as the Territory of Guinea. The territory was a part of the larger French West Africa Colony which was administered from Dakar by an appointed Governor-general, and lieutenant governors administering the individual territories.
French military penetration of Sahara region began in the mid-1800’s with battles along the north Sahara region with several Islamic Kingdoms that dominated the area. Eventually by 1894 the French would conquer Timbuktu and the territories surrounding it and incorporate them into French Sudan (modern-day Mali and Senegal) as part of the French West Africa colony which included Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Mali.
During World War I, discontent among local tribes in Mali, just north of Burkina Faso, would set the stage for the Volta-Bani War. The locals would create an army of roughly 15,000 soldiers and fight French occupation for a year. The French would create its largest army in Africa to defeat the rebels. After the conclusion of the rebellion the French would create a buffer zone between Mali and separate Burkina Faso into a separate colony called the French Upper Volta. A new governor would be appointed, and massive construction projects would begin to modernize Burkina Faso.
After World War II, France created the French Union, a political entity under the constitution of October 27, 1946. The French Union was created to replace the old colonial ruling system with a system that would assimilate the overseas territories with French citizenship and culture. The territories would be managed by the French Union President and have an assembly of representatives from the different territories. The territories would have their own legislative bodies and self-rule but ultimately power would lay with French parliament.
The French Union would ultimately cede control of the territories after uprisings in the territories, in particular Algeria which was on the brink of civil war. Algerians had become hostel to French settlers and French rule and sought complete independence. On January 31, 1956, the French Union would allow all territories to further develop their own governments and eventually gain independence. The French Union would ultimately be replaced by the French Community in 1958 which further granted the territories more autonomy and eventually a roadmap for complete independence.
Independence of Guinea
Following political instability and challenges with the administration of its colonies, the French Fourth Republic collapsed; and in 1958 the French Fifth Republic came to being. The then French president, Charles de Gaulle, gave all French colonies the options of more autonomy in a new French community or being granted independence expressly. While others French colonies chose autonomy, the Territory of Guinea, under the leadership of Ahmed Sekou Toure, eagerly opted for independence. France, withdrew from Guinea immediately; and on October 2, 1958 Guinea proclaimed its sovereignty as an independent Republic with Sekou Toure as its first president.
The French settlers in Guinea were unhappy with Guinea's vote for independence; and they expressed their annoyance by severing their ties with Guinea in a dramatic manner, tearing down everything they considered as their contribution to the country. Subsequently the government of Guinea nationalized its land, ang dismantled every local authority set up by France thereby further straining the thin relationship that was left with the French government.
Under the leadership of President Toure, Guinea formed an alliance with the Soviet Union and for a while adopted their socialist policies. Toure's reign was notorious for gross mismanagement, extrajudicial killings, maltreatment of foreigners, stringent policy, and human rights abuse.
From 1960 he had declared his political party, the Democratic Party of Guinea Africa, the only legal party in Guinea. For the next 24 years he would rule unopposed as president until his death in 1984. In April 1984, Colonels Lansana Conte and Diarra Traore hijacked power in a coup d'etat, Lansana assumed the role of president while Traore served as the prime minister. The regime lasted until 1992 when the country returned to civil rule followed by a presidential poll in 1993.
Economy of Guinea
Gross mismanagement of the economy and political instability has left Guinea as one of the poorest nations in the world. The economic opportunity in Guinea is tremendous as the country has an abundance of natural resources including the largest reserves of bauxite, high grade iron-ore reserve, gold, and diamonds. Located near river systems that makes the country a prime location for hydropower which not only can electrify the country, but Guinea can be a net exporter of electricity. The country has significant rainfall with arable land and is prime for massive agricultural output.
The nations GDP of 14 billion-dollars is attributed mostly to the mining industry which makes up 30% of GDP and employs roughly 25% of the workforce. Services related to mining and trade account for 50% of GDP. The agriculture industry accounts for 20% of GDP and employs roughly 75% of the workforce. Guinea produces rice, coffee, pineapples, mangos, cassava, bananas, potatoes, and cattle. Most of those farmers are subsistence farmers.