After independence in 1958 Guinea severed ties with France and turned to the Soviet Union. The first president, Ahmed Sekou Toure, pursued a revolutionary socialist agenda and crushed political opposition. Tens of thousands of people disappeared, or were tortured and executed, during his 26-year regime.
Economic mismanagement and repression culminated in riots in 1977. These led to some relaxation of state control of the economy. But it was only after the death in 1984 of Ahmed Sekou Toure, and the seizure of power by Lansana Conte and other officers, that the socialist experiment was abandoned - without reversing poverty.
In 2000 Guinea became home to up to half a million refugees fleeing fighting in Sierra Leone and Liberia. This increased the strain on its economy and generated suspicion and ethnic tension, amid mutual accusations of attempts at destabilisation and border attacks.
Acute economic problems, instability among its neighbours and uncertainty over a successor to its authoritarian president have prompted a European think-tank, the Crisis Group, to warn that Guinea risks becoming a "failed state".
The average wage in Guinea is $55 per month, and unemployment stands at 45%. Electricity is available just one day a week in most neighbourhoods in the capital of Conakry, and the infrastructure generally is collapsing.
Guinea, however, sits on incredible wealth. In a country about half the size of Oregon lies half the world’s known reserves of bauxite, used in aluminum production; the third-biggest supply of gold and diamonds in Africa; and deposits of uranium — not to mention some of the finest agricultural land on the continent and possible oil deposits offshore.
These riches make Guinea a focus of what’s been called the new scramble for Africa — bids by US, European and Chinese multinational corporations to grab strategic resources and carve out spheres of influence.
Despite his failing health, in December 2003, President Conte easily won a third presidential term against a single, relatively unknown candidate after the opposition parties boycotted the
elections. Conte insisted in a late 2006 interview that regardless of his health he would remain in office until his term ended in 2010.
In 2006 and 2007, Guinea's labor union alliance launched a series of historic, increasingly violent labor strikes. Whereas the unions' demands during the March and June 2006 strikes were primarily economic, the January 2007 strike was more political. Security forces were responsible for the deaths of several protesters in June 2006. The 2007 strike also turned violent after President Conte ignored the unions’ demand that he resign from office. Nationwide, protesters began barricading roads, throwing rocks, burning tires, and skirmishing with police. Violence peaked on January 22 when several thousand ordinary Guineans poured into the streets, primarily in the capital, calling for change. Guinean security forces and the military's "red beret" presidential guard reacted by opening fire on the peaceful crowds.
On January 27, 2007, unions, employers associations, and the government entered a tripartite agreement to suspend the strike. President Conte agreed to name a new "consensus" prime minister,
with delegated executive powers. For the first time, the new prime minister of Guinea would carry the title of "head of government" and exercise certain powers previously held by the
president of the republic. However, President Conte's February 9 appointment of a longtime associate, Eugene Camara, as Guinea's new prime minister sparked another wave of violence and
protests. In an attempt to quell the violence, on February 12 President Conte declared a "state of siege," which conferred broad powers on the military, and implemented a strict curfew.
According to media reports, the following days saw military and police forces scour Conakry and towns in the hinterlands where they committed serious human rights abuses.
When Guinea's National Assembly rejected Conte's effort to extend the "state of siege," it became clear that the popular protests had widespread support, even among leaders of Conte's own ruling party. Soon after, an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) delegation led by former Nigerian President Babangida announced that President Conte had agreed to name a new "consensus" prime minister in consultations with the unions and civil society. Lansana Kouyate arrived in Conakry on February 27, 2007, just hours after being announced as the new Prime Minister and head of the government. Security forces are believed responsible for having killed at least 137 people and injuring more than 1,700 others during the strike-related violence in January and February 2007.
During his premiership, Kouyate faced constant speculation that the president and his associates opposed his reform efforts. His failure to alleviate social and economic conditions contributed to the steady decline of his popularity. In May 2008, President Conte replaced Kouyate with Ahmed Tidiane Souare, a former minister of mines from a previous cabinet. The Souare administration quickly began to reinstate presidential loyalists. President Conte's death on December 22, 2008 sparked an immediate coup d’etat by elements of the military.
Captain Moussa Dadis Camara seized power on December 23, 2008, declaring himself President of the Republic and suspending the constitution, but promising elections and an eventual restoration
of civilian authority. By August 2009, it was increasingly clear that Camara intended to run for president. In response, Guinea’s opposition coalition, Les Forces Vives, organized a protest
on September 28, 2009, which attracted tens of thousands of protesters to the national stadium in Conakry. The Guinean military responded by opening fire on the crowd, killing at least 157
protesters, wounding more than a 1,000 others, and sexually assaulting more than 100 women, triggering widespread condemnation from the international community and increasing isolation for
the junta. On December 3, 2009, Camara was wounded by his aide-de-camp in a failed assassination attempt and evacuated to Morocco for medical treatment. National Council for Democracy and
Development (CNDD) Minister of Defense Brigadier General Sekouba Konate stepped in as interim President of the Republic. Camara’s wounds were not fatal, but necessitated a prolonged period of
Camara was flown to Ouagadougou in January 2010, at the invitation of Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, the ECOWAS-appointed mediator to the Guinean political crisis. Compaore helped broker a deal between Camara and Konate, known as the January 15 Ouagadougou Accords, in which Camara agreed to remain outside of Guinea for an extended recuperation and to officially appoint General Konate as the interim President of the Republic. Konate appointed former speaker for Les Forces Vives, Jean Marie Dore, as Prime Minister. In February, Dore formed a government that included 11 ministers from political parties, 11 from civil society, and 11 from the junta government. In addition, a National Transition Council (CNT) consisting of 150 members from civil society, labor unions, political parties, the private sector, security forces, and other important organizations, was formed to act as the legislative body until legislative elections could be held. The CNT rewrote and enacted the constitution in March. It also enacted new electoral and media codes.
On June 27, Guinea had its first round of presidential elections, with 24 candidates running for the office of President. As per the Ouagadougou Accords, no member of the military or the
transition government ran in the elections. International and national observer groups declared the elections credible and fair, though they cited major technical problems that needed to be
addressed before the second round could credibly take place. Cellou Dalein Diallo of the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) party received 43% of the vote; Alpha Conde of the Rally
for the Guinean People (RPG) party received 18%; and Sidya Toure of the Union of Republican Forces (UFR) party received 13%. Diallo and Conde went on to compete in the second round of
elections that, after several delays, took place on November 7. In the weeks leading up to and immediately after the elections, ethnic violence broke out between the Peuhl and Malinke support
bases of the two candidates, resulting in several hundred internally displaced people and at least a dozen deaths. The transition government imposed a state of emergency and imposed a curfew,
which successfully stopped the violence.
On December 2, the Guinean Supreme Court determined Alpha Conde the winner of the elections with 53% of the vote, which was declared free and credible by international observer missions. On
December 3, Cellou Diallo publicly accepted the results of the election and called for his supporters to support the newly elected president. President Conde was peacefully inaugurated on
December 21, 2010. On December 24, Mohamed Said Fofana, an economist, was appointed as Guinea’s Prime Minister.
After inauguration, the government lifted security checkpoints throughout the country. Following a July 19, 2011 attack on the president’s personal residence, the government temporarily reinstated the checkpoints, citing security concerns. By the end of July the checkpoints were reduced to operating during the hours of 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
Although legislative elections were mandated to take place 6 months after the completion of presidential elections, as of November 2011 legislative elections had not yet been held. The Independent National Commission for Elections announced that elections would take place on December 29, 2011, but election experts and outside observers stated that the commission’s timeline was unrealistic and elections would not take place in 2011.
In late February/early March 2013, opposition supporters took to the streets of Conakry to protest against the government’s alleged attempts to rig the May elections in 2013. The opposition coalition withdrew from the electoral process in mid-February, mainly due to President Conde's insistence on using a suspicious South African firm Waymark Infotech to draw up the registered voter list. The ensuing violence resulted in at least nine deaths and hundreds injured, many from the brutality of the security forces who reportedly used live fire to disperse some of the crowds.
Recent History in Guinea
GUINEA: Obstacles, omens and opportunities
President Alpha Condé: Promising to steer a new course for GuineaDAKAR, 21 March 2011 (IRIN) - Alpha Condé, a former student activist, trade unionist, radical publisher, lecturer, political prisoner and exiled opposition leader, finally took over the presidency of Guinea at 72.
Sworn in on 2 December 2010 before 13 African heads of state, Condé promised: "I say loud and clear: poverty and underdevelopment in the Republic of Guinea does not to have to be our destiny."
But Condé admits to having inherited empty state coffers and daunting social and economic problems. The prices of key commodities have risen sharply in the markets of Conakry. A sack of rice that was about 175,000 Guinean francs (US$23) before the elections is now 280,000 francs ($36). The government imported 35 tons of rice, which sold for 160,000 francs a sack, but supplies were limited. There have been similar rises in commodities such as sugar and peanut oil. Ironically, as Guinea loses its pariah status and attempts to become a functioning democracy, living costs are increasing and patience is being severely tested.
"There has been no change yet," says Mariame Sacko, out shopping in the market. "We are in a difficult position. You can see for yourself that everything in the market is expensive."
Yolande Guilavogui agrees. "Prices have more than doubled, but you don't see any increase in salaries. If it continues like that, we find ourselves risking being put in the street."
The price hikes have been blamed in some quarters on local traders, overwhelmingly from the Peul community, engaging in profiteering. But there have been warnings too of a dangerous simplification of complex problems.
"People are engaging in a false debate," a local journalist told IRIN. "How can people say that it is bureau de change owners [accused of currency speculation] and Peul traders [one of the two big ethnic groups] who are responsible for inflation and rocketing prices in the market?"
He accused Condé and his supporters of allowing Peul traders to be made scapegoats. He pointed out that Condé's election campaign had focused strongly on the poor governance and mishandling of the economy under previous regimes, but once in office Condé had chosen former ministers of the same discredited administrations.
Ministers have also publicized budgetary problems from the previous administrations, hinting at profligacy and a lack of accountability on the part of the previous military leaders in charge. A Conakry-based diplomat acknowledged that "the financial situation is even worse than Condé and his colleagues had feared".
Inclusion or division?
The challenges go well beyond a bruised economy. While the elections won by Condé were markedly freer and fairer than any held previously, they were marred by ominous outbreaks of violence between the Peul and Malinké. Condé and his party, the Rassemblement du Peuple de Guinée (RPG), faced persistent accusations from opponents of playing the ethnic card and mobilizing a coalition to block the political advancement of the Peul, in this case represented by defeated candidate, former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo, leader of the Union des forces démocratiques de Guinée (UFDG) from the Peul heartland of Fouta Djallon, or Moyenne Guinée.
While Condé's speeches have highlighted the need for inclusivity and an end to sectarianism, there has been no easy accommodation with the opposition. Diallo has repeated accusations that Condé is far from being a peacemaker and unifier, and has demanded wholesale changes in the Commission Electorale nationale Indépendante (CENI) before legislative elections can take place.
Senior human rights activist Thierno Madjou Sow, who is president of the Organization Guinéene de Défense des Droits de l'homme (OGDH), acknowledges that Condé had inherited a country where education, health, infrastructure and public administration have been allowed to go into steep decline and was "starting from zero".
However, for Sow Condé's pledges on change counted for little so far. "We are all used to speeches," Sow told IRIN. "But we have seen no real signals from Condé. We want concrete measures.
Impunity is the norm; perpetrators of past violence and human rights violations have gone unpunished, including those responsible for massive human rights violations "It should be remembered that we came close to a situation of genocide in the last elections," Sow told IRIN. He cited in particular areas such as Siguri in the northeast, "where thousands of people whose families had lived there for over 100 years were forced to flee because they were no longer seen as Guineans".
A report by the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide after a mission to Guinea in March 2010 offered a bleak account of past atrocities and the state's inability deal with them effectively. "Impunity is the norm; perpetrators of past violence and human rights violations have gone unpunished, including those responsible for massive human rights violations committed during the previous regimes of Sékou Touré and Lansana Conté."
Sow said nothing had changed with the election of Condé. "Look at the events of September 28, 2009, when you had hundreds of people killed at the stadium, thousands more injured, women and girls raped and killed in public. But it's as if nothing happened." Sow says despite the interest of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the support of other bodies, the Guinean government was doing little to bring the perpetrators of the stadium massacre to justice.
What to do with soldiers?
A major concern for both civil society activists and international partners is the continuing strength of the military. But as the International Crisis Group (ICG) noted in a report, Reforming the Army, issued in September 2010, restructuring and scaling down the armed forces will not be easy. "The army's well-deserved reputation for indiscipline and resistance to democratic civilian rule is a product of its troubled past," the ICG warned. Successive regimes have built up their own patronage networks, often favouring troops from their own ethnic group and/or home region, or recruiting from outside. As the ICG pointed out, Guinea plays host to "multiple militias and irregulars".
Where is the wealth?
Despite the country's mineral wealth, Guinea came 156th out of 169 in the UN Development Programme's Human Development Index (HDI) for 2010. Development analysts are quick to concede there is no prospect of the country meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). There is a unique opportunity to make more of Guinea's resources, particularly bauxite and iron ore. But there are obvious caveats about corporate interests and Guinea's own priorities and the extent to which partnerships that look lucrative on paper will deliver employment, amenities and major new revenue streams.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development's (IFAD) Country Strategic Opportunities Programme (COSOP) for 2009-2014 highlights key priorities for the 75 percent of the population in rural areas: only 1.2 million hectares of land cultivated when 6.2 million ha should be available; the low levels of mechanization and agro-inputs; the small size and non-sustainability of farms; the high level of post-harvest losses and the weakness of local market systems. Condé's campaign speeches made frequent references to the need for food self-sufficiency in Guinea and a steady move away from food imports, but Guineans point out that that is contingent on significantly improving productivity.
Helen Keller International People are hungry for change, and just plain hungry Child nutrition remains a major problem, as are maternal and infant mortality. Helen Keller International (HKI), a long-established NGO in Guinea, has attributed 18 percent of maternal deaths and 23 percent of peri-natal deaths to anaemia, and warned of the continuing dangers of Vitamin A deficiency. An under-resourced health service has struggled to work effectively against malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. The severe flooding in September 2010 exposed the fragility of the water system, leaving thousands vulnerable to water-borne diseases.
Condé's early focus on social and humanitarian issues has been applauded by Guinea's aid partners, but there are also longstanding concerns about capacity and funding. Speaking from Kankan in eastern Guinea, the head of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Guinea, Julien Harnais, said initial signals were promising. "On the positive side, there is a government that is concerned about the population," Harnais told IRIN. "The challenge the country is going to have is in converting good intentions into good results for kids."
The wealth of Guinea's resources has been repeatedly documented. In addition to the huge reserves of iron ore and bauxite, there are large deposits of diamonds and gold, as well as titanium, manganese, copper, nickel, zircon, platinum and uranium. "There are a lot of companies coming in, but we must choose those that can really bring something to Guinea," Condé has emphasized. "It is for us to defend our own interests, to create competition between different interests and work out who is bringing most to Guinea."
Condé has been circumspect about the government's approach to investors, telling reporters: "There will be three to five difficult months, since we've decided not to renegotiate contracts but instead to define a new mining policy."
At a recent meeting in Conakry, the Publish What You Pay coalition argued for communities in mining areas to be directly involved in discussions on contracts. Civil society activists hope that Guinea's renewed membership of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) may help create more transparency and accountability. Whatever corporate players come and go, small-scale artisanal mining will remain a crucial, if modest, source of income for large sections of the population.
Artisanal mining has been practised since at least the 12th century and offers a modest livelihood to hundreds of thousands of Guineans today, particularly in the northeastern gold belt region of Haute-Guinée and in the riverbeds and other alluvial sites in the southeast. Conditions remain precarious. A technical mission by the Blacksmith Institution and the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) in 2006 warned of serious safety and sanitation concerns and suggested artisanal mining in Guinea was a long way behind other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, describing the gold processing methods used as "the most primitive ones on the planet".
Guinea has the world's largest deposits of bauxite, accounting for more than one-third of the world's known reserves. Bauxite and alumina constitute about 60 percent of exports and generate a quarter of the country's tax revenues. Production was initially dominated by a French company, Pechiney Ugine, but others from North America, Russia, Australia and the Middle East have become involved.
As the International Monetary Fund () has noted, "Annual production of bauxite is very low considering the proven reserves," while the sector's contribution to GDP and taxes has declined. Factors behind this under-achievement include: taxation problems, difficulties in relations between governments and corporations and a weak investment climate.
Given that a ton of alumina (aluminium oxide) is worth more than 10 times a ton of bauxite, industry analysts have long argued for sustained investment in the domestic transformation of bauxite to alumina. Finally, this looks likely to happen, with several new projects at various stages of development.
Guinea is reported to have more than four billion tons of high-grade iron ore. The main deposits are in the Simandou hills, near Nzérékoré in the southeastern Guinée Forestière region, and at Kalia, 360km east of Conakry, just north of Guinea's border with Sierra Leone.
For gold, the open-pit Siguiri gold mine 850km northeast of Conakry has a proven reserve of about 60 million tons. Relations with the previous government proved difficult at times but South African group AngloGold says it is optimistic about the new administration. The other major gold-producing belt is the Lefa Corridor, 700km northeast of Conakry.
Diamond production has risen and fallen in recent years, but Guinea can normally be expected to produce at least 500,000 carats, while total reserves are estimated at between 20 and 25 million carats. As with the gold sector, artisanal mining dominates, with thousands working in the riverbeds in the southeast.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
The material contained in this article is from IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.