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West African empires and Kingdoms in Guinea

What is now Guinea was on the fringes of the major West African empires. The earliest, the Ghana Empire, grew on trade but ultimately fell after repeated incursions of the Almoravids. It was in this period that Islam first arrived in the region by way of North African traders. The Sosso kingdom (12th to 13th centuries) briefly flourished in the resulting void but the Mali Empire came to prominence when Soundiata Kéïta defeated the Sosso ruler Soumangourou Kanté at the Battle of Kirina in c. 1235. The Mali Empire was ruled by Mansa (Emperors), the most famous being Kankou Moussa, who made a famous hajj to Mecca in 1324. Shortly after his reign the Mali Empire began to decline and was ultimately supplanted by its vassal states in the 15th century. The most successful of these was the Songhai Empire, which expanded its power from about 1460 and eventually surpassed the Mali Empire in both territory and wealth. It continued to prosper until a civil war over succession followed the death of Askia Daoud in 1582. The weakened empire fell to invaders from Morocco at the Battle of Tondibi just three years later. The Moroccans proved unable to rule the kingdom effectively, however, and it split into many small kingdoms. Samori Toure was the founder of the Wassoulou Empire, an Islamicstate in present-day Guinea that resisted French colonial rule in West Africa from 1882 until Touré’s capture in 1898. After the fall of the major West African empires, various kingdoms existed in what is now Guinea. Fulani Muslims migrated to Futa Jallon in Central Guinea and established an Islamic state from 1735 to 1898 with a written constitution and alternate rulers. The Wassoulou or Wassulu empire was a short-lived (1878–1898) empire, led by Samori Toure 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.

 

Colonial era

The slave trade came to the coastal region of Guinea with European traders in the 16th century. Slaves were exported to work elsewhere in the triangular trade. Guinea’s colonial period began with French military penetration into the area in the mid-19th century. French domination was assured by the defeat in 1898 of the armies of Samori Touré, Mansa (or Emperor) of the Ouassoulou state and leader of Malinké descent, which gave France control of what today is Guinea and adjacent areas. France negotiated Guinea’s present boundaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the British for Sierra Leone, the Portuguese for their Guinea colony (now Guinea-Bissau), and Liberia. Under the French, the country formed the Territory of Guinea within French West Africa, administered by a governor general resident in Dakar. Lieutenant governors administered the individual colonies, including Guinea.

 

Independence and post-colonial rule (1958–2008)

In 1958, the French Fourth Republic collapsed due to political instability and its failures in dealing with its colonies, especially Indochina and Algeria. The founding of a Fifth Republic was supported by the French people, while French President Charles de Gaulle made it clear on 8 August 1958 that France’s colonies were to be given a stark choice between more autonomy in a new French Community or immediate independence in the referendum to be held on 28 September 1958. The other colonies chose the former but Guinea—under the leadership of Ahmed Sékou Touré whose Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG) had won 56 of 60 seats in 1957 territorial elections — voted overwhelmingly for independence. The French withdrew quickly, and on 2 October 1958, Guinea proclaimed itself a sovereign and independent republic, with Sékou Touré as president. President Ahmed Sékou Touré was supported by the Communist bloc states and in 1961 visited Yugoslavia. France’s withdrawal resulted in punitive economic reprisals, including the end of all French aid and investment. Guinea subsequently quickly aligned itself with the Soviet Union and adopted socialist policies. This alliance was short-lived, however, as Guinea moved towards a Chinese model of socialism. Despite this, however, the country continued to receive aid and investment from capitalist countries such as the United States. By 1960, Touré had declared the PDG the country’s only legal political party and for the next 24 years, the government and the PDG were one. Touré was reelected unopposed to four seven-year terms as president, and every five years voters were presented with a single list of PDG candidates for the National Assembly. Advocating a hybrid African Socialism domestically and Pan-Africanism abroad, Touré quickly became a polarising leader, and his government became intolerant of dissent, imprisoning thousands and stifling the press. Throughout the 1960s the Guinean government nationalised land, removed French-appointed and traditional chiefs from power, and had strained ties with the French government and French companies. Touré’s government relied on the Soviet Union and China for infrastructure aid and development but much of this was used for political and not economic purposes (such as the building of large stadiums to hold political rallies). Meanwhile, the country’s roads, railways and other infrastructure languished and the economy stagnated. Monument to commemorate the 1970 military victory over the Portuguese raid. The only objective not accomplished by the Portuguese raid was the capture of Ahmed Sékou Touré. On 22 November 1970, Portuguese forces from neighboring Portuguese Guinea staged Operation Green Sea, a raid on Conakry by several hundred exiled Guinean opposition forces. Among their goals, the Portuguese military wanted to kill or capture Sekou Toure due his support of the PAIGC, an independence movement and rebel group that carried out attacks inside Portuguese Guinea from their bases in Guinea. After fierce fighting, the Portuguese-backed forces retreated, having freed several dozen Portuguese prisoners of war that were being held by the PAIGC in Conakry but without having ousted Touré. In the years after the raid, massive purges were carried out by the Touré government and at least 50,000 people (1% of Guinea’s entire population) was killed. Countless others were imprisoned, faced torture, or, often in the case of foreigners, were forced to leave the country (sometimes after having had their Guinean spouse arrested and their children placed into state custody). A declining economy, mass killings, a stifling political atmosphere, and a ban on all private economic transactions led in 1977 to the “Market Women’s Revolt,” anti-government riots that were started by women working in Conakry’s Madina Market. This caused Touré to make major reforms. Touré vacillated from supporting the Soviet Union to supporting the United States. The late 1970s and early 1980s saw some economic reforms but Touré’s centralized control of the state remained. Even the relationship with France improved; after the election of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing as French president, trade increased and the two countries exchanged diplomatic visits. Sékou Touré died on 26 March 1984 after a heart operation in the United States, and was replaced by Prime Minister Louis Lansana Beavogui, who was to serve as interim president pending new elections. The PDG was due to elect a new leader on 3 April 1984. Under the constitution, that person would have been the only candidate for president. However, hours before that meeting, Colonels Lansana Contéand Diarra Traoré seized power in a bloodless coup. Conté assumed the role of president, with Traoré serving as prime minister until December. Conté immediately denounced the previous regime’s record on human rights, released 250 political prisoners and encouraged approximately 200,000 more to return from exile. He also made explicit the turn away from socialism, but this did little to alleviate poverty and the country showed no immediate signs of moving towards democracy. In 1992, Conté announced a return to civilian rule, with a presidential poll in 1993 followed by elections to parliament in 1995 (in which his party—the Party of Unity and Progress—won 71 of 114 seats.) Despite his stated commitment to democracy, Conté’s grip on power remained tight. In September 2001, the opposition leader Alpha Condé was imprisoned for endangering state security, though he was pardoned 8 months later. He subsequently spent a period of exile in France. In 2001, Conté organized and won a referendum to lengthen the presidential term and in 2003 begun his third term after elections were boycotted by the opposition. In January 2005, Conté survived a suspected assassination attempt while making a rare public appearance in the capital Conakry. His opponents claimed that he was a “tired dictator” whose departure was inevitable, whereas his supporters believed that he was winning a battle with dissidents. Guinea still faces very real problems and according to Foreign Policy is in danger of becoming a failed state. In 2000, Guinea became embroiled in the instability which had long blighted the rest of West Africa as rebels crossed the borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone and it seemed for a time that the country was headed for civil war. Conté blamed neighbouring leaders for coveting Guinea’s natural resources, though these claims were strenuously denied. In 2003, Guinea agreed to plans with her neighbours to tackle the insurgents. In 2007, there were large protests against the government, resulting in the appointment of a new prime minister.

 

Recent history

Conté remained in power until his death on 23 December 2008 and several hours following his death, Moussa Dadis Camara seized control in a coup, declaring himself head of a military junta. Protests against the coup became violent and 157 people were killed when, on 28 September 2009, the junta ordered its soldiers to attack people who had gathered to protest against Camara’s attempt to become president. The soldiers went on a rampage of rape, mutilation, and murder which caused many foreign governments to withdraw their support for the new regime. On 3 December 2009, an aide shot Camara during a dispute over the rampage in September. Camara went to Morocco for medical care. Vice-President (and defense minister) Sékouba Konaté flew back from Lebanon to run the country in Camara’s absence. After meeting in Ouagadougou on 13 and 14 January 2010, Camara, Konaté and Blaise Compaoré, President of Burkina Faso, produced a formal statement of twelve principles promising a return of Guinea to civilian rule within six months. The presidential election was held on 27 June, with a second election held on 7 November due to allegations of electoral fraud. Voter turnout was high, and the elections went relatively smoothly. Alpha Condé, leader of the opposition party Rally of the Guinean People (RGP), won the election promising to reform the security sector and review mining contracts. In late February 2013, political violence erupted in Guinea after protesters took to the streets to voice their concerns over the transparency of the upcoming May 2013 elections. The demonstrations were fueled by the opposition coalition’s decision to step down from the electoral process in protest at the lack of transparency in the preparations for elections. Nine people were killed during the protests, and around 220 were injured. Many of the deaths and injuries were caused by security forces using live ammunition on protesters. The political violence also led to inter-ethnic clashes between the Fula and Malinke, the base of support for President Condé. The former mainly supported the opposition. On 26 March 2013, the opposition party backed out of the negotiations with the government over the upcoming 12 May election. The opposition said that the government had not respected them, and had not kept any promises they agreed to. On 25 March 2014, the World Health Organization said that Guinea’s Ministry of Health had reported an outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Guinea. This initial outbreak had a total of 86 cases, including 59 deaths. By 28 May, there were 281 cases, with 186 deaths. It is believed that the first case was Emile Ouamouno, a 2-year-old boy who lived in the village of Meliandou. He fell ill on 2 December 2013 and died on 6 December. On 18 September 2014, eight members of an Ebola education health care team were murdered by villagers in the town of Womey. As of 1 November 2015, there have been 3,810 cases and 2,536 deaths in Guinea.

 

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