BHM 2015 – #5: The Republic of Guinea

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There are here are 3 different “Guinea” countries in Africa. There are the Republic of Guinea, Guinea –Bissau and Equatorial Guinea. The Republic of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau are adjacent to each other on the coast of West Africa, and Equatorial Guinea is further South.. With that said, I’m going to focus on “The Republic of Guinea”.

Guinea  is bordered by Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Slightly smaller than Oregon, the country consists of a coastal plain, a mountainous region, a savanna interior, and a forest area in the Guinea Highlands. Three of western Africa’s major rivers—the Gambia, the Niger, and the Sénégal—rise in Guinea. The elephant, hippopotamus, buffalo, lion, leopard, and many kinds of antelope and monkey are to be found in Guinea, as well as crocodiles and several species of venomous snakes. Birds are plentiful and diverse. With a population of 11 million, Guinea has 24 different ethnic groups, chief of which are the Peuhl/Fulani 40%, Malinke 30%, and Susu/Sousou 20%, each with its own language.

Guinea is a very poor country despite having the second largest bauxite reserves in the world (bauxite becomes alumina, becomes aluminum), as well as gold and diamonds. Lack of an adequate transportation network has hindered the country’s development. Infrastructure is practically non-existent.  The state-owned, single-track railroad from Conakry to Kankan was built between 1900 and 1914; this railway line is now mostly defunct, and there is no passenger railway service in the country. Of 30,500 km of roads, only 17%  were tarred in 2002. Of the 16 airstrips, 12 are unpaved . Guinea has been largely free of civil war because of the strength and violence of its military. However, its human rights record is abysmal. The country still practices female genital mutilation, has child brides and a large percentage of all women are in polygamous marriages. According to the World Health Organization, malaria, leprosy, tuberculosis are prevalent 2% of all adults have AIDS, and in 2014, hundreds were killed by the Ebola virus. According to the CIA Factbook, Guinea is a source, transit, and, to a lesser extent, a destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking; the majority of trafficking victims are Guinean children; Guinean girls are subjected to domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation, while boys are forced to beg, work as street vendors or shoe shiners, or miners; some Guinean children are forced to mine in Senegal, Mali, and possibly other West African countries; Guinean women and girls are subjected to domestic servitude and sex trafficking in Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Senegal, Greece, and Spain, while Chinese and Vietnamese women are reportedly forced into prostitution in Guinea

In 1997, Guinea had the highest number of refugees of any West African nation. There were around 420,000 Liberians and around 250,000 from Sierra Leone in Guinea. These refugees escaped from the fighting in their respective countries.

Corruption is rampant in Guinea. “When you disembark from a plane in Conakry, the corruption hits you almost as quickly as the heat. At the airport, a uniformed officer will stop you, raising no specific objections but making it clear, with his body, that your exit from the situation will be transactional. Out on the rubble-strewn streets, which are perfumed by the garbage that clogs the city’s open sewers, the military presence is less conspicuous than in the past, but at night insouciant young soldiers position themselves at intersections, holding submachine guns; they lean into passing cars and come away with cash.”

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Archaeological evidence indicates that at least some stone tools found in Guinea were the work of peoples who had come there from the Sahara, perhaps because of the desiccation that had occurred in the Saharan region by 2000 BC . Agriculture was practiced along the coast of Guinea by AD 1000, with rice the staple crop.

Beginning in 900, the Susu migrated from the north and began settling in the area. The Susu civilization reached its height in the 13th century. The Portuguese presence on the coast dates from the 15th century, when they developed a slave trade that would continue to affect Guinea until the mid-19th century. By the 17th century, French, British, and Portuguese traders and slavers were competing with one another. When the slave trade was prohibited during the first half of the 19th century, the Guinea creeks afforded secluded hiding places for slavers harried by the ships of the Royal Navy.  From the 16th to the 19th century, the Fulani empire dominated the region in Fouta Jallon. The almamy (ruler) of Fouta Djallon placed his country under French protection  in 1881. The French protectorate of Rivières du Sud was detached from Senegal as a separate colony, the protectorate was rechristened French Guinea; and finally, in 1895, it became part of French West Africa. The independent Malinke state, ruled by Samory (Sekou) Touré, resisted the French military until 1898, and isolated small groups of Africans continued to resist the French until the end of World War I (1914–18) when treaties with Liberia and Great Britain largely established the present boundaries.

Guinea came to occupy a special position among African states for its unqualified rejection of neocolonial control. French overseas territories had the option of choosing to continue their existing status, to move toward full integration into metropolitan France, or to acquire the status of an autonomous republic in the new quasi-federal French Community. If, however, they rejected the new constitution, they would become independent forthwith. French President Charles de Gaulle made it clear that a country pursuing the independent course would no longer receive French economic and financial aid or retain French technical and administrative officers. The electorate of Guinea rejected the new constitution overwhelmingly, and Guinea accordingly became an independent state on 2 October 1958, with Touré, leader of Guinea’s strongest labor union, as president.

For two decades after French withdrawal in 1958 the country was governed according to socialist-style economic management. Agriculture was collectivized and private commerce and industry repressed. . Denied French assistance, Guinea contracted loans and economic and trade agreements with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Guinea expelled the US Peace Corps in 1966 because of alleged involvement in a plot to overthrow President Touré.  When it failed to become a full economic partner in the Soviet bloc, in 1984, a major reform movement gained political power and reforms were instituted aimed at developing a modern market economy. The collective farms were abolished, state-owned enterprises were liquidated, compulsory marketing through state agencies was abolished, food prices were decontrolled. Guinea turned to France and other Western countries for capital and technical assistance. Although the reforms were largely successful, the economy has not flourished due to high levels of debt, unemployment, and underemployment.

Touré died on 26 March 1984 while undergoing cardiac treatment at the Cleveland Clinic in the US. Prime Minister Louis Lansana Béavogui then became acting president, pending elections that were to be held within 45 days. On 3 April, however, just as the Political Bureau of the ruling Guinea Democratic Party (PDG) was about to name its choice as Touré’s successor, the armed forces seized power, denouncing the last years of Touré’s rule as a “bloody and ruthless dictatorship.” The constitution was suspended, the National Assembly dissolved, and the PDG abolished. The leader of the coup, Col. Lansana Conté, assumed the presidency on 5 April, heading the Military Committee for National Recovery (Comité Militaire de Redressement National—CMRN).

Conté, was famously corrupt: he referred to his ministers, not without affection, as “thieves,” and once remarked, “If we had to shoot every Guinean who had stolen from Guinea there would be no one left to kill.”

Under pressure locally and abroad, Guinea embarked on a transition to multiparty democracy, albeit with considerable reluctance from the military-dominated government. It legalized parties in April 1992, but did not really allow them to function freely. It postponed presidential elections for over a year (until 19 December 1993) and then annulled the results from two Malinké strongholds, claiming victory with 51.7% of the vote.

The greatest threat to Conté’s power came in February 1996, when mutineers commanded tanks, fired upon the presidential palace, and seized the president. The palace was all but destroyed, and some 30 to 50 people were killed, many of them civilians by stray bullets. Conté was able to strike a deal with the mutineers, agreeing to establish a multiparty grievance committee that was disbanded before it could issue its final report. No one received a death sentence, though 38 soldiers received sentences, 34 of them colonels, majors, captains, and lieutenants. Only six were Susu, and four of them received the lightest sentences. Conté gave in to the mutineers’ demands by doubling soldiers’ pay and taking over the defense department himself.

Beginning in September 2000, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel army, backed by Liberian President Charles Taylor, commenced large-scale attacks into Guinea from Sierra Leone and Liberia. The RUF, known for their brutal tactics in the near decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone, operated with financial and material support from the Liberian Government and its allies. After the initial attacks in September 2000, President Conté, in a radio address, accused Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees living in the country of fomenting war against the government. Soldiers, police, and civilian militia groups rounded up thousands of refugees, some of whom they beat and raped. Approximately 3,000 refugees were detained, although most were released by year’s end.

Conté remained in power until his death on 23 December 2008.  Several hours following his death, Moussa Dadis Camara seized control of Guinea as the head of a military junta.[8] On 28 September 2009, the junta ordered its soldiers to attack people who had gathered to protest any attempt by Camara to become President.[9] The soldiers went on a rampage of rape, mutilation, and murder. On 3 December 2009, an aide shot Camara during a dispute about the rampage of September 2009. 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. On 12 January 2010 Camara was flown from Morocco to Burkina Faso. After meeting in Ouagadougou on 13 and 14 January, 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. It was agreed that the military would not contest the forthcoming elections, and Camara would continue his convalescence outside Guinea.[14] On 21 January 2010 the military junta appointed Jean-Marie Doré as Prime Minister of a six-month transition government, leading up to elections.

The presidential election was set to take place on 27 June and 18 July 2010, it was held as being the first free and fair election since independence in 1958. The first round took place normally on 27 June 2010 with ex Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo and his rival Alpha Condé emerging as the two runners-up for the second round. However, due to allegations of electoral fraud, the second round of the election was postponed until 19 September 2010. A delay until 10 October was announced by the electoral commission (CENI), subject to approval by Sékouba Konaté. Yet another delay until 24 October was announced in early October. Elections were finally held on 7 November. Voter turnout was high, and the elections went relatively smoothly. 16 November 2010, Alpha Condé, the leader of the opposition party Rally of the Guinean People (RGP), was officially declared the winner. He had promised to reform the security sector and review mining contracts if elected.

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