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Guinea, officially the Republic of Guinea (French: République de Guinée), is a country on the Atlantic coast of West Africa. Its population in 2008 was estimated at 10,211,437 (CIA estimate). Guinea's size is almost 246,000 square kilometres (94,981 sq mi). Its territory has a crescent shape, with its western border on the Atlantic Ocean, curving inland to the east and south. Guinea is bordered to the North-West by Guinea-Bissau, to the North by Senegal, and to the North-East by Mali. Côte d'Ivoire is to the south-east, Liberia to the south and Sierra Leone to the southwest. The Niger River runs through the Eastern, inland, part of the country, providing water and irregular transportation there. The port of Conakry, built on Tambo Island on the Atlantic coast, is the country's largest city and capital. The nation is sometimes called Guinea-Conakry to distinguish it from its neighbor Guinea-Bissau.

Un-guinea

Guinea

The word "Guinea" was used by Europeans in the fourteenth century to designate the whole Western coast of Africa between Cape Green and the Congo. What is now known as Guinea was generally called then the "Land of the Southern Rivers". Europeans engaged in slave trading in the area for several centuries after that, but did control significant territory inland of the coast until the late 19th century. Their attempts at inland control were vigourously resisted by the African peoples. Two heroes of the African resistance in Guinea are Alfa Yaya and Samory Touré; the latter was only captured in 1898 after conducting almost two decades of guerrila struggle against European imperialism.[1]

The land

Guinea can be divided into four natural regions:[2]

  • Coastal swamps and plains, also called Lower Guinea. Extending about 40-120 kilometers (km) in from the Atlantic coast, these offer a landscape of coconut trees, mangrove swamps, and just inland of the swamps, a frequntly-flooded plains area. The coastal swamps and plains get about 3 meters (m) of rain a year, mostly from June through November. Temperatures range between 23 and 32 degrees C.
  • Futa Jallon highlands, also called Middle Guinea. Consists of highland plateaus cut by narrow, steep-sided, densely forested river valleys. Elevation ranges from 600 to 1500 meters. Temperatures drop to 6 degrees C in December and January. Much of the plateaus are rocky and barren, but they are good for cattle raising and have the highest population density in Guinea.
  • Upper Niger High Plains, also called Upper Guinea. Located in the North-East corner of the country, this region marks the beginning of the huge grassy savannah of the Sudan. It is drained by the Niger river flowing North-East, but large rock outcrops form waterfalls which stop most navigation. General elevation is 300 meters; a meter of rain falls each year; temperatures are 18-40 degrees C.
  • Guinea Highlands, also called the Forest Area. This region forms the South-East corner of Guinea, and extends into Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast. Unlike the Futa Jallon, the highest points here are rock insulbergs, not flat-topped plateaus. Mount Nuon rises to 1,825 meters, and Mount Nimba to 1,710; but most of the landscape is luxuriantly-vegetated rolling hills.

Political history

Guinea became independent of France on October 2, 1958, under the Parti Démocratique de Guinée (PDG – Democratic Party of Guinea) led by Ahmed Sékou Touré. The PDG had its origins in the Rassemblement Démocatique Africain (RDA – African Democratic Convention), an anti-colonial federation that encompassed France's colonies in West Africa. In the September 1958 French referendum, Guinea was the only one of France's colonies to vote for independence as opposed to continued association with France and the continued French economic aid which was conditional upon it. France swiftly retaliated: "All French aid to Guinea was immediately stopped, and French administrators and technicians quickly withdrawn".[3] The president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, immediately proffered a loan and union with Ghana, which Sékou Touré accepted. In 1960, Mali (formerly French Sudan) joined the union and it became the Ghana-Guinea-Mali union. Along with Egypt and Morocco, who they met with at the Casablanca Conference in 1961, Guinea, Ghana, and Mali were the leading force in the Pan-African movement of the 1960s.[4] Guinea's decision for independence and not to take part in the French "Community" strengthened independence sentiments in the other French colonies in West Africa and soon they too would demand and get independence from France. In 1959 Senegal and French Sudan formed the independent Federation of Mali, and by the end of 1961, Dahomey, Ivory Coast, Niger, and Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) were also independent.[5]

The Parti Démoctatique de Guinée separated from the RDA after the independence referendum. In the post-independence elections, the PDG won 58 of 60 seats in the Assembly, and having absorbed two other parties, the Bloc Africain de Guinée (BAG – founded 1954) and the Démocratie Socialiste de Guinée (DSG – also founded 1954), it formed, in effect, a one-party state. Its policy, according to Donald Ray's Dictionary of the African Left (1989), was "an eclectic amalgam of Marxism, pan-Africanism, Maoism, Islam, and African socialism" (p 37). Ahmed Sékou Touré was a trade union leader who in 1953 had organised a major 66-day strike for higher wages and shorter working hours. His leadership of the strike cost him his civil-service job but made him the "overnight hero of the workers and the poor"[6]. The French colonial administration's underhanded tactics against him in his subsequent political activity were one of the main reasons for the de-legitimisation of the French state in the eyes of the Guinean public and their "no" vote in the 1958 referendum[7]. The Parti Démocratique de Guinée stressed puritainism and egalitarianism as the Islamic reformers of the Tijaniyya and Qadiriyya brotherhoods had done in previous generations. The organisers of the PDG, led by Sékou Touré and others of a trade union background, "possessed poor houses and clothes and few cars. They gloried in being dubbed 'vagrants', 'illiterates', and 'badly dressed'".'".[8]

Under Ahmed Sékou Touré and the PDG, after independence, state corporations were set up, some economic planning was begun, and domestic private investment was restricted – although foreign private investment was not (Donald Ray, p 157). By the early 1970s, all but one private bank (Banque de l'Afrique Occidentale) had been closed. The national bank is the National Bank of Guinea, which issues the currency.[9] All private insurance companies were merged into one, the Compagnie Guinéenne d'Assurance (Urbaine et la Seine), and there is also a National Insurance Company which is controlled by the National Bank. Part of the gap left by the withdrawl of French aid was filled by China and the Soviet Union. Chinese aid enabled Guinea to establish a groundnut crushing factory at Dabola, a sugar refinery, and a steel plant with an output of about 60,000 tons a year in the 1970s. In 1965, the Soviet Union decided to finance a huge hydro-electric plant and aluminum smelter on the Konkoure River in Eastern Guinea.

In the 1970s about 95% of the working population of the country were farmers[10] and about 80% of the people of Guinea lived by cultivating food crops, the main ones being rice, casava, fonio (hungry rice), sweet potatoes and groundnuts. The major export crops were bananas, palm kernels, groundnuts, and pineapples.[11] The minimum wage in 1975 was 8,000 to 12,000 Guinean Francs per month (for a boy without any skills).[12]

Party membership in the PDG after independece included every adult Guinean. Education was free. There were 6,500 students at all levels in 1945; 43,000 in 1957; 84,000 in 1961, and 650,000 in 1979. In the 1970s there were no universities in the country, but there were two free Polytechnical Institutes which provided some university-level training. In foreign policy, Guinea was non-aligned, seeking beneficial relationships with both the Communist countries and the Western capitalist countries. The table below summarises Guinea's foreign trade balance in her first independent decade:

Trade balance (millions of Guinea francs)
195819621968
Imports13,00016,19510,360
Exports4,87011,08611,890
Sources: L K Jakande, pp 124-5; Ruben K Uno, p 169.

A serious trade deficit was converted into a surplus over the period.

Figures of trade specifically with the Rouble zone show a large surplus of imports over exports; for example in 1961 imports from the Rouble zone were 5.8 billion Guinea francs while exports to that zone were only 3 billion;[13] this may indicate that the Rouble zone was basically subsidising Guinea by extending credit.

Bauxite and iron ore are the major mineral resources. Bauxite production was 1,378 tons in 1960 and 2,650 tons in 1972, the highest in Africa.[14]

The 1972 census showed a population of 5.1 million.[15]

A major problem tackled by Ahmed Sékou Touré was ethnicity. The PDG was "preoccupied with ethnic balance. Its four strong men were Touré (Mandinka), Sayfoulaye Diallo (Fulani), B Lansana (Forest), and B Camar (Coastal Susu)"[16] Ahmed Sékou Touré attacked ethnic exclusiveness by appealing to the ideals of brotherhod in the Islamic religion, "... at sunset when you pray to God say over and over that each man is a brother, and that all men are equal". He stressed the oneness of humanity.[17]

The national flag is three equal-sized vertical stripes of red, yellow, and green. The red symbolises the people's determination to accept any sacrifice to safeguard their independence; the yellow is the symbol of the African sun; the green, the symbol of hope. The country's motto is "Work, Justice, Solidarity". The national anthem derives from a folk song extolling the epic of Alpha Yaya, a religious leader who opposed his country's conquest by France.[18]

Ahmed Sékou Touré maintained control of Guinea until his death during heart surgery in the United States on March 26, 1984. He was replaced by his Prime Minister, Lansana Beauvogui, who became Acting President of the country and the Party, but Lansana was overthrown and the Party dissolved by a military coup on 3 April 1984.

Other works

  • Donald I Ray, 1989, A Dictionary of the African Left
  • James Bertin Webster and A A Boahen with M Tidy, 1980, West Africa Since 1800
  • K L Jakande, 1975, West Africa Annual 1975
  • Ruben K Uno, 1978, A Comprehensive Geography of West Africa

Notes

  1. L K Jakande, pp 120-121
  2. L K Jakande, pp 119-20; Ruben K Udo, pp 162-3.
  3. J D Fage, West Africa, p 211.
  4. J D Fage, p 214.
  5. J D Fage, p 211.
  6. James Bertin Webster and others, p 322
  7. James and others, p 322
  8. James Bertin Webster and others, p 282.
  9. L K Jakande, West Africa Annual 1975, p 124.
  10. J K Jakande, p 126.
  11. Ruben K Udo, A Comprehensive Geogaphy of West Africa (1978), pp 165-6.
  12. J K Jakande, p 126.
  13. L K Jakande, p 125.
  14. Ruben K Udo, p 167.
  15. L K Jakonde, p 120.
  16. James B W and others, p 323
  17. James B W and others, p 324.
  18. L K Jakande, pp 129-30.
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