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Atlas Guinea

Country (long form)
Republic of Guinea
Total Area
94,925.92 sq mi
245,857.00 sq km
7,466,200 (July 2000 est.)
Estimated Population in 2050
French (official), each ethnic group has its own language
35.9% total, 49.9% male, 21.9% female (1995 est.)
Muslim 85%, Christian 8%, indigenous beliefs 7%
Life Expectancy
43.16 male, 48.02 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
1 Guinean franc (FG) = 100 centimes
GDP (per capita)
$1,200 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
agriculture 80%, industry and commerce 11%, services 5.4%, civil service 3.6%
bauxite, gold, diamonds; alumina refining; light manufacturing and agricultural processing industries
rice, coffee, pineapples, palm kernels, cassava (tapioca), bananas, sweet potatoes; cattle, sheep, goats; timber
Arable Land
bauxite, alumina, gold, diamonds, coffee, fish, agricultural products
petroleum products, metals, machinery, transport equipment, textiles, grain and other foodstuffs, 1997
Natural Resources
bauxite, iron ore, diamonds, gold, uranium, hydropower, fish
Current Environmental Issues
deforestation; inadequate supplies of potable water; desertification; soil contamination and erosion; overfishing, overpopulation in forest region
Telephones (main lines in use)
11,000 (1995)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
950 (1995)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

Between the 13th and the 15th centuries, Guinea was part of the Empire of Mali, which dominated most of the Sahel region. Around the 15th century, Fulani herders started migrating into the area, and after the Holy Islamic War of 1725 gained control over the Fouta Djalon area . The Portuguese arrived at the coast during the 15th century, and the slave trade followed hot on their heels.

The French arrived in this part of Africa early in the 19th century, proclaiming the coastal region a French protectorate in 1849. Samori Touré, a national hero, led the fight against French rule until 1898 when he was captured. Resistance to the French was particularly fierce in the Fouta Djalon, but it gradually petered out in the 20th century into the odd outbreak. One of Tourés descendants, Ahmed Sekou Touré, became the most famous Guinean of all. He was born into a poor Malinké family and become one of the most important trade union leaders in French West Africa. In 1956 he led a breakaway movement from the French parent union and formed a federation of African trade unions.

In 1958, French President de Gaulle offered the West African French colonies autonomy as separate countries in a Franco-African community, or immediate independence. Sekou Touré was the only West African leader to reject the autonomy path, declaring, perhaps a little rashly, that Guinea preferred 'freedom in poverty to liberty in chains'. Poverty is what the country got for the next 40 years, although the freedom part is debatable. In a fit of pique, de Gaulle immediately withdrew the French administration, and the colonial bureaucrats destroyed all the civilian archives and military equipment - they even ripped out telephone lines. French citizens fled with massive amounts of capital, and the economy disintegrated.

In a bid to be rid of all things French, and with France turning its back on the country economically anyway, Touré jumped into bed with the Soviet Union. He introduced a new currency, the syli, but the ménage à deux with the USSR was over quickly. The Soviet ambassador was thrown out of the country in 1961 for 'interfering in the internal affairs of the country', but Touré's government was not to be swayed from socialism. The party now chose a path for the country more akin to the Chinese model, and in 1967 it even had its own mini cultural revolution.

State-run farms and weekly meetings of revolutionary units were introduced, but collectivisation proved to be a disaster. As many as a million Guineans fled the country to look for work, and the remaining farmers were only able to work one-quarter of the country's cultivable area. Massive shipments of food aid from the USA were all that staved off famine. In the meantime, Touré had appointed his fellow Malinké to virtually every major government position and commenced vicious repression of his political opponents, mostly ethnic Fulani. Nearly a quarter of the population - again, mostly Fulani - now fled into exile, and for years Guinea had the dubious honour of coming near the top of Amnesty International's list of worst human rights offenders. Touré even starved one of his Fulani opponents to death in jail.

Touré became paranoid after a failed Portuguese-led invasion in 1970, and spoke of a 'permanent plot' against his regime. The turning point came in 1977, with what became known as 'the market women's revolt'. Traditionally among his most ardent supporters, the market women rioted in Conakry when Touré decreed that all agricultural produce be delivered to state-run cooperatives. The riot quickly spread to other towns, and the governors of Kindia, Faranah and Boké were killed. Touré saw a light of some kind, quickly legalised petty trade, and following that stepped up his reconciliation with France. President Giscard d'Estaing became the first French president to tour the country since independence, and before Touré died in 1984 he embarked on a tour of West Africa, making amends with those whose boots he had trodden on.

Three days after Touré died of heart failure, a group of colonels, with Lansana Conté at their head, staged a coup. They denounced Touré and released 1000 political prisoners, promising the restoration of an open society and a return to the holy grail of Market Rules OK. In 1985, after a failed coup, Conté invoked austerity measures and invited the IMF to come in and apply their template. Incomes of some Guineans have consequently skyrocketed, but for most of the population they have plummeted or remained the same. Under the UN's Quality of Life Index, Guinea has ranked last in the world (or next to last) in every year since 1990. Living standards are generally miserable, and the government still spends far more on defence than on health or education. There were allegations of vote-rigging at the 1993 presidential election, which may have been true, and an attempted coup-cum-mutiny over army pay in 1996 failed to unseat the government.

Opposition parties boycotted the 2002 parliamentary elections, which Conté’s party won convincingly, of course. Today, Guinea’s economy relies heavily on a faltering mining industry. Conté’s regime is widely condemned, but at least it has prevented a slide into civil war, an endemic regional problem that continues to add to Guinea’s refugee woes. Modest gains of recent years in quality of life and standard of living have been threatened by violence in southern border areas, where some 1000 people died between 1998 and 2000. Peace has since been re-established, Guinea has made modest quality-of-life gains and, in theory, free enterprise is encouraged. Although Conté, the diabetic billionaire-president, was rumoured to be on his deathbed, he managed to win the 2003 presidential elections, a task made easier as, once again, most opposition parties declined to take part.