Antiquity and Colonialisation
The Saga of Soundiata Keita
Recent archaeological findings (iron tools) by a Guinean-Polish working group have proved the existence of village life in the region from the 6th century. We know from Arabic writings that the Malinké people used the valleys of the Niger (the area that is today’s Upper Guinea) between the 8th and 16th century as a huge slave reservation.
In 1235, the Mandingo people, under the leadership of the animistic Soundiata Keita, formed the first great Mandingo empire. This empire continued to grow into an economic powerhouse with influence that was acknowledged well beyond its own borders. In the 17th century, the empire divided into various groupings, of which the Bambara faction was the largest. A hundred years later, this process of fragmentation was halted through the introduction of Islam by Omar Saidou Tall.
In the 19thcentury, the great strategist Samori Touré united all the small kingdoms of the Niger Valley. He introduced an education system and clearly defined administrative structures. With a modern military, he successfully fought against the French colonial powers.
From 1900 onwards, the French expanded its policy of colonization and divided West Africa artificially into various countries, thereby completely destroying the Mandingo culture. Consequently, to this day, the Malinké language is spoken in Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Burkina Faso.
The division of Africa (1885)
In February 1885, at the Berline Conference on the division of Africa, it was decided that all participating African colonies that sought independence were to remain obedient to their colonial masters for the next 30 years. Only after this period would they become fully independent and able to trade with other states (Dossier on colonization).
Independence for Guinea (1958)
The resolutions of the Berlin Conference were still in force in 1958 when the French president Charles de Gaulle and the Guinean politician Sékou Touré negotiated Guinea’s independence. De Gaulle used the provisions of the conference resolutions to paralyze the Guinean economy, not only by prohibiting Guineas from trading with other nations, but also by prohibiting the French economy from any trading relationships with Guinea.
And so, much to the surprise of Guinea’s political leaders, began a 30 year trade embargo between Guinea and France.
It is highly probable that de Gaulle’s embargo was designed to deter other African states from following Guinea’s notions of independence.
Although the embargo between France and Guinea was lifted in 1988 and free trade was permitted with other countries, Guinea, on account of the intervening prevalence of the French language, only sought to trade with other French-speaking countries.
Education Reform 1958
Following independence in 1958, president Sékou Touré initiated a significant education reform. Once all teachers with French nationality had left the country, he decided to train the first generation of indigenous Malinké-speaking teachers. Malinké was at the time the most common African trade language, and so, for the first time, school books were also published in Malinké and a Malinké literacy campaign was executed. As part of this ambitious education reform, in addition to school teaching, there was also a national so-called competence campaign. However, due to the fact that the campaign was implemented too fast, and by inadequately trained teachers, it faced increasing opposition from the population, and finally failed. The significance of the this was not acknowledged for many years.
During his almost 30-year rule Syli (‚Big Elefant‘), set up a dictatorship in Africa under which thousands of dissenting intellectuals were tortured and murdered. During this period, Guinea recorded over two million refugees. Despite bumper harvests and significant mineral wealth, malnutrition was still widespread.
Toward the end of his rule, from 1980 on, he faced increasing protest – particularly from Guinea’s women – forcing him to change his domestic policy.
On the foreign policy front, he tried to appeal to the West again for economic help for his country. Under Giscard d’Estaing he achieved reconciliation with France. He also travelled to other African countries and acted successfully as a mediator.
The Death of Sékou Tourés (1922–1984)
The death of Sékou Touré, who died on March 26, 1984 in Cleveland, USA, remains a mystery. To this day, it has not been clarified whether his death was of natural causes, or the result of an intentional poisoning.
Following the death of this more or less popular ruler, Lansana Conté used the upheaval in the government to force his way to power on April 3, 1984 by way of a violent military coup. The consequences of the military dictatorship can still be felt today.
After taking power, Lansana Conté reintroduced French as the official language and as the language of instruction in schools. Conté exuded influence for almost 25 years. Under his military dictatorship, the country fell into poverty. On several occasions, his opponents tried to move the country towards democracy – notably Ba Mamadou, Alpha Condé (the current elected president of Guinea), and also Sidy Touré and Jean-Marie Doré. All their attempts were in vain and ended in bloodshed, arbitrary executions of rebels, and imprisonment of many political opponents.
In 2006,Transparency International put Guinea on the fourth last place on the global corruption index. Today, 10 years later, it has improved its rating to place 142 of 176. In February 2007, when the trade unions organized a general strike, president Condé commanded a bloody retaliation in which 20 people died and 500 were injured.
In the wake of these events, Conté’s opponents finally received international support and help from Guinea’s neighbouring countries. At the end of his period in office, the beleaguered president, together with many of his ministers, embezzled enormous sums of money and looted the country, thereby leaving the poverty-stricken country in a state of resignation. The old dictator died in December 2007 – he had deserted his people and thrown his country into chaos.
Although Guinea has been an independent state since 1958 with extraordinary mineral wealth, thereby fulfilling the prerequisites to move toward prosperity, the population has been subjected to abject poverty as the result of two military dictatorships.
Guinea has only had one democratically elected president – Alpha Condé – who has been in power since 2010. His most urgent task is to create an infrastructure for the most important areas of public life (such as transport, education, health, waste disposal, energy provision, and water supply) thereby bringing the county into the 21st century.