Historically much of western Africa south of the Sahara was broadly referred to as “Guinea” until colonization divided the region throughout the late 19th century. After centuries of rule by various African empires, perhaps most notably the Songhai, the French colonized Guinea in the 1890s. Guinea officially changed its name from French Guinea in 1958 when it gained independence after over half a century under French control. After breaking ties with France, Guinea was led by Ahmed Sekou Toure and his sole PDG party between 1960 and 1984. Toure pursued African socialism and pan-Africanism, initially siding strongly with the Soviet Union, but later courting the US during the Cold War as well. From 1984 until 2008 the country was helmed by military leader Lansana Conte, who like Toure, strongly suppressed political opposition. Guinea, like much of postcolonial Africa, faced tremendous economic obstacles and political strife throughout the second half of the 20th century.
Today, Guinea has a population of about 11 million, and its capital and largest city Conakry contains about 1.8 million citizens. About half of Guineans (4.7 million) are from the Fulani ethnic group, followed by the Mandinka (28%) Soussou (10%) and other smaller groups. The Fulani are the largest nomadic group in the world, and follow a code of behavior known as pulaaku that values altruism, patience, self-control, and hard work. Approximately 85% of the country is Sunni Muslim, followed by 8% Christians and 7% of indigenous religion adherents. Many Muslims and Christians in Guinea adopt or incorporate elements of local indigenous religion into their beliefs. Guinea retains French as its official language, and the local languages of Maninka and Fula are prevalently spoken.
In terms of education Guinea is one of the most illiterate in the world, as only 41% of adults can read and write. Primary school is mandatory for six years but the law is not enforced so many children, especially females, work or marry early. Polygamy is officially prohibited but according to UNICEF, more than half of Guinean females are in polygamous marriages, including nearly 30% of girls between the ages of 15 and 19. Guinea has a female genital mutilation rate of 97%, second in the world only to Somalia at 98%. Malnutrition is widespread in Guinea, and over two million Guinean children suffer from chronic malnutrition or anemia (lack of healthy red blood cells). In the 1990s, Guinea took in almost 300,000 refugees from the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone which has had profound effects on the country to this day.
In 2010 while under the control of an interim military junta, 157 anti-junta protesters were massacred by state security forces in a football stadium. The incident led to international sanctions and widespread condemnation. Later that year opposition politician Alpha Conde was elected president in the first free elections in Guinea though there were calls of fraud and voting irregularities. Conde and his Rally of the Guinean People party maintained power when he was reelected for a second five year term in 2015. Political strife has continued intermittently, and in July 2013 nearly 100 were killed in clashes between the country’s two largest ethnic groups. Conde, a former professor, is a member of the Malinke ethnic group, and has focused on security reform and reform in the key mining industry.
Guinea was one of the worst hit by the 2014-2015 West Africa Ebola Virus, third to only Liberia and Sierra Leone. Over 2,800 were killed by the disease in Guinea before the World Health Organization declared the country free of Ebola in late 2015. Between the lack of health infrastructure, poorly developed economy, and intermittent political unrest Guinea has a myriad of challenges looking forward. Unfortunately, these are challenges shared by much of sub-saharan west Africa, and the outlook on regional assistance is bleak. The international community should support local sentiments and goals while assisting the west African nation. Investment in infrastructure, local businesses, and health initiatives will help stabilize and provide opportunity for the people of Guinea.