60 Years of Guinea Independence

On the 2nd of October the West African state of Guinea celebrated 60 years of independence from France. Formerly part of Senegal, France declared Guinea a separate colony in 1891. This article will be a short summary of how Guinea has fared since independence.

Guinea’s first president was the charismatic Ahmed Sekou Toure, a former union leader who rose to prominence in the 1940’s and 50’s when he led post-war strikes against the colonial administration. In 1953 he led a successful 67 day strike of Guinean workers, in which he forced France to withdraw its demands for a 40 hour working week.

 

Toure was inspired by Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah’s vision of pan-Africanism, and was keen on removing French colonial influence in favour of Guinean nationalism. However, Toure was also keen to keep certain aspects of French colonial rule that he saw as beneficial, such as the judiciary and parts of the military.

The French approach to colonialism was assimilation. In essence they extended their borders and included their colonies as part of France. For many former French colonies that became independent, they kept close ties to their former colonial masters, remaining part of the Françafrique. Toure favoured complete independence rather than continued membership of the French community, despite the drawbacks that this would entail. He was quoted in 1958 as saying “Guinea prefers poverty in freedom to riches in slavery”. Soon after, France withdrew all aid to the newly independent state.

During the cold war Toure, like many leaders in the developing world at the time, became very adept at playing the super powers against each other in order to get the aid and trade he desired. Initially siding with the Soviets, Toure showed his willingness to play the field in 1962 when he refused soviet ships the chance to refuel on their way to Cuba. However, in 1975 he allowed Cuba and the Soviets to use Guinean airfields during the Angolan Civil War.

Portuguese Army soldiers operating in the Angolan jungle, in the early 1960s | Guilman | wikimedia commons

Toure ruled Guinea up until his death in March 1984. During the period Guinea remained impoverished, and Toure himself was accused of human rights abuses as his one party rule became more repressive, with many of his opponents being detained in Camp Boiro, referred to as Guinea’s Gulag.

In a bloodless coup, Lansana Conte and Diarra Toure took control of Guinea. Conte became the president, suspending the constitution and banning political activity. Conte eventually turned on Toure, fearing he would usurp him. Toure was executed a year into Conte’s leadership, alongside 100 others. Unlike Sekou Toure, Conte was less willing to play the super-power game and instead turned back solely towards the west. Conte accepted IMF loans and introduced multiparty rule during the early 90’s, coinciding with the democratic wave that gripped the continent. However, like many other dictators that allowed democracy during this period, he won the first election and never showed signs of relinquishing power.

Conte’s repressive style of presidency made him more and more unpopular, and he survived an assassination attempt in 2005 when his motorcade came under fire. Conte died just three years later, after which the military took control and installed a military junta to rule under Captain Muossa Dadis Camara. Camara promised a presidential election in 2010 and was initially welcomed by Guineans as an end to the Conte era.

Despite the early optimism, it was under Camara’s leadership that one of the worst atrocities in recent Guinean history occurred. On the 29th of September 2009 an opposition rally was taking place at a stadium in the capital Conakry. Security forces stormed the stadium and, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), shot dead around 200 people and raped many women. The attack was widely condemned by the international community.

Camara did not renegade on his promise and presidential elections were allowed in 2010. Following a tense build up and a run off, Alpha Conde beat Cellou Dalein Diallo to win the Presidency. One person died during clashes between security forces and Diallo’s supporters once Conde announced he had won.

In December 2013 a 2 year old boy in a remote village called Meliandou fell ill with a mysterious disease, dying two days later. World Health Organisation investigated and later identified that this child was the first case of Ebola in West Africa. Meliandou is near the borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia, two of the countries who suffered the worst of the Ebola epidemic. Over 2000 people in Guinea had died of Ebola by 2016.

Ebola treatment unit (ETU) in N’zerekore | UNMEER |flickr

During the Ebola crisis Guinea held another round of presidential elections. Again it was Conde vs Diallo, with Conde winning the 2015 battle with a larger majority. Constitutionally the President is only allowed two terms in office, so in theory this should be Conde’s last chance in office. However, they are rumours that Conde is seeking to alter the constitution so that he can run again in 2020. This has led to an increase in political tension.

Guinea’s 60 years as an independent country has been eventful. Despite Toure’s statement that Guinea prefers poverty in freedom, Guinea has shown signs of positive development. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), since 1990 life expectancy and education levels have risen, amongst others. Hopefully this continues over the next ten years, and Guinea’s citizens can enjoy prosperity in freedom.


Featured image | Ahmed Sekou Toure, 1979 | Romanian Communism Online Photo Collection | wikimedia commons

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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