CONAKRY: Guinea, where a junta seized power in a coup on Sunday, arresting President Alpha Conde, is an impoverished west African country despite a wealth of natural resources.
The former French colony is the only Francophone state on the continent to have rejected in 1958 the Franco-African community proposed by then French President Charles de Gaulle. Instead, the country plumped for independence and installed a socialist regime which Ahmed Sekou Toure would go on to rule with an iron fist for a quarter of a century. Under his rule, some 50,000 people were killed or simply disappeared, according to human rights organisations.
Guinea has spent decades under authoritarian or dictatorial regimes, starting with Sekou Toure, followed by Lansana Conte, who died in 2008. A military junta under captain Moussa Dadis Camara then took over in a bloodless coup.
On September 28, 2009, security forces massacred 157 people at a rally gathering tens of thousands of opposition supporters in Conakry protesting Camera’s expected participation in the next presidential election, while 109 women were raped, according to UN sources.
On November 7, 2010, longtime opposition mainstay Alpha Conde became the first freely elected president in Guinea’s history. He was re-elected in 2015 for a second term after a poll marred by violence and amid accusations of fraud.
Conde’s standing for a third term last October led to tensions as well as the arrest of dozens of opponents but he was proclaimed the winner on November 7 despite challenges to the result from main rival Cellou Dalein Diallo and three other candidates claiming ballot stuffing and other irregularities.
Guinea, which borders Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, is 80 percent Muslim but is made up of numerous ethnic groups, the main two being the Fulani and the Malinkes. Slightly bigger than Britain, it sits on a wealth of natural resources.
It is notably one of the world’s top producers of bauxite, the chief mineral used in the production of aluminium but also a producer of iron, gold, diamonds and oil.
Agriculture is the main source of employment.
GDP grew 5.6 percent in 2019 and 5.2 percent in 2020, according to the African Development Bank, which expects a rise topping five percent this year based on strong performance in mining and also the coming onstream of the flagship Souapiti hydropower station northeast of capital Conakry.
But corruption remains a major problem. Transparency International ranked Guinea 137th out of 180 on its index last year and social inequalities are stark with roughly half of the 13 million population living below the poverty line, according to the country’s national statistical institute.
Many people also have no access to electricity and running water, according to the World Bank.
Guinea has among the world’s highest incidences of female genital mutilation (FGM), UNICEF saying around 97 percent of girls and women undergo circumcision.
The country was also hit by the worst outbreak to date of Ebola, which started in the country in December 2013 and lasted three years. The outbreak left 11,000 west Africans dead — 2,500 of them in Guinea.
Guinea is, with Mali, the cradle of mandingo music played with traditional instruments including the harp-like kora and the balafon, a kind of xylophone.
One of its most famous exponents, Mory Kante, who died in May last year, scored a global hit in 1987 with “Yeke Yeke”.