Leader: Colonel Lansana Conte.
Economy: GNP $300 per year (1981).
Monetary unit: Syli.
Main exports: Bauxite (58%), alumina (30%), coffee, pineapples, bananas.
People: 5.6 million (1983). 20% live in towns.
Life expectancy: 43 years (1981).
Infant mortality: 163 per 1,000 live births.
Culture: Main ethnic groups are Soussou, Foulah (or Peul), Malinke, and Toma, Kissi and Guerze.
Languages: Six of the national languages are taught. French widely used but taught now only as a foreign language.
Religion: 80% Muslim, 18% tribal religions, 2% Christians (Catholic and Protestant).
Sources: Europa Year Book 1982; Statesman’s Year Book 119th Edition 1982-1983; IDA in Retrospect 1982; United Nations Fund for Population Activities; United Nations Population Policy Compendium 1980; Ministry of Health (Guinean government) publications; World Development Report, 1983.
FROM the capital of the People’s Revolutionary Republic of Guinea, Conakry, one can look out towards the Iles de Loos, the original Treasure Island immortalised by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Conakry is a sleepy, run-down city, where little maintenance or repair work has been carried out since Independence. In sharp contrast to the general sense of decay and deterioration is the ‘Cite QUA’, the pristine white conference hall and Moroccan-styled villas built with Arab aid for the proposed Organization of African Unity conference, now postponed, following the death of President Sekou Toure in March 1984. The military are now in control.
Formerly a French colony, Guinea was catapulted into independence in 1958 when President Sekou Toure was the only president of French West Africa to say ‘non’ to de Gaulle’s proposal of a Franco-African community. The French president was so angry that he withdrew all French aid and personnel within 48 hours, removing even the telephones and many valuable records. Following France’s lead, many of the Western nations cold-shouldered Guinea so that Sekou Toure was forced to look to the Eastern bloc for support. Since the mid 1970s however, Guinea has become more open to the West and diplomatic relations were finally restored with France in 1975.
The Guinean economy is almost entirely state-run. Private trade has been banned on several occasions but in 1977, following the ‘Revolt of the Market Mammies’ - the woman market traders - who marched on the Presidency, it was restored and the markets are flourishing. But many of the country’s resources are drained by the active black market operating between Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast.
Most of the country’s foreign exchange comes from its vast bauxite reserves, whose mining by two international consortia began recently. The government holds 40 per cent of the shares of each and receives 65 per cent of net profit in taxes. Agriculture is also in the hands of the state. Since 1979, several hundred collectives have been established.
Before the military takeover, Guinea was governed by a one-party system, the Parti Democratique de Guinee, with Sekou Toure at its head. The party was based on cell groups in each village which met to discuss and implement decisons, but in practice their function was to carry out Conakry orders.
President Sekou Toure’s international image as a champion against colonialism in the early years, a staunch advocate of African unity and later an elder statesman of a stable regime was tainted by his repression at home. The ruthless dictatorship forced two million Guineans to emigrate and the balance sheet of twenty years of Guinean socialism shows failure in internal policies, with the bottom line reading economic bankruptcy. The military men promise a more democratic state. Guineans will wait and see.
Elizabeth M Corrie