A Lesson Worth Learning: Guinea’s Past, Present, and Hopeful Future
The Republic of Guinea, Conakry on the western coast of Africa has a history that mirrors that of many other countries on the African continent. From Colonialism, Imperialism, and dictatorships, Guinea has managed up until the present to avoid major ethnic clashes. Although there has always been ethnic tensions that have hovered over the Guinean society, Peuhl, Malinke, Susu, Kisi and all other groups have found ways to live as one nation. The current outbreak of ethnic violence in the wake of the first and second rounds of elections has roots in the beginning of the modern Guinean state.
Colonized by the French, Guinea was a part of French West Africa Federation in 1895. In 1958, Guinea was lead into Independence by Ahmed Sekou Toure, becoming the first French-speaking colony to opt for unconditional independence after turning down a proposal from France to be a part of la Francaphonie. The year 1958 also marked the break up of the French Federation. Although Toure had very limited formal education, his charisma and passion for a free Guinea was widely shared by Guineans. As a result of Guinea opting for total independence from France, the French left Guinea barren, stripped of all resources, infrastructures and left the country to fend for itself. Toure’s most famous quote that motivated all Guineans and Africans was “We prefer dignity in poverty to affluence in slavery.” Guinea was not deterred in its mission as it had encouragement from some of the great African Revolutionaries. From Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana to Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Sekou Toure of Guinea was one of the great contenders of African revolution, independence, and unity. Toure however followed the path of dictatorship as most African leaders unfortunately follow.
By the late 1960s, Guinea’s single party system and lack of democracy and free media under Toure were getting criticized by many abroad and on the continent that had chosen sides between the Soviet Union and the West. Opposition within Guinea was faced with detention camps and the secret police. No one group in Guinea was immune. Toure was heavy handed with the Malinke, his own ethnic group and the Peuhl, the two main groups that today are on the brink of major clashes. Guineans have not forgotten about these targeted attacks, but instead have held on to the hurtful memories. The issue has been that Toure was viewed as a Malinke leader that suppressed the others. Lansana Conte, the second president of Guinea who took over after the death of Toure through a coup in 1984 was also viewed as a Susu dictator that ran the country into the ground. The refusal to separate a person’s leadership skills and ability from his ethnic/socio-economic affiliation is a widespread problem in Africa and other countries transitioning into democracy.
The civil wars of Sierra Leone in 1991 and Liberia in 1999 had a significant impact on Guinea, as it has major refugee camps until this day. Guinea witnessed on two occasions what it is like for a nation to be torn apart by war and so called differences that were not worth the suffering that it brought on the people. Other countries on the continent such as Rwanda, Somalia, and many more have all served as a lesson to the destruction that ethnic violence can bring to a country its society. There is wide spread hope, especially within the younger generation of Guinea of preventing a descent into ethnic strife that have plagued other countries on the African continent. The problem with fueling ethnic divides is that it is always done by a selected few that encourage a majority who acts without the knowledge that they are being manipulated. Not long after, the ones that benefit from these actions, those in power, are least affected.
As we monitor the situation in and outside of the country, we implore the diaspora and the international community to discourage any and all forms of violence. We also ask that the dialogue continues about other ways for Africans to trust in each other and communicate our disagreements through alternative means other than violence.