Background Notes: Guinea

Guinea Official Info


Details of Background Notes: Guinea, Guinea Official Info
Details for Background Notes: Guinea

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Guinea has four main ethnic groups:
--Peuhl (Foula or Foulani), who inhabit the mountainous Fouta Djallon;
--Malinke (or Mandingo), in the savannah and forest regions;
--Soussous in the coastal areas; and
--Several small groups (Gerzé, Toma, etc.) in the forest region.

West Africans make up the largest non-Guinean population. Non-Africans total about 10,000 (mostly Lebanese, French, and other Europeans). Seven national languages are used extensively; major written languages are French, Peuhl, and Arabic.



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The area occupied by Guinea today was included in several large West African political groupings, including the Ghana, Mali, and Songhai empires, at various times from the 10th to the 15th century, when the region came into contact with European commerce. Guinea's colonial period began with French military penetration into the area in the mid-19th century. French domination was assured by the defeat in 1898 of the armies of Almamy Samory Touré, warlord and leader of Malinke descent, which gave France control of what today is Guinea and adjacent areas.

France negotiated Guinea's present boundaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the British for Sierra Leone, the Portuguese for their Guinea colony (now Guinea-Bissau), and the Liberia. Under the French, the country formed the Territory of Guinea within French West Africa, administered by a governor general resident in Dakar. Lieutenant governors administered the individual colonies, including Guinea.

Led by Ahmed Sékou Touré, head of the Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG), which won 56 of 60 seats in 1957 territorial elections, the people of Guinea in a September 1958 plebiscite overwhelmingly rejected membership in the proposed French Community. The French withdrew quickly, and on October 2, 1958, Guinea proclaimed itself a sovereign and independent republic, with Sékou Touré as president.

Under Touré, Guinea became a one-party dictatorship, with a closed, socialized economy and no tolerance for human rights, free expression, or political opposition, which was ruthlessly suppressed. Originally credited for his advocacy of cross-ethnic nationalism, Touré gradually came to rely on his own Malinke ethnic group to fill positions in the party and government. Alleging plots and conspiracies against him at home and abroad, Touré's regime targeted real and imagined opponents, imprisoning many thousands in Soviet-style prison gulags, where hundreds perished. The regime's repression drove more than a million Guineans into exile, and Touré's paranoia ruined relations with foreign nations, including neighboring African states, increasing Guinea's isolation and further devastating its economy.

Sékou Touré and the PDG remained in power until his death on April 3, 1984, when a military junta headed by then-Lt. Col. Lansana Conté seized power.

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The president governs Guinea, assisted by a council of 25 civilian ministers appointed by him. The government administers the country through eight regions, 33 prefectures, over 100 subprefectures, and many districts (known as communes in Conakry and other large cities and villages or "quartiers" in the interior). District-level leaders are elected; the president appoints officials to all other levels of the highly centralized administration.

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President--General Lansana Conté Prime Minister--Sidya Touré Minister of Foreign Affairs--Lamine Kamara Minister of Finance--Ibrahima Kassory Fofana Minister of Energy and Mines--Facinet Fofana Minister of Defense--Dorank Assifat Diasseny Minister of the Interior--Zainoul Abidine Sanoussy Minister of Cooperation--Thierno Mamadou Diallo

Guinea maintains an embassy in the United States at 2112 Leroy Place, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-483-9420) and a mission to the United Nations at 140 E. 39th St., New York, NY 10016 (tel. 212-687-8115/16/17).

Ambassador to the United States--Mohamed Aly Thiam Ambassador to the United Nations--Mme. Mahawa Bangoura Camara

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A military junta, led by then-Lt. Col. Lansana Conté and styling itself the Military Committee of National Recovery (CMRN), took control of Guinea in April 1984, shortly after the death of independent Guinea's first president, Sékou Touré. With Conté as president, the CMRN set about dismantling Touré's oppressive regime, abolishing the authoritarian constitution, dissolving the sole political party and its mass youth and women's organizations, and announcing the establishment of the Second Republic. The new government also released all political prisoners and committed itself to the protection of human rights. The CMRN also reorganized the judicial system, decentralized the administration, and began to liberalize the economy, promote private enterprise, and encourage foreign investment in order to reverse the steady economic decline under Touré's rule by developing the country's natural resources.

In 1990, Guineans approved by referendum a new constitution that inaugurated the Third Republic, and a Supreme Court was established. In 1991, the CMRN was replaced by a mixed military and civilian body, the Transitional Council for National Recovery (CTRN), with Conté as president and a mandate to manage a 5-year transition to full civilian rule. The CTRN drafted "organic" laws to create republican institutions and to provide for independent political parties, national elections, and freedom of the press. Political party activity was legalized in 1992, when more than 40 political parties were officially recognized.

In December 1993, Conté was elected to a 5-year term as president in the country's first multi-party elections, which were marred by irregularities and lack of transparency on the part of the government. In 1995, Conté's ruling PUP party won 76 of 114 seats in elections for the National Assembly amid opposition claims of irregularities and government tampering. In 1996, President Conté reorganized the government, appointing Sidya Touré to the revived post of Prime Minister and charging him with special responsibility for leading the government's economic reform program.

Guinea's second presidential election, scheduled for December 1998, will be a crucial test of the country's commitment to fulfilling its transition to democracy.

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Guinea is richly endowed with minerals, possessing an estimated one-third of the world's proven reserves of bauxite, more than 1.8 billion metric tons (MT) of high-grade iron ore, significant diamond and gold deposits, and undetermined quantities of uranium. Guinea also has considerable potential for growth in the agricultural and fishing sectors. Land, water, and climatic conditions provide opportunities for largescale irrigated farming and agroindustry.

Bauxite mining and alumina production provide about 80% of Guinea's foreign exchange. Several U.S. companies are active in this sector. Diamonds and gold also are mined and exported on a large scale, providing additional foreign exchange. Concession agreements have been signed for future exploitation of Guinea's extensive iron ore deposits. Remittances from Guineans living and working abroad and coffee exports account for the rest of Guinea's foreign exchange.

Since 1985, the Guinean Government has adopted policies to return commercial activity to the private sector, promote investment, reduce the role of the state in the economy, and improve the administrative and judicial framework. The government has eliminated restrictions on agricultural enterprise and foreign trade, liquidated many parastatals, increased spending on education, and vastly downsized the civil service. The government also has made major strides in restructuring the public finances. The IMF and the World Bank are heavily involved in the development of Guinea's economy, as are many bilateral donor nations, including the United States. Guinea's economic reforms have had recent notable success, improving the rate of economic to 5% and reducing the rate of inflation to about 2%, as well as increasing government revenues while restraining official expenditures. Although Guinea's external debt burden remains high, the country is now current on external debt payments.

The government revised the private investment code in 1998 to stimulate economic activity in the spirit of a free enterprise. The code does not discriminate between foreigners and nationals and provides for repatriation of profits. Foreign investments outside Conakry are entitled to especially favorable conditions. A national investment commission has been formed to review all investment proposals. The United States and Guinea have signed an investment guarantee agreement that offers political risk insurance to American investors through OPIC. Guinea plans to inaugurate an arbitration court system to allow for the quick resolution of commercial disputes.

Guinea is richly endowed with minerals, possessing an estimated one-third of the world's proven reserves of bauxite, more than 1.8 billion metric tons (MT) of high-grade iron ore, significant diamond and gold deposits, and undetermined quantities of uranium. Guinea also has considerable potential for growth in the agricultural and fishing sectors. Land, water, and climatic conditions provide opportunities for largescale irrigated farming and agroindustry. Possibilities for investment and commercial activities exist in all these areas, but Guinea's poorly developed infrastructure continues to present obstacles to investment projects.

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Guinea's relations other countries, including with West African neighbors, have improved steadily since 1985. Guinea reestablished relations with France and Germany in 1975, and with neighboring Côte d'Ivoire and Senegal in 1978. Guinea has been active in efforts toward regional integration and cooperation, especially regarding the Organization of African Unity and the Economic Organization of West African States (ECOWAS). Guinea takes its role in a variety of international organizations seriously and participates actively in their deliberations and decisions.

Guinea has participated in both diplomatic and military efforts to resolve conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea-Bissau, and contributed contingents of troops to peacekeeping operations in all three countries as part of ECOMOG, the Military Observer Group of ECOWAS. Guinea has offered asylum to over 700,000 Liberian, Sierra Leonean, and Bissauan refugees since 1990, despite the economic and environmental costs involved.

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The United States maintains close relations with Guinea. U.S. policy seeks to encourage Guinea's sustainable economic and social development, and its full integration into regional cooperative institutions, to achieve economic, social, political, and environmental objectives. The U.S. also seeks to promote increased U.S. private investment in Guinea's emerging economy.

The U.S. Mission in Guinea is composed of six agencies--Department of State, USAID, Peace Corps, USIS, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Department of Defense. In addition to the providing the full range of diplomatic functions, the embassy will disburse in FY 1998 $57,000 for Self-Help projects and $55,000 for Democracy and Human Rights projects. The Embassy also manages a military assistance program that provides $150,000 per year in military education and language training, as well as modest humanitarian assistance programs. In FY 1997 and FY 1998, U.S. military personnel deployed to Guinea to conduct disaster management training and a joint medical exercise.

USAID Guinea is now one of only five sustainable development missions in West Africa, with current core program areas in primary education, family health, democracy and governance, and natural resources management. The total FY 1998 budget for Guinea alone is $16.9 million.

The Peace Corps has about 110 volunteers throughout the country. Volunteers teach English and mathematics in high schools, assist in village development and health education, and collaborate with USAID on a natural resources management project. Guinea was the first country to inaugurate a full-fledged Crisis Corps program, a new Peace Corps initiative developed to address natural and man-made disasters.

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Ambassador--Tibor P. Nagy, Jr. Deputy Chief of Mission--Louis J. Nigro, Jr. USAID Director--Harry Birnholz Peace Corps Director--Kathleen Tilford Public Affairs Officer--Amelia Broderick

The U.S. Embassy is located at 2d Blvd. and 9th Avenue, Conakry. The mailing address is B.P. 603, Conakry, Guinea (Tel: 41-15-20/21/23. Fax: 41-15-22).



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U.S. Department of State information for the Republic of Guinea.

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