Guinea - Introduction
The Republic of Guinea (widely referred to as Guinea-Conakry to differentiate it from its Lusophone neighbor Guinea Bissau) has had a turbulent political history. Unlike many of its neighbors, Guinea has not experienced prolonged civil war. It has, however, been plagued since independence by political instability, authoritarianism, state-sponsored violence, minimal political and individual freedom, state-controlled media and periodic waves of preventive arrests.
The 2006 Transparency International report ranked Guinea as the most corrupt country in Africa and 4th most corrupt country in the world. Inherited from the Sekou Touréan purgatory (1958-1984), sustained by the military-civilian anarchism in the time of Lansana Conté (1984-2008), amplified during the comic but mostly tragic parenthesis of Moussa Dadis Camara (2008-2009), and guided by police units and the gendarmerie in the pay of a civil-repressive power of Alpha Condé (2010 to the present day), the tradition of state violence in Guinea is a constant political fact and a recurring problem. Guinea's infrastructure is degraded, more than 2 million Guineans had fled abroad, a bloated, corrupt, omnipresent and incompetent bureaucracy ransoms the country. Rural people have taken refuge in poor subsistence farming.
Throughout the country’s different regimes, the Guinean armed forces and police – commonly referred to jointly as the Guinean Security and Defence Forces – have been used by the government to suppress political opposition violently. Guineas armed forces are divided into four branches--army, navy, air force, and gendarmerie--whose chiefs report to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The army is the largest of the four services. The navy had about 2,300 personnel and operates several small patrol craft and barges. Air force personnel totalled about 2,000; its equipment included several Russian-supplied fighter planes and transport planes. Around 9,000 gendarmes were responsible for internal security.
Guinea is a constitutional democratic republic in the early stages of a transition from decades of authoritarian rule. The first free presidential elections in Guinea, organized in two rounds between June and November 2010, have opened a new chapter in the history of the country. Better governance is a priority set by political authorities, with the stated goal of building the foundations necessary for the reinforcement and modernization of State institutions, with the implementation of real change to improve the living conditions of the Guinean people.
On October 11, 2015, the country held its second democratic presidential election, and incumbent President Alpha Conde won with 58 percent of the vote. The political campaign was more peaceful than the 2010 presidential and 2013 legislative elections, but a few deaths occurred during skirmishes between demonstrators and security forces. Despite tighter rules of engagement and a prohibition on the use of lethal force during street protests, elements of the security forces on occasion acted independently of civilian control.
Some observers argue that Guinea needs strong, non-democratic leadership that can guide the country into more sound and stable economic policies. In their opinion, the Guinean people are incapable of electing their own leader. The level of education is too low and the stakes too high - especially in the realm of regional stability. Some argue that countries that want democracy in Guinea are self-interested and do not have the best long-term interest of Guinea and West Africa in mind.
Until there is some semblance of an educated class in Guinea, some do not see the capability to form a small group of leaders with the country's best interest in mind. As to what would happen in the absence of such a group, some say that nothing can happen, that there was no hope for leadership or stabilty for Guinea in the near future.
Guinea is home to over half the world’s reserves of bauxite (aluminum ore). Bauxite is the most active mining activity in Guinea, accounting for over half of Guinea’s exports. Guinea also possesses over four billion tons of untapped high-grade iron ore, significant gold and diamond reserves, undetermined amounts of uranium, as well as prospective off-shore oil reserves. Most of the country’s bauxite is exported by Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee (CBG) via a designated port in Kamsar. CBG, a joint venture between the Government of Guinea, American company Alcoa and Anglo-Australian firm Rio Tinto, is the largest single producer of bauxite in the world.
At independence in late 1958 the Republic of Guinea occupied a special position among the new African states that had emerged out of the rising tide of nationalism in the years after World War II. It alone of France's West African territories had opted in a referendum for independence outside the French Community proposed by General Charles de Gaulle. The choice, which suddenly cut off sorely needed French technical and material assistance, established the new republic as an enviable pioneer in the African quest for nationalism—a position it retained during its early years of sovereignty. By the early 1970s, however, its prominence as a revered spokesman for pan-Africanism had waned.
Coming 178th (out of 187 countries) on the Human Development Index, the Republic of Guinea suffers from severe structural vulnerabilities, despite recent progress. The national poverty rate stood at 55.2% in 2012, meaning that 6.2 million Guineans were living below the poverty line. Around one child in every three was suffering from malnutrition in 2012.
The character of Guinean society is marked to a great degree by the social and economic distinction that exists between citizens in positions of authority and those who are not. High social status, prestige, and privilege come from participation in the government, the political party, and the parapolitical mass organizations. At the other end of the societal spectrum are the Guinean masses, who exist largely at a subsistence level. Contrasting patterns of living, conditioned largely by divergent economic means, had yet to experience the promise of balance inherent in the goals of the "Guinean revolution".
Medical facilities are poorly equipped and extremely limited, both in the capital city and throughout Guinea. Medicines are in short supply and of questionable quality, sterility of equipment should not be assumed, and treatment is frequently unreliable. Some private medical facilities provide a better range of treatment options than public facilities, but are still well below western standards. Ambulance and emergency rescue services are extremely limited in Conakry and practically non-existent in the rest of the country. Trauma care is extremely limited.
Drivers in Guinea routinely ignore road safety rules. Guinea has no reliable safe public transportation. Taxis, including small cars and larger vans, are often poorly maintained and overcrowded. Taxis frequently stop and start without regard to other vehicles. Guinea’s road network, which is only partly paved, is underdeveloped and unsafe. Roads and vehicles are poorly maintained, road signs are insufficient, and roads and vehicles are frequently unlit. Livestock and pedestrians create constant road hazards and make nighttime travel inadvisable. The police and the military often set up roadblocks, making travel within and between cities difficult from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. During the rainy season (July through September), flash floods make some roads temporarily impassable. Roadside assistance is not available in Guinea.
Protests around scheduled elections, utilities, and labor disputes are common, causing disruptions to traffic and commerce. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. Most border crossings are controlled jointly by Guinean armed forces, gendarmes, police, and immigration officials but are lightly patrolled. Motorists traveling inside and outside of Conakry have encountered improvised checkpoint-barricades manned by persons in military uniforms who demand money and search through personal belongings, confiscating items of value.
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