The African continent is comprised of 54 nations, each with its own independent government and sovereignty, GNP, culture, natural resources, language(s), military, and religion. The treasure trove of mineral and raw material wealth has scarcely been touched and the continent's largely untapped fertile lands could feed the world. Herewith is Jewel of Africa, an interactive adventure in the cradle of mankind, an exploration of nations from A-Z in alphabetical order.
Guinea: Second largest producer of bauxite
Guinea is a West African nation on the Atlantic also bordered by Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Mali, d'Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The country is comprised of a coastal plain, a savanna interior, and a montane rainforest. The nation has a population 13.7 million and its capital and largest city is Conakry with a population a slight more than 2 million. Although the official language of Guinea is French, the most commonly spoken languages are Fulani, Susu, and Mandinka.
Guinea comprises four geographical regions: Lower Guinea, the Fouta Djallon, Upper Guinea, and the forested Guinea Highlands. Lower Guinea includes the coast and coastal plain. The coast has undergone recent marine submergence and is marked by rias or drowned river valleys, that form inlets and tidal estuaries. Numerous offshore islands are remnants of former hills. The highest peak is Mt. Nimba at 5,748 feet, best known for its rich mineral resources and diverse habitats and wildlife.
Immediately inland the gently rolling coastal plain rises to the east, being broken by rocky spurs of the Fouta Djallon highlands in the north at Cape Verga and in the south at the Camayenne Peninsula. Between 30 and 50 miles wide, the plain is wider in the south than the north. Its base rocks of granite and gneiss (coarse-grained rock containing bands of minerals) are covered with laterite (red soil with a high content of iron oxides and aluminum hydroxide) and sandstone gravel.
The Fouta Djallon highlands rise sharply from the coastal plain in a series of abrupt faults. More than 5,000 square miles of the highlands’ total area of 30,000 square miles is situated above 3,000 feet. Basically an enormous sandstone block, the Fouta Djallon comprised of level plateaus broken by deeply incised valleys and dotted with sills and dikes, or exposed structures of ancient volcanism resulting in resistant landforms of igneous rock. The Kakoulima Massif, for example, attains 3,273 feet northeast of Conakry. The highest point in the highlands, Mt. Tamgué, rises to 5,046 feet near the town of Mali in the north.
Upper Guinea is comprised of the Niger Plains, which slope northeastward toward the Sahara. The flat relief is broken by rounded granite hills and outliers of the Fouta Djallon. Composed of granite, gneiss, schist (crystalline rock), and quartzite, the region has an average elevation of about 1,000 feet.
The Forest Region, or Guinea Highlands, is a historically isolated area of hills in the country’s southeastern corner. Mt. Nimba at 5,748 feet is the highest mountain in the region, located at the borders of Guinea, Liberia, and Côte d’Ivoire. The mountain’s densely forested slopes are part of the Mt. Nimba Strict Nature Reserve, which has significant portions in Guinea. The Guinean sector was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981 and is home to a unique and diverse array of flora and fauna. The rocks of this region are of the same composition as those of Upper Guinea.
Drainage and soils
More than 20 rivers in western Africa originate in Guinea. The Fouta Djallon is the source of the three major rivers of the region. The Niger River and several tributaries, including the Tinkisso, Milo, and Sankarani, rise in the highlands and flow in a general northeasterly direction across Upper Guinea to Mali. The Bafing and Bakoye rivers, headwaters of the Sénégal River, flow northward into Mali before uniting to form the main river. The Gambia River flows northwestward before crossing Senegal and The Gambia.
Conakry is the capital and largest city of Guinea, a port city and the economic, financial and cultural center with more than 2 million people. The nation's beaches (below): Takonko, Benarés and La Jetée beaches at Conakry refreshingly balance the metropolitan grind.
The Guinean forests of West Africa is a bio-diver- sity hotspot designated by Conservation Internat- ional, which includes the belt of tropical moist broadleaf forests along the coast of West Africa, running from Sierra Leone and Guinea in the west to the Sanaga River of Cam- eroon in the east. The Dahomey Gap, a region of savanna and dry forest in Togo and Benin, divides the Guinean forests into the Upper Guinean for- ests and Lower Guinean forests. The Upper Guin-
ean forests extend from Sierra Leone and Guinea in the west through Lib- eria, Côte d'Ivoire, and Ghana to Togo in the east. The Lower Guinean for- est forests extend east from Benin through Nig- eria and Cameroon. The Lower Guinean forests also extend south past the Sanaga River,
In Guinea, agriculture still accounts for 19.7 percent of the total GDP and employs 84 percent of the economically active population. In 1999,
the main subsistence crops were manioc, 812,000 tons; rice, 750,000 tons; sweet potatoes, 135,000 tons; yams, 89,000 tons; and corn, 89,000 tons. The economy of Guinea also depends on cash crops such as sugarcane, citrus fruits, bananas, pineapples,
peanuts, palm kernels, coffee, and coconuts. In 1999, an estimated 429,000 tons of plantains, 220,000 tons of sugarcane, 215,000 tons of citrus fruits, 150,000 tons of bananas, 174,000 tons of peanuts, 52,000 tons of palm kernels, and 18,000 tons of coconuts were produced.
Free-flowing waterfalls are among the most alluring spectacles in the natural Earth, of which the Republic of Guinea has many. But many other natural wonders complement Guinea, including her picturesque beaches, verdant savannas, sparkling lakes, rubescent sunsets, and her beautiful people.
The culture of the Republic of Guinea is abundantly rich, from dancing to art. (Above) native dancers in traditional Fulani dress
The main attraction in Guinea is its wildlife that inhabit its rainforest, savannas, rivers and lakes. Numbered there are pigmy hippos, bioko turtles, elephants, and African wild dogs.
The Fouta Djallon also gives rise to numerous smaller rivers, including the Fatala, Konkouré, and Kolenté, which flow westward across the coastal plain to enter the Atlantic Ocean. The Forest Region generally drains to the southwest through Sierra Leone and Liberia. The Saint Paul River enters the Atlantic at Monrovia, in Liberia, and the Moa River has its mouth at Sulima, in Sierra Leone. The most common soils found in Guinea are laterites formed of iron and hydrated aluminum oxides and other materials that often concretize into hard iron-rich cong- lomerates. Sandy brown soils predominate in the northeast, while black, heavy clay soils accumulate in the back- waters along the coast. There are alluvial soils along the major rivers. Soil conservation is extremely important, because most soils are thin and rainfall heavy, causing much erosion.
Climate, drainage and soils
More than 20 rivers in western Africa originate in Guinea. The Fouta Djallon is the source of the three major rivers of the region. The Niger River and several tributaries, including the Tinkisso, Milo, and Sankarani, rise in the high- lands and flow in a general northeasterly direction across Upper Guinea to Mali. The Bafing and Bakoye rivers, headwaters of the Sénégal River, flow northward into Mali before uniting to form the main river. The Gambia River flows northwestward before crossing Senegal and The Gambia.
The Fouta Djallon also gives rise to numerous smaller rivers, including the Fatala, Konkouré, and Kolenté, which flow westward across the coastal plain to enter the Atlantic Ocean. The Forest Region generally drains to the southwest through Sierra Leone and Liberia. The Saint Paul River enters the Atlantic at Monrovia, in Liberia, and the Moa River has its mouth at Sulima, in Sierra Leone.
The most common soils found in Guinea are laterites formed of iron and hydrated aluminum oxides and other materials that often concretize into hard iron-rich conglomerates. Sandy brown soils predominate in the northeast, while black, heavy clay soils accumulate in the backwaters along the coast. There are alluvial soils along the major rivers. Soil conservation is extremely important, because most soils are thin and rainfall heavy, causing erosion.
The climate of Guinea is tropical with two alternating seasons—a dry season (November through March) and a wet season (April through October). The arrival of the migratory inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ) in June brings the heaviest rainfall of the wet season. As the ITCZ shifts southward in November, the hot, dry wind known as the harmattan blows from the northeast off the Sahara. On the coast a period of six months of dry weather is followed by six months of rain. The average rainfall at Conakry is about 170 inches a year, and the average annual temperatures are in the low 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the Fouta Djallon, January afternoon temperatures range from the mid-80s to the mid-90 degrees, while evening temperatures dip into the high 40s and low 50 degrees. Rainfall varies between 60 and 90 inches annually, and the average annual temperatures there are in the mid-70 degrees. In Upper Guinea rainfall drops to about 60 inches a year. During the dry season temperatures of more than 100 degrees are common in the northeast. In the Forest Region at Macenta there may be some 100 or more inches of rain annually. Only the months of December, January, and February are relatively dry, with possible rainfall of only 1 inch. At low elevations, temperatures resemble those of the coastal areas.
Plant and animal life
The Guinea coast is fringed with mangrove trees, and the coastal plain supports stands of oil palms. The Fouta Djallon is mostly open, with trees growing along the wider stream valleys. Badiar National Park, which is administered jointly with Niokolo-Koba National Park in southeastern Senegal, contains savanna and forest. In Upper Guinea the savanna grassland supports several species of tall grasses that reach heights of 5 to 10 feet during the rainy season. Deciduous trees grow in scattered clumps, but few have commercial value; baobabs and shea trees furnish fruit and oil.
Many of the dry woodlands of the region are protected in Haut Niger National Park, located in the center of the country. The Forest Region contains several extensive patches of rainforest, with teak, mahogany, and ebony trees; agriculture, however, has diminished the forests and resulted in a shift largely toward open savanna.
Guinea is not rich in African big game. Baboons and hyenas are common, while an occasional wild boar, several types of antelope, and a rare leopard may be sighted. Crocodiles, a few hippopotamuses, and several varieties of zees, and some rare bird species can be found in the southern portion of the Forest Region, near the Liberian border. Poisonous snakes include mambas, vipers, and cobras, and there are pythons and a variety of non-poisonous snakes.
Manufacturing and trade
Manufacturing accounts for only a small fraction of Guinea’s gross domestic product. Food-processing plants run at less than full capacity because agricultural production is insufficient and capital and managerial input are inadequate. Most industry consists of the manufacturing of light consumer goods and the primary processing of agricultural products. Guinea still depends heavily upon mineral exports to maintain a favorable trade balance. Exports of gold and diamonds in particular have shown substantial growth since 1984. The bauxite deposits at Fria, Kindia, and Sangaredi in the Boké region are exploited by international consortia in which the Guinea government holds major shares. Similarly mixed foreign and domestic plants produce the bauxite and alumina that provide the majority of Guinea’s export earnings. Chief imports include machinery, foodstuffs, and refined petroleum. Principal trading partners include European countries, China, and India.
Guinea has high tax rates. Government revenue is derived chiefly from mining concessions, a value-added tax, import and export duties, excise taxes, a petroleum products tax, and taxes on commercial transactions and pro- duction. There are also various other surtaxes, stamp duties, and registration fees. Business and other licenses and personal property, building, dwelling, and vehicle taxes are handled by the prefecture administrations. Taxes on salaries and wages contribute little revenue because few people are salaried and because many wage earners work within the government.
Ethnic groups, languages, religion
The four major geographic regions largely correspond to the areas inhabited by the major linguistic groups. In Lower Guinea the major language of the Susu has gradually replaced many of the other indigenous languages and is a lingua franca for most of the coastal population. In the Fouta Djallon the major language is Pulaar (a dialect of Fula, the language of the Fulani), while in Upper Guinea the Malinke (Maninkakan) language is the most widespread. The Forest Region contains the linguistic areas, from east to west, of Kpelle (Guerzé), Loma (Toma), and Kisi. The number of non-Guinean residents has increased considerably since the mid-1980s. This community includes Lebanese and Syrian traders; a growing number of French engaged in agriculture, business, and technical occupations; and Liberians, Sierra Leoneans, and Ivoirians, mainly refugees.
More than 80 percent of the population is Muslim, predominantly Sunni. Less than one-tenth of Guineans are Christian, mostly Roman Catholic. A minority of Guineans continue to follow local traditional religious practices.
Since the 1950s Guinea has experienced rapid population growth, accompanied by continuing migration from the rural areas to the urban centers. Even so, 60 percent of the population is still Kankan, in Upper Guinea, is a commercial, educational, administrative, and Muslim religious center of some importance. Labé, located in the heart of the Fouta Djallon, serves as a market town and an administrative and educational center; Nzérékoré, in the Forest Region, serves the same functions. Other important towns are the trading centers of Kindia and Mamou and the industrial settlements of Boké, Fria, and Kamsar.
Until urbanization and movement toward regional towns, the Fulani of the Fouta Djallon tended to live in small hillside hamlets of 75 to 95 persons each, with the lower classes occupying the valleys. In the heart of the highlands the countryside was thickly settled with hamlets every few miles, while in the east the land was less settled. In Lower Guinea villages were grouped together at the bases of hills, in the open plain, or in a valley floor. Village solidarity was more marked in this area than in the highlands, and each village contained between 100 and 200 people. The majority of the Malinke people of Upper Guinea lived in moderately large villages of about 1,000 inhabitants located near permanent water sources, the adjacent soils of which were used for cultivation. The villages were tightly grouped; there were empty brush areas in which farming was unprofitable.
In the Forest Region the effects of human occupation, especially in the southwest, have become apparent only since the mid-20th century. Among the Kisi people on the Sierra Leone and Liberian borders, rice was grown on most hillsides and in every low-lying and swampy area. Villages tended to be small and rarely contained more than 150 people; they were often tucked inside groves of kola, mango, and coffee trees. Farther east among the Loma and Kpelle people, fire-cleared land was used to plant vegetables and rice. Larger villages were usually located on remote hillside terraces often surrounded by secondary forest growth.
Life expectancy has consistently improved since independence, and by the early 21st century the average life expectancy was about 50 years for both men and women. The population of Guinea is young, with more than two-fifths of the people under age 15.
Immigration increased slightly after 1984, and, beginning in the 1990s, Guinea experienced an influx of refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia, which were marred by civil unrest; by 2002 Guinea was home to some 150,000 refugees. Emigration was high in the 1970s and early ’80s—especially from the Fouta Djallon and Upper Guinea—but decreased later in the 1980s. At its peak this out-migration consisted of one-sixth of the working-age male population, leaving an imbalance of aged men, children, and women. Emigration was directed toward neighboring countries, with a small percentage going to Europe or North America.
Economy and finance
Agriculture and other rural activities account for about 75 percent of the country’s employment, with less than 10 percent in industrial employment (including mining). Services make up the remainder of Guinea’s economic activity. Low salaries are common, and there is a large informal economy. The shortage of trained personnel is serious, and finances suffer from misappropriation and tax evasion. Many of the processing industries have been held back by inadequate supplies of raw materials. Internal production is not sufficiently high, in agriculture particularly, and the shortage of investment capital has been persistent.
Since 1984 the government of Guinea has pursued a slow process of economic reform aimed at reestablishing a free-market system. In 1986 Guinea began a process to re-link its currency, the Guinean franc, with the French franc after having maintained a nonconvertible currency (one not exchangeable for foreign currencies) since 1960. The process was never completed, however.
In mid-1985 a new banking law allowed the establishment of new commercial banks to replace the publicly owned institutions (with the exception of an Islamic bank established in 1983) that had existed under former President Sékou Touré. In December 1985 three banks involving French participation began operation: the Banque Internationale pour l’Afrique en Guinée (BIAG), the Banque Internationale pour le Commerce et l’Industrie de la Guinée (BICI-GUI), and the Société Générale de Banques en Guinée (SGBG). The central bank is the Banque Centrale de la République de Guinée.
The Guinean investment code follows fairly classical lines, offering a variety of inducements to domestic and international investors in productive sectors. Benefits include waivers of import duties on capital equipment and deductions of various peripheral tax liabilities including statutory employers’ contributions. Compared with many other African countries, the extent of these investor benefits is modest.
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Guinea is an agricultural country. The high plateaus of the Fouta Djallon are little more than part-time pastures, with hillsides given over to the growing of peanuts and fonio (a sorghum-like grain). Along the streams and rivers, rice, bananas, tomatoes, strawberries, and citrus fruits are grown commercially. Most families have truck gardens (gardens that produce specific vegetables in relatively large quantities for distant markets), and tsetse-resistant Ndama cattle, sheep, goats, horses, donkeys, chickens, and Muscovy ducks are raised.
In Lower Guinea, oil and coconut palms, rice, bananas, vegetables, salt, and fish are important elements of trade. A number of large-scale plantations produce a good quantity of bananas and pineapples. Except for poultry and a few goats, there are relatively few domestic animals. In Upper Guinea, grains and cassava (manioc) are important food crops; vegetables, tobacco, and karite (shea butter) are traded locally; and domestic animals are common. In
the Forest Region, rice is the chief food crop, along with cassava, peanuts, and corn (maize). Gardens of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tobacco are scattered in the shade of fruit trees, and coffee trees, kola nuts, and oil palms are important cash crops. Goats and fowl are the most common domestic animals.
Experiments conducted in the early 1970s with large-scale cooperative agricultural production were unsuccessful. Relatively low government farm prices and the high cost and scarcity of consumer goods caused many producers to return to subsistence agriculture or to resort to smuggling. The production of coffee, formerly the major cash crop, declined. Food imports of staples such as rice, once exported, remain necessary. The production of other cash crops, such as palm kernels, peanuts, pineapples, bananas, and citrus fruits, has improved only marginally since 1984, though considerable potential for expansion exists.
The southeastern rainforest has some valuable species of tropical hardwoods, but forestry generally is hampered by the lack of adequate transportation. Mixed government and private-investment sawmills and plywood plants function below capacity because of insufficient supplies of timber, transportation difficulties, and inadequate capital and managerial input. Both river and ocean fisheries yield large catches of food fish. Commercial fishing continues to grow with the introduction of U.S., French, Japanese, and other internationally financed and operated fishing ventures. Individual small-scale riverine and marine fishing, producing fresh, dried, and smoked fish for local markets, remains important.
Resources and power
Guinea has from one-third to one-half of the world’s known reserves of bauxite (the principal ore of aluminum), plus significant reserves of high-grade iron ore at Mount Nimba and the Simandou Mountains. Alluvial gold is taken from the Niger and its tributaries, and diamond production is substantial and largely of gem-quality stones. The iron ore deposits of Mt. Nimba are exploited under a shipping agreement with the government of Liberia. Mining of gem-quality diamonds increased greatly since 1984, and gold production rose substantially as well. Uranium reserves were discovered near Kissidougou, in the Forest Region, in 2007.
Hydroelectric potential is considerable because of the high rainfall and deep gorges of the Fouta Djallon, but the country’s hydropower has been only partially developed, largely to meet the demands of the alumina sector. A dam and hydroelectric power station on the Konkouré River produce nearly one-third of the country’s electricity. Yet only a small proportion of energy comes from the national grid, which supplies mainly Conakry and Kindia.
Guinea’s transportation system is largely based upon roads and domestic air service. Roads connect Guinea to regional centers and to Senegal and Mali. An international airport at Conakry serves jets of all sizes. Air Guinée Express operates a somewhat irregular schedule of weekly domestic flights to the hard-surfaced airports at Kankan, Labé, and Faranah and maintains occasional service to nearby international cities.
The Conakry-Kankan railway line is now mostly defunct, and there is no passenger railway service in the country. Two industrial railways serve the bauxite mining areas, including a line linking Conakry to the Fria bauxite mines. The Boké Railway runs between Kamsar and Sangaredi. The port facilities of Conakry are extensive. There is a channel about 25 to 65 feet deep and dock space with modern loading equipment. The Sangaredi bauxite mine company maintains its own ore-exporting port at Kamsar. Coastal shipping, however, is limited.
Government and constitutional
The National Transitional Council (Conseil National de Transition; CNT), a legislative-like body, was formed in Feb- ruary 2010. One of the duties of the CNT was drafting a new constitution, which was promulgated in May 2010. It was succeeded by a new constitution that was passed by a referendum in March 2020 and promulgated in April.
Under the 2020 constitution, Guinea is a unitary republic. The constitution provides for a president to serve as the head of state. The president is elected by universal suffrage for a maximum of two six-year terms. A prime minister, who is the head of government, is appointed by the president. Legislators are elected to the unicameral National Assembly by universal suffrage for an unlimited number of five-year terms.
The judiciary consists of the Supreme Court, the Court of Audit, and lower courts and tribunals. There is also a Constitutional Court, which presides over constitutional and electoral issues, and a High Court of Justice, which tries the president and other members of government for high treason and other crimes. Following a military coup in September 2021, the 2020 constitution was suspended. A transitional charter presented later that month outlined how the country would be administered until civilian rule was restored. It provided for a president as the head of state, a prime minister as the head of government, and an 81-member National Transitional Council (Conseil National de la Transition; CNT) that would serve as a legislative body.
Health and welfare
Since independence the government has made an effort to improve health care services. By the early 21st century infant and child mortality rates were reduced to nearly half of what they had been in the post-independence period. Nevertheless, equipment and supply shortages and an inadequate number of medical personnel continue to hamper the health care system. Most social welfare services are either provided by the extended family or are absent. A severe housing shortage exists in the urbanized areas, though mud and straw construction reduces the problem in rural areas. It is estimated that 20 percent of the country’s population lives in Conakry and its environs, where the housing shortage is especially serious.
Private schools, previously banned, were allowed to reopen after Touré’s death in 1984. Under the 2020 constitu- tion, education is free and compulsory until age 16. Primary education is offered in the form of a six-year program beginning at age seven. Secondary education is also offered as a six-year program. Instruction is offered in French and in local languages. State-controlled institutions of higher education include the University of Conakry (1962) and the University of Kankan (1963). Slightly less than 33 percent of the population age 15 and older is literate, which is below average for western Africa.
Music is at the heart of Guinean culture and can traditionally be divided into types corresponding to the country’s geographic and ethno-linguistic regions. Although these local styles vary, they are all characterized by heavy use of percussion and string instruments. One of the best-known styles is Manding music, the traditional music of Mande-speaking peoples (the Susu). Its most important instrument is the kora, a harp-like instrument made from a dried and hollowed-out gourd. The professional National Guinean Ballet, which emerged after independence, has retained some of the dance and music of the distinct ethnic and regional groups. Creative accomplishments in modern dance and popular music have given Guinean musicians and singers an international reputation.
One of the best-known contemporary Guinean musicians is Mory Kanté, who has combined traditional sounds with a Western beat. Until 1984 artistic and literary expressions were limited largely to African themes by the single political party and its leader. As a result, Guinean writers of the post-independence period exhibited a strong sense of nationalism. As greater openness of expression returned, a distinctly Guinean literature gradually emerged.
Handicrafts in Guinea, as elsewhere in Africa, declined sharply during the colonial era with competition from manufactured consumer goods. The lack of tourism and creative marketing since independence has limited the amount of change and innovation in local crafts, so that the leatherwork, wood carving, and jewelry produced in Guinea tend to be more genuinely ethnic than elsewhere in western Africa.
Media and publishing
The government owns or controls Guinean media, and censorship is rigorous. A French-language newspaper, Horoya, formerly controlled by the PDG, is published in Conakry, as are a handful of weekly independent newspapers. A number of informal newsletters are also published in indigenous languages. A television service was begun in 1977. After much pressure from international groups, in 2006 the government granted licenses to several private radio stations. Foreign majority ownership in radio, television, and newspapers is restricted, however.
Jarrette Fellows, Jr. / Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License