This marks the 3rd of the four review pieces of documents from the electronic CSIS Africa Notes Archive that I promised to publish this summer. I have greatly enjoyed reading these pieces with the value of several decades of hindsight. My first two reviews, on Zimbabwe and Liberia respectively, covered nations that I know well and have visited multiple times.
Conversely, Guinea is a nation that I know little about, but find very interesting. Its first President, Sekou Toure, is a revered pan-Africanist figure (in certain circles), it was home to the American civil rights figure Stokely Carmichael for the last decades of his life, and although it has bumbled along from one authoritarian leader to the next, it has quite a wealth of mineral resources.
Its last coup leader, Moussa Dadis Camara, was shot after just under a year in office, fled to Burkina Faso and I have no idea what has happened to him since. Following that debacle in late 2009/early 2010, Guinea elected a head of state and has been trying to hold legislative elections, which have been consistently delayed and have lead to criticism of President Alpha Conde. That pretty much sums up my knowledge of Guinea.
L. Gray Cowan, who was head of Columbia University’s Institute of African Studies in the 1960s, traces a fairly informative overview of Guinea’s post-colonial political trajectory since independence through 1986 in his CSIS Africa Note, A New Guinea?
While I knew that was the first African nation to shed the burden of French colonialism, I did not realize that it did not use the CFA, the standard currency common to other French west African countries. Cowan speaks of Guinea’s early strained relations with France – they were established in 1961, three years after independence, and were again severed from 1965 – 1975.
Just as Camara faced an assassination attempt after one year in office, Sekou Toure’s successor, Lansana Conte, faced a major coup by his Prime Minister, after a year in office (at the time of Cowan’s writing, Conte had held power for 2 years). Cowan moves on from these informative tidbits to illustrate the economic climate of Guinea, which had been dominated by socialist thought under Toure. He speaks of “the new government’s campaign to encourage the private sector.”
In fact, almost all of Cowan’s analysis is in regards to Conte’s “almost complete reversal of its predecessor’s ideological stance….involving the private sector.” Certainly more than the other Africa notes that I have read to date, this piece evokes the Cold War era in which it was written. Today’s focus on governance and democracy would almost undoubtedly lead to a greater examination of the legitimacy of Conte’s military rule and its continued prospects. Cowan concludes by noting that it took Toure almost a quarter century to fully break down Guinea’s thriving colonial economy. He suspects that despite Conte’s efforts, it will take that long to reconstruct it. One wonders if Cowan suspected that Conte himself would have held power that long?
While the piece is informative, it offers only a tepid examination of future prospects, which sells short the probing title of ‘A New Guinea?’