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Sekou Touré: 1958-1984

As the only colony to reject de Gaulle's new Community in 1958, French Guinea achieves immediate independence but loses any supporting economic link with France. The break is emphasized by dropping the word French from the name of the new nation. It becomes the republic of Guinea.

The rejection of France is not surprising considering the past history of Guinea's leading politician, Sékou Touré. His early career has been as a trades union activist (during World War II he organizes the first successful strike in French West Africa). In 1951 Touré wins election to the national assembly in Paris, but is not allowed to take his seat.

The same thing happens when he is re-elected in 1954. He is finally permitted to take his seat in the national assembly in 1956. After this he is in no mood, in 1958, to recommend to his countrymen a continuing French connection. He tells them, when campaigning for 'non' in the referendum on the French Community, that 'poverty in liberty' is preferable to 'wealth in slavery'.

Touré is elected president of Guinea in 1958. In the ensuing economic crisis (after the instant withdrawal of all French personnel and movable equipment) he turns first to communist Russia and China for aid. But his intention is to be non-aligned, and he soon seeks additional western support.

Guinea has constant economic troubles during its early decades of existence. But a more significant feature of national life is the gathering of power and perks into the hands of Touré and his family and close associates, who together administer an increasingly brutal regime.

A turning point on the path towards internal repression is an invasion in 1971 from Portuguese Guinea (the neighbouring territory, still under colonial rule) by opponents attempting a coup with Portuguese support. The coup is foiled. But this real threat to Touré's rule provides a pretext for harsh measures against opposition of any kind, real or imagined. Show trials and frequent executions become a feature of life in Guinea.

Lansana Conté: from1984

Touré's regime remains in power until his death in 1984. By this time his political party, the PDG (Democratic Party of Guinea) has little support and is immediately toppled in a military coup.

The leader of the coup, Colonel Lansana Conté, becomes president, governing through a Military Committee for National Recovery. Economic policies become more western-orientated, with private ownership and international investment actively encouraged. From 1990 President Conté begins a gradual process to provide his rule with democratic legitimacy.

A new constitution, preparing for the end of military rule, is approved by referendum in 1990. A mixed civilian and military Transitional Committee for National Recovery takes over an executive role in 1991, but the pace is too slow for pro-democracy activists. After widespread riots, opposition parties are legitimized in 1992 (as many as forty soon register) and a presidential election is at last held in 1993.

Conté wins by a wide margin, as does his party (the PUP, Party of Unity and Progress) in the 1995 elections to the national assembly. In both cases the opposition parties allege widespread electoral fraud on the part of the government.

A more dramatic threat to Conté's rule is a mutiny in 1996, prompted by his rejection of pay increases for the army. Rebel soldiers capture the airport and the capital city, Conakry, and launch an artillery attack on the presidential palace.

President Conté, from a safe underground shelter, promises to reconsider the matter of military pay. After two days loyal troops from the provinces reach Conakry and defeat the rebels.