Archaeological evidence indicates that at least some stone tools found in Guinea were the work of peoples who had come there from the Sahara, perhaps because of the desiccation that had occurred in the Saharan region by 2000 BC . Agriculture was practiced along the coast of Guinea by AD 1000, with rice the staple crop.
Most of Upper Guinea fell within the area influenced by the medieval empire of Ghana at the height of its power, but none of present-day Guinea was actually within the empire. The northern half of present-day Guinea was, however, within the later Mali and Songhai empires.
Malinké did not begin arriving in Guinea until the 13th century, nor did the Fulani come in considerable numbers until the 17th century. In 1725, a holy war (jihad) was declared in Futa Jallon by Muslim Fulani. The onslaught, directed against the non-Muslim Malinké and Fulani, was ultimately successful in establishing the independence of the Fulani of Futa Jallon and effecting their unity within a theocratic kingdom under Almamy Karamoka Alfa of Timbo.
Meanwhile, European exploration of the Guinea coast was begun by the Portuguese in the middle of the 15th century. By the 17th century, French, British, and Portuguese traders and slavers were competing with one another. When the slave trade was prohibited during the first half of the 19th century, the Guinea creeks afforded secluded hiding places for slavers harried by the ships of the Royal Navy. French rights along the coast were expressly preserved by the Peace of Paris (1814), and French—as well as British and Portuguese—trading activities expanded in the middle years of the 19th century, when trade in peanuts, palm oil, hides, and rubber replaced that in slaves. The French established a protectorate over Boké in 1849 and consolidated their rule over the coastal areas in the 1860s. This inevitably led to attempts to secure a more satisfactory arrangement with the Fulani chiefs of Futa Jallon. A protectorate was established over the region in 1881, but effective sovereignty was not secured for another 15 years.
Resistance to the consolidation of the French advance up the Senegal and the Niger, toward Lake Chad, was made by Samory Touré, a Malinké born in Upper Guinea. He had seized Kankan in 1879 and established his authority in the area southeast of Siguiri, but his attacks on the area led the inhabitants to seek aid from the French troops already established at Kita in the French Sudan (Soudan Français, now Mali) in 1882. Samory signed treaties with the French in 1886 and again in 1890, but on various pretexts both he and the French later renounced them, and hostilities resumed. His capture in 1898 marked the end of any concerted local resistance to the French occupation of Guinea, Ivory Coast (now Côte d'Ivoire), and southern Mali.
In 1891, Guinea was constituted as a French territory separate from Senegal, of which it had hitherto been a part. Four years later, the French territories in West Africa were federated under a governor-general. The federation structure remained substantially unchanged until Guinea attained independence. In 1946, Africans in Guinea became French citizens, but the franchise was at first restricted to the Europeanized évoulés , and was not replaced by universal adult suffrage until 1957.
In September 1958, Guinea participated in the referendum on the new French constitution. On acceptance of the new constitution, French overseas territories had the option of choosing to continue their existing status, to move toward full integration into metropolitan France, or to acquire the status of an autonomous republic in the new quasi-federal French Community. If, however, they rejected the new constitution, they would become independent forthwith. French President Charles de Gaulle made it clear that a country pursuing the independent course would no longer receive French economic and financial aid or retain French technical and administrative officers. The electorate of Guinea rejected the new constitution overwhelmingly, and Guinea accordingly became an independent state on 2 October 1958, with Ahmed Sékou Touré, leader of Guinea's strongest labor union, as president.
During its first three decades of independence, Guinea developed into a militantly socialist state, which merged the functions and membership of the Parti Démocratique de Guinée (PDG) with the various institutions of government, including the public state bureaucracy. This unified party-state had nearly complete control over the country's economic and political life. Guinea expelled the US Peace Corps in 1966 because of alleged involvement in a plot to overthrow President Touré. Similar charges were directed against France; diplomatic relations were severed in 1965 and did not resume until 1975. An ongoing source of contention between Guinea and its French-speaking neighbors was the estimated half-million expatriates in Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire; some were active dissidents who, in 1966, formed the National Liberation Front of Guinea (Front de Libération Nationale de Guinée—FLNG).
International tensions erupted again in 1970 when some 350 men, including FLNG partisans and Africans in the Portuguese army, invaded Guinea under the leadership of white Portuguese officers from Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau). Waves of arrests, detentions, and some executions followed this invasion, which was repulsed after one day. Between 1969 and 1976, according to Amnesty International, 4,000 persons were detained for political reasons, with the fate of 2,900 unknown. After an alleged Fulani plot to assassinate Touré was disclosed in May 1976, Diallo Telli, a cabinet minister and formerly the first secretary-general of the OAU, was arrested and sent to prison, where he died without trial in November.
In 1977, protests against the regime's economic policy, which dealt harshly with unauthorized trading, led to riots in which three regional governors were killed. Touré responded by relaxing restrictions, offering amnesty to exiles (thousands of whom returned), and releasing hundreds of political prisoners. Ties were loosened with the Soviet bloc, as Touré sought increased Western aid and private investment for Guinea's sagging economy.
Single-list elections for an expanded National Assembly were held in 1980. Touré was elected unopposed to a fourth seven-year term as president on 9 May 1982; according to the government radio, he received 100% of the vote. A new constitution was adopted that month, and during the summer Touré visited the United States as part of an economic policy reversal that found Guinea seeking Western investment to develop its huge mineral reserves. Measures announced in 1983 brought further economic liberalization, including the relegation of produce marketing to private traders.
Touré died on 26 March 1984 while undergoing cardiac treatment at the Cleveland Clinic; he had been rushed to the United States after being stricken in Sa'udi Arabia the previous day. Prime Minister Louis Lansana Béavogui then became acting president, pending elections that were to be held within 45 days. On 3 April, however, just as the Political Bureau of the ruling Guinea Democratic Party (PDG) was about to name its choice as Touré's successor, the armed forces seized power, denouncing the last years of Touré's rule as a "bloody and ruthless dictatorship." The constitution was suspended, the National Assembly dissolved, and the PDG abolished. The leader of the coup, Col. Lansana Conté, assumed the presidency on 5 April, heading the Military Committee for National Recovery (Comité Militaire de Redressement National—CMRN). About 1,000 political prisoners were freed.
Conté suppressed an attempted military coup led by Col. Diarra Traoré on 4 July 1985. Almost two years later, it was announced that 58 persons, including both coup leaders and members of Touré's government, had been sentenced to death; however, it was believed that many of them, as well as Traoré, had actually been shot days after the coup attempt. All were identified with the Malinké, who were closely identified with the Touré regime. The military regime adopted free-market policies in an effort to revive the economy.
Under pressure locally and abroad, Guinea embarked on a transition to multiparty democracy, albeit with considerable reluctance from the military-dominated government. It legalized parties in April 1992, but did not really allow them to function freely. It postponed presidential elections for over a year (until 19 December 1993) and then annulled the results from two Malinké strongholds, claiming victory with 51.7% of the vote. The Supreme Court upheld the Ministry of the Interior's decision despite official protestations from the opposition. Though international opinion on the elections was divided, it was generally conceded that the elections administration had been widely manipulated in favor of the PUP candidate, and in several instances the voting process was fraudulent.
The legislative elections were delayed until 11 June 1995. These elections were supposed to have preceded the presidential elections, but the regime switched the order in 1993. The opposition felt that scheduling the presidential election first gave the incumbent an unfair advantage in both elections. International observers found significant flaws in these elections as well, and afterwards, the opposition vowed to boycott the Assembly. Factionalism within the opposition alliance, CODEM, shattered this resolve, and by the time the Assembly was convened, 71 PUP representatives and 43 members representing 8 other parties assumed their seats.
The greatest threat to Conté's power came in February 1996, when mutineers commanded tanks, fired upon the presidential palace, and seized the president. The palace was all but destroyed, and some 30 to 50 people were killed, many of them civilians by stray bullets. Conté was able to strike a deal with the mutineers, agreeing to establish a multiparty grievance committee that was disbanded before it could issue its final report. No one received a death sentence, though 38 soldiers received sentences, 34 of them colonels, majors, captains, and lieutenants. Only six were Susu, and four of them received the lightest sentences. Conté gave in to the mutineers' demands by doubling soldiers' pay and taking over the defense department himself.
In December 1998, Guinea held its second round of multiparty elections. Though it was technically more acceptable than previous polling, the PUP marshaled the resources of the state and the public bureaucracy to conduct its campaign up-country. The opposition submitted a report detailing fraudulent and illegal election and campaign practices by the ruling party. Further, the Guinean Human Rights Organization and Amnesty International accused the government of routine torture—stripping, tying up, and beating opposition militants.
Before the international borders were reopened, the government seized Malinké RPG leader Alpha Condé for allegedly attempting to cross into Côte d'Ivoire. He and four RPG parliamentarians, and some 70 RPG militants were jailed. The Condé trial was repeatedly delayed, and the charges were changed to "recruitment of mercenaries with intent to overthrow the government." It was suspended shortly after it began in April 2000 when Condé's lawyers and the Court failed to agree on the legality of the arrest and the charges. Condé was being tried along with 48 others in the Cour de Sûreté de l'Etat (State Security Court).
The political climate in May 2000 was uneasy with fear that the Alpha Condé affair would drag on unresolved. Legislative and local elections were scheduled for later in the year, but the opposition renewed its calls to boycott them. Despite this adversity, municipal elections were held in June 2000 accompanied by violence in at least seven cities leading to several civilian deaths. Reports of arrests, beatings, rapes, and torture of protesters followed. The opposition indicated that unless a neutral arbiter, such as an independent electoral commission were established, it would boycott the legislative elections.
In mid-September 2000, the State Security Court convicted Condé of sedition and sentenced him to five years hard labor in prison, though later he was granted clemency. Seven of his 47 coaccused received lighter sentences, while the others were acquitted. The international community overwhelmingly condemned the trial as a mockery of justice. Condé's five-year sentence would eliminate him from running in the next presidential elections.
In November 2001, in what amounted to a constitutional coup, Conté and the PUP-dominated National Assembly amended the constitution to increase the number of years in a presidential term from five to seven, and to remove term limits. The amendment also allowed the president to nominate local government officials. In June 2002 flawed parliamentary elections resulted in the ruling party's gain of a two-third's majority in the Assembly.
Conté's declining health has given rise to speculation that he might not stand for re-election in December 2003, and should he be unable to run, the country risks political chaos. The army, which is deeply divided by age, ethnicity, and other factors, would likely intervene.