Imagine you’re travelling on smooth highway, and then get tempted by a tiny, dusty turn-off into rugged terrain, where surprising beauty and treacherous vistas define the route. Guinea is that turn-off. This is a country blessed with amazing landscapes; from the mountain plateau Fouta Djalon to wide Sahelian lands and thick forests.
Overland drivers are drawn here by rugged tracks, and the challenge of steering their vehicles over rocks and washed-out paths. Nature lovers can lose themselves on long hikes past plunging waterfalls, proud hills and tiny villages, or track elephants through virgin rainforest. While Guinea is not famed for its beaches, those it does have are stunning, and often deserted.
Guinea is a remarkable country with very warm, genuine people but little infrastructure. While they have tremendous natural resources available to them (which includes around one half of the world’s reserves of bauxite, and many major gold, jewel, and metal industries), they rate very poorly in the UN’s quality of life index. Guinea is roughly the size of the United Kingdom.
Very few travellers head to Guinea, and some guide books don’t even provide reviews and listings. A good source of information for on-the-ground travel in Guinea is Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree on-line travel forum www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree. Another source of good internet-based information is www.ontguinee.org.
Official name. Republic of Guinea. Capital. Conakry. Population 1,667,864
Population. 11.7 million (2014). Density. 40.9/sq. km
Languages. French, Malinke, Pulaar (Fula) and Susu
Ethnic Groups. Fula 42%, Mandinka 31%, Susu 13%, Kissi 5%, Kpelle 5%
Government. Presidential Republic. President Alpha Conde
Independence from France. Oct 2 1958
Area. 245,857 sq km
GDP (PPP). $16.2b. Per capita. $1,281.
GDP (nominal). Total $7.067. Per capita %558.
Tourist information www.ontguinee.org
When to go. Jan-May – This is the hot (32°), dry season so head for the beaches. Jun-Oct – The rainy season with spectacular storms and impressive surf but country roads are impassable. Oct-Dec – A touch of harmattan breeze from the Sahel occasionally cools the air.
MONEY. Guinean franc (GNF). Exchange rate September 2016: 1US$ = 7,350 GNF. 1euro = 8,198 GNF.
The economic situation of the country has led the government to impose currency controls on the GNF. As a result there is a black market for money and foreign currencies can be exchanged in the street for a much better rate than the official one. Cash in EUR, USD and CFA can easily be exchanged in the street for a rate 15-25% better than the official one (depending of the location, as of March 2016).
VISA. Visa inquiries must be made at Guinea embassies, and are not available at the borders or airport.
A one month, single entry visa costs around USD100. A three-month, multiple entry visa is double the price and is the only type available to citizens of the US. Following documents were needed: letter of invitation, passport, passport copy, 2 pictures and a form to get from the embassy. The visa was delivered in 24h.
Yellow fever vaccination certificate required frequently when you will be stopped at the checkpoints inside the country and at the borders.
Guinea is a country on the West coast of Africa. Formerly known as French Guinea, the modern country is sometimes referred to as Guinea-Conakry in order to distinguish it from other parts of the wider region of the same name, such as Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea. Guinea has a population of 10.5 million and an area of 245,860 square kilometres (94,927 sq mi).
Guinea is a republic. The president is directly elected by the people and is head of state and head of government. The unicameral Guinean National Assembly is the legislative body of the country, and its members are also directly elected by the people. The judicial branch is led by the Guinea Supreme Court, the highest and final court of appeal in the country.
Guinea is a predominantly Islamic country, with Muslims representing 85 percent of the population. Guinea’s people belong to twenty-four ethnic groups. French, the official language of Guinea, is the main language of communication in schools, in government administration, in the media, but more than twenty-four indigenous languages are also spoken.
Guinea’s economy is largely dependent on agriculture and mineral production. It is the world’s second largest producer of bauxite, and has rich deposits of diamonds and gold.
Human rights in Guinea remain a controversial issue. In 2011 the United States government claimed that torture by security forces, and abuse of women and children (e.g. female genital mutilation) were ongoing abuses of human rights.
The country is named after the Guinea region. Guinea is a traditional name for the region of Africa that lies along the Gulf of Guinea. It stretches north through the forested tropical regions and ends at the Sahel. The English term Guinea comes directly from the Portuguese word Guiné, which emerged in the mid-15th century to refer to the lands inhabited by the Guineus, a generic term for the black African peoples below the Senegal River, as opposed to the ‘tawny’ Zenaga Berbers, above it, whom they called Azenegues or Moors.
The country was at the core of the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
West African empires and Kingdoms in Guinea. What is now Guinea was on the fringes of the major West African empires. The Ghana Empire is believed to be the earliest of these but fell when Islam first arrived in the region.
Sosso kingdom (12th to 13th centuries). Islamic Manding Mali Empire came to power after the Battle of Kirina in c. 1235. After 1324, the empire declined and was ultimately supplanted by its vassal states in the 15th century. The most successful of these was the Mali Empire, and the Songhai Empire that eventually surpassed it. Iin 1582 the weakened empire fell to invaders from Morocco at the Battle of Tondibi. The Moroccans proved unable to rule the kingdom effectively, however, and it split into many small kingdoms.
After the fall of the major West African empires, various kingdoms existed in what is now Guinea. Fulani Muslims migrated to Futa Jallon in Central Guinea and established an Islamic state from 1735 to 1898 with a written constitution and alternate rulers.
Colonial era. The slave trade came to the coastal region of Guinea with European traders in the 16th century. Slavery had always been part of everyday life but the scale increased as slaves were exported to work elsewhere in the triangular trade.
Guinea’s colonial period began with French military penetration into the area in the mid-19th century. France negotiated Guinea’s present boundaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the British for Sierra Leone, the Portuguese for their Guinea colony (now Guinea-Bissau), and Liberia. Under the French, the country formed the Territory of Guinea within French West Africa, administered by a governor-general resident in Dakar.
Independence and post-colonial rule (1958-2008). French President Charles de Gaulle made it clear in 1958 that France’s colonies were to be given a stark choice between more autonomy in a new French Community and immediate independence. The other colonies chose the former but Guinea — under the leadership of Ahmed Sékou Touré whose Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG) had won 56 of 60 seats in 1957 territorial elections — voted overwhelmingly for independence. The French withdrew quickly, and on 2 October 1958, Guinea proclaimed itself a sovereign and independent republic, with Sékou Touré as president.
Following France’s withdrawal, Guinea quickly aligned itself with the Soviet Union and adopted socialist policies. This alliance was short-lived, however, as Guinea moved towards a Chinese model of socialism. Despite this, however, the country continued to receive aid and investment from capitalist countries such as the U.S.. Even the relationship with France improved; after the election of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing as French president, trade increased and the two countries exchanged diplomatic visits.
By 1960, Touré had declared the PDG the only legal party. For the next 24 years, the government and the PDG were one. Touré was reelected unopposed to four seven-year terms as president, and every five years voters were presented with a single list of PDG candidates for the National Assembly. Advocating a hybrid African Socialism domestically and Pan-Africanism abroad, Touré quickly became a polarising leader, and his government became intolerant of dissent, imprisoning hundreds and stifling the press.
At the same time the Guinean government nationalised land, removed French-appointed and traditional chiefs from power, and broke ties with the French government and French companies. Vacillating between support for the Soviet Union and (by the late 1970s) the United States, Guinea’s economic situation became as unpredictable as its diplomatic line. Alleging plots and conspiracies against him at home and abroad, Touré’s regime targeted real and imagined opponents, driving thousands of political opponents into exile.
In 1970, Portuguese forces from neighbouring Portuguese Guinea staged Operation Green Sea, a raid into Guinea with the support of exiled Guinean opposition forces. Among other goals, the Portuguese military wanted to kill or capture Sekou Toure due his support of the PAIGC, a guerilla movement operating inside Portuguese Guinea. After several days of fierce fighting, the Portuguese forces retreated after achieving most of their goals. The regime of Sékou Touré increased the number of internal arrests and executions.
Sékou Touré died on 26 March 1984 after a heart operation in the United States. The PDG was due to elect a new leader on 3 April 1984. However, Colonels Lansana Conté seized power in a bloodless coup. Conté assumed the role of president.
Conté immediately denounced the previous regime’s record on human rights, released 250 political prisoners and encouraged approximately 200,000 more to return from exile. He also made explicit the turn away from socialism, but this did little to alleviate poverty and the country showed no immediate signs of moving towards democracy.
In 1992, Conté announced a return to civilian rule, with a presidential poll in 1993 followed by elections to parliament in 1995 (in which his party – the Party of Unity and Progress – won 71 of 114 seats.) Despite his stated commitment to democracy, Conté’s grip on power remained tight. In September 2001, the opposition leader Alpha Condé was imprisoned for endangering state security.
In 2001, Conté organized and won a referendum to lengthen the presidential term and in 2003 begun his third term after elections were boycotted by the opposition. In January 2005, Conté survived a suspected assassination attempt while making a rare public appearance in the capital Conakry. His opponents claimed that he was a “tired dictator” whose departure was inevitable, whereas his supporters believed that he was winning a battle with dissidents. Guinea still faces very real problems and according to Foreign Policy is in danger of becoming a failed state.
In 2000, Guinea became embroiled in the instability which had long blighted the rest of West Africa as rebels crossed the borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone and it seemed for a time that the country was headed for civil war. Conté blamed neighbouring leaders for coveting Guinea’s natural resources, though these claims were strenuously denied. In 2003, Guinea agreed to plans with her neighbours to tackle the insurgents. In 2007, there were big protests against the government, resulting in the appointment of a new prime minister.
Recent history. Conté remained in power until his death on 23 December 2008 and several hours following his death, Moussa Dadis Camara seized control in a coup, declaring himself head of a military junta. Protests against the coup became violent and 157 people were killed on 28 September 2009. The soldiers went on a rampage of rape, mutilation, and murder which caused many foreign governments to withdraw their support for the new regime.
On 3 December 2009, an aide shot Camara during a dispute about the rampage of September. Camara went to Morocco for medical care. He produced a formal statement of twelve principles promising a return of Guinea to civilian rule within six months.
The presidential election was held on 27 June and was the first free and fair election since independence in 1958. After several delays and run-offs, Alpha Condé, the leader of the opposition party Rally of the Guinean People (RGP), was officially declared the winner. He promised to reform the security sector and review mining contracts. In July 2011, President Condé’s residence was attacked in an attempted coup. In April 2012, President Condé postponed legislative elections indefinitely, citing the need to ensure that they were “transparent and democratic”.
2013 Protests. The opposition coalition withdrew from the electoral process due to the lack of transparency in the preparations for elections. Nine people were killed during the protests, while around 220 were injured, and many of the deaths and injuries were caused by security forces using live fire on protesters.The political violence also led to inter-ethnic clashes between the Fula and Malinke peoples, the latter forming the base of support for President Condé, with the former mainly supporting the opposition.
Ebola virus outbreak. On 25 March 2014, the World Health Organization said that Guinea’s Ministry of Health had reported an outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Guinea. This initial outbreak had a total of 86 cases, including 59 deaths. By 28 May, there were 281 cases, with 186 deaths. It is believed that the first case was Emile Ouamouno, a 2-year-old boy who lived in the village of Meliandou. He fell ill on 2 December 2013 and died on 6 December. On 18 September 2014, eight members of an Ebola education health care team were murdered by villagers in the town of Womey. As of 1 November 2015, there have been 3,810 cases and 2,536 deaths in Guinea.
GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
The country is a republic. The president is directly elected by the people and is head of state and head of government. The Unicameral National Assembly is the legislative body of the country, and its members are directly elected by the people. The judicial branch is led by the Guinea Supreme Court, the highest and final Court of appeal in the country.
Guinea is a member of many international organizations including the African Union, Agency for the French-Speaking Community,African Development Bank, Economic Community of West African States, World Bank, Islamic Development Bank, IMF, and theUnited Nations.
Political culture. President Alpha Conde derives support from Guinea’s second-largest ethnic group, the Malinke. Guinea’s opposition is backed by the Fula ethnic group, also known as Peul, who account for around 40 percent of the population.
Legislative branch. The National Assembly of Guinea, the country’s legislative body, has not met since 2008 when it was dissolved after the military coup in December. Elections have been postponed many times since 2007. In April 2012, President Condé postponed the elections indefinitely, citing the need to ensure that they were “transparent and democratic”.
The 2013 Guinean legislative election, President Alpha Condé’s party, the Rally of the Guinean People (RPG), won a plurality of seats in the National Assembly of Guinea, with 53 out of 114 seats. The opposition parties won a total of 53 seats, and opposition leaders denounced the official results as fraudulent.
Foreign relations. Guinea’s foreign relations, including those with its West African neighbors, have improved steadily since 1985.
Military. Guinea’s armed forces are divided into five branches – army (15,000 personnel), navy (900 personnel with several small patrol craft and barges), air force (700 personnel and Russian fighter planes and transports), the paramilitary National Gendarmerie and the Republican.
Guinea shares its northern border with Guinea-Bissau,Senegal, and Mali, and its southern border with Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ivory Coast. The nation forms a crescent as it curves from its western border on the Atlantic Ocean toward the east and the south. The sources of the Niger River, Gambia River, and Senegal River are all found in the Guinea Highlands.
At 245,857 km2 (94,926 sq mi), Guinea is roughly the size of the United Kingdom. There are 320 km of coastline and a total land border of 3,400 km. Its neighbours are Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone. It lies mostly between latitudes 7° and 13°N, and longitudes 7° and 15°W(a small area is west of 15°).
Regions. Guinea is divided into four main regions: Maritime Guinea, also known as Lower Guinea or the Basse-Coté lowlands, populated mainly by the Susu ethnic group; the cooler, mountainous Fouta Djallon that run roughly north-south through the middle of the country, populated by Fulas, the Sahelian Haute-Guinea to the northeast, populated byMalinké, and the forested jungle regions in the southeast, with several ethnic groups. Guinea’s mountains are the source for the Niger, the Gambia, and Senegal Rivers, as well as the numerous rivers flowing to the sea on the west side of the range in Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast.
The highest point in Guinea is Mount Nimba at 1,752 m (5,748 ft). Although the Guinean and Ivorian sides of the Nimba Massif are a UNESCO Strict Nature Reserve, the portion of the so-called Guinean Backbone continues into Liberia, where it has been mined for decades; the damage is quite evident in the Nzérékoré Region at7°32′17″N 8°29′50″W.
Climate. The coastal region of Guinea and most of the inland have a tropical
climate, with a rainy season lasting from April to November, relatively high and uniform temperatures, and high humidity. Conakry’s year-round average high is 29°C (84.2°F), and the low is 23°C (73.4°F); its average annual rainfall is 4,300mm. The Sahelian Haute Guinee region has a shorter rainy season and greater daily temperature variations.
Wildlife. Wildlife of Guinea is very diverse, due to the wide variety of different habitats. The southern moist part of the country lies within Guinean Forests of West Africa Biodiversity Hotspot, however the north-east characterized by dry savanna. Unfortunately, declining populations of large mammals restricted to uninhabited distant parts of parks and reserves.
ECONOMY. Guinea has abundant natural resources including 25% or more of the world’s known bauxite reserves. Guinea also has diamonds, gold, and other metals. The country has great potential for hydroelectric power. Bauxite and alumina are currently the only major exports. Other industries include processing plants for beer, juices, soft drinks and tobacco. Agriculture employs 80% of the nation’s labor force. Under French rule, and at the beginning of independence, Guinea was a major exporter of bananas, pineapples, coffee, peanuts, and palm oil. Guinea has considerable potential for growth in agricultural and fishing sectors. Soil, water, and climatic conditions provide opportunities for large-scale irrigated farming and agro industry.
Mining. Guinea possesses over 25 billion tonnes (metric tons) of bauxite – and perhaps up to one-half of the world’s reserves. In addition, Guinea’s mineral wealth includes more than 4-billion tonnes of high-grade iron ore, significant diamond and gold deposits, and undetermined quantities of uranium. Possibilities for investment and commercial activities exist in all these areas, but Guinea’s poorly developed infrastructure and rampant corruption continue to present obstacles to large-scale investment projects.
Joint venture bauxite mining and alumina operations in northwest Guinea historically provide about 80% of Guinea’s foreign exchange. Bauxite is refined into alumina, which is later smelted into aluminium. The Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinea (CBG), which exports about 14 million tonnes of high-grade bauxite annually, is the main player in the bauxite industry. CBG is a joint venture, 49% owned by the Guinean government and 51% by an international consortium known as Halco Mining Inc., itself a joint venture controlled by aluminium producer Alcoa (AA), global miner Rio Tinto Groupand Dadco Investments. CBG has exclusive rights to bauxite reserves and resources in north-western Guinea through 2038. In 2008 protesters upset about poor electrical services blocked the tracks CBG uses. Guineau often includes a proviso in its agreements with international oil companies requiring its partners to generate power for nearby communities.
The Compagnie des Bauxites de Kindia (CBK), a joint venture between the government of Guinea and RUSAL, produces some 2.5 million tonnes annually, nearly all of which is exported to Russia and Eastern Europe. Dian Dian, a Guinean/Ukrainian joint bauxite venture, has a projected production rate of 1,000,000 t (1,102,311 short tons; 984,207 long tons) per year, but is not expected to begin operation for several years. The Alumina Compagnie de Guinée (ACG), which took over the former Friguia Consortium, produced about 2.4 million tonnes in 2004 as raw material for its alumina refinery. The refinery exports about 750,000 tonnes of alumina. Both Global Alumina and Alcoa-Alcan have signed conventions with the government of Guinea to build large alumina refineries with a combined capacity of about 4 million tonnes per year.
Diamonds and gold also are mined and exported on a large-scale. The bulk of diamonds are mined artisanally. The largest gold mining operation in Guinea is a joint venture between the government and Ashanti Goldfields of Ghana. AREDOR, a joint diamond-mining venture between the Guinean Government (50%) and an Australian, British, and Swiss consortium, began production in 1984 and mined diamonds that were 90% gem quality. Production stopped from 1993 until 1996, when First City Mining of Canada purchased the international portion of the consortium. Société Minière de Dinguiraye (SMD) also has a large gold mining facility in Lero, near the Malian border.
Guinea has large reserves of the steel-making raw material, iron ore. Rio Tinto was the majority owner of the $6 billion Simandou iron ore project, which it had called the world’s best unexploited resource. Rio Tinto has signed a binding agreement with Aluminum Corp. of China Ltd. to establish the joint venture for the Simandou iron ore project. This project is said to be of the same magnitude as the Pilbara in Western Australia.
In 2009 the government of Guinea gave the northern half of Simandou to the Beny Steinmetz for an $165 million investment in the project and a pledge to spend $1 billion on railways, saying that Rio Tinto wasn’t moving into production fast enough. The US Justice Department investigated allegations that Steinmetz had bribed President Conté’s wife to get him the concession,
The Conde government investigated two other contracrs as well: one which left Hyperdynamic with a third of Guinea’s offshore lease allocations as well as Rusal’s purchase of the Friguia Aluminum refinery, in which it said that Rusal greatly underpaid.
In September 2011, Guinea adopted a new mining code. The law set up a commission to review overnmebt deals struck during the chaotic days between the end of dictatorship in 2008 and Condé coming to power.
Problems and reforms. In 2002, the IMF suspended Guinea’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) because the government failed to meet key performance criteria. In reviews of the PRGF, the World Bank noted that Guinea had met its spending goals in targeted social priority sectors. However, spending in other areas, primarily defense, contributed to a significant fiscal deficit. The loss of IMF funds forced the government to finance its debts through Central Bank advances. The pursuit of unsound economic policies has resulted in imbalances that are proving hard to correct.
Under then-Prime Minister Diallo, the government began a rigorous reform agenda in December 2004 designed to return Guinea to a PRGF with the IMF. Exchange rates have been allowed to float, price controls on gasoline have been loosened, and government spending has been reduced while tax collection has been improved. These reforms have not reduced inflation, which hit 27% in 2004 and 30% in 2005. Currency depreciation is also a concern. The Guinea franc was trading at 2550 to the dollar in January 2005. It hit 5554 to the dollar by October 2006. In August 2016 that number had reached 9089.
Despite the opening in 2005 of a new road connecting Guinea and Mali, most major roadways remain in poor repair, slowing the delivery of goods to local markets. Electricity and water shortages are frequent and sustained, and many businesses are forced to use expensive power generators and fuel to stay open.
Even though there are many problems plaguing Guinea’s economy, not all foreign investors are reluctant to come to Guinea. Global Alumina’s proposed alumina refinery has a price tag above $2 billion. Alcoa and Alcan are proposing a slightly smaller refinery worth about $1.5 billion. Taken together, they represent the largest private investment in sub-Saharan Africa since the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline. Also, Hyperdynamics Corporation, an American oil company, signed an agreement in 2006 to develop Guinea’s offshore Senegal Basin oil deposits in a concession of 31,000 square miles (80,000 km2); it is pursuing seismic exploration.
On 13 October 2009, Guinean Mines Minister Mahmoud Thiam announced that the China International Fund would invest more than $7bn (£4.5bn) in infrastructure. In return, he said the firm would be a “strategic partner” in all mining projects in the mineral-rich nation. He said the firm would help build ports, railway lines, power plants, low-cost housing and even a new administrative centre in the capital, Conakry. In September 2011, Mohamed Lamine Fofana, the Mines Minister following the 2010 election, said that the government had overturned the agreement by the ex-military junta.
Youth unemployment, remains a large problem. Guinea needs an adequate policy to address the concerns of urban youth. One problem is the disparity between their life and what they see on television. For youth who cannot find jobs, seeing the economic power and consumerism of richer countries only serves to frustrate them further.
Oil. A large offshore tract was explored in 2006 but was not deemed commercially viable. Have until September 2016 under the current agreement to begin drilling its next selected site, the Fatala Cenomanianturbidite fan prospect.
Transport infrastructure. The railway from Conakry to Kankan ceased operating in the mid-1980s. Domestic air services are intermittent. Most vehicles in Guinea are 20+ years old, and cabs are any four-door vehicle which the owner has designated as being for hire. Locals, nearly entirely without vehicles of their own, rely upon these taxis (which charge per seat) and small buses to take them around town and across the country. There is some river traffic on the Niger and Milo rivers. Horses and donkeys pull carts, primarily to transport construction materials.
Mining operations are expected to start at Simandou before the end of 2015. Rio Tinto Limited plans to build a 650 km railway to transport iron ore from the mine to the coast, near Matakong, for export. Much of the Simandou iron ore is expected to be shipped to China for steel production.
Languages. The official language is French. There are numerous ethnic languages, and the three most prevalent are Susu, Pular(Foulah, Peuhl) and Malinke. Susu is spoken in the coastal region and in the capital city. Toma, Guerzé, Kissi and others are spoken in the interior (Sacred Forest) region bordering on Mali, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Liberia. There are a lot of people who cannot and will not speak any English at all, even in the capital city.
Ethnic groups. The population of Guinea comprises about 24 ethnic groups. The Mandinka, comprise 28% of the population and are mostly found in eastern Guinea concentrated around the Kankan and Kissidougou prefectures. The Fulas or Fulani comprise 45% of the population and are mostly found in the Futa Djallon region.
The Soussou, comprising 10% of the population, are predominantly in western areas around the capital Conakry, Forécariah, and Kindia. Smaller ethnic groups make up the remaining 17% of the population, including Kpelle, Kissi, Zialo, Toma and others.Approximately 10,000 non-Africans live in Guinea, predominantly Lebanese, French, and other Europeans.
Religion. Muslim 85 %, generally Sunni of Maliki school of jurisprudence
Christian , 8% (Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Evangelical groups.Jehovah’s Witnesses are active in the country and recognized by the Government).
There is a small Baha’icommunity. There are small numbers of Hindus, Buddhists, and traditional Chinese religious groups among the expatriate community, with 7 percent adhering to indigenous religious beliefs. Much of the population, both Muslim and Christian, also incorporate indigenous African beliefs into their outlook.
There were three days of ethno-religious fighting in the city of Nzerekore in July 2013. Fighting between ethnicKpelle, who are Christian or animist, and ethnic Konianke, who are Muslims and close to the larger Malinke ethnic group, left at least 54 dead. The dead included people who were killed with machetes and burned alive. The violence ended after the Guinea military imposed a curfew, and President Conde made a televised appeal for calm.
Education. The literacy rate of Guinea is one of the lowest in the world: in 2010 it was estimated that only 41% of adults were literate (52% of males and 30% of females). Primary education is compulsory for 6 years, but most children do not attend for so long, and many do not go to school at all. In 1999, primary school attendance was 40 percent. Children, particularly girls, are kept out of school in order to assist their parents with domestic work or agriculture, or to be married: Guinea has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.
Ebola. In 2014, there was an outbreak of the Ebola virus in Guinea. The virus eventually spread from rural areas to Conakry, and by late June 2014 had spread to neighboring countries Sierra Leone and Liberia. In early August 2014 Guinea closed its borders to Sierra Leone and Liberia to help contain the spreading of the virus, as more new cases of the disease were being reported in those countries than in Guinea.
The outbreak began in early December, in a village called Meliandou, southeastern Guinea, not far from the borders with both Liberia and Sierra Leone. The first known case was a two-year-old child who died, after fever and vomiting and passing black stool, on December 6. The child’s mother died a week later, then a sister and a grandmother, all with symptoms that included fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. Then, by way of caregiving visits or attendance at funerals, the outbreak spread to other villages.
Maternal and child healthcare. The 2010 maternal mortality rate per 100,000 births for Guinea is 680. This is compared with 859.9 in 2008 and 964.7 in 1990. The under 5 mortality rate, per 1,000 births is 146 and the neonatal mortality as a percentage of under 5’s mortality is 29. In Guinea the number of midwives per 1,000 live births is 1 and the lifetime risk of death for pregnant women is 1 in 26. Guinea has the second highest prevalence of female genital mutilation in the world.
HIV/AIDS. An estimated 170,000 adults and children were infected at the end of 2004. Surveillance surveys conducted in 2001 and 2002 show higher rates of HIV in urban areas than in rural areas. Prevalence was highest in Conakry (5%) and in the cities of the Forest Guinea region (7%) bordering Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
HIV is spread primarily through multiple-partner heterosexual intercourse. Men and women are at nearly equal risk for HIV, with young people aged 15 to 24 most vulnerable. Surveillance figures from 2001–2002 show high rates among commercial sex workers (42%), active military personnel (6.6%), truck drivers and bush taxi drivers (7.3%), miners (4.7%), and adults with tuberculosis (8.6%).
Several factors are fueling the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Guinea. They include unprotected sex, multiple sexual partners, illiteracy, endemic poverty, unstable borders, refugee migration, lack of civic responsibility, and scarce medical care and public services.
Malnutrition. Malnutrition is a serious problem for Guinea. A 2012 study reported high chronic malnutrition rates, with levels ranging from 34% to 40% by region, as well as acute malnutrition rates above 10% in Upper Guinea’s mining zones. The survey showed that 139,200 children suffer from acute malnutrition, 609,696 from chronic malnutrition and further 1,592,892 suffer from anemia. Degradation of care practices, limited access to medical services, inadequate hygiene practices and a lack of food diversity explain these levels.
Malaria. Malaria is prevalent in Guinea. It is transmitted year-round, with peak transmission from July through October. Malaria is one of the top causes of disability in Guinea.
Polygamy. Polygamy is prohibited by law in Guinea. UNICEF reports that 53.4% of Guinean women aged 15–49 are in polygamous marriages.
Music. Overshadowed on the international stage by neighbouring Mali and Senegal, Guinea still packs a punch when it comes to musical tradition.
Sekou Touré’s form of communism may have been an economic disaster, but the government’s emphasis on nationalist authenticité in the arts, and state patronage of artistic institutions, was a bonus. Musicians were funded and allowed time to perfect their art, paving the way for the sound most commonly associated with Guinean music – that of the great dance orchestras of the 1960s and ’70s. They, in turn, were strongly influenced by the traditions of the Mande griots (West Africa’s hereditary praise singers).
Well known music includes the Guinean rumba, a fusion of traditional songs and Latin music, Bembeya Jazz (guitarist, Sékou ‘Diamond Fingers’ Diabaté), South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba.
In the early 1980s, Guinea’s dire economic situation had worsened and many artists left to Abidjan, where 90% of all Guinean releases were recorded.
Dance is also popular in Guinea. The dance group Les Ballets Africains today remains the ‘prototype’ of West African ballet troupes, while Circus Baobab mixes trapeze shows and acrobatics with their dance shows.
Food. Guinean cuisine varies by region with rice as the most common staple. Cassava is also widely consumed. Part of West African cuisine, the foods of Guinea include jollof rice, maafe, and tapalapa bread. The beef is very good, pork isn’t served due to Islamic dietary restrictions. There are good restaurants that are Lebanese which has European styled breakfasts. Fruits are very inexpensive, especially compared to the higher costs in neighbouring countries (Mali, Ivory Coast and Senegal). Pineapple, mango, oranges and bananas can be found in abundance throughout the country at road sides.
Proper restaurants are rare outside Conakry, though most towns have a couple of basic eating houses serving riz gras (rice fried in oil and tomato paste and served with fried fish, meat or vegetables) or simple chicken and chips. In Fouta Djalon, creamy sauces made from meat and potato leaves ( haako putte ) or manioc leaves ( haako bantara ) are common. In rural areas, food is eaten from a large serving dish and eaten by hand outside of homes. Guineans are generally welcoming and friendly people you may be invited to their home to share a meal.
Drink. Canned European beer is available as well as a local “Skol” lager beer.
Female genital mutilation. Performed on more than 98% of women as of 2009. In Guinea almost all cultures, religions, and ethnicities practice female genital mutilation.
Unesco World Heritage Sites: 1. Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve
Îles de Los Stretch out on palm-fringed strands, sipping fresh coconut juice
Fouta Djalon. Scenic region of forests and cultivated valleys ideal for hiking through Fulani villages or in search of waterfalls on a majestic mountain plateau.
Bossou Come face to face with chattering chimps
Conakry. Hop through the capital’s dubious dives, getting drunk on some of West Africa’s best live music. National Museum which highlights the distinct ethnic tribes in Guinea and various traditional instruments, masks. The main port is located at the tip of the peninsula in Conakry, near the President’s Palace. You can take a boat from there to the islands of Loos for a day or overnight trip. Its a bustling place where fishermen offload their daily catch.
Forêt Classée de Ziama. Track elephants in the virgin rainforest
Parc National du Haut Niger. Look for chimps and buffaloes in one of West Africa’s last tropical dry-forest ecosystems
Kankan Squeeze through narrow market streets and visit the beautiful Grand Mosquée in this lively university town
Loos Islands — a former slaving base, these forested islands with sandy beaches near Conakry are a popular weekend escape for expats.
National Park of the Niokolo-Badiar – savanna along the Senegal border home to antelope, monkeys, lions, & leopard during the dry season.
Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site partially in Guinea and partially in Cote d’Ivoire.
National Park of the Upper Niger (Haut Niger National Park) — headwaters of the Niger River; home to hippos, elephants, buffaloes, chimpanzees, & waterbuck.
Air France from Paris,
SN Brussels from Brussels, Belgium.
Air Ivoire and Belvue flie to Conakry regularly from Abidjan en route to Dakar, as does. Expect to be asked for a “gift” by airport security.
Royal Air Maroc supplies the only direct flight from Montréal to Africa (Casablanca, with stopover in N.Y.) and many connections from Casa. to Conakry (also called Kry) and elsewhere.
Train. Though cargo trains still run the old line between Conakry and Kankan, there are no passenger trains still operational in Guinea. The old station in downtown Conakry is worth a visit.
Car/truck/motorcycle – Land Borders:
Ivory Coast Apr 2016 closed because of the Ebola epidemic and the Grand Bassam terrorist attacks.
Liberia – safe, though time-consuming. Hiring a motorcycle is the best option.
Senegal is possible but very uncomfortable and requires patience. Inside Guinea, the road between Labe and Koundara is unpaved and very rough. It takes about 8 hours for the whole journey with only minor breakdowns. There are some decent and very cheap places to stay in Koundara. Between Koundara and Diaoube (Senegal) is a similar journey. The border is relatively hassle free. There is a 20km no man’s land between border posts where one only knows they have entered Senegal by the improved quality of the dirt road.
Kedougou, Senegal to Mali, Guinea. Possible during dry season. The track is incredibly bad, truck travel is bad (by local standard), include quite a bit of walking, unpleasant officials and will take anywhere from 12h to 48h depending on how fast “borders formalities problems” and mechanical failure are dealt with.
Sierra-Leone by road, the typical path is to exit through Pamelap which is a big axis going toward Conakry, they are many transport options to do so. Be warned that the Guinean officials can be really difficult on this way.
Sierra-Leone north-east (close to the Liberian border) – take a bus from Freetown to Pendembu, then a motorbike to Kailahun where you can sleep, then another to Koindu (negotiate to be dropped at the boat), then cross the Mano river and enter Guinea. From there you can take a shared taxi or a motorbike to Gueckedou, a big city.
There are no buses. Traffic in Conakry can be very heavy. The local transport vans in Conakry seem to be the most congested in all of West Africa.
Taxis are very inexpensive, even if you want to rent one for a half or whole day. Expect to have to stop for gas almost immediately after you get in the car. The Government and business center of the city is unfortunately located at the tip of a long and narrow peninsula which is only connected to the rest of Conakry, which sprawls onto the mainland, by two roads. This can be particularly frustrating at rush hour. Line ups at gas stations in Conakry can be quite long and disorganized at certain times. Much of the infrastructure around the airport is being rebuilt, so trips to downtown or to la miniere might take unusual detours.
Bush Taxis (“504”, for the common Peugeot 504 model) are used for transport from city to city. Travel after dark is extremely dangerous due to road conditions, unreliable vehicles, and bandits. If travelling by taxi remember that departure times are never set for local transport. In the early morning you might be told that a taxi will be leaving “toute suite” (right away) but will not get out of Conakry until well after dark. Intercity travel in Guinea requires a great deal of patience and a loose schedule. Air travel in the country is not available.
MotorTaxi/TaxiBike a much faster, and more comfortable way of travel is by motorcycle, which often serve as taxis. Keep in mind though that this is also one of the most dangerous ways to travel.
In Conakry, hang out in Taouyah, a neighbourhood with a large market and mostly residential with some night clubs and restaurants. Many expats, including the Peace Corps headquarters, live in the neighbourhood and meet up at the beach around sunset for great pizza or fish or chicken dishes. There is a great breeze, live music, and lots of locals playing soccer games until the sunsets, especially on the weekends.
The Foutah Djallon area has superb hiking, sweeping vistas, waterfalls and cliffs. Fouta Trekking is a local non-profit that promotes equitable tourism. They offer hiking tours ranging from three to five days or tailored tours. Tourists stay in villages with part of the revenue going back to the villages for community development. Labe, the historical capital and seat of the Foutah Empire that reigned in the pre-colonial times, is a bustling city with some interesting history. You can buy beautiful traditional cloth in various navy blue colours. On the road from Conakry, via Kindia, is the city of Dalaba, where the major chiefs of the country met to determine the fate of the soon to be independent country from the French in 1958. There is an old mansion that you can visit and a ceremonial hut with amazing carvings inside. Kindia has some of the best vegetable and fruit produce and thus a lively market.
The coastline from Conakry up towards Guinea -Bissau also offers great tourism with beautiful untouched beaches, mangroves, and wildlife viewing. Bel Air is a well-known tourism destination on the beach about two hours from Conakry on a well paved road. There is a large and usually deserted hotel where past political leaders have met. It’s a very popular destination around major holidays. A much nicer place to stay if you like more eco-tourism is Sabolan Village which is a small hotel on a beautiful beach that is off the well paved road that leads to the Bel Air hotel. There are about ten modern huts there and a restaurant. It’s a bit expensive for what you get but the setting is amazing. If you have a tent or want to stay in a more authentic and cheaper place, you can go down the beach or along the path, past the actual village, and stay in nice huts made by a local villager and now run by his son. Expats who work in the mining areas rent out the huts and come on the weekends but you can always pitch a tent. You have to bring your own food however.
For the more adventurous is a trip to the island archipelago near the Guinea-Bissau border called Tristao. You can drive from Conakry to Kamsar and from there you can get on a local boat to the Tristao islands. The boat takes four hours and usually runs once or twice a week. You can sometimes get lucky if there is a fishing boat going back to Tristao but they are usually very heavily loaded and may not be as safe as the passenger boat. Manatee, turtles, and many different bird types live in the Tristao archipelago. Its a very isolated place with many animist traditions still in existence.
Kamsar is the main bauxite mining export town, where major shipments of bauxite leave from the Boke region. There are some pretty good hotels and restaurants that cater to the mining executives and expats. The Boke region is the main bauxite mining area. Boke, the administrative city of the region, has an interesting colonial museum, some decent hotels, and a Lebanese store on the main road where everyone goes to watch the football games (soccer) and have cold Amstel lights (when the generator is on).
Buy. The economic situation of the country has led the government to impose currency controls on the GNF. As a result there is a black market for money and foreign currencies can be exchanged in the street for a much better rate than the official one. Cash in EUR, USD and CFA can easily be exchanged in the street for a rate 15-25% better than the official one (depending of the location, as of march 2016).
Shopping. They do not sell a lot of trinkets in Guinea, but they do have wonderful clothing that you can purchase. The tailors there are very skilled and can create an outfit very fast (approximately within a week). Masks, wood statues, djembes (drums), traditional clothing, bags made in Guinea are sold in many of the areas outside of major hotels in Conakry and along the roadside. Always barter, especially if outside a major hotel as prices there are higher. A good rule of thumb is to halve whatever the opening price is and also to walk away if the prices don’t come down. Negotiations are supposed to take a while and are a way of figuring out the “walk away” price point for both buyer and seller.
The largest market in Conakry is Madina market. You can find everything and anything there. Be careful of pickpockets, mud (during rainy season) and traffic. It’s a pretty hectic and chaotic place but you’ll find the best produce, electronics etc at the best prices. You can hire a young boy to haul out your purchases for you if you are walking back to a parked car or where you’re staying. Cost is about GNF5000 (USD1).
In certain parts of the country you can also find some nice carvings, many of which are created in the city of Kindia. To pick up some typical arts and crafts, try the indigo and mud-cloth cooperatives in many towns.
Guinea is a rather unsafe nation, due to the fact that it is now one of Africa’s unstable countries; therefore lawlessness and criminality are widespread. Most of the crime is done by officials in military uniforms, and usually targets foreigners for target opportunities.
Most non-violent crime involves acts of pick-pocketing and purse-snatching, while armed robbery, muggings, and assaults are the most common violent crimes. Criminals particularly target visitors at the airport, in the traditional markets, and near hotels and restaurants frequented by foreigners. Stay vigilant, and apply common sense if stuck in a certain situation.
Visitors should also avoid unsolicited offers of assistance at the airport and hotels because such offers often mask an intention to steal luggage, purses, or wallets. When taking photographs, avoid military bases and political buildings, as it can be considered espionage in Guinea and can land you in jail.
Realize the police are completely ineffective. Low salaries and improper training contribute to the lack of professionalism of the police. If you are the victim of a crime, consult to your embassy. Corruption is extremely widespread – Corrupt police and soldiers target foreigners for bribes in just about any place in the country. Policemen will demand bribes at any checkpoint. Policemen will often intimidate you to pay bribes by confiscating a particular item.
Business trips to Guinea are strongly discouraged. Business frauds and scams are rampant, and if you are going for a business trip in Guinea, it is strongly recommended that you do not go.
The medical system in Guinea is in a very poor condition, and is not well equipped and is very limited. Some private medical facilities in Conakry provide a better range of treatment options than public facilities, but are still well below western standards. There are no ambulance or emergency rescue services in Guinea and trauma care is extremely limited.
Meningitis is currently epidemic
Anthrax is very common in the herds in some areas, according to a local veterinarian, so don’t eat meat from a non controlled source…
Tap water is unsafe for drinking. Drink only bottled, unopened, water or use an appropriate purification system (chlorine pills/sureau or a proper water filter)
Malaria is prevalent. It’s the falciparum type, the most lethal one, especially for westerners who never had any previous exposure to the parasite. Make sure to take anti-malarial prophylactics, use spray repellent, mosquito net and cover up exposed skin during the evening and early morning when mosquitoes are at their worst.
Counterfeited medications so you can’t trust any locally bought medicine. The only option is to bring your own full medical kit, constituted following appropriate medical advice. You will also need lot of exotics vaccines shot (against disease such as hepatitis A and B, typhoid fever, meningitis, yellow fever, polio…). Keep in mind that the road network is incredibly bad and it may take a very long time to reach a semi-decent medical facility in Conakry in case of medical need.
The best insider’s tip for eating fresh vegetables is to soak them in a big bowl of water that has bleach in it. This will kill any bacteria and you’ll be able to have a salad or eat vegetables and fruits that can’t be peeled such as tomatoes or keep the skin on cucumbers, etc, for added fibre and vitamins.
As with most of West Africa, greetings are very much a part of daily life in Guinea. A simple, “Ca va” will often suffice. However, Guineans appreciate if you ask about their family, health and job/studies: “et la famille, la sante, le boulot/les etudes.” Before getting to the point in a conversation, it is common and expected to greet somehow and ask how they are doing.
Greet, eat and exchange money only with your right hand; the left hand is used for bathroom purposes and is considered unclean.
The gender issue is quite complex in Guinea to say the least. Even though Guinea is a slightly conservative, Muslim, male-dominated society, foreign female travellers will rarely face any sort of difficulties. Don’t be surprised if you are proposed to a million times! Cat calls, whistles and other similar forms of harassment are rare in Guinea and frowned upon. Guinean males often give up their seat to females as a sign of respect, especially in people’s homes, outdoor settings, etc.
In general, men are still higher up the social ladder than women and this is prevalent in all aspects of Guinean society (education, jobs, etc). Don’t be surprised if men are shown more consideration than women in daily life. Once it’s known that you are a foreign woman (especially if you are a Black foreign female coming from the US, Europe, etc.), and not a local, you will usually be granted a higher level of consideration).
For women it is NOT advisable to wear clothing showing anything from the stomach to the knees! Shorts, see-throughs, mini skirts, bare midriffs are considered tasteless if worn in public. It’s common to be met with hostile stares or looks of disapproval from local Guineans or even worse. Tattoos and body piercings are not common and visitors are advised to cover them up when possible. A head scarf, however, is not necessary. Jeans (while still not very popular among Guinean women), long skirts and dresses, tank tops and short or long-sleeved shirts are perfectly acceptable.
Guineans will often invite you to eat at their home. This is a sign of respect and consideration for the visitor. Accept the invitation where possible. If you are unable, it’s better to politely respond with a simple “next time” or “prochainement”. Simply showing up without an appointment at the home of a Guinean is not considered rude or impolite as it can be in the West. Don’t be alarmed if you find Guineans popping over to see how you are.
Overall Guineans are warm, friendly and hospitable and will come to your assistance where appropriate.