Guinea is a small country in West Africa. It covers 94,900 square miles (245,800 sq. km), making it a bit smaller than the state of Oregon. It shares borders with Guinea-Bissau, the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, with coastline along the Atlantic Ocean.
People have inhabited the region of Guinea for millennia, but for much of that time lived primarily in tribal structures. The Empire of Ghana (Wagadou) was the first major unifying force in Guinea, sometime around the 9th century, and controlled the land until the empire eventually fell in the late 11th century. For the next few decades the region experienced the rapid introduction of Islam under the Almoravids. In the 12th century the Sosso kingdom claimed much of Guinea as part of its campaign to reclaim lands that had belonged to the Empire of Ghana, driving Islam out or underground. In the 13th century, the Mali Empire overwhelmed the Sosso and conquered Guinea, eventually reintroducing Islam to the populace.
The Mali Empire continued to control the lands of Guinea for the next few centuries, until eventually declining and being surpassed by region powers. In the 16th century Europeans arrived in Guinea. The Europeans set up coastal forts and began buying and capturing slaves in massive numbers, draining the local population base to serve as labor in the New World.
In the mid-19th century France began actively colonizing Guinea, battling the successors of the Mali Empire for control of the interior. By the end of the century French control over the area was complete, as was Portuguese and British control of the nearby regions. The three European powers drew out borders that separated the French territory of what is now Guinea from the Portuguese territory of what is now Guinea-Bissau, and the British territory of what is now Sierra Leone.
In the mid-1950s, following political turmoil in France, all of France’s remaining colonial holdings were given the choice between independence and increased autonomy within France. The remaining colonies all chose increased autonomy, but Guinea chose to become immediately liberated, and in 1958 independence was declared.
For the first years following independence, Guinea was relatively successful. The first president of Guinea, Sékou Touré, ruled the country in a dictatorial mode, imprisoning political opponents, and cracking down on free expression. The country continued to receive support from Western powers at times, however, despite aligning itself with the Soviet Union and leaning towards socialism. Touré in fact considered the US President Kennedy to be his only true friend in the outside world, and during Kennedy’s tenure as president relations between the two countries strengthened, before shifting drastically after his death.
In 1984 Touré died, and was quickly succeeded by a military junta after a bloodless coup. The junta government freed political prisoners, invited exiles to return, moved away from socialist agendas, and spoke out vocally against the former regime. In 1992 the junta leader, Conté, declared that the country was again under civilian rule, and held elections soon after, which his party won, allowing him to retain power. Despite the movement towards elections, the imprisonment of political opposition, and severely questionable elections have led most international observers to conclude that the country is still essentially a dictatorship, and in danger of slipping further towards autocratic rule.
The borders to Liberia, the Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone are all unstable, and should be avoided. The country in general is fairly unstable, so it is a good idea to check with the State Department for any advisories immediately before departing. Once there, the biggest attractions in Guinea are natural, with beautiful beaches on Cape Verga, amazing hiking on mountains such as Mt. Nimba, and some of the best places to watch chimpanzees in all of West Africa.
Flights connect Guinea daily to most of the major hubs in Europe, and visitors from the US will have to go through one of these hubs to get there. Overland travel from Mali is fairly safe, but most of the other borders can be dangerous. River travel is also possible from Mali when the Niger’s water-level is high enough.