Guinea: Mobilization of a People


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webGuinée / Etat & Société

La première décennie du régime PDG

Claude Rivière
Guinea: The Mobilization of a People

Ithaca. Cornell University Press. 1968. 260 p.

Chapter 1
Wealth in Diversity

Because traditions of the two great empires of Mali and of the Fouta Djalon still influence the sociopolitical behavior of two-thirds of the Guinean population, and because the head of state, Ahmed Sékou Touré, is a descendant, on his mother’s side, of the great almami of Wassulu, Samori Touré (who personifies the bravest resistance to the progress of French colonialism), it might be assumed that this heritage would intensify political life for present-day Guineans to a degree commensurate with their glorious past. Also, the diversity of its regions – savanna, forest, mountains, plains, and swamps – provides Guinea’s farmers, planters, and herders with every opportunity for developing complementary economies. Furthermore, Guinea possesses West Africa’s great source of water – the Fouta Djalon – as well as the world’s largest bauxite resources. It might be hoped that, with all these assets, Guinea’s economic development would be on a scale with its political fervor.
Before judging to what degree the reality corresponds to these expectations, it is advisable to examine all the favorable factors. A Guinean proverb observes that the balafon player tests his instrument, verifies its tone quality, and tries out his rhythms before playing his showpiece. An analysis of Guinea’s basic geography, demography, ethnography, and history makes it easier to understand the hopes, resentments, vacillations, and decisions of its people.

Lands and Peoples

Situated on the West African coast between 7°10′ and 12°30′ north latitude, and between 8° and 15° west longitude, Guinea covers 245,857 square kilometers (95,100 square miles). It is bounded by Guinea-Bissau on the northwest, Senegal and Mali on the north and northeast, Ivory Coast on the east, and Liberia and Sierra Leone on the south. Guinea’s western side fronts on the Atlantic Ocean. Its width from east to west is 800 km, and its length from north to south 550 km. However, its circular form and the layout of its means of communication are such that Nzérekore, the forest zone’s principal town, is 1,200 km. by road from Guinea’s capital, Conakry, whereas it is only 360 km. from Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.
Like the rest of West Africa, Guinea’s ethnic geography defies the administrative frontiers that were carved out by the diplomacy of the colonial powers. Various Franco-British agreements gave to France the Riviéres du Sud (June 28, 1882), which later that year (October 12) became a colony and was divided into several territories. To one of them, French Guinea, Dr. Noel Ballay was named governor by a decree of December 22, 1891. After the agreement that established Guinea’s frontiers with Sierra Leone (January 21, 1895), others followed a Franco-Portuguese accord, ratified July 28, 1888, defined the boundaries of Portuguese Guinea with Senegal and French Guinea; the Franco-British agreement of April 8, 1904, ceded the Los Islands to France; and there was one between France and Liberia on January 13, 1911, relating to boundaries. None of the separate territories established by these treaties took into account linguistic realities, cultural entities, or ethnic divisions.
Coniagui and Bassari tribesmen in Guinea have « brothers » in Senegal and Guinea-Bissau. The Kouranko and Kissi-Sherbro peoples have one foot in Sierra Leone and the other in Guinea. In the forest zone, the Guerze-Kpelle and the Toma (or Loma, as they call themselves) straddle the frontiers of Liberia and Guinea. The Malinké, who trade throughout West Africa, are to be found in Ivory CIoast, Senegal, and Mali, among the Bambara, from whom they differ more in religious organization than as to their history Finally, the Peul of the Fouta Djalon feel less akin to their Manding neighbors than to the Peul of the Senegalese Fouta or of Macina. It was from Macina that they emigrated in two waves during the fourteenth century and again in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, pushing back or subjugating the native peoples. Despite frontiers that are apparently insecure because they sepaate peoples of the same ethnic origin or social structure, Guinea took on a distinctive character both during the colonial period and after independence, when the Parti Déemocratique de Guinée provided a strong cohesive force. Although its boundaries are artificial, Guinea is, on the one hand, predisposed toward close economic relations with the rest of West Africa, and is also, on the other hand, exceptionally accessible. This permeability of its frontiers was accentuated by Guinea’s withdrawal from the CFA-franc zone on March 1, 1960.
Guinea’s diverse cultural areas in the hinterland reflect fairly closely its administrative and geographic divisions. Indeed, its variations in altitude and the diversity of its climates and vegetation divide Guinea into four natural regions which, by and large, correspond to its major tribes. The country derives its wealth from the wide range of its mineral, agricultural, animal, and human resources.
Lower or maritime Guinea, inhabited mainly by Susu and related tribes (Baga, Nalou, and Landouman), is the alluvial basin of the coastal rivers – the Rios

  • Componi
  • Nunez
  • Kapatchez
  • Pongo
  • Konkoure
  • Mellacore

which fronts on the Atlantic for 300 km. and extends as far as the foot of the Fouta Djalon cliffs to a distance of 50 km. toward the north and 90 km. toward the south. From the air, the meandering course of these streams, the swampy estuaries, the mangrove growths, and the smattering of islands (of which the best known are the Los, called in Portuguese Ilhas dos Idolhos) beyond the extremity of the Kaloum Peninsula on which Conakry is located offer what appears to be a splendid lacework of land, greenery, and water. In this amphibious plain, the humidity reaches saturation point, the temperature remains constant between 24 and 30 degrees centigrade and rainfall totals more than 5 meters a year at the foot of Mt. Kakoulima during the rainy season (hivernage), from May to October. This is the region where the subsistence crops of swamp rice, oil and coconut palms, and the cola bush are grown, as well as the export crops of bananas and pineapples.
Middle Guinea, or the Fouta Djalon, is made up of primary mountains and plateaus. The massifs of Dalaba to the south and of Mali to the north (Mt. Loura is 1,515 meters high), and the high central plateaus of Pita and Labé, deeply eroded, form highlands at altitudes of 600 to 1,500 meters. To the northwest, the crests of this dorsal range give way to a gentle slope. Tectonic breaks in this tight-knit network exist wherever the many watercourses which have their source in the Fouta flow across the sandstone, schists, and dolerite, at different levels. These streams are

  • the Gambia
  • the Komba
  • the Bafing (which becomes the Senegal River after its juncture with the Bakoy)
  • the Niger with its tributary, the Tinkisso
  • the Konkouré
  • the Kolenté, or Grande Scarcie

Monsoon rains come from the west during the northern (boreal) summer, but the arid harmattan blows in the region from December to February. Thanks to the altitude, the tropical climate here is transformed into various microclimates. Because of its dry and cool air, Dalaba has become a well-known health resort. Alongside the region’s lateritic plateaus, which are the source of Guinea’s bauxite and where many herds graze, there is a great variety of terrains and of landscape – grassy plains, fields of millet (fonio) and local beans (nyebbe), orange groves, vegetable gardens in the hollows, and hard, burned soil on which gnarled bushes grow. Here in the Fouta Djalon the Peul herders settled, making this massif into a great fief of Islam.
Upper Guinea is savanna country of terraced plateaus, which lie 200 to 400 meters above sea level and whose more or less eroded buttes break the monotony of a slightly rolling landscape. It is there that the Niger and its tributaries have created inundated plains, which are bordered widh terraces that can be converted into rice fields. About 1.50 meters of rain fall between June and October, but during the long dry season crop yields are meager (except in the plains of Siguiri, Kankan, and Kouroussa) because much of the soil is poor and the area’s continental location makes for extremes of temperature. This area is inhabited by the Malinké, who are related to all the great clans that formed the empire of Mali.
Guinea’s forest zone, to the south of upper Guinea, wedged between Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ivory Coast.
Tropical forest covers the imposing massif of Mts. Nimba (1,752 meters) and Simandou (Pic de Fon, 1,656 meters), which contain rich iron deposits. The density of its vegetation makes for a uniform temperature and constant humidity. Also it has long protected the small autonomous villages of the Kissi rice growers, as well as the Toma, Guerze, Manon, and Kono populations, against intruders. Their resources, besides sul’slstence crops, consist of plantations of coffee, oil palms’ and cola bushes.
Population densities in these regions differ markedly, decreasing from the Fouta Djalon to the forest zone, and from lower to upper Guinea. According to the only valid censuses (those of 1955 and 1967), and the estimates of averages (hased on those data as well as on hypotheses concerning the birth and death rates) made by the demographic expert Julien Conde, Guinea’s population has grown as follows since 1955 :

1955 2,570,000
1960 3,072,000
1965 3,510,000
1970 4,069,000

Projections give an estimated population of 4,833,000 in 1975 and of 5,656,000 in 1980.

The census taken from May 19 to 21, 1967, indicated a total population of 3,784,786 at that time, and an annual growth rate of 2.7 per cent, which suggests that thc number of Guineans will double in twenty-five years. Compared with Senegal (3.8 million inhabitants in 1968) and Ivory Coast (4 million in 1965), Guinea seems to be relative1y populous. Yet, with an average density of 15 to the square kilometer, it is underpopulated for the purpose of intensive development of its economic potential. Upper Guinea, in particular, with 6 inhabitants to the square kilometer, appears to be almost deserted compared with the Fouta Djalon, which has 18 to the square kilometer. The contrasts are even more marked when one examines the extremes in density of the 29 administrative regions, which range from 5 to 42 to the square kilometer. Among their 220 arrondissements, there is a demographic spread ranging from 3 to 70 inhabitants to the square kilometer.
If one considers that Dakar doubled, Douala tripled, and Abidjan quadrupled their respective populations between 1950 and 1960, the pace of Conakry’s growth – from 26,000 inhabitants in 1945 to 78,000 in 1958 and to 197,000 in 1967 – is not surprising. Furthermore, it reflects the extent to which the country’s economic life has become centered around the Kaloum Peninsula. Following Conakry, the largest towns are Kankan (60,000), Kindia (45,000), Labé (25,000), and Mamou and Nzérékoré (15,000 each). Less than 10 per cent of Guinea’s population lives in settlements of more than 10,000 inhabitants. Urbanization, only recently introduced, has not yet attained significant scope. Nevertheless, one should not underestimate its effect on the economic, political, and social planes in such phenomena as acculturation and deculturation, employment problems, and political indoctrination. On several occasions, the government has had to take arbitrary measures (a decree of January 1963 and police sweeps in 1965) to try to check the rural exodus, directed mainly toward Conakry. More than 85 per cent of Guineans are still country dwellers. As elsewhere in Africa and with similar consequences, there is a gap between the urban and rural segments, although in each segment there exist certain cleavages between the educated and the illiterate, the wage earner and the peasant, and the modernist and the traditionalist.
Without being related to those cleavages, ethnic and linguistic differences are no less important – particularly because they reflect very diverse forms of agriculture, including animal husbandry, and cultural customs, which vary greatly with the population and the geographic setting. The people’s cultural and ecological characteristics give rise not only to differences among them but also to a form of regional isolation that is accentuated by the factors of distance, difficulties in communication, and the remoteness of the capital. To carry out a policy of regionalization, designed to utilize to the maximum an area’s economic development in terms of its needs, land regime, and customs, the governors of each of Guinea’s thirty-four (formerly twenty-nine) administrative regions have been vested with considerable authority. Nevertheless, in the exercise of that authority, they are responsible to the minister-delegate in each of Guinea’s four natural regions. The close-knit organization of the PDG facilitates the execution of a policy of national integration.
Although Guinea’s population is far from homogeneous, it does not form an ethnic mosaic of such extreme diversity as, for example, that of Ivory Coast. If one takes language, customs, organizational forms, and traditions as the criteria, there are only slightly more than twenty ethnic groups. Bernard Charles has based his demographic studies on the 1955 census, the only one that has recorded ethnic data separately. He has corrected population estimates by allowing for the inaccuracy of some tribal classifications caused by the fact that the census takers used as their basis the language spoken by the individuals polled. He concluded:

In 1955, the Peul, or Fula, were probably the most numerous single tribe (735,000), outranking the Malinké (576,000), Susu (326,000), Kissi (192,000), and Guerzé (108,000), to mention only the most sizable groups. To these may be added the 600,000 « miscellaneous » persons constituting some sixteen secondary ethnic groups. However, if one takes into account the related tribes (Baga and Landouman assimilated to the Susu), as well as the existence of subgroups (Kouranko, Lélé, and others related to the Malinké), the proportions would turn out to be different. In that case, the Malinké and those assimilated to them would total 30 to 34 per cent and thus be the largest group numerically, with the Peul and Toucouleur (comprising 29 to 30 per cent) following close behind. Next in importance would be the Susu and assimilated tribes, and the forest people (a term used to include ethnic groups living in that region), who represent 17 to 18 per cent of the total. The uniqueness of Guinea’s ethnic composition lies in the fact that it comprises two dominant groups of almost equal importance and two secondary groups also approximately equal in size. Without being homogeneous to the same degree, they nevertheless are sufficiently distinctive in their characteristics that they counterbalance each other, neither being able to claim a clear-cut numerical preponderance. Nevertheless, there exists a danger in excessive regionalization. More than 90 per cent of the forest people live in the forest zone, at least 80 per cent of the Peul are in the Fouta Djalon, and over 75 per cent of the Susu are settled in lower Guinea. Only the Malinke, being less concentrated geographically, are dispersed to a considerable degree in three of the four natural regions

A synthesis of the four principal ethnic groups is given in Table 1.

Table1. Sociocultural Characterization of Guinean Peoples

General psychological characteristics Devoted to cattle; of noble character; respectful of chief’s authority; suspicious; discreet; individualistic Trading ability; ingenuity; leadership qualities; accustomed to farming and mining Adaptable; conciliatory but at times belligerent; exuberant; garrulous; indolent Hard-working; morally upright; true to ancestral customs; crude in manner; terrified of the supernatural
Social stratification Society strongly hierarchized into nobles, freemen, craftsmen, and serfs Distinctions based on occupations as farmers, traders, and artisans, and according to generations Accessible to outside influences; no strong traditional divisions; adapt easily to modern economy Democratic institutions; important roles played by hunters sorcerers, secret societies
Family structure Patriarchal, albeit allowing women relative independence; considerable inbreeding Patriarchal; families customarily submissive to their chiefs Intense community feeling; frequent crossbreeding; lax sexual morality Age-oriented, domination by elderly; matrilinear traces; important role of maternal uncle
Village organization Loose-knit; villages of freemen and of slaves, economically interdependent Descendants of original inhabitants hold highest rank Strong solidarity; open-minded; cooperative Integrated, but within narrow framework of village and family
Major occupations Seminomadic herding; cultivation of tapades (small gardens) Food-crop farming; plantation agriculture, using draught animals; trading Food-crop and plantation agriculture (bananas, pineapples, palm kernels); sea and river fishing; wild-produce gathering Farming in forest clearings by slash-and-burn method; coffee culture; gathering of wild palm kernels and colas
Principal crafts Leatherworking; woodworking; embroidery Blacksmith work; jewelry manufacture; pottery; weaving Dyeing; basketry; crafts such as cabinet making, mechanics; upholstering Basketry; weaving, on vertical looms; arms manufacture
Nourishment Meager; fonio, curdled milk, honey, sweet potatoes Average; rice, millet, corn, shea butter Varied; rice, fish, cassava, palm oil Varied; yams, corn, rice, tubers, caterpillars, game
Housing Scattered dwellings despite fairly dense population; family compound, with small, separated, circular houses; shepherds’ huts Big villages composed of family compounds of spacious fenced-in houses Large communal barracks open to countryside; small villages dotted along roads; good household equipment Tiny villages dispersed in forest, off beaten track; separated according to clans; small round huts of clay and straw; grain storage under thatched roofs
Aesthetics Women style-conscious – special hair style (dyubaade), skin incisions at outer eye corners (fesoodhe) Highly developed musical art; instruments are balafon and cora (lute); many griots (minstrels) Important expensive ritual festivities of baptism and marriage, with dancing Drumming and whistling style of guttural cornmunication, more rhythmic than melodic in sound; fetishist initiation rites in sacred forest; masks
Language Pular, with one vocabulary of respect, the other for ordinary speech Mandé-tan Mande-fu; poorer vocabulary and simpler grammar than Mande-tan. Various paleonegritic languages; some similarities to Mande-fu
Predominant religion Islam widespread main brotherhbods Tidjaniya, Qadrya Bekkaya near Touba; many Koranic schools Archaic form of Islam; Qadrya and Tidjaniya brotherhoods; influence of Kankan; vestiges of fetishism Modern Islam; mainly Qadrya Bekkaya brotherhood; lax religious practices; fetishist residue Fetishism diluted by Islam and even more by Christianity

Historical Setting

Stone carvings found in the grottoes of Kakimbon near Conakry, and of Santa near Kindia, show that Guinea must have been inhabited at least as early as the Neolithic period. Other finds of lesser importance discovered in the re ions of Pita, Telimele, and Gaoual in the Fouta Djalon are evidence of man’s presence there in very ancient times. It would be pointless, however, to confuse these original inhabitants with Negrillos by giving credence to oral traditions concerning primitive undersized hunters and fishermen or to legends about the Fadube of Fouta, cave dwellers and sorcerers of former epochs. It would be equally unprofitable to speculate about the similarities between the soapstone pomdo statuettes of the Kissi and the sculptures produced by the Nok civilization of Nigeria, for that would place them in the same era (280 B.C. ), whereas recent scientific analysis indicates that the former do not antedate our millennium.
Modern Guinea entered the historical period with the empire of Mali, whose primitive nucleus and first capital, Niani, was situated on the Sankarani, a tributary of the upper Niger near the Malian frontier. In the mid-eleventh century, the power of the Ghana kings was at its height though nearing its decline, for the town of Ghana (present-day Koumbi Salah) fell into the hands of Muslim Almoravides in 1077. At that time, tradition has it that Baramendana, a sovereign of Mali, was converted to Islam, although most of his subjects remained animists. Toward the end of the eleventh century, the Saracolé and the first Dioulas whom they converted to Islam moved into Guinea, from the northeast spreading their religion in the Fouta as well as nearer the coast and on the borders of the forest along the cola-trade routes. In 1203, the blacksmith-king of Sosso, Sumaoro Kante, or Sumanguru, gained control over Ghana and crushed Mali. It was at that time that the Keita dynasty which governed Mali first appeared on the scene. Sundiata Keita (who died in 1255), grandson of the dynasty’s founder, decisively defeated the king of Sosso at Kirina in 1235, after beating off his attacks. Sundiata then established Manding supremacy in West Africa from lower Gambia to Djenne and from Oualata to the Fouta Djalon . The reign of one of his successors, the emperor Kanku Mussa, from 1312 to 1335, marked the apogee of the Manding empire and created, during his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, the Sudanese zone’s reputation in the Arab world for being rich in gold. Kanku Mussa’s generosity in distributing gold was so lavish that the value of gold (in relation to silver) in Cairo declined for more than a decade, according to the Aral, historian Al Omari. At that time, the Mali empire included the three great gold-producing regions of Galam, Bambouk, and Bour&eacute.
During the growth of the Manding empire, its political organization was first created as a military reaction to the conquest of Ghana, and later devdoped as an institutionalization of its political apparatus. The rulers’ use of force facilitated the capture of slaves and maintained the allegiance owed by artisans (nyamakala) to the nobles (horon) who protected and supported them. Meanwhile, changes in the hierarchical structure of clans and of lineages resulted from Islamization and from Sundiata’s conquests. These changes included domination of the animists by the Islamized clans and of all the clans by the Keita dynasty. Concurrently there developed the administrative machinery required for the continuity and guidance of the empire by the warrior chiefs and the fama (officials who administered the provinces in the sovereign’s name). The empire’s economy, however, prevented those favored persons from accumulating great wealth, the political hazards precluded their retaining their privileges indefinitely, and customs based on lineal descent hindered them from making their power hereditary
Mali’s decadence began early in the fifteenth century. Then, Niani was sacked by Songhaï warriors. Sundiata’s heirs, beset by fratricidal struggles, gradually lost their international standing, particularly in the Arab world, and ruled over a progressively shrinking area until 1645, when the empire was broken up.
The collapse of that empire occurred at a time when migrations in the Sahel zone shifted the focus of Guinea’s recorded history to the Fouta Djalon. When the animist Peul herders first reached the Fouta during the fourteenth century they encountered Dialonké tribesmen of Manding origin. In small family groups, the Peul immigrants established themselves among the indigenous farmers and then tried to drive out their erstwhile hosts. Under orders from the Toucouleur chief Bamba Diade, they began the conquests that culminated in the creation by his great-grandson, Koli Tenguella, of a military state in the Guinean Badiar at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and later in the founding of a kingdom in the Senegalese Tekrour (1559) freed from vassalage to Mali. The Peul influx continued throughout the seventeenth century. The tariks of Timbo (annals in the Peul language but written in Arabic script) noted that in the year 1105 of the Hegira (A.D. 1694), a large band of Islamized Peul from Macina, led by two brothers, Seri and Sedi, sons of Mamadu Muktar of Tichitt, arrived in the Fouta. Tradition has made one of their descendants a legendary figure
Alfa Ibrahima Sambegu, also known as Karamoko Alfa, was the great architect of the nine-province confederation of the Fouta, the nucleus of the Fula kingdom. The provincial chiefs, meeting at Fugumba in 1727, decided to exclude the animists totally from power and to establish Islam definitively in the Fouta by means of a holy war (jihad). Their primary target was the animist Peul chief, Dian Yero, who had come with the first wave of immigrants. Then they intercepted at Horé the caravans bringing supplies from Senegal for the Dialonké chiefs. The latter, in collaboration with the animist Peul chiefs, launched a powerful army against the Muslims but were defeated in the battle of Talansan in 1750. Karamoko Alfa, chosen by his political and religious peers as their leader, had already placed his cousin, Ibrahima Sori, in command of the holy war. That bold warrior led victorious campaigns against Kondé Burama, chief of the Fouta animists and of the Malinke of the Niger, and also against the Wassulunke and the Sulima. In 1766, the warrior Sori succeeded the scholarly AIfa as the supreme imam (the sovereign of the Fouta is called almami or al imam), After further fighting and the death of Sori in 1793, the supreme power rotated every two years between two rival families, albeit with some difficulty and resistance. These families were the Alfaya, whose ancestor was Karamoko Alfa, and the Soria, descendants of the warrior Sori.
The Peul empire continued to expand throughout the Fouta during the nineteenth century. Raiding provided it with slaves and grain taken from the infidels, on whom a regular tribute called sagalle (derived from the Arabic zakhat) was imposed in the name of the Koran. The Peul’s political domination, which was the basis of their comparative prosperity, enabled them to trade with the petty kings and merchants of the coast, where they exchanged slaves and produce for imported European merchandise.
The early Portuguese explorers of the West African coast were

  • Nuno Tristao, in 1447
  • Nuno Fernandez, who gave his name to the Rio Nunez a few years later
  • Pedro de Sintra, who reached Cape Verga and Cape Sagres (Kaloum) about 1460; and
  • Valentim Fernandes, in 1508.

These explorations enabled the Portuguese to establish a profitable trade in slaves, gold, ivory, and spices.’ However, it was the English, firmly entrenched in Sierra Leone, who got the upper hand about 1820, when the small forts as well as persons of mixed African and Portuguese descent in coastal Guinea were abandoned.
In December 1816, two British officers, John Peddie and Benjamin Campbell, journeyed to Rio Nunez, and in 1818 the Frenchman Gaspard Mollien reached Timbo by way of Senegal. They were followed in 1827 by René Caillé, who aimed at getting to Timbuktu via Rio Nunez. These expeditions ushered in a period of treaty-making with the coastal kings which was to open up the hinterland to colonization. A naval lieutenant, Louis-Edouard Bouet-Villaumez, was charged by the French king, Louis-Philippe, with keeping a close watch on the slave traders. On behalf of some Bordeaux merchants, the lieutenant made treaties with the local potentates which permitted establishment of the trading posts known as the Rivieres du Sud (1837-1842). In the hinterland the Toucouleur chief, El Hadj Omar Tall (1797-1864), installed himself at Dinguiraye in 1850 for the purpose of propagating in the Fouta Djalon the Muslim practices of the Tidjaniya brotherhood and of conquering the land to the north. Meanwhile, the number of French merchants in the estuaries of the Rio Nunez, the Rio Pongo, and the Mellacore increased, despite fierce competition from English, Belgian, and German traders who kept their grip on that area for the purpose of winning concessions elsewhere. On January 21, 1866, French troops captured Boke on the Rio Nunez, where they set up France’s first military post.
In 1880 and again in 1888, Olivier de Sanderval, an adventurer obsessed with the dream of creating an African kingdom, passed through Boke en route to Timbo, where he obtained important concessions from the almami. And a welcome also awaited the Bayol-Noirot mission, which traveled from Boke to Timbo in 1881 with the aim of obtaining the almami‘s confirrnation of French rights. On July 5, 1881, a treaty of friendship was signed that assured respect for the rights of Frenchmen to trade and send their caravans to the coast. The Fouta Djalon thus came under the protection of France, but its almami specified that Fouta should belong to the Peul just as France belonged to the French, even though the stronger of the two nations was giving help to the weaker. Nonetheless, Guinea’s fate seemed to be sealed, and the grip of colonialism grew stronger everywhere. On December 21, 1890, the dispute between the Nalou chiefs Dina Salifu and Bokari for the chieftaincy of the Nunez was settled in Bokari’s favor when the Salifu capital of Sogoboli was bombarded by the gunboat « Le Mésange. »
From 1881 to 1896, the Fouta lived under a protectorate regime, after which it yielded to armed pressure by the colonial power. Almami Bokar Biro’s refusal to retire after his term of office expired, and his take-over of Timbo, provided the pretext for French intervention. Supported by chiefs of the Alfaya clan and by the army of Sanderval, French troops occupied Timbo and defeated Bokar Biro at Porédaka on November 14, 1896. Alfa Yaya, one of the Alfaya chiefs’ who had initially favored the French, soon changed his mind, but his opposition to the French in 1905 and 1911 culminated in his arrest and deportation. Also in 1911, Tierno Aliou, the wali of Goumba suffered the same fate.
The strongest resistance to colonization came from the northwest, where Samori Touré (born about 1840), after he had exchanged his peddler’s pack for the soldier’s sword, built himself an empire called Wassulu (?). His campaigns, which combined raids with military operations, lasted for five years (1870-1875). During that period, Samori consolidated his rule over many tribes which had been torn by continuous warfare. After capturing Kankan in 1819, Samori set up his capital at Bissandugu, his native land
A bold strategist as well as a clever and tenacious politician, Samori gave himself the title of almami in order to consolidate his authority. He divided his domain into 162 cantons (kafu), organized into ten provincial governments (jamana) at the head of each of which he placed either a relative or a loyal friend. With the support of a warrior chief or a marabout (holy man), these administrators collected taxes and dispensed justice. They also forced each village to farm a field for the benefit of the government, and to supply grain and livestock for the needs of the military garrisons. Slaves captured in raids were traded for horses sold by Moors of the Sahel and for European firearrns and ammunition (in Sierra Leone or through the agency of the Peul of the Fouta Djalon). These arms were used by the warriors (sofa), who formed a permanent body of crack troops, which in time of danger were reinforced by militiamen sent by the villages.
After concluding a peace treaty with France in 1886, Samori moved against Tieba, the king of Sikasso, and unsuccessfully laid siege to that town. In answer to Tieba’s appeal for help, the French sent a military mission to Sikasso. Samori, claiming that this violated the agreements made by the French, declared war on them and tried vainly to enlist aid, first from England and then from the kings of Segou and Sikasso (after the last-named had quarreled with the French). Intermittently for seven years, beginning in 1891, Samori fought the expeditionary forces led by Colonels Louis Archinard, Georges Humbert, and Antoine Combes. The scene of combat shifted from the frontiers of Mali and upper Guinea to Ivory Coast and the Black Volta, and the fighting was marked by temporary alliances, by victories, and by defeats. When the populations that Samori had forced to follow in his train were exhausted and when his retreat to the east was cut off, he tried to negotiate a peace. But during a surprise attack by Captain Henri Gouraud’s troops, Samori fell into the hands of the French at Guelemou on September 29, 1898. Deported to Gabon, he died there in 1900.
The resistance in the north by the Coniagui ended with the battle of Ithiou (April 1902). That in the south by the Toma, led by Kohko Tolno Onivogi and Nzebela Tokpa, ended with the capture of Boussedou in 1907; there a revolt by the Guerze and Manon against the French army’s exactions lasted from August 1911 to March 1912. Thus ended what is called, sometimes ironically, the « French pacification » ; the colonial system had already been installed in Guinea

The Colonial Regime

On August 1, 1889, the Riviéres du Sud was freed from the administrative control of Senegal, and in July 1890, Dr. Noel Ballay disembarked at Conakry as head of a mission. In December 1891 he was formally named governor when the colony of French Guinea was officially created. His main tasks consisted of supervising construction of the territorial capital, developing the means of communication needed for commerce, and establishing and guiding an effective administration and judiciary. Under his government (which lasted until 1900) and that of his successors, the system known as « direct administration » was instituted progressively at the turn of the century. Guinea was divided into

  • cercles, each headed by a French commandant.
  • The cercles were divided into cantons placed in the charge of native chiefs appointed by the governor. In 1921, the commandant de cercle (district officer) was empowered to name the canton chiefs, subject to the governor’s approval.
  • At the head of each village in his canton, the chief placed one of his ablest aides.

In taking over the administration of Guinea, the colonial power was confronted with two choices: either it could destroy the authorities whose rule was sanctioned by the population but might compete with that of the administration, or it could confirrn them in their posts with a view to utilizing them as auxiliaries. As the latter solution seemed less risky, one of thc administration’s first tasks was to find collaborators who could be used as intermediaries between itself and the native peoples. Preference was given to functioning Notables, in order to cause the least disturbance to the established order and lessen the risk of a popular uprising that might prove hard to suppress . However, difficulties arose because the new cantons did not necessarily correspond to the traditional jurisdictions, and the old chieftaincies differed greatly in size and authority from region to region.

  • In the Peul kingdom of the almami of Fouta, the chieftaincies were united and powerfu.
  • In the kafu and settlements of the Manding, they were based on lineage.
  • In the forest zone they were limited to villages.
  • And in coastal Guinea they were of recent date and acculturated.

Despite these differences, the colonial power delegated its authority only to those who, after being chosen by the Notables from among rival contenders, were officially registered as chiefs in the territorial units that it had itself created. Its first step was to take away from the people their right to choose chiefs, who thenceforth were appointed and dismissed solely by the administration. The great pseudo state of Fouta was dismembered by abolishing the highest symbols of authority, such as the title almami (in 1912), and by recognizing only individual forms of power at the expense of collective institutions of authority. Chiefs who opposed the colonizing power were removed; others had their authority reduced (as was the case with the almami of Timbo, whose authority became limited to the three province; of Timbo, Bouria, and Kolen). Labé province was divided into three cercles, and Dalaba and Ditinn became important cercles. In 1912, the evicted almami of Labe had to settle in Mamou and that of Timbo in Dabola — in both cases near the railroad, for easy surveillance.
Inasmuch as settlements in the forest zone comprised no more than three or four villages, the civil and military authorities divided such settlements among cantons as they pleased. The chieftaincy problem was resolved there either by choosing individuals for investiture as chiefs from among the masters of the land and warrior or religious chiefs those who appeared to the authorities to be Notables, or by naming as « straw chiefs » men who had been useful to the colonial cause but who possessed no traditional influence (as in the case of the Malinké clan, Camara, among the Toma). This new method of selecting individuals for the chieftaincy ignored

  • the hierarchical order
  • the rights of certain families
  • the qualifications required by tradition
  • the support of the elders

It brought forth a multitude of ambitious or intriguing candidates and gave rise to such disregard for democratic legitimacy that the African masses were increasingly alienated from their chiefs. Suppression of the canton chieftaincy in accordance with the loi-cadre of June 23, 1956, aroused no regrets among the population.
What was the impact of this administrative organization and colonial policy on the officially proclaimed French civilizing mission? Its positive accomplishments can be termed relatively meager. With regard to education, progress was fairly slow. In 1953, for example, only 6,558 students (in a population of two million ) were attending thirty-four primary schools, and secondary education was nonexistent. Beginning in 1947, when Guinean students numbered 11,084, and until 1958, when there were 42,543 and progress was steady, fewer than 10 per cent of the school-age population attended school. Hospitals, like education, were available only to a few privileged Guineans. Even in 1935, there was in all Guinea only one hospital, which had been built at Conakry in 1901. The director of the Institut Français de l’Afrique Noire, Maurice Houis, noted that after sixty years of colonization the campaigns against epidemics and trypanosomiasis, as well as a native medical service, had not moved beyond the stage of projects. « Outside Conakry, » he wrote, « there are in fact only four maternity clinics, three dispensaries, and four buildings with hospital facilities. » 10. No more than that!
Guinea’s rail network had not progressed beyond the 662 km. of track laid in 1914. Domestic slavery (a status midway between old-fashioned slavery and medieval serfdom) had not diminished in the Fouta, although the slaves there were now described as sharecroppers. It was to the interest of the colonizer to maintain the status quo, both to develop the land at little cost and to avoid alienating the established chiefs, whose prestige the colonizer could use to his own advantage to facilitate the requisitioning of labor. Some chiefs even preferred to send their slaves instead of their sons to the white man‘s school or to serve in the army, when they were required to recruit students or conscripts. During World War I, slaves made up three-fourths of the conscripts from the Fouta. Yet emancipation made headway among the Manding during the first quarter of this century. In short, everyone knows that at the outset no form of colonization is ever primarily a « charitable work. » At most, colonization was beneficial — economically and politically — to the ruling power 11
By the general introduction of a market economy and currency circulation, the definitive establishment of colonial authority progressively undermined traditional trading, which until then had been oriented toward the coast. It also laid down the geographical and juridical boundaries of trade. There is no doubt that for the Africans the development of commerce was not related primarily to their need for certain products (a need that long remained very limited) but to their need for the money required to pay taxes 12
By a local regulation of December 28, 1897, the payment of the head tax (two francs for all natives of both sexes above the age of eight) was made obligatory throughout the colony, which had just been enlarged by the addition of the Fouta Djalon after the battle of Porédaka. Beginning in 1900, the sums realized from the head tax topped all other budgetary resources, and by 1928, the tax accounted for 70.% per cent of Guinea’s revenues. The percentage dropped to 46 in 1940, when the « war effort » necessitated the supply of many raw materials. From the end of the nineteenth century onward, the taxpayer had to meet his fisca1 obligations by supplying the trading economy with wild produce, mainly rubber and palm kernels. At Pita, beginning in 1908, even the land, traditionally inalienable, had to be sold by Africans to their compatriots for the same reason.
The circulation of currency, stimulated by tax obligations, led to the excessive development of commerce. From 1895 to 1914, rubber was the basic item in the trading economy (it accounted for four-fifths of the value of Guinea’s exports in 1898). To gather rubber, the population had to go far afield after the rubber-yielding vines near the villages were exhausted. Transporting latex was the occupation of the Dioula merchants until the price fell, between 1909 and 1915, when the start of production from hevea trees in the Far East affected the entire rubber trade.
To meet the demands of colonial trading in Guinea, the infrastructure required to handle imports and exports was developed. In 1895, the first pier was built at Conakry, just at the time when that town was being laid out like a checkerboard and the Conakry-Niger road was being constructed. The improvement of Conakry’s port concentrated commercial operations in the capital and brought such activities to a standstill in the Rivieres du Sud. Construction of the railroad from Conakry to Kindia and its extension to Mamou in 1908, to Kouroussa on the Niger in 1910, and to Kankan in 1914 had the same effect: it facilitated the movement of the hinterland’s produce to the coast, thereby enhancing the importance of Conakry. Formerly the trade of Fouta and upper Guinea had been drawn to Bamako, Freetown, and Nunez.
Three firms soon cornered the largest share of the market. These were the Compagnie Française de l’Afrique Occidentale (CFAO), the Société Commerciale de l’Ouest Africain (SCOA), and the Compagnie du Niger Français (which in conjunction with the Paterson-Zochonis Company took over some old-established Manchester firms). The trading companies of Bordeaux, along with some others, continued to operate but were relegated to secondary rank. Usually, Syrians and Lebanese, who were installed in the small towns, served as middlemen between the big trading houses and the native population by collecting the produce that was useful to the French economy and selling imported European goods. At Conakry, the Levantines numbered three hundred in 1903 and seven hundred in 1905; at Mamou they increased from two in 1906 to six hundred in 1912.
After World War I, no single product filled the gap left by the decline in rubber output, and the Dioulas supplied the trading firms with palm kernels, honey and wax, gum copal, and cowhides. In the Fouta Djalon, aside from the production of orange essence by the Compagnie Africaine des Plantes à Parfum (which was established near Labé in 1928), the sale of cattle, land, and Korans supplied most of the money with which taxes were paid. In upper Guinea, the traditional panning of gold in Bouré province was revived, and through the agency of the Dioulas, it supplied the domestic market as well as foreign trade. Between 1920 and 1930, from 50 to 300 kg. of gold a year were exported 13. Because of the worldwide depression, there occurred a gold boom that increased the value of the metal in relation to the falling prices for agricultural produce. According to the official figures, 4,750 kg. of gold were produced in 1936. This caused a spurt in the contraband trade – impossible to estimate but appreciable – until 1939, when the war effort revived the payment of taxes in kind, as well as portage and forced labor.
After shortage and quotas ended, public invesements under the four-year plans of 1948 to 1952 and of 1953 to 1958 triggered an upsurge of the economy. At first this benefited European opportunists, but the Dioulas too saw a potential windfall in the development of small African banana and coffee plantations. They continued to serve as commercial middlemen just at the time when an increase in the head tax necessitated increased trading in local produce. (In 1956, the head tax for every individual between the ages of fourteen and sixty ranged from 812 to 1,085 CFA francs, depending upon the cercle, and it was imposed on a population whose average annual per capita income was estimated at about 10,000 CFA francs.)
The movements of labor followed the evolution of the economy throughout the colonial period, and they promoted the mingling of tribes. Although the scale of such movements has never been computed, they can be summarized as follows:

  1. The development of Conakry between 1890 and 1900 encouraged the immigration of Limba and Temne tribesmen from Sierra Leone as clerks in trading firms and as masons and laborers in public works, of Senegalese as builders and industrious craftsmen, and of Gabonase as cabinet-makers. After 1930 came the Togolese to fill administrative posts and the Dahomeans as government employees. More recently, after 1955, they were joined by Hausa traders and Ghanaian fishermen.
  2. Construction of the Conakry-Niger railroad stabilized laborers and track supervisors between 1900 and 1910 but caused the displacement of traders.
  3. The annual migration of navitanes (seasonal migrant workers) between Senegal and Guinea during the 1930-1940 decade involved some thirty thousand Guineans, of whom the majority were Peul and Malinké. This movement continued until independence.
  4. About 1935, the banana plantations on the lower coast began to attract the forest people and the Fula. At the peak of production in1955, more than ten thousand agricultural workers were employed in the banana groves.
  5. There was a gold rush to the Bouré placers until they were exhausted about 1949. As of 1937, some hundred thousand panners worked in the Siguiri placers.
  6. After World War II, there was a concentration of labor in the diamond-bearing regions of Beyla and Kerouané.
  7. During this same period, many Malinké moved into the forest region, where they traded in coffee, palm kernels, and colas.
  8. The Peul of Fouta migrated to the Malinke areas, seeking employment as herders, butchers, and tailors. They also moved into lower Guinea to find work as cooks and unlicensed peddlers, and to Sierra Leone, where they could most profitably sell their cattle.
  9. Various tribesmen were attracted to the bauxite mines at Kassa (1952) and to the iron mines at Kaloum (1953). Beginning in 1957, they worked on building the alumina plant of the Fria Company.

The participation of two societies — the colonized and the colonizer — in Guinea’s economic structure promoted the exploitation of new raw materials, which was related to the growth of industrial capitalism; at the same time that participation modified the means of production and modernized techniques. With respect to Guinea’s social structure, the repercussions of the colonial situation have been even more marked. It

  • damaged social relationships
  • combined different ethnic groups within the same territorial framework
  • made French the vehicular language among educated Guineans
  • gave rise to new social classes such as clerks, planters, wage earners, and the like
  • disseminated democratic concepts and the examples provided by Metropolitan politics, and
  • incited the development of organized labor in the modern sector.

The circulation of men and idea — thanks to the market economy, the increase of public and private services, and the sending of African soldiers to France — brought about the great political awakening of 1945.

Originally, the value of the Colonies Francaises d’Afrique (CFA) franc was double that of the Metropolitan franc. With the French government’s Creation of the « heavy franc » in 1960, the CFA franc’s value became 2 French centimes or about 0.4 U.S. cent. The Guinean franc (franc guinéen or FG) officially retained its parity with the CFA franc until 1972, when it was replaced by the sily, worth 10 former Guinean francs or 4 U.S. cents.
. The following figures (published in decree no. 145/PRG of July 22, 1973) are those of the census of December 30, 1972:

Lower Guinea 1,572,660
Middle Guinea 1,483,400
Upper Guinea 1,012,328
Forest zone 1,055,896
Total 5,124,284

This census cannot be taken seriously because it implies an annual growth rate of 5.7 per cent, which is scientifically impossible, as such growth has never been experienced by a population even for a short period, much less over a span of seventeen years. Julien Condé, a demographic statistician, demonstrated in an article published in the February 28, 1974, issue of La Guinée libre, how wholly unscientific was the 1972 census, which was carried out with no serious preparation by the Party organizations. Because the census register was unrelated to the tax rolls, the population figures could be deliberately exaggerated so that they might serve as the basis for a region’s obtaining loans or investment. Moreover, the Party’s services doctored these figures so as to include Guineans living in exile, with the aim of giving Guinea greater weight in comparison with Senegal and Ivory Coast.
. Bernard Charles, La République de Guinée (Paris Berger-Levrault, 1972), pp. 9-10.
. Djibril Tamsir Niane, Soundjata ou l’épopée mandingue, (Paris: Présence africaine, 1960); Recherches sur l’empire du Mali au Moyen Age (Conakry: Institut National de Recherche et de Documentation, 1962).
. Claude Rivière, « Genèse d’inégalités dans l’organisation sociale malinké, » Cultures et développement, 5, No. 2 (1973), 273-313.
. Paul Marty, L’Islam en Guinée: Fouta-Djallon. (Paris Leroux, 1921)
Claude Rivière, « Le Long des côtes de Guinée avant la phase coloniale, » Bulletin de l’IFAN, 30, B2 (1968), 727-50.
. Yves Person, Samori: Une révolution dyula, 3 vol. (Dakar: IFAN, 1969).
Jacques Lombard, Autorités traditionnelles et pouvoirs européens en Afrique noire (Paris: Armand Colin, 1967).
10. Maurice Houis, La Guinée française (Paris: Editions Maritimes et Coloniales, 1953), p. 57.
11. See Jean Suret-Canale, « La Guinée dans le système colonial » Présence africaine, 29 (December-January 1960), 9-44,
12. Claude Rivière, « Les Bénéficiaires du commerce dans la Guinée pr&eaute;coloniale et coloniale, » Bulletin de l’lFAN, 33, B.2 (1971), 257-84.
13. Claude Rivière, « L’Or fabuleux du Bouré, » L’Afrique littéraire et artistique, 23 (June 1972), 41-45.

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