Eritrea and Guinea are similar in many ways. One of such ways is that they are both composed of several ethnic groups defined along linguistic and religious ties: Islam is one of the major religions–although in Guinea a more significant portion (3/4) of the population adheres to the religion–and ethnic languages more or less correspond to different regions within the two countries. Moreover, the populations that make up present-day Eritrea and Guinea have a rich history of trading with foreigners, especially along the coastlines. Nevertheless, these same similarities, which characterize some of the persistent legacies of the Eritrea and Guinea’s precolonial past that were subsequently embedded in the fabric of their colonial history, can help explain the vastly different experiences of the countries from the mid 20th century until well into the present day. In relation to the different colonial power that dominated Eritrea and Guinea, the heterogeneous aspect of these experiences, such as the extent of the rule of the colonial power, ultimately played an instrumental role in shaping each country’s internal politics and international relations.
The area of present-day Guinea is populated by several groups of people that were constituents of different kingdoms such as the Susu, Baga, Nalu and Malinke, with the former belonging to the once prominent Mali Empire. This pluralistic aspect can be ascribed to the fact that much of the state’s boundaries were defined during colonial rule. Soon after Guinea became a French colony in 1890 and was incorporated into the Federation of French West Africa, a series of treaties with Great Britain, Portugal and Liberia helped demarcate the country’s territory. Coincidentally in the same year, Eritrea officially became an Italian colony a few months after Melinek II of Ethiopia signed the Treaty of Wichale, recognizing Italian possessions in the Red Sea.
Although the two countries became the dominions of two powerful colonial powers, there were variations in the underlying motives behind colonial rule for each of the powers. While France focused more on extracting resources in Guinea, evident in the significant increase in the scale of the slave trade during French rule, the Italians intended to strategically use Eritrea in order to invade Ethiopia. After failed attempts to colonize Ethiopia, Italy shifted its focus and had more administrative involvement in the country. On the other hand, France had a more indirect involvement in Guinea; the governor in charge of the colony’s administration was located in Dakar, Senegal.
The differences in administration between the two colonial powers had several effects on each country. Guinea was able to gain its independence through a referendum but the failure of the French to have a centralized authority in the country during the colonial era exacerbated ethnic tensions once they left. Guinea has faced multiple coups and ethnic conflicts since it gained independence in 1958. On the other hand, Eritrea endured several decades of violence to gain its independence from Ethiopia once the Allied powers dismantled Italy’s dominion in Africa. Nevertheless, there is greater sense of nationalism amongst Eritreans, where Muslims and Christians allied in the 70’s to oust Ethiopia and gain their independence.