Conflicts in Guinea

Guinea presents an interesting case for examining both the incidents of regional wars and internal conflicts in Africa. It possesses many of the endowment characteristics of the countries that have been ravaged by war: weak institutions, widespread poverty despite natural resources, a history of authoritarian regimes, and an ethnically-diverse state. Yet, the country has not experienced war to the extent that many of its West-African contemporaries have, despite some spill-over effects from the Mano River War. While large-scale violence could have easily broken out in Guinea, it has been largely spared from the atrocious conflicts that occurred in neighboring areas mainly due to ideological factors, such as nationalism, as well as economic factors that have commonly reflected the country’s political atmosphere.

Violence in Guinea has primarily been characterized by the government’s attempt to suppress some level of opposition and has never escalated enough to create the collapse of the state. This can partly be attributed to ideologies that were instilled early on in the nation’s history. When former colonies like Gabon and Ivory Coast opted to retain a French protectorate status following a 1958 Referendum, Guinea was being ruled by a radical and charismatic figure, Ahmed Sekou Touré, who adamantly encouraged Guineans to unite under national identity against Western imperial rule. Furthermore, Touré’s nationalist zeal was evident in domestic initiatives like the Demystification Program–which banned “backward” rituals in many ethnic communities– as well as the executions and imprisonment of Guinean dissidents. Thus, Guineans might have been less prone to initiate some of the insurgencies seen in other places because of a greater sense of national identity. However, while these harsh domestic policies to promote nationalism might have prevented civil war in Guinea, they certainly failed to mitigate ethnic conflicts and other types of violence in the ensuing years.

Civil wars and insurgencies happening next door primarily dominated the first half of Touré’s successor’s rule. As tensions escalated in the late 1980’s through the 1990s in the Mano River region, Lansana Conté’s government received thousands of refugees fleeing massacres in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast. Despite the government’s attempt to remain outside of these conflicts, it sometimes found itself taking sides in the war. In late 2000 and early 2001, Guinea accused the Charles Taylor’s government of supporting Guinean dissents who attacked and killed more than 1000 Guineans and displaced over 200,000 living closed to the borders. Nevertheless, these attacks never really threatened Conté’s authority and the Guinean government was able to retain legitimacy unlike the government of Sierra Leone or Liberia. As discussed by Will Reno in chapter 7 of “Africa in World Politics”, the loss of legitimacy as a result of the collapse in the patrimonial system was at the roots of conflicts in those countries. In contrast, patrimonialism was not as pervasive in Guinea, especially since its mineral wealth has not been exploited fully, allowing the government to find other sources of legitimacy.

Lastly, these domestic and regional clashes broadly encompass the international factor in those conflicts. Guinean troops have been involved in peacekeeping missions backed by international support and has hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees since the wars. The country receives technical support from countries like the U.S. to ensure that it continues to play a role in mitigating conflicts in the region.


Harbeson. Chapter 7. “The International Factor in African Warfare.” By Will Reno.

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