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Guinea, which despite immense mineral resources remains one of the world’s poorest countries, holds the first round Sunday of its second ever democratic presidential election.
Here are some facts about the country, currently headed by President Alpha Conde, the first to win a free election in the country since independence in 1958.
People
A total 12.2 million people (World Bank 2014) live on 245,900 square kilometres (95,000 square miles) on Africa’s western coast, making Guinea slightly smaller than New Zealand or Ecuador. The vast majority are Muslim, while about 15 per cent are Christian or have indigenous beliefs. The population is comprised of a mosaic of some 30 ethnic groups, with the Fulani, Mandinke, Soussou and Guerze the most prominent.
A history of coups and trouble
After winning independence from France in 1958 and cutting ties with Paris in favour of the Soviet Union, Africa’s first Marxist state was run by President Ahmed Sekou Toure. His autocratic 26-year reign ended with his death in 1984 and General Lansane Conte swiftly seized power in a coup d’etat. Some 50,000 people had died or disappeared by then, and hundreds of thousands of others had fled.
Despite introducing multi-party rule in 1990, subsequent elections were widely believed to be rigged and Conte’s authoritarian reign lasted until his death in December 2008. The military again seized power, led this time by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who plunged the country into chaos in his bid to cling to power.
In September 2009, troops opened fire on a crowded rally in a Conakry stadium protesting Capt. Camara’s junta. In a bloody massacre, at least 157 were killed and hundreds raped and injured. Camara survived a shot to the head in an assassination bid, but was replaced by another junta led by General Sekouba Konate.
A first free election Gen Konate headed a transition government until the country’s first democratic elections in November 2010. Long time opponent Alpha Conde was declared the victor in a run-off against rival Cellou Dalein Diallo, taking 52.5 percent of the vote to become the first democratically elected president.
After being postponed many times, legislative elections were finally held in September 2013. Conde’s party, the Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) won a majority in the 114-member body, ahead of the centrist liberal Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UDGF).
Guinea is one of the world’s biggest producers of bauxite, the ore used to produce aluminium. Despite its mineral wealth, which also includes iron, gold, diamonds and oil, the country has remained one of the world’s poorest, with half the population living below the UN poverty line.
According to the World Bank, per capita income in 2014 was just $470 and many people do not have access to electricity or running water.
Conde has tried to enact reforms, in the mining sector for example, which is hobbled by poor infrastructure.
Ebola
The tropical virus Ebola has hit Guinea hard, killing around 2,500 people since December 2013, and impacting the agriculture, mining, trade, transport and tourism sectors.