Parts of northern and eastern Guinea were within the empires of Mali and Songhai, and the ruling classes among the Mandinka population were early introduced to Islam. The spread of Islam throughout Guinea was largely a result of the missionary activities of the Torobde clan of the Fulani, a pastoralist people, who established a theocratic state in highland areas of the Fouta Djallon in the early 18th century. By the mid-19th century, continual Islamic proselytizing had converted most of the population with the exception of those living in the Mossi states, who resisted and retained their animistic beliefs. In the 1880s Samory Toure, a Mandinka adventurer, used modern weapons to seize control over much of the interior.
The French government in the last quarter of the 19th century authorized annexation by conquest and diplomacy of much of the western Sudan. Its armies captured Tombouctou, pushed French claims as far as Lake Chad, and went on to occupy the Guinea coastline. In 1891 Guinea was declared a French colony separate from Senegal. Samory provided the only concerted resistance to French occupation of coastal and highland Guinea until he was finally defeated in 1898. The next year the upper Niger districts were added to the territory, and in 1906 Guinea became part of the French West African Federation, headed by a governor-general. French rule was generally moderate, with local rulers retaining much authority.
In the years that followed, Conakry became an important port city. Many Guineans were employed there and allowed to organize their own trade unions. Sekou Toure, a great-grandson of Samory and the head of the powerful General Union of Workers of Black Africa, led the agitation in the 1950s for more African representation in government. In 1952 Toure became the secretary general of the Democratic Party of Guinea.
In the September 1958 plebiscite, Guinea was the only territory to reject the constitution of the Fifth French Republic. This caused immediate severance of political and economic ties with France. Guinea achieved independence on October 2, 1958, with Toure as president of the new nation.
Once independent, Guinea turned to the Eastern European countries for assistance. Toure established a one-party state and imposed a strict socialist system. In 1961 Guinea joined with Ghana and Mali in the Union of African States, a loose federation that lasted only two years. After surviving several assassination attempts, Toure accused French officials of plotting his overthrow and broke off relations with France in November 1965. Guinea’s relations with Cote d’Ivoire, Niger, Senegal, and Burkina Faso continued to be stormy until 1978. Toure’s self-imposed diplomatic isolation and ill-planned economic ventures bankrupted the state and forced him to begin liberalizing the government. He then traveled widely to improve foreign relations and seek investors to exploit Guinea’s considerable mineral resources. In 1982 a new constitution was issued that strengthened the power of the ruling Democratic Party of Guinea. After Toure died in March 1984, however, a military coup led by Colonel Lansana Conte ousted the interim government. Conte became president and leader of the Military Committee for National Rectification. He freed political prisoners, began to dismantle the socialist system, reduced the power of the army, and improved relations with France and neighboring states. A 1985 attempt to overthrow the Conte government failed. In the late 1980s, Guinea sought to attract Western capital by liberalizing investment regulations. In 1990 a new constitution was adopted authorizing a transitional committee to establish the framework for a civilian government. In December 1993 President Conte was confirmed in office in Guinea’s first multiparty elections. Conte’s Party of Unity and Progress won 71 out of 114 National Assembly seats in June 1995 legislative elections. In February 1996 almost one-quarter of Guinea’s 8,500-member armed forces mutinied in the streets of Conakry, demanding more pay and better working conditions. President Conte immediately fired his defense minister and negotiated a truce with his troops, but not before at least 30 people were killed and the presidential palace set ablaze. Conte was reelected in 1998.