Guinea was part of the Empire of Mali, which covered a large part of western Africa between the 13th and 15th centuries; the empire's capital, Niani, is in eastern Guinea. From the mid-1400s Portuguese and other European traders settled Guinea's coastal region, and the country eventually became a French colony in 1891.

The end of French West Africa began with Guinea. In 1958, Sekou Touré was the only West African leader to reject a French offer of membership in a French commonwealth, and instead demanded total independence. French reaction was swift: financial and technical aid was cut off, and there was a massive flight of capital.

Sekou Touré called his new form of state a 'communocracy', a blend of Africanist and communist models. It didn't work; the economy went into a downward spiral, and his growing paranoia triggered a reign of terror. 'Conspiracies' were being sensed everywhere; thousands of supposed dissidents were imprisoned and executed. By the end of the 1960s over 250,000 Guineans lived in exile.

Towards the end of his presidency Touré changed many of his policies and tried to liberalise the economy. He died in March 1984.

Days after Touré's death, a military coup was staged by a group of colonels, including the barely known, barely educated Lansana Conté, who became president. He introduced austerity measures, and in 1991 bowed to pressure to introduce a multiparty political system. Initial hopes for a new era of freedom and prosperity were quickly dashed. Conté claimed victory in three highly disputed elections, and there were incidents of obstruction and imprisonment of opposition leaders. In 2007 demonstrations were violently quashed, though a few concessions (such as the nomination of a prime minister) were made. Severely ill and barely able to govern, Conté stayed in power until his death in December 2008.

In the Grip of the Military

Following the death in December 2008 of president Lansana Conté, an army contingent under Captain Moussa Dadis Camara took power in a coup d'état. 'Dadis' promised that he'd quickly clean up the Guinean house, organise elections and return to the army barracks. His initial measures, such as cracking down on Guinean drug rings (Guinea is one of West Africa's hubs of the cocaine trade), and announcing anti-corruption measures and new mining deals (the country is hugely rich in natural resources, owning 30% of the world's bauxite resources), gained him many followers.

However, his announcement in 2009 that he would consider standing in the upcoming elections, and increasing violence committed by members of the army, provoked furious reactions. On 28 September 2009, army elements quashed a large demonstration with extreme violence. A UN commission denounced the events as a crime against humanity, and it is thought that over 150 people were killed. Two months later, Dadis was shot (but not killed) following a dispute with his aide-de-camp Toumba Diakite.

After meeting in Ouagadougou in January 2010, Dadis, his vice-president Sekouba Konaté and Blaise Compaoré, president of Burkina Faso, produced a formal statement of twelve principles promising a return of Guinea to civilian rule within six months. A provisional government supervised the transition to civilian rule at the end of 2010.

After half a century in opposition, Alpha Conde, from the Malinke ethnic group, was declared winner in Guinea's first democratic election since independence from France in 1958. However, the vote kindled ethnic tensions. Conde’s defeated rival, Cellou Dalein Diallo, is a member of the Fula ethnic group, to which 40% of Guineans belong. Diallo has consistently accused the president of marginalising his constituents, including many Fula.

Conde’s Conakry residence suffered an armed attack in July 2011. The building was partially destroyed but Conde was unharmed. Elections, scheduled for 2012, were postponed by Conde indefinitely because of the need to ensure they were "transparent and democratic".

By February 2013 the opposition coalition had withdrawn from the drawn out electoral process and within a couple of weeks serious riots and violent demonstrations had broken out which left many dead and injured.Coming under mounting pressure Conde eventually gave in and legislative elections were held in October 2013. These were won by Conde's party, Rally of the Guinean People, by a slim majority. The elections were described by international observers as containing 'breaches and irregularities'.

In October 2015, presidential elections were held and again Conde won, with 58% of the vote. The build up to these elections were marred with sometimes fatal bouts of violence and the EU delegation cited 'massive deficiencies' ahead of the vote. However, in the post-election report the EU and AU concluded that the process overall was valid and Conde was sworn in for another term in December 2015.