Guinea was created as a colony by France in 1890 with Noël Balley as the first governor. The capital Conakry was founded on Tombo Island in the same year. In 1895 the country was incorporated into French West Africa.
On 28 September 1958, under the direction of Charles de Gaulle, Metropolitan France held a referendum on a new constitution and the creation of the Fifth Republic. The colonies, except Algeria, were given the choice between immediate independence and retaining their colonial status. All colonies except Guinea opted for the latter. Thus, Guinea became the first French African colony to gain independence, at the cost of the immediate cessation of all French assistance.
After independence Guinea was governed by the dictator Ahmed Sékou Touré. Touré pursued broadly socialist economic policies, suppressed opposition and free expression with little regard for human rights. Under his leadership, Guinea joined the Non-Aligned Movement and pursued close ties with the Eastern Bloc. After his death in 1984, Lansana Conté assumed power and immediately changed his predecessor's economic policies, but the government remained dictatorial. The first elections since independence were held in 1993, but the results and those of subsequent elections were disputed. Conté faces domestic criticism for the condition of the country's economy and for his heavy-handed approach to political opposition.
While on a visit to France with his family in 2005, Prime Minister François Fall resigned and sought asylum, citing corruption and increasing interference from the President, which he felt limited his effectiveness as the head of the government. Fall's successor, Cellou Dalein Diallo, was removed in April of 2006, and Conté failed to appoint a new one until the end of January 2007 after devastating nationwide strikes and mass demonstrations. During 2006, there were two nationwide strikes by government workers, during which 10 students were shot dead by the military; strikes were suspended when Conté agreed to more favorable wages to civil servants and a reduction of the cost of certain basic amenities (rice and oil).
At the beginning of 2007, citing the government's failure to honour the terms of previous agreements, trade unions called new strikes, protesting of rising costs of living, government corruption, and economic mismanagement. Lasting for more than 2 weeks, these strikes drew some of the largest demonstrations seen during Conté's tenure and resulted in some 60 deaths. Among the unions' demands was that the aging and ailing President name a consensus Prime Minister, to fill the post vacant since Diallo's removal, and relinquish to him certain presidential responsibilities. Conté reluctantly agreed to appoint a new prime minister and lower fuel and rice prices, and the strikes were subsequently suspended.
On 13 February 2007, upon the nomination of Eugene Camara to the post of Prime Minister, viewed as a close ally of Conté, violent demonstrations immediately broke out throughout the country. Strikes resumed, citing the President's failure to nominate a "consensus" prime minister as per the January 27th agreement. A state of martial law was declared after violent clashes with demonstrators, bringing the death toll since January to well over 100, and there were widespread reports of pillaging and rapes committed by men in military uniform. Government buildings and property owned by government officials throughout the country were looted and destroyed by angry mobs. Many feared Guinea to be on the verge of civil war as protesters from all parts of Guinea called for Conté's unequivocal resignation.
After diplomatic intervention from ECOWAS, neighboring heads of state, the EU, the UN, etc., Conté agreed to choose a new Prime Minister from a list of five candidates furnished by the labor unions and civic leaders. On February 26, Lansana Kouyaté, former Guinean ambassador to the UN, was nominated to the post. Strikes were called off, and the nomination was hailed by the strikers.