Guinea: Past and Present

The Republic of Guinea has been the scene over the centuries of several attempts at state-building. Basil Davidson records how the memory of past achievements strongly influences West Africa today.

Has African history a value in shaping the African present? The question may be useful in these years when African peoples begin once more to make a future of their own. But it presumes African history both to be knowable and worth knowing: and this, indeed, is what many have denied.

“In the last sixty years,” remarked the Commissioner for East Africa in London last December, “East Africa has developed from a completely primitive country, in many ways more backward than the Stone Age...” If that were really so, of course, discussion of the value of African history would be purposeless: there would be nothing to discuss.

We know, as it happens, that the Commissioner was misinformed. The East Africa of today has not developed from the Stone Age in the last sixty years: on the contrary, behind it lie some fifteen or twenty centuries of Iron Age development, of change in agriculture and metal-working, of conquest and migration; and much of this, however remote and hard to know, has a valid echo in tradition and an influence on contemporary thought and custom.

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