Guinea's mineral wealth makes it potentially one of continent's richest countries, but its people are among the poorest in West Africa.
Experiments with socialism and a two-year rule by junta have taken their toll on prospects for development. The 2010 election ushered in a decade of civilian rule, but led to violent ethnic clashes as well.
In addition, hundreds of thousands of refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone have strained Guinea's struggling economy.
The instability has generated suspicion and ethnic tension - as well as accusations between neighbours of attempts at destabilisation and border attacks.
The Republic of Guinea
Population 10.5 million
Area 245,857 sq km (94,926 sq miles)
Languages French, Susu, Fulani, Mandingo
Religions Islam, Christianity, indigenous beliefs
Life expectancy 53 years (men), 56 years (women)
Currency Guinean franc
Military leader: Mamady Doumbouya
Lt Col Mamady Doumbouya, the commander of the country's special forces, overthrew President Alpha Conde in a coup in September 2021.
He accused the president of rampant corruption, human rights abuses, and mismanagement.
Lt Col Doumbouya set up the National Committee of Reconciliation and Development with himself as chairman, ordered the release of political prisoners, and announced an 18-month transition to democracy.
Alpha Conde, a veteran opposition politician, became president in 2010 in Guinea's first democratic election since independence.
He was re-elected in 2015, but faced protests four years later when he changed the constitution to run for a third term.
Some key dates in Guinea's history:
1891 - France declares Guinea to be a colony, separate from Senegal.
1958 - Guinea becomes independent, with Ahmed Sekou Toure as president.
2003 - President Lansana Conte wins a third term in elections boycotted by the opposition.
2008 - Military seizes power after President Conte dies. The coup meets with international condemnation, but many Guineans back the army's move.
2010 - Return to civilian rule. Alpha Conde declared winner of run-off presidential race.
2014 - Outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in southern Guinea. It spreads to Liberia and Sierra Leone, killing 11,300 people in two years.
2021 - President Conde is overthrown in a coup.