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Republic of Guinea-Bissau

República da Guiné-Bissau


FLAG: The flag has equal horizontal stripes of yellow over green, with a red vertical stripe at the hoist bearing a black star.

ANTHEM: Esta é a Nossa Pátria Bem Amada (This Is Our Well-Beloved Land).

MONETARY UNIT: The Communauté Financière Africaine franc (CFA Fr) replaced the Guinean peso (pg)as official currency in May 1997. The CFA franc, which was originally pegged to the French franc, has been pegged to the euro since January 1999 with a rate of 655.957 CFA francs to 1 euro. The CFA franc comes in coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 CFA francs, and notes of 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 CFA francs. CFA Fr1 = $0.00189 (or $1 = CFA Fr528.28) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is used.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Death of Amilcar Cabral, 20 January; Labor Day, 1 May; Anniversary of the Killing of Pidjiguiti, 3 August; National Day, 24 September; Anniversary of the Movement of Readjustment, 14 November; Christmas Day, 25 December. Movable religious holidays include Korité (end of Ramadan) and Tabaski (Feast of the Sacrifice).

TIME: 11 am = noon GMT.


Situated on the west coast of Africa, Guinea-Bissau, formerly Portuguese Guinea, has a total area of 36,120 sq km (13,946 sq mi), about 10% of which is periodically submerged by tidal waters. Comparatively, the area occupied by Guinea-Bissau is slightly less than three times the size of the state of Connecticut. Besides its mainland territory, it includes the Bijagós Archipelago and various coastal islandsJeta, Pecixe, Bolama, and Melo, among others. Extending 336 km (209 mi) ns and 203 km (126 mi) ew, Guinea-Bissau is bordered on the n by Senegal, on the e and se by Guinea, and on the sw and w by the Atlantic Ocean, with a total boundary length of 1,074 km (667 mi).

Guinea-Bissau's capital city, Bissau, is located on the country's Atlantic coast.


The country is swampy at the coast and low-lying inland, except in the northeast. At high tide, approximately 10% of the land in the coastal region is submerged. There are no significant mountains but there is a central plateau rising to a couple hundred feet in elevation. Where the plateau stretches to the eastern frontier, it is called the Planalto de Gabú. This region has the nation's highest point, an unnamed point at 300 meters (984 feet). The lowest point is at sea level (Atlantic Ocean). The most important rivers include the Cacheu, Mansoa, Geba, and Corubal.


Guinea-Bissau has a hot, humid, typically tropical climate, with a rainy season that lasts from mid-May to mid-November and a cooler dry season occupying the rest of the year. The average temperature in the rainy season ranges from 2628°c (7982°f). Rainfall generally exceeds 198 cm (78 in), but droughts occurred in 1977, 1979, 1980, and 1983. The rainiest months are July and August. During the dry season, when the harmattan (dust-laden wind) blows from the Sahara, average temperatures do not exceed 24°c (75°f). The coldest months are December and January.


Guinea-Bissau has a variety of vegetation, with thick jungle in the interior plains, rice and mangrove fields along the coastal plains and swamps, and savanna in the north. Parts of Guinea-Bissau are rich in game, big and small. Several species of antelope, buffalo, monkeys, and snakes are found. As of 2002, there were at least 108 species of mammals, 235 species of birds, and over 1,000 species of plants throughout the country.


One of the most significant environmental problems in Guinea-Bissau is fire, which destroys 40,000 ha of land per year and accelerates the loss of the nation's forests at a yearly rate of about 220 sq mi. In addition, Guinea-Bissau had lost over 75% of its original mangrove areas by the mid-1980s, with the remaining swamps covering about 236,000 hectares. Only about 79% of city dwellers and 49% of the people living in rural areas have access to pure drinking water. The nation has 16 cu km of renewable water resources, with 36% used for farming activity. Only 46% of the population have adequate sanitation.

Another environmental issue is soil damage, caused by drought and erosion, as well as acidification and salinization. The Ministry of Natural Resources, created in January 1979, is responsible for making and enforcing environmental policy.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 5 types of mammals, 1 species of birds, 1 type of reptiles, 10 species of fish, 1 species of invertebrates, and 4 species of plants. Threatened species included the Pygmy hippopotamus and the West African manatee.


The population of Guinea-Bissau in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 1,586,000, which placed it at number 145 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 46% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 98 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 20052010 was expected to be 3.0%, a rate the government viewed as too high. Only an estimated 6% of women use contraception and the fertility rate was seven births per woman. The projected population for the year 2025 was 2,875,000. The population density was 44 per sq km (114 per sq mi).

The majority of the population lives in small farming communities or fishing towns. The UN estimated that 32% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 5%. The capital city, Bissau, had a population of 336,000 in that year.


Centuries ago, the largely Muslim pastoral tribesmen to the east tended to migrate toward coastal regions, but this movement was inhibited to some degree by Portuguese colonization. In 1975, after the settlement of the guerrilla war against the Portuguese colonial administration, approximately 100,000 refugees returned from neighboring Senegal and Guinea.

In 1998, a civil war erupted in Guinea-Bissau, prompting tens of thousands to flee the capital for the surrounding countryside and several thousands to cross into neighboring countries. By June, some 300,000 people in the capital had been displaced. In July, several thousand local inhabitants and other nationalities left the country. Most refugees fled to Senegal and Guinea; others went as far as The Gambia and Cape Verde. By the end of 2004, there were 7,536 refugees, almost all of whom were from Senegal, and 141 asylum seekers. Populations of concern to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at the end of 2004 numbered 7,677, mainly in border regions. In that same year 284 Guineans sought asylum in France and Spain.

In 2005, the net migration rate was estimated as -1.54 per 1,000 population. The government views the immigration level as satisfactory, but the emigration level as too high.


About 99% of the population is African; the largest ethnic groups are the Balante (an estimated 30% of the African population), living mainly in the central region; the Fulani (20%), in the north; the Manjaca (14%); the Mandinga (13%); and the Pepel (7%), in the coastal areas. The remaining 1% of the population are primarily European or mulatto.

Of the nonindigenous people, the Cape Verdean mulatto community, which originated in the Cape Verde Islands, is the largest group, accounting for about 2% of the total population of Guinea-Bissau. Resentment over the disproportionate political and commercial influence held by this group played a role in the 1980 coup. There is also a small foreign community, consisting mainly of Portuguese and of Lebanese and Syrian merchants.


Wide differences prevail in languages, since each tribe has its own vernacular, subdivided into numerous dialects. A Guinean "crioulo," or Africanized Portuguese patois, is the lingua franca, while Portuguese is the official language.


About 49% of the population has retained traditional religious beliefs or animism. An estimated 38% of the population adhere to the Islamic faith. The Fulani and Mandinka ethic groups are Muslim for the most part. Between 5% and 13% of the population are Christians with a majority being Roman Catholic. Freedom of religion is provided for in the constitution and this right is generally respected in practice.


Transportation facilities remain undeveloped, a factor that has hampered economic development as a whole, especially the exploitation of mineral deposits in the interior. There is no rail line in Guinea-Bissau. In 2002, the country had an estimated 4,400 km (2,735 mi) of roads, of which 453 km (282 mi) were tarred. These, however, consisted mostly of military penetration roads unfit for regular passenger and commercial traffic.

Bissau is the main port. Expansion and modernization projects costing at least $48 million were undertaken there in the early 1980s. Secondary ports and harbors include Buba, Cacheu, and Farim. As of 2004, the country's four largest rivers are navigable for some distance, with shallow water access possible to much of the interior via creeks and inlets. Bissau is also the site of a modern international airport, while several aerodromes and landing strips serve the interior. In 2004 there were an estimated 28 airports, of which only 3 had paved runways (as of 2005). Linhas Aéreas da Guiné-Bissau (LIA), the national airline, also has service to Dakar, Senegal. Transportes Aéreos Portuguéses (TAP), Air Guinée, Aeroflot, Air Senegal, Cape Verde Airlines, and Air Algérie provide international service. In 1997 (the latest year for which data is available) it carried 21,000 passengers on domestic and international flights.


The earliest inhabitants had been hunters and fishermen who were replaced by the Baga and other peoples who came from the east. The Portuguese explorer Nuno Tristão arrived in the region in June 1446 and established the first trading posts. The slave trade developed during the 17th century; at its center was the port of Bissau, from which thousands of captive Africans were sent across the Atlantic to Latin America. Portugal retained at least nominal control of the area, and British claims to coastal regions were dismissed by arbitration in 1870. Nine years later, the area became a separate Portuguese dependency, administratively subordinate to the Cape Verde Islands. Portuguese Guinea's boundaries with neighboring French possessions were delimited in an 1886 treaty, and formal borders were demarcated by a joint commission in 1905. However, the interior was not effectively occupied until about 1920; nor did the Portuguese settle in the colony in large numbers. In 1951, together with other Portuguese holdings in Africa, Guinea was named a Portuguese overseas province.

In September 1956, a group of dissatisfied Cape Verdeans founded an underground movement to work for independence from Portugal. It was named the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (Partido Africano de Independência da Guiné e Cabo VerdePAIGC), and Amilcar Cabral became its secretary-general. On 19 September 1959, after more than 50 Africans had been killed during a dock strike that turned into a violent clash with police, Cabral called for an all-out struggle "by all possible means, including war." By 1963, large-scale guerrilla warfare had broken out in the territory.

During the ensuing years, PAIGC guerrillas, fighting a Portuguese force of about 30,000, increased their hold on the countryside. When Cabral was assassinated on 20 January 1973, reportedly by a PAIGC naval officer, Aristides Pereira took over the leadership of the movement, which on 24 September 1973 unilaterally proclaimed the independence of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau.

A PAIGC victory became near certain after 25 April 1974, when the Lisbon government was overthrown in a coup. The leader of the new regime, Gen. António de Spínola, was a former governor-general and military commander in Portuguese Guinea, and had become an advocate of peaceful settlement of the war. On 26 August 1974, the Portuguese government and the PAIGC signed an agreement in Algiers under which Guinea-Bissau was to attain independence from 10 September. The same agreement also provided for the removal of all Portuguese troops by 31 October as well as a referendum to determine the future status of the Cape Verde Islands.

The new government, under President Luis de Almeida Cabral, brother to Amilcar Cabral, had to deal with extensive economic dislocations brought about by the war. On 27 September 1974, the government announced its intention to control all foreign trade, and in May 1975, the legislature approved a program to nationalize all land and to confiscate property belonging to persons who had "collaborated with the enemy" during the war.

In the first postindependence elections held in December 1976January 1977, 80% of the population approved the PAIGC list of candidates for Regional Council membership. The 150-member National Assembly, selected by these representatives, convened on 13 March 1977. Luis Cabral was reelected president of Guinea-Bissau and of the 15-member Council of State, and Major João Bernardo Vieira was confirmed as the nation's vice president and as president of the National Assembly.

On 14 November 1980, President Cabral, a mestiço with close ties to Cape Verde, was overthrown by a group of Guinean blacks under Vieira's command. Severe food shortages and tensions in the alliance between Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde had precipitated the bloody military coup, which led to the dissolution of the National Assembly and Executive Council, suspension of the constitution, arrest of the president, and temporary abandonment of the goal of unification with Cape Verde. A Revolutionary Council composed of nine military officers and four civilian advisers was named on 19 November, and a provisional government was appointed the following day. Diplomatic relations with Cape Verde, suspended at the time of the coup, were resumed in June 1982.

The National People's Assembly, reestablished in April 1984, adopted a new constitution in May. It also elected a 15-member Council of State to serve as the nation's executive body. As president of this council, Vieira served as both head of state and head of government. An abortive military coup took place in November 1985; in the aftermath, six persons were executed in July 1986 while another five died in detention. After ruling Guinea-Bissau as a one-party state for ten years, Vieira denounced single-party rule as elitist, inherently undemocratic, and repressive. In April 1991, Guinea-Bissau formally embraced multipartyism and adopted a new constitution. Four major opposition parties formed the Democratic Forum in January 1992 and sought to unseat PAIGC.

Elections scheduled for November 1992 were postponed until March 1993, giving the 11 opposition parties time to campaign and the multiparty electoral commission time to work out electoral procedures. They were again postponed until March 1994. On 17 March 1993, João da Costa, the leader of the Party for Renovation and Development (PRD), was implicated in an attempted coup. On 4 February 1994, the supreme military court acquitted him.

In July 1994, Guinea-Bissau held its first multiparty legislative and presidential elections. João Bernardo Vieira was elected president, narrowly defeating Koumba Yala with 52% to 48% of the vote. The PAIGC led decisively in the Assembly elections with 46% of the vote. In October, Vieira appointed Manuel Saturnino da Costa prime minister. In 1995, a coalition of opposition parties reformed the Democratic Forum, appointing da Costa as its leader.

The PAIGC reelected Vieira as party leader in May 1998, but he was nearly overthrown in June when army mutineers staged an unsuccessful coup. The coup attempt triggered a brief but devastating civil war. Upon Vieira's request, Senegal and Guinea sent 3,000 troops to restore order. Bombardments destroyed the main hospital, damaged schools and markets, and displaced thousands. The World Food Program and the Red Cross provided emergency services to an estimated 130,000 of these victims. Under a peace agreement signed in Abuja in November, presidential and legislative elections were to be held before March 1999.

In May 1999, following the dismissal of General Ansumane Mané, troops loyal to the general stormed the presidential palace. Some 70 people died in the assault. Vieira took refuge at the French Cultural Center, and later sought asylum at the Portuguese Embassy. He was allowed to leave for Lisbon after renouncing the presidency and promising to return for trial. Malam Bacai Sanha presided over the interim government, which ended the 11-month civil war.

In November 1999, National Assembly elections took place, and in January 2000, Sanha lost to Koumba Yala in presidential elections judged free and fair. On 24 January, President Yala appointed his close friend, Caetano N'tchama, prime minister. Despite the elections, the country had a parallel government in the form of the military junta. In November 2000, Mané revoked Yala's military appointments and fighting erupted between forces loyal to the government and supporters of the junta. After regaining control, loyalist forces announced on 30 November that Mané had been killed.

Yet another crisis ensued in January 2001 when the Guinea-Bissau Resistance (or RGB/MB) withdrew from the government, charging that it had not been consulted over a cabinet reshuffle and calling for N'tchama's dismissal. N'tchama was fired in March, leaving a number of issues for his successor including the detention of about 130 members of the military accused of supporting Mané, and the alleged involvement of Guinea-Bissau in the Casamance conflict in neighboring Senegal. Health, education, and other social sectors were seriously underfunded, and underpaid civil servants were demanding higher wages. In addition, thousands of weapons were in private hands, and newly graduated young people had few or no prospects of employment after leaving school. Yala announced in December 2001 that his government had foiled yet another coup attempt.

In November 2002, Yala dissolved the parliament and named Mario Pires prime minister. Yala arrested his defense minister on 30 April 2003 on charges of plotting a coup, and in June he held emergency talks with disgruntled military leaders and key ministers to prevent the collapse of his government. Under pressure from the UN Security Council to hold clean elections, Yala announced in June 2003 that parliamentary elections originally scheduled for 23 February and then pushed back to 20 April and then 6 July would be postponed yet again to August or September pending revision of the electoral roll. By July 2003, Yala's government owed six months in pay arrears to the army and civil service. In lieu of monetary remuneration, government workers were receiving payment in rice. In the words of the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the economy and government of Guinea-Bissau were on a precarious downward course.

Relations with Senegal have been strained over issues stemming from the Casamance conflict in Senegal, and over demarcation of the Bissauan-Senegalese border established by an agreement between Portugal and France in 1960. In 1992 and 1995, Senegalese warplanes bombed suspected rebel bases in Guinea-Bissau alleged to be safe havens for Casamance rebels. In March 1996, the two governments reached an initial accord, and in 1999 through the mediation of President Jammeh of The Gambia, leaders of the two sides concluded an agreement. However, skirmishes continued into 2001 necessitating the intervention of the UN Secretary General.

The dramas of political life in Guinea-Bissau would continue however. In September 2003, agreement was reached among the military and political parties to hold presidential and legislative elections. An interim civilian administration was also established, headed by President Henrique Rosa with Antonio Artur Rosa as prime minister. Elections followed in March 2004, which the PAIGC won. In October, the head of the armed forces was killed over problems that included outstanding wages. April 2005 saw the return from exile in Portugal of ex-president Joao Vieira, who had been toppled one decade earlier. The following month another former president, Koumba Yala deposed in 2003, declared he was still president; he also occupied the presidency building albeit briefly. The run-up to presidential elections in July 2005 was as uncertain as it was tempered by high-stakes intervention by international bodies. In the event, former military ruler Vieira was elected for a five-year term; he won 52% of the vote to defeat Malam Bacai Sanha, who polled 47.6%. The next presidential election was due in 2010.


The 1973 constitution was suspended following the 1980 coup. A constitution was ratified on 16 May 1984 by the reestablished National People's Assembly. In April 1991 a new constitution, providing for a multipary system, was adopted.

The Assembly and the regional councils are the nation's representative bodies. The popularly elected councils elect the 100-member Assembly from their own ranks, and the Assembly in turn elects a 15-member Council of State as the nation's executive body. The president of this council, whom the Assembly also elects, automatically becomes head of state, head of government, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Before multiple parties were authorized in 1991, all Assembly members had to be members of the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).

The president appoints the prime minister, who presides over the Council of Ministers. In March 2000, President Yala decided to assign five cabinet portfolios to the military junta to defuse tensions. He reshuffled and enlarged the cabinet in June 2003 ostensibly to broaden his political support. In September 2003, Yala was ousted in a bloodless coup led by the military chief, who complained about worsening economic and political conditions, including increasing hostility to media houses as well as journalists perceived to be opposed to government. Legislative elections held in March 2004 left PAIGC in control. Shortly after taking power in November 2005, President Vieira sacked the government of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior. Aristides Gomes became prime minister.


Prior to 1991, the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (Partido Africano de Independência da Guiné e Cabo VerdePAIGC) was the sole legal party in the Republic of Guinea-Bissau. During the presidency of Luis Cabral, hundreds of political opponents of the regime were reportedly murdered and buried in mass graves.

The 1980 coup was condemned by Cape Verdean leaders of the PAIGC, and in January 1981 they broke with the Guinea-Bissau branch to form the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde. The following November, Guinean party officials decided to retain the name PAIGC for their branch and to expel Cape Verdean founder-members from the party.

Opposition parties were legalized by a new constitution adopted in April 1991. A dozen parties were recognized. Among them were: the Party for Renewal and Development (PRD), which was composed of educated dissidents who quit the PAIGC because of its authoritarianism; the Social Democratic Front (FDS), led by one of the founders of the PAIGC, Raphael Barbosa; the Front for the Struggle for Guinea-Bissau's National Independence, which predates PAIGC and was led by Mindy Kankoila, an early independence leader who had been in exile for 40 years; the National Convention Party (mainly Muslims and FDS dissidents); and the League for the Protection of the Ecology (LPE). The most important opposition party was Bafata, the Guinea-Bissau Resistance-Bafata Movement. Many parties prior to the general elections of 1994 formed a coalition, including the PRD, the FDS, the LPE, the Movement for Unity and Democracy (MUD), and the Democratic Party for Progress (PDP).

Free and fair legislative elections on 3 July 1994 gave the PAIGC a majority of 62 seats. The Guinea-Bissau Resistance (RGB-MB)was second in balloting with 19 seats, 12 for the Social Renovation Party (PRS), 10 for the Front for the Liberation and Independence of Guinea-Bissau, and 6 for the Union for Change Coalition.

In the November 1999 Assembly elections, the Partido da Renovacao Social (PRS), won 38 seats, the Resistencia da Guine-Bissau-Movimento Ba-Fata (RGB-MB) 28 seats, and the PAIGC 24 seats. Five parties garnered the remaining 12 seats in this election, which were part of the second consecutive set of free and fair competitive elections in Guinea-Bissau. Despite Yala's promises to form a government of national unity, the PRS and its ally, RGB-MB dominated the cabinet.

In the Assembly elections held on 28 March 2004, the PAIGC captured 31.5% of the vote, followed by PRS with 24.8%, and United Social Democratic Party with 16.1%. The Electoral Union won only 4.1% of the vote; APU got 1.3% and 13 other parties shared 22.2% between them. In terms of seats in the Assembly, PAIGC won 45, PRS got 35, and PUSD won 17. In turn, UE got 2 seats while APU won only 1 seat. The next Assembly elections were to be held in 2008.


Guinea-Bissau has 8 regions, not including the capital, and 37 sectors. Each region has a regional council, as does the capital, with membership consisting of elected representatives from the various sectors.


The civilian court system is essentially a continuation of the Portuguese colonial system. Nine Supreme Court judges are appointed by the president and serve at his pleasure. The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over serious crimes and serves as an appeals court for the regional military courts. State security cases are tried by civilian courts. Military courts try only cases involving armed personnel under the code of military justice. In rural areas, persons are often tried outside the formal system by traditional law. Dispute resolution before traditional counselors avoids the costs and congestion of the official courts.

The 1991 constitution guarantees many civil rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but its functioning is hampered by a lack of training, resources and by corruption. The president has authority to grant pardons and reduce sentences.


In 2005, the armed forces had 9,700 active personnel, including a 2,000-man gendarmerie. The Army numbered 6,800 and was equipped with 10 main battle tanks and 15 light tanks. The 350-member Navy operated three patrol/coastal vessels. The 100-member Air Force had three combat capable aircraft that consisted of three fighters. The defense budget in 2005 was $8.6 million.


Guinea-Bissau was admitted to the United Nations on 17 February 1974 and is a member of ECA and all the nonregional specialized agencies except IAEA. The nation is a member of the WTO and participates in the African Development Bank, the ACP Group, the African Union, ECOWAS, G-77, the West African Economic and Monetary Union, the Community of Sahel and Saharan States (CENSAD), the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The nation is part of the franc zone and belongs to the Nonaligned Movement. In environmental cooperation, Guinea-Bissau is part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification. The country is also part of an Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS).


Guinea-Bissau is one of poorest countries in the world with 82% of the population relying on fishing and subsistence agriculture, and 88% of the population below the poverty line in 2002. The industrial sector is small, and mining is undeveloped. Offshore oil reserves that have not been exploited may be a source of income in the long term. Although firmly committed to market-style economic policies after an initial decade of socialist central planning, the government is burdened by a heavy external debt. Under the World Bank/IMF Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, the net present value of Guinea-Bissau's total debt was to be reduced by 80% by 2003. By 2013, the level of debt was to be 43% lower than it would have been without help under the HIPC.

Cashews are the biggest cash crop, bringing in 95% of export revenues. The country is now the world's sixth-largest producer of cashews. Livestock produces adequate supplies of meat, and hides are among Guinea-Bissau's exports. Fishing prospects are excellent, but illegal fishing prevents a fuller realization of potential in this sector. Production and trade in forest products have been halted while implementation of reforestation policies occurs. In 1998, fighting between the government and a military junta brought chaos to the economy and halted most production: that year, GDP fell by 28%. Although the civil war had ended by 1999, in 2001 a fall in cashew prices and a decline in foreign assistance exacerbated the ailing state of the economy.

In 2002, the economy fell by -7.2%, but it bounced back in 2003, and by 2004 the GDP growth rate was 4.3%; in 2005, the economy was expected to expand by 2.3%. The inflation rate remains fairly stable and it does not pose a problem to the economy. The economic growth in recent years is largely due to emergency budgetary support funds, provided by the World Bank, the IMF, and the UNDP. In January 2005, the government announced that the country's vital cashew crop was threatened by a locust swarm.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Guinea-Bissau's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $1.1 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $800. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 2.8%. The average inflation rate in 2002 was 4%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 62% of GDP, industry 12%, and services 26%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $18 million or about $12 per capita and accounted for approximately 7.5% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $145 million or about $98 per capita and accounted for approximately 63.6% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Guinea-Bissau totaled $210 million or about $141 per capita based on a GDP of $239 million, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 2.3%.


Guinea-Bissau's labor force numbered 480,000 in 2002, of which an estimated 82% of workers in 2000 were engaged in agricultural activity. Primarily this consisted of subsistence farming. There was no data available on the country's unemployment rate.

The constitution grants workers the freedom to join and form trade unions, however, this affects a very small percentage of the population. Few workers outside of the public sector are organized. There were 11 registered labor unions in 2002. Workers are allowed to strike provided that they have given notice of their intention to do so. Collective bargaining is permitted but in practice does not occur.

Minimum wages are established but are not regularly enforced. The lowest legal monthly wage in 2002 was $20, and this did not support a family. The minimum age for employment is 14 years but this is not enforced outside of the small formal economy. Many children work as street vendors or on farms in rural communities. Health and safety standards set by the government are not regularly enforced.


The agricultural sector employs 83% of the labor force and contributes 64% of the GDP. Only 12% of the total land area is under permanent or seasonal cultivation. The country is divided into three major regions according to the water requirements of the major crops. On the coast and in river estuaries is the palm-tree (coconut) zone; rice is the predominant crop of the intermediary marshy areas; and peanuts are grown in the sandy areas of the interior. Rice is the major staple crop; corn, millet, and sorghum are also produced and consumed very widely. In the 1950s, Guinea-Bissau exported about 40,000 tons of rice per year; since 1962, rice has been imported, as frequent droughts often cause crop failure. In 2004, Guinea-Bissau produced 127,000 tons of rice, 22,000 tons of millet, 20,000 tons of peanuts, 45,000 tons of coconuts, 81,000 tons of cashew nuts, and 8,000 tons of palm kernels. Palm kernels, cashew nuts, and peanuts are the most important export crops. The war that culminated with independence in 1974 left the economy in shambles, reducing crop output by over one-third. Public investment, financed heavily by external borrowing, neglected agriculture to focus on the manufacturing sector. Agricultural recovery was hampered by inappropriate pricing policies, an overvalued exchange rate, and an inefficient marketing system. This policy has now been changed through price liberalization, so that some important goods like rice are now traded informally with neighboring countries. In 2004, trade in agricultural products consisted of $40.5 million in imports and $62.3 million in exports.


Despite the damage wrought by the tsetse fly, cattle raising occupies many Guineans, especially among the Balante in the interior. In 2005, there were an estimated 530,000 head of cattle and 370,000 hogs, as well as 300,000 sheep and 335,000 goats.


Fishing is slowly growing into a viable industry. Agreements allow the European Union countries to fish in national waters. Guinea-Bissau's own catch was an estimated 5,000 tons in 2003, with mullet accounting for 44%.


Guinean forests and savanna woodland, covering about 60% of the country, primarily supply wood and timber for domestic consumption and fuel and construction material. Roundwood production was about 592,000 cu m (21,000,000 cu ft) in 2004, 71% used as fuel wood. Timber has become a feasible export, accounting for $719,000 in 2004.


Mineral production (excluding natural gas and refined petroleum products) was not significant in 2004, and was limited to small-scale production of basalt, cement, clay, gold, limestone, salt, sand, silica sand, zircon, and laterites. Bauxite, diamonds, gold, and phosphate were economically promising minerals being explored; the Farim deposit had a phosphate resource of 166 million tons. Large deposits of bauxite, amounting to 200 million tons, were discovered in the Boé area in the late 1950s; lack of capital and transportation has hindered exploitation. The bauxite and phosphate resources were of low grade. Election of a new government in 2000 was seen as a step toward ending military conflicts that followed a 1998 military coup. The 1999 Mines and Minerals Act reformed mineral exploration and mine development and production, setting sizes and terms for exploration, mining, and prospecting leases.


Guinea-Bissau has no known proven reserves of oil or natural gas (as of 1 January 2003), coal, or any oil refining capacity. As a result the country must import whatever fossil fuels it consumes. In 2002, refined oil imports and consumption averaged 2,400 barrels per day. There were no imports of natural gas or coal in that year.

Guinea-Bissau's electric power is generated entirely by conventional thermal fuels. Electric generating capacity in 2002 came to 0.021 million kW, with output at 0.056 billion kWh and consumption at 0.052 billion kWh for that same year.


Industry constitutes a small part of Guinea-Bissau's economy, contributing approximately 15% a year to GDP. Industries include a sugar refinery and a rice and groundnut processing plant. Guinea-Bissau ranks sixth in the world in cashew production. Brewing and urban construction are also represented in the industrial sector.

In the late 1980s, Guinea-Bissau attempted to attract foreign interest in several enterprisesa fish-processing plant, a plywood and furniture factory, and a plastics factory. The government moved to raise producer prices and to partially privatize parastatal trading companies during the 1990s, but civil war in 1998 disturbed these plans. In 1999, production resumed with foreign aid.

Oil exploration began in the 1960s, and the oil industry presents hopeful prospects for the country. Guinea-Bissau is in the midst of a border dispute with Senegal over an offshore exploration area, and under a 1995 agreement, the area in dispute is jointly managed by the two countries. Proceeds from the area are divided between Senegal and Guinea-Bissau on an 85:15 ratio, and in the early 2000s, Guinea-Bissau was negotiating for better terms to the agreement.

In 2003, the industrial production growth rate was 4.7%, with industry contributing 12.1% to the overall GDP. Agriculture represents the largest sector in the country, with a 63.6% share in the GDP, and with an 83% share in the labor force; services come in second, with a 24.3% in the economy.


No information is available.


Under Portuguese rule, commercial activities were significant only in the cities. The PAIGC introduced chains of all-purpose "people's stores," communally owned and managed; some of these were handed over to private traders beginning in 1985. Product distribution to inland areas is conducted by private carriers and by barge via the Geba River.

The military conflict of 19981999 caused a great deal of damage to the nation's land and infrastructure, which in turn had a severe effect on the agriculturally based economy. Normal business hours in the capital are 8 am to 12 noon and 3 to 6 pm, MondayFriday.


Cashew nuts account for 70% of exports in terms of revenue, followed by fish, peanuts, palm kernels, and sawed lumber. The lumber trade shrunk in the late 1990s due to deforestation, but the fish sector was expected to grow. Imports include industrial and commercial supplies, fuels and lubricants, and transport equipment. Imported foods, beverages, and tobacco often surpass in value that of all of Guinea-Bissau's exports.

In 2004, exports reached $116 million (FOBfree on board), while imports grew to $176 million (FOB). The bulk of exports went to India (52.2%), the United States (22.2%), and Nigeria (13.2%). Imports included food products, capital equipment, and petroleum products, and mainly came from Senegal (44.6%), Portugal (13.8%), and China (4.2%).


Like Portuguese Guinea, Guinea-Bissau has had chronic balanceof-payments problems because of its huge annual trade deficit, which has persisted despite efforts to restructure trade by diversifying the range of commodities available for export and by establishing new trading partners and more favorable trade agreements. Foreign assistance is an essential element in meeting payments needs.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2000 the purchasing power parity of Guinea-Bissau's exports was $80 million while imports totaled $55.2 million resulting in a trade surplus of $24.8 million.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 1997 Guinea-Bissau had exports of goods totaling $49 million and imports totaling $62 million. The services credit totaled $8 million and debit $26 million.

Exports of goods and services reached $98 million in 2004, up from $77 million in 2003. Imports grew from $104 million in 2003 to $138 million in 2004. The resource balance was consequently negative in both years, worsening from -$10 million in 2003, to -$11 million in 2004. The current account balance was also negative, slightly improving from -$18 million in 2003 to -$9 million in 2004. Foreign exchange reserves (including gold) grew to $204 million, covering almost a year and a half of imports.


A savings and loan bank and a postal savings bank, both domestically owned, operate in Bissau. There are no securities exchanges in Guinea-Bissau. On 2 May 1997, the Guinea-Bissau escudo was replaced by the CFA franc. A team of technical experts from the Banque central des états de l'Afrique de l'ouest (BCEAO, the regional central bank) trained senior officials from the Banco Central de Guiné-Bissau (BCGB) in the management and accounting methods required by UEMOA (the monetary union of the West African subregion of the franc zone).

The first investment bank in Guinea-Bissau, Banco Africano Ocidentale (BAO), was established in the first quarter of 1997 with joint Portuguese and Guinea-Bissau capital, and became the countries first commercial bank in 2001. In 1999, three executives at the BCGB were accused of embezzling $4.3 million since Guinea-Bissau joined the Franc Zone.

The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $81.2 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $82.3 million. The money market rate, the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 4.95%. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 6.5%.


No recent information is available.


The IMF-sponsored structural adjustment program in Bissau began in 1987 and projected the achievements of a 3.5% growth rate, reforms to the economy, and public administration. Petroleum subsidies were reduced in 1988. In January 1989, customs duties and taxes on imports were lowered to reduce inflation. At the end of that year, the debt-service ratio stood at 43% of exports. The foreign debt was rescheduled by all major donors that fall. Early in the 1990s, failure to meet adjustment goals stopped payments, and progress in the mid-1990s brought the resumption of aid. Foreign aid literally supported the incumbent government of 1999. At the end of 2000, the country qualified for almost $800 million in debt relief. It will continue to receive assistance under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. The currency was devalued in May 1987. In January 1990, Guinea-Bissau agreed with Portugal to adopt the escudo. Reform of the national banking system was underway after 1989. In 1997, the escudo was replaced by the CFA franc. Bank officials siphoned off millions of dollars from reserves. External debt totaled $931 million.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that Guinea-Bissau's total external debt was $941.5 million.

Current Account -8.7
     Balance on goods -4.1
         Imports -58.5
         Exports 54.4
     Balance on services -21.0
     Balance on income -8.8
     Current transfers 25.2
Capital Account 38.9
Financial Account -21.4
     Direct investment abroad -1.0
     Direct investment in Guinea-Bissau 3.6
     Portfolio investment assets 1.2
     Portfolio investment liabilities 0.7
     Financial derivatives
     Other investment assets -6.9
     Other investment liabilities -18.9
Net Errors and Omissions -2.9
Reserves and Related Items -5.9
() data not available or not significant.


Current information is unavailable.


Import licenses are freely issued for most goods. Most imports are taxed, but luxury goods are more heavily taxed, while capital goods enjoy special treatment. Duties are applied ad valorem; some common ones are rice (10%), gasoline (55%), diesel (15%), automobiles (4095%), auto parts (36%), furniture (30%), and household appliances (25%). A 1520% value-added tax (VAT) is also applied, as well as a 1% statistical tax and a 1% community solidarity tax.


As of June 1990, the government of Guinea-Bissau took new steps to encourage additional domestic and foreign investment. While key telecommunications, electricity, and infrastructure sectors remained under state control, others were to be privatized, including the brewery, the fishing industry, and the "people's shops" for retail trade. Bilateral and multilateral investment programs continue in each of the key productive sectors.

Guinea-Bissau's already low level of foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows ($11 million in 1997) fell further with outbreak of civil war in 1998. FDI inflows were $4.4 million in 1998 and $8.6 million in 1999. With the return of an elected government in 2000, FDI inflows improved to $23 million in 2000 and $30 million in 2001.


A main objective of the Guinea-Bissau government is the development of agriculture and infrastructure. Foreign aid averaged $64.3 million per year from 198285. Multilateral aid accounted for almost half this sum, chiefly from the IDA. The first development plan (198388) called for self-sufficiency in food supplies, with 25% of a $403.3 million investment going for construction and public works, 18% for rural development, and 14% for transport.

The second development plan (198891) was to be totally financed by foreign aid. Numerous countries and intergovernmental organizations have provided food aid, technical assistance, and balance-of-payments support.

In 1999, the prime minister toured Europe in search of aid. Portugal contributed $4 million, Sweden $2.3 million, and the total of the donor community's commitments reached over $200 million. Rebuilding of the capital city, replacement of one-quarter of a million refugees, investment in infrastructure, and financing of the external debt, were among the goals of foreign aid slated for economic development.

In 2000, Guinea-Bissau qualified for almost $800 million in debt service relief under the International Monetary Fund (IMF)/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, geared toward reducing poverty and stimulating economic growth. That year, it negotiated a three-year $18 million Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) Arrangement with the IMF to support the government's 200003 economic reform program. Following approval of the assistance, the IMF stated the country had lost budgetary control, with large unauthorized expenditures, particularly on defense. A drop in world cashew prices and a loss of foreign program financing in 2001 resulted in a decrease in economic activity. The country in 2003 had yet to fully recover from the 199899 civil war.

Economic growth prospects for 20062007 are relatively modest, and are to a large extent dependent on the availability of international donor assistance, and on good weather for the cashew crop. Food prices, the largest component of the consumer price index, will have to be kept in check or they will negatively affect the inflation rate.


Provision of health services, including maternal and child care, nutrition programs, environmental sanitation, safe water distribution, and basic education, is a social goal of the Guinea-Bissau government. There is no formal social welfare system in place.

Although officially prohibited by law, discrimination against women persists, especially in areas where Islamic law is dominant. Women have little access to education, and are responsible for most of the work on subsistence farms. The illiteracy rate for women is 82%. Domestic abuse against women is not only widespread, but also socially acceptable as a means of settling domestic disputes. As of 2004, female genital mutilation was an increasingly common practice.

Some cases of arbitrary detention and the use of excessive force were reported, and members of the security forces were not held accountable for abuses of detainees' rights.


The health care system is inadequate. Aid from UNICEF and the World Health Organization has enabled Guinea-Bissau, one of the poorest countries in the world, to strengthen its health management and decentralize the health system in the country. The emphasis is on preventive medicine, with small mobile units serving the rural areas. Children were vaccinated against tuberculosis, 95%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 74%; polio, 68%; and measles, 65%. Approximately 53% of the population had access to safe water and only 21% had adequate sanitation. As of 2004, there were an estimated 17 physicians, 109 nurses, 1 dentist, and 1 pharmacist per 100,000 people. The birthrate was an estimated 38.9 per 1,000 people as of 2002 and the general mortality rate was 15.1 per 1,000 people. Infant mortality was estimated at 107.15 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2005. Life expectancy was 46.61 years in that year. An estimated 20% of all births are low birth weight. The fertility rate was 5.8 children for each woman during her childbearing years.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 10.00 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 17,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 1,200 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


Most traditional housing units are made of adobe, mud, and/or quirinton, a combination of woven branches and straw. Most of these units use petrol lamps for lighting; they do not have a sewage system or septic tank and water is usually available from wells or springs. Though most of the population lives in rural areas, recent migration to urban areas has accounted for urban housing shortages. In 1998, civil unrest in the capital forced about 300,000 residents out of their homes and about 5,000 homes were destroyed. As of the end of 1999, 50,000 of these people were still displaced. In 2001, there were about 7,000 refugees in the country as well, mostly from Senegal. Many of these have been placed in temporary camp shelters.


The 199899 civil war severely disrupted education, closing schools and keeping most of the country's children out of school for at least half a year. In 2000, UNICEF requested $5.22 million to rebuild and refurbish damaged primary schools, buy teaching materials and school supplies, train teachers, and provide other types of aid. Education is compulsory between the ages of 7 and 13. Primary school studies cover six years, followed by five years of secondary school.

In 2001, about 3.2% of children between the ages of four and six were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2001 was estimated at about 45% of age-eligible students, 53% for boys and 37% for girls. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 9% of age-eligible students, 11% for boys and 6% for girls. It is estimated that about 27.7% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 44:1 in 2000; the ratio for secondary school was about 14:1. In 2000, private schools accounted for about 19% of primary school enrollment and 12.8% of secondary enrollment.

Amilcar Cabral University, the first public university in the nation, was established in 2003. The University of Colinas de Boe. a private university, also opened in 2003. The adult literacy rate for 2003 was estimated at about 42.4%, with 58.1% for men and 27.4% for women.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 2.1% of GDP, or 4.8% of total government expenditures.


The National Institute of Studies and Research (Instituto Nacional de Estudos e PesquisaINEP) in Bissau maintains a collection of 40,000 volumes and includes national archives and a museum. The Museum of Guinea-Bissau, also in Bissau, has a library of 14,000 volumes and maintains collections of interest in the fields of ethnography, history, natural science, and economics. There are municipal libraries in major cities. There are two museums in Bissau, the Museum of Portuguese Guinea and the National Ethnographic Museum.


In 2003, there were an estimated 8 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there was 1 mobile phone in use for every 1,000 people.

The main radio network is the government's Radiodifusäo Nacional de Guiné-Bissau. There are however, several independent radio stations. One national television station broadcasts from 7 pm to midnight on weekdays and 5 pm to midnight on weekends. In 2000, there were 44 radios for every 1,000 people. In 2003, there were an estimated 178 radios and 36 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, about 15 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet.

The government-owned daily, Voz da Guine, in Portuguese, had an estimated circulation of 6,000 in 2002. Privately owned newspapers (published once or a few times a week) include Diario de Bissau, Banobero, Gazeta de Noticias, Fraskera, and No Pintcha. These newspapers often delay publications due to financial constraints and dependence on the state-owned printing house, which often lacks supplies.

The constitution provides for free speech and free press, though journalists are said to practice self-censorship to avoid government pressures.


The constitution of 1991 made freedom of association for nongovernment organizations legal for the first time. Since that time, several human rights organizations have formed, including the Center for Judicial Information and Orientation, the Guinean Association for Studies and Alternatives, and the Guinean League for Human Rights, which emphasizes women's rights. Youth organizations are coordinated by the umbrella organization of the National Network of Youth Organizations of Guinea Bissau. Sports associations are also active. There are national chapters of the Red Cross Society and Caritas.


Game shooting, a major attraction for many travelers in Africa, is popular in Guinea-Bissau. Game is abundant in the open country, as well as in the more hazardous forest and jungle areas. The traditional practices of various ethnic groups also interest and attract tourists. The island of Bubaque and the town of Bolama are cited for their charm and beauty. All visitors need a valid passport and a visa secured in advance to enter Guinea-Bissau, as well as an onward/return ticket. Travelers from an infected area and most of Africa and South America are required to have evidence of a yellow fever vaccination.


The best-known Guinean of recent years was Amilcar Cabral (192173), a founder of PAIGC, its first secretary-general, and a key figure in the war for independence until he was assassinated. Luis de Almeida Cabral (b.1931), a cofounder of the liberation movement in September 1956 and the younger brother of Amilcar Cabral, subsequently became the first president of Guinea-Bissau; after release from detention by the Revolutionary Council in December 1981, he left the country. João Bernardo Vieira (b.1939), leader of the Revolutionary Council, came to power in the 1980 coup. Vieira was deposed by rebels in 1999, but made a political comeback in 2005, winning election as president.


Guinea-Bissau has no territories or colonies.


Adebajo, Adekeye. Building Peace in West Africa: Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea-Bissau. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2002.

Bowman, Joye. Ominous Transition: Commerce and Colonial Expansion in the Senegambia and Guinea, 18571919. Aldershot, England: Avebury, 1997.

D and B's Export Guide to Guinea-Bissau. Parsippany, N.J.: Dun and Bradstreet, 1999.

Dhada, Mustafah. Warriors at Work: How Guinea Was Really Set Free. Niwot, Colo.: University Press of Colorado, 1993.

Lobban, Richard, and Peter Karibe Mendy. Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau : 3rd ed. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1997.

. Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau.[computer file] Boulder, Colo.: netLibrary, Inc., 2000.

Zeilig, Leo and David Seddon. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Africa. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2005.

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Republic of Guinea-Bissau
República da Guiné-Bissau



Guinea-Bissau lies on the west coast of Africa, with Senegal to the north and Guinea to the east and south. With a total area of 36,120 square kilometers (13,946 square miles), the country is a bit less than 3 times the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut. It has about 300 kilometers (186 miles) of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. Guinea-Bissau also controls a set of islands, named Bolama, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) off the coast. The capital and largest city, Bissau, is located on the coast and has the only international airport in the country.


The United Nations estimated that in 1997 the population stood at 1.1 million. As of July 2001, the World Factbook estimated the population to be 1,315,822. United Nations estimates put population growth at 2.7 percent in the years 1975 to 1997. By 2001, the World Factbook had estimated population growth to have dropped to 2.23 percent. The average woman in Guinea-Bissau has more than 5 children.

The population is composed of many ethnic groups, with the largest being the Balanta (30 percent), followed by the Fula (20 percent), Manjaca (14 percent), and Mandinga (13 percent). Other groups include Cape Verdean expatriates, Syrian Lebanese, and some Portuguese. Nearly half (45 percent) of the population is Muslim, and the Muslim community dominates the commercial sector and, increasingly, the government.

About 20 percent of the population was estimated to live in or near Bissau. The rest of the population lives as agriculturists in 8 mainly rural regions.


Guinea-Bissau has one of the least developed economies in the world. The economy relies mostly on agriculture. Nearly 80 percent of the workforce is engaged in agriculture; most work on small family farms and some work as laborers on cotton or cashew nut plantations. The production of cashew nuts is vital to the economy, making up 70 percent of the country's total exports. The gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 4.7 percent per year in between 1995 and 1997, compared to 2.6 percent between 1993 and 1994. However, the civil war caused output to fall by 28 percent in 1998, with the industry and services GDP output falling by 40 percent. This decline was a serious setback, as Guinea-Bissau was already one of the 15 poorest countries in the world.

The economy of Guinea-Bissau has not performed well in recent years. Output has increased less rapidly than population, and average living standards have fallen. But development in its widest sense involves more than just income, and in that sense Guinea-Bissau also suffers. The United Nations (UN) includes education and health as well as income in its Human Development Index, for which Guinea-Bissau was ranked 169 out of the 174 countries listed in 1998. The gross national product (GNP) per capita (converted using the exchange rate method) was low at US$160 per year. The purchasing power parity conversion (which makes allowance for the low prices of many basic commodities in Guinea-Bissau) puts GNP per capita at US$616. The World Factbook estimated the GDP per capita (based on purchasing power parity) to be US$850 per capita in 2000. These measures place Guinea-Bissau near the bottom of the low human development and low income categories.

The reasons for such poor economic performance stem from the country's tumultuous political situation. At the end of the 1990s, Guinea-Bissau weathered corruption, a devastating civil war, a coup d'etat, near destruction of Bissau, and displacement of more than 250,000 people. The problems in the country can be traced back to the end of the colonial period in 1974. Since independence, the economy and infrastructure has been poorly managed, leading to a reliance on international aid and imports. Weak infrastructure, the lack of equipment, and unskilled labor are the major obstacles to increasing output in the country's main economic sector: agriculture. Without these resources, Guinea-Bissau is also unable to exploit its abundant fish reserves, due to its lack of a modern fleet and port facilities. Hence, fishing is contracted out to foreign fleets. Manufacturing is also small, and mining is undeveloped.

After the decline caused by the centrally planned economy that was introduced after independence in 1974, the government began liberalizing the economy in the late 1980s. Since 1987, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have had almost complete control of Guinea-Bissau's economic policy, and structural adjustment programs (SAPs) have aimed at removing price controls , increasing private enterprise, and reforming the public sector . However, the programs have been suspended periodically due to the government's inability to meet fiscal targets, and only after 1994 did the situation start to improve, mainly due to a $15 million 3-year IMF loan. The GDP growth was restored, inflation fell, and the trade deficit was reduced. The civil war also disrupted the plans, but by 2000 the programs were getting started again, and Guinea-Bissau was aided by the receipt of US$790 million in debt relief .

Guinea-Bissau's 1997 entry into the Franc Zone meant that the country adopted the CFA franc as its official currency and required the membership of the regional central bank, the Union Economique et Monetaire Ouest-Africaine (West African Economic and Monetary Union, UEMOA). UEMOA demanded expenditure cuts and higher tax collection. A comprehensive tax reform in 1997 involved the introduction of a generalized sales tax, streamlined custom tariffs , and reformed excise tax . The government also began eliminating 4,000 civil service posts. However, government expenditure rose due to reform costs and the re-capitalization of Banco Central de Guinea-Bissau. In addition, the rise in prices following Guinea-Bissau's entry into the Franc Zone led to a 50 percent pay raise for civil servants in late 1997. Inflation, which ran at 107 percent per year (1992-96), was chronically high before Guinea-Bissau entered the Franc Zone due to a rise in credit to the economy and the depreciation of the peso (the country's old currency). With the adoption of the CFA franc the government was able to reduce inflation to 17 percent at the end of the year, and, despite the civil war, it fell to 8 percent in 1998 and is estimated to have been 6 percent in 1999 and 3 percent in 2000.

The outbreak of civil war in June 1998 created turmoil in the reform program and put an end to US$10 million of the IMF loan. During the civil war, most economic activities were disrupted, especially in urban areas where most of the fighting took place. The government requested US$138 million in post-war assistance in May 1999. However, only in September 1999 did the IMF give US$3 million, which was designed to help prepare Guinea-Bissau for another 3-year loan program to support economic reforms. At the same time, the IMF urged Guinea-Bissau to increase tax revenue, control expenditure, restructure public enterprise, and re-capitalize the financial sector. This action led to a US$25 million Economic Rehabilitation and Recovery Credit (ERRC) loan in November, and in conjunction with other loans, this should help with the rebuilding of Guinea-Bissau.


Guinea-Bissau was first colonized by Portugal in the 15th century, but later incursions met with resistance which culminated in a series of wars (1878-1936). However, during the colonial period Guinea-Bissau remained undeveloped. After a 10-year guerrilla war, Guinea-Bissau unilaterally declared independence in 1973, and Guinea-Bissau's independence was recognized by Portugal in 1974, following a military coup. A new government was formed by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), which wished to unite Guinea-Bissau with Cape Verde. In 1980, Commander Joao Vieira overthrew the government and severed Guinea-Bissau's link with Cape Verde. The political situation remained unstable in the 1980s, with many attempted coups and much civil unrest.

Since 1991, the country has been a multi-party republic. The president is elected to a 5-year term by popular vote and appoints a prime minister after consultation with the leaders of the unicameral National Assembly, the country's legislature. Legislators are elected to 4-year terms. The court system ranges from a Supreme Court, whose members serve at the pleasure of the president to 9 regional and 24 sectoral courts.

Although Vieira forcibly took control of the government in 1980, he had agreed in principle to the implementation of a multi-party democracy in the early 1990s. Predominantly due to a fragmented opposition, PAIGC won the first election, but Vieira won a disputed presidential election in the second round in 1994. The change in government did not erase its economic ineptitude, however. The bad handling of the country's entry into UEMOA in 1997 led to strikes, and although a change of prime minister restored some confidence, corruption scandals soon struck the government. In June 1998, Vieira dismissed the army chief Brigadier Ansumane Mane, for alleged involvement in supplying arms to separatists from the Senegalese region of Casamance, which sparked a civil war. Despite a peace accord, tensions continued until Vieira was ousted in May 1999.

In November 1999, in a multi-party election, PAIGC was defeated, and Kumba Iala (also spelled Yala), the head of the Social Renovation Party (PRS), was elected president in January 2000.

The country implemented a constitution in 1984, which has been amended 5 times, the latest change approved in 1996. The original constitution of 1984 allowed a 1-party state and reforms, instituted by Vieira. The document put all power in presidential hands. In 1990, reforms led to a multi-party state. A crisis was narrowly averted in 1997, when the president unconstitutionally dismissed the prime minister without consulting the Assembly, which was later revoked after referral to the Supreme Court, with Prime Minister Correira reappointed in October with the full support of the main opposition parties. Later electoral organizational problems culminated in civil war and unrest that ended with the dismissal of Vieira.

After the problems of 1997, a committee was set up to revise the constitution and reinforce the judiciary's independence. In 1999, the Assembly passed the new constitution with a two-thirds majority. The constitutional amendments specified that any president could only be elected twice, with each term lasting 5 years, it abolished the death penalty, and it specified that only nationals born in Guinea-Bissau of parents born in Guinea-Bissau may hold high offices of state. The constitution still requires President Iala's approval, but this point is problematic because several incumbents (including Fadul and Brigadier Mane) are not of local descent. Also, the military junta's future plans are uncertain, as it has announced that it would rule alongside the new government for the next 10 years.

Since 1999, 2 parties have dominated the National Assemblythe PRS and the Resistance Ba-Fata Movement (RGB-MB)and these 2 parties are likely to form a coalition. PAIGC's representation in the Assembly has dropped, despite its change from socialist ideals to those of democracy and market economics. The infighting between the new and old guard in Guinea-Bissau was responsible for the expulsion of Vieira and others and has continued. Since the civil war, for example, there has been a rift in the army between the old guard and the new professional soldiers. Because the military is underpaid and promotion is an arbitrary process, the rift could cause military problems in the long term. Some think the political situation in Guinea-Bissau remains very unstable.

Since the civil war, Guinea-Bissau has had intermittent security concerns along its border with Guinea and Senegal. Vieira had requested the assistance of Senegalese and Guinea troops to protect his administration during the civil war, which turned the coup into a regional conflict. In addition, Guinea-Bissau had also been a haven for Senegalese rebels. However, since the end of the war, the new government has sought to mend relations with Guinea and Senegal, and relations with Gambia are good.


Guinea-Bissau does not have a very developed or well-maintained infrastructure. Since the early 1980s, one of the country's main goals has been to develop its infrastructure. The 4,400 kilometers (2,734 miles) of roads in Guinea-Bissau, of which about 10 percent (453 kilometers, 281 miles) are paved, has attracted foreign aid in the form of sealing the main road to the northern border and constructing a major bridge at Joao Landin. About 85 percent of the population lives within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of a navigable waterway. Guinea-Bissau has many rivers that could be accessible to coastal shipping, but water transport needs vast improvement. Bissau is the main port, and there are plans for a European Union-sponsored deep-water port that will specialize in minerals and will be linked to Guinea by rail. (As of 2000, the country had no railways.)

Since the liquidation of the privatized national airline, Guinea-Bissau has had to rely on foreign-owned carriers. The civil war severely disrupted flights and the main airport only reopened in July 1999. In 2000, the country had about 29 airports, but only 3 had paved runways.

The government has announced its intention to liberalize the telecom industry, which is at present dominated by Portugal Telecom, which has a 51 percent stake in Guinea-Telecom. The government has also announced the extension of telecommunications to the whole country and the introduction of a cellular network, while USAID will provide Internet access. In 1997, there were 8,000 telephones in the country. By 2000, there was 1 Internet service provider and about 1,500 Internet users.

An experimental television service was started in 1989; by 1997 there were 2 television stations. The country's 3 private radio stations broadcast to nearly 49,000 radios in the country in 1997. Since 1991, a number of private newspapers and magazines have been launched, though all depend on the state printing house for publication. In 1998, there were several newspapers: 1 government biweekly, 1 private daily newspaper, and 3 private weeklies. The national printing press had difficulty maintaining enough raw material to print all the newspapers during the civil war, and publication was sporadic. By the end of the war, more regular publication had returned.

Guinea-Bissau has one of the lowest electrification rates in Africa, mostly because of corruption and inefficiency. The country is completely dependent on petroleum products, despite its own high energy potential, especially in hydroelectric power. Construction of a dam at Saltinho could eventually supply the whole country and provide excess electricity for export. After the development of an offshore upstream oil industry had been delayed by border disputes with Senegal, the United Kingdom's Monument Oil and Gas company and the Chilean company, Sipetrol, agreed to acquire the 3,500 square kilometer block with Guinea-Bissau receiving 22.5 percent of the output. In 1998, the state-owned electricity company was put up for a long-term lease to a private company, but little progress has been made.


Although all economic sectors in Guinea-Bissau were damaged by the civil war, agriculture remained the most dominant economic sector. Agriculture (including forestry and fishing) contributed 62 percent of the GDP in 1998 and 83 percent of the labor force were employed in the sector in 1994. The World Factbook reported that agriculture contributed 54 percent of the GDP and employed 78 percent of the workforce in 1997. Industry (including mining, manufacturing, construction and power) employed an estimated 4 percent of the economically active population in 1994 and provided around 13 percent of the GDP in 1998, down from the

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Guinea-Bissau 5 44 N/A N/A 0 0.4 N/A 0.13 2
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Nigeria 24 223 66 N/A 0 N/A 5.7 0.00 100
Guinea N/A 47 41 0.0 3 0.4 2.6 0.00 5
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

15 percent reported by the World Factbook for 1997. According to World Bank figures, the industrial GDP contribution increased in real terms by an average of 2.7 percent per year from 1990 to 1997, although it rapidly decreased by 12.7 percent in 1998 during the civil war. Services employed an estimated 19 percent of the economically active population in 1994 and provided an estimated 25 percent of the GDP in 1998, down from the 31 percent reported by the World Factbook for 1997. Despite the disruptions caused by the civil war, the economic sectors were not and still are not able to sustain the country. The economy of Guinea-Bissau is truly reliant on international aid.


Agriculture is the most important sector in the economy, providing well over half of the GDP. Food self-sufficiency has been the target of several governments, with the main products being rice, cassava, beans, potatoes, yams, sugar-cane, and tropical fruits. Rice production covers 30 percent of the arable land. The livestock population has recovered after the war, with the number of cattle reaching 550,000 in 2001, which is high in relation to a population of just over 1 million people. The changes in the agriculture sector have sparked much debate about land tenure issues as a result of the conflict between traditional village-based farms ( Tabancas ) and the encroaching large-scale commercial sector ( Pontas ). Even though the first development plan calling for self-sufficiency in food supplies was created in 1983, by the late 1990s foodstuffs remained the largest portion of imports.

The legacy of the Portuguese colonial period lives on in Guinea-Bissau because cash crops grown on vast plantations remain the largest export products for the country. Cashew nuts are the most important cash crop (cashew nut output has quadrupled since 1988). Despite suffering setbacks during the civil war, cashew nut production is expected to reach 60,000 metric tons in 2001 from 38,000 metric tons in 1997.

Forestry resources are abundant but under-used. The 2.35 million hectares of forest could produce 100,000 metric tons per year without disturbing the ecology. Under privatization the former parastatal , Socotram, has become 4 separate private companies, with a view to increasing competition and raising timber production.

The coastline is rich in fish and shellfish, and joint fishing ventures have been set up with Russian, Algerian, and Portuguese companies (with licensing for this fishing accounting for 40 percent of government revenue [1992-96]). However, over-fishing and lax controls have led to a drop in fishing potential and the introduction of a European Union-backed modernization program, with a quota system and more maritime patrols. In 1996, Guinea-Bissau also signed agreements to cross-monitor fishing zones with 6 other West African nations. Estimated catches of 0.25 to 0.3 million metric tons are possible if illegal fishing can be eliminated.


Industry is very small, providing only 13 percent of the GDP in 1998 and 4 percent of employment in 1994. Apart from construction, output consists largely of consumer goods for the domestic market. A brewery opened in 1997 and was the only large venture with international investment. Mostly there is little investment due to the poor power supply situation, the unskilled labor force, and the small market size. What little industry existed was heavily affected by the war. The mining sector is completely undeveloped, though prospecting is under way for bauxite, petroleum, and phosphate.


The banking system was radically reformed in 1989 to reflect economic liberalization and again in 1997 with Guinea-Bissau's entry into UEMOA. There are 2 private commercial banks in Guinea-Bissau, and an investment bank was launched with Portuguese capital. All banks were closed during the civil war and only re-opened in July 1999. Loan repayments are difficult due to the effects of the war, and credit availability is also set to contract due to reduced savings. The central bank was replaced by the Banque Centrale des États de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (Central Bank for West African States, BCEAO) when Guinea-Bissau joined UEMOA, and BCEAO has taken over part of the former central bank's assets and liabilities.


Since independence Guinea-Bissau has been internationally non-aligned, in order to solicit aid from all available quarters. While trading mostly with Western countries, it has also courted the other countries (including China and Brazil). In March 1997, Guinea-Bissau joined UEMOA as a full member and also became a full member of ECOWAS.

Since independence, trade has experienced many years of deficit. In 1999, imports were US$101 million. The World Factbook estimated that by 2000 imports had dropped to $55.2 million. Government efforts to diversify exports and to reduce export taxes have improved exports from US$27 million in 1998 to US$48 million in 1999, but this growth still left a trade deficit of US$53 million. Port closures during the war hindered exports, but the IMF expects exports to reach previous levels of

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Guinea-Bissau
Exports Imports
1975 .007 .038
1980 .011 .055
1985 .012 N/A
1990 .019 .068
1995 .044 .133
1998 N/A N/A
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.
Exchange rates: Guinea-Bissau
Communaute Financiere Africaine francs per US$1
Jan 2001 699.21
2000 711.98
1999 615.70
1998 589.95
1997 583.67
1996 26,373
Note: Rate for 1996 is in Guinea-Bissauan pesos per US dollar. As of May 1, 1997, Guinea-Bissau adopted the CFA franc as the national currency; since January 1, 1999, the CFA franc is pegged to the euro at a rate of 655.957 CFA francs per euro.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

60,000 metric tons per year from 1999 onwards. By 2000, exports had risen to US$80 million, according to the World Factbook, giving the country a small surplus. Exports go mainly to India, Singapore, Italy, and Portugal, with imports mostly coming from Portugal, France, Senegal, and the Netherlands.


Guinea-Bissau since 1997 has been a member of the 8-member UEMOA, and the currency is the CFA franc. The BCEAO issues currency notes and regulates credit expansion throughout the region. Since 1999, the CFA franc has been tied to the euro at 655.959:1 given that France has joined the European Monetary Union.


Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in the world, and its population suffers. According to 1991 estimates, 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. The GDP per capita was estimated to be US$850 at purchasing power parity in 2000. Although the World Factbook estimated in 1991 that the poorest 10 percent of the population controlled 0.5 percent of the GDP and the richest 10 percent controlled 42.4 percent

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Guinea-Bissau 226 168 206 223 173
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Nigeria 301 314 230 258 256
Guinea N/A N/A N/A 532 594
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Guinea-Bissau
Lowest 10% 0.5
Lowest 20% 2.1
Second 20% 6.5
Third 20% 12.0
Fourth 20% 20.6
Highest 20% 58.9
Highest 10% 42.4
Survey year: 1991
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

of the wealth, there are few reliable figures for the distribution of wealth.

Economic development has been hampered by both low quality and poor coverage of education. Although education is compulsory between the ages of 7 and 13, barely half of the children in that age group attend school regularly. Primary enrollment stood at 60 percent, and secondary enrollments stood at 6 percent in 1997. Most students also supplement family income and frequently miss school. Education has also been hit by strikes over reforms and was badly disrupted by the war. According to 1997 estimates, male literacy was estimated to be 67 percent and female literacy 41 percent.

Health in Guinea-Bissau is in a state of crisis. About 90 percent of the needed funding comes from abroad, though this money is often diverted through corruption and does not reach its intended recipients. There are 1,300 hospital beds in Guinea-Bissau, and Bissau Hospital was badly affected during the war. The spread of disease and endemic malnutrition with resultant high death rates have made the level of health care in Guinea-Bissau the lowest in West Africa. Infant mortality stood at 138 per 1,000 before the war, but this figure has dropped to an estimated 112 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000. Only a quarter of the population has access to clean water, sanitation, and health care, leading to frequent outbreaks of cholera and meningitis. HIV is also spreading, with an estimated 14,000 adults having been infected by the end of 1999.


The constitution of Guinea-Bissau makes little provision for workers and that which exists is not necessarily heeded. Forced labor is prohibited, and the economy is run along centralized lines, although this is changing under IMF and World Bank pressure. However, most of the population is employed in subsistence farming and the formal employment sector is small. There is no formal minimum wage. Children often work to help the household, leading to poor school attendance figures. Unions in the formal sector have been active, as was shown in strikes following the poorly handled entry into UEMOA in 1997.


1878. Portugal begins the colonization of Guinea-Bissau.

1973. Guinea-Bissau declares independence.

1974. Guinea-Bissau becomes independent from Portugal. Luis Cabral becomes president.

1980. Joao Vieira overthrows Cabral and assumes the presidency.

1997. Guinea-Bissau joins UEMOA.

1998. Civil war breaks out after Vieira dismisses the army chief.

1999. Government of national unity is installed. The Senegalese and Guinean troops who had come to aid Vieira withdraw.

1999. Vieira is ousted. Multi-party elections are held.

2000. Kumba Iala is elected president.


It is very difficult to have economic progress without a platform of political stability. Given the fragile peace in Guinea-Bissau, both domestic and foreign investors hesitate to risk their resources. The damage of the civil war and the continuing role of the military have been major concerns for international donors and the business community. Until confidence is restored, Guinea-Bissau cannot expect to make progress in improving the living standards of its people.

On the positive side, the general election was held without major incident and the opposition party gained the majority. It is expected that the former ruling party will continue to be a minority in the Assembly and that the military junta will struggle to reposition itself in the new political landscape. (The political parties have refused to endorse the military junta's proposed pact, which would allow it to participate in government for 10 more years.) Internal security could be unstable as demobilization of the armed forces begins. With the resumption of aid, the economy is expected to continue to recover, but long-term progress will depend on political stability and commitment to economic reform programs.


Guinea-Bissau has no territories or colonies.


Economist Intelligence Unit Country Profile: Guinea-Bissau. London: EIU, 2000.

Forrest, Joshua. Guinea-Bissau: Power, Conflict, and Renewal in a West African Nation. Boulder: Westview Press, 1992.

"Guinea-Bissau." World Yearbook. London: Europa Publications,2000.

Hodd, M. "Guinea-Bissau." The Economies of Africa. Aldershot:Dartmouth, 1991.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001. <>. Accessed October 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Background Notes: Guinea-Bissau, April 1994. <>. Accessed October 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Guinea-Bissau: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2000. <>. Accessed October 2001.

Jack Hodd




Communauté Financiére Africaine franc (CFA Fr). The CFA franc is tied to the French franc at an exchange rate of CFA Fr50 to Fr1. One CFA franc equals 100 centimes. There are coins of 5, 10, 50, 100, and 500ÊCFA francs and notes of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, and 10,000ÊCFA francs.


Cashew nuts, shrimp, peanuts, palm kernels, and sawn lumber.


Foodstuffs, machinery and transport equipment, and petroleum products.


US$1.1 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$80 million (f.o.b., 2000 est.). Imports: US$55.2 million (f.o.b., 2000 est.).

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Major City:

Other Cities:
Bafata, Bolama, Cacheu, Farim, Gabú, Mansôa


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated April 1996. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


The Republic of GUINEA-BISSAU , an enclave between Senegal in the north and northwest of Africa, and Guinea in the southeast, is an independent state once known as Portuguese Guinea. This small overseas province, discovered in 1446, was a center for slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Guinea-Bissau's remarkably successful struggle for autonomy, twenty years in the making, was achieved in 1974 when its former colonial power recognized it as a republic. That year, it became a member of the United Nations. Representatives of Guinea-Bissau serve as members of several of the specialized agencies within that international body.



Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau, was founded in 1692. Its population is approximately 233,000. The city, located on the Geba River where it meets the South Atlantic Ocean, is 400 miles south of Dakar, Senegal, and 200 miles south of Banjul, The Gambia. Bissau has low, Portuguese-style buildings and mango tree-lined streets.


In recent years the food situation has improved dramatically in Bissau. Frozen and fresh fish and shrimp of good quality are generally available year round. Oysters can be found in season. Seafood is not expensive by international standards. Frozen, imported meat arrives monthly. Fresh vegetables, eggs, and fruits are available in the local markets. Normally, one may purchase green beans, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, okra, kale, green and red peppers, and a variety of other vegetables. Flour, sugar, and dried whole milk are almost always available. Several stores offer a variety of imported cheese, processed meats, canned goods, and bottled products. Local butcher shops sell cuts of beef, pork, and lamb. Soft drinks, beer, wines, selected liquors, soap products, and other household items are always available, at prices considerably higher than for similar products purchased in Europe or the U.S. In season, tropical fruits, such as mango, papaya, bananas, oranges, grapefruit, limes, and pineapple are available on the local market.


For men, suits and ties are worn on special occasions. For women, such occasions generally require Western-or African-style dresses. Gloves are not worn. Guineans dress informally in open, short-sleeved shirts and slacks during the normal business day. Safari suits are also very popular. Women generally wear informal cotton dresses or skirt/slacks and blouse to the office. People tend to stick to cotton fabrics as the humid, hot conditions make polyester materials uncomfortable. Also, cotton does not require dry-cleaning, which is nonexistent. Some local tailoring is available and reasonably priced, but quality is uneven. Those having something made usually supply the material and pattern. Ready-made items, although available, generally are not suitable for most American tastes.

Supplies and Services

Supplies: Local sundries are unreliable.

Basic Services: Dry-cleaning does not exist. Shoe repair is not very satisfactory. Bissau has a few barbers and hairdressers.

Religious Activities

Bissau has three Catholic churches where Mass is held on Sundays: the venerable Bissau Cathedral in the downtown area (in Portuguese), the newer church on the airport road (also in Portuguese), and another Catholic church in one of the town's suburbs (in Crioulo). Bissau has several mosques, but no synagogues.


Bissau offers no educational facilities with English as the language of instruction. Almost all primary and secondary education is in Portuguese and Crioulo. Two French schools also operate in the primary grades, with monitors supervising study lessons, which are forwarded to France for correction and comments.

The Portuguese Embassy and the Brazilian Cultural Center sponsor Portuguese language classes; the Alliance Francaise offers French-language lessons.


Guineans love soccer. Games are scheduled at one of the two major stadiums virtually every weekend and are well attended.

Guineans and a number of foreigners play tennis at a variety of skill levels on the other five tennis courts in Bissau. Tennis lessons can be arranged with one of several keen Guinean players at a reasonable cost. A number of foreign volunteers and Guineans play volleyball during the weekend, usually later in the afternoon when the heat abates. Local play and travel to the annual softball tournament in Dakar are possibilities. Many people in Bissau spend their weekends traveling to favorite fishing spots to cast for a variety of saltwater species of fish. For those who like to get close to nature, there are bird-watching opportunities outside Bissau.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

The Island of Bubaque is the most well developed within the archipelago off the coast, with an airstrip and paved road linking a hotel with a lovely beach, 10 kilometers away. Weekend packages can be arranged, covering lodging, meals, and transportation to and from the beach. Erratic schedules of water transport to and from the island and irregular flights are constraints to further development of tourism on other islands. One of the country's best mainland beaches is Varela, in the northwesternmost corner of the country, just south of the Senegalese border. The trip from Bissau takes about 4 hours, and a high-clearance vehicle is recommended for the trip because of the ferry crossings. The pristine beach is not developed and there is only one rudimentary hotel. Campers must take all their own food and equipment, including drinking water. A number of Guineans and foreigners make the trip to Varela to enjoy long weekends or holidays.

Nearer Bissau is a small beach called Biombo, offering fishing and swimming; the road is paved until the last few miles. Just 20 minutes from Bissau is Quinhamel, a pleasant spot for swimming, picnicking, or fishing; a small restaurant offers tasty food at reasonable prices.

Driving into Guinea-Bissau's interior, one can find primitive camping and swimming at Saltinho and Cusselinta, both river rapids areas approximately a 2-hour drive from Bissau on paved roads. A new tourist camp near Saltinho has good food and comfortable lodging.

The trip by road to Ziguinchor in southern Senegal takes 4-5 hours. This principal town in the Casamance Region of the country has a number of good hotels and restaurants. From Ziguinchor, 1 hour's drive west, is the coastal resort of Cap Skirring, which boasts an excellent beach and many fine hotels, including a huge Club Mediterranean with an array of facilities.

From October to May the "Africa Queen," a French-registered ship, which sleeps 35, offers 3-7 day cruises from Bissau in the Bijagos Archipelago. The trips are popular with both visiting French tourists and the local international community.


The French Cultural Center offers a wide range of activities, including concerts, art exhibits, film showings, and lectures, all at reasonable cost; the center also has a lending library.

The Hotti Hotel offers outdoor dinner and dancing next to its swimming pool on weekends during the dry season. In recent years a number of new restaurants which offer a variety of cuisine-French, Cape Ver-dean, Italian, Lebanese, and Portuguese, have sprung up.

Discos are popular with the younger crowd and usually come to life after 11 pm. The most popular of them are Cabana, Tropicana, O Rio, and Ponto Neto.

Social Activities

Among Americans: The small American community consists primarily of official U.S. Government personnel and their dependents, plus Peace Corps volunteers. A number of American citizen contractors and consultants also come through Bissau, either associated with A.I.D. activities or with other donor organization projects.

Informal contact among Americans is frequent.

International Contacts: Guineans are among the friendliest people in Africa. A growing number have been educated in the U.S. and bring back warm memories of their time there, as well as fluency in English. A larger number know French, in addition to Portuguese.

The international community consists of members of a dozen foreign embassies plus the various international organizations. Social activities generally depend on the preference of the host. Luncheons, small sit-down dinners, buffets, and larger cocktail receptions are common.


Located in the east-central part of the country, BAFATA lies along the Geba River and is an important trading center. The growing of peanuts and livestock raising are the main economic pursuits in the town and surrounding area.

BOLAMA is a port town and capital of Guinea until 1941. Situated on the southeast side of the Ilha de Bolama, between the mainland and the Bijagós Islands, the town has been declining in importance since the 1940s. The opening of a foot-wear factory in the early 1980s was a major economic boost to Bolama.

CACHEU has flourished and declined with the West African slave trade. Situated in the northwestern part of the country on the south bank of the Rio Cacheu, it gained prominence in the 17th and 18th centuries. When the slave trade dwindled in the early 19th century and Bolama became Guinea-Bissau's capital, Cacheu's importance diminished. In the late 1970s, phosphate deposits were found nearby, spurring hopes of growth. Today it is a small port town, as well as a market center where local farmers sell coconuts, palm oil, and rice. Subsistence crops such as millet, corn, and sorghum are grown near Cacheu.

The northern town of FARIM is a marketing center for peanuts and livestock. Significant phosphate deposits have been located near Farim, but have yet to be exploited.

GABÚ in eastern Guinea-Bissau, is home to the Fulani people. Situated along the Colufe River, Gabú is an agricultural center. Peanuts are the principal crop of the region.

MANSÔA is a town situated in central Guinea-Bissau. Areas surrounding Mansôa are known for their forests and rice production. Attempts have been made to develop sugar plantations near Mansôa.


Geography and Climate

The Republic of Guinea-Bissau is a small nation on the African West Coast bounded on the north by Senegal, and to the south and east by the Republic of Guinea (Conakry). Its 36,000-square-kilometer area rises from a low coastal plain in the south to forested plains in the center of the nation and a low plateau in the northwest. Guinea-Bissau also extends through the Bijagos Archipelago, a series of scenic islands off the west coast.

The country is cut by many rivers and the sea encroaches deeply into the interior. Major rivers are the Corubal, Cacheu, Mansoa, Geba, and the Rio Grande de Buba.

Guinea-Bissau is a tropical country with only two seasons. The wet season extends from June to October and the dry season from November to May.

Average annual rainfall is 1,000-2,000 mm (49-80 inches). Usual temperatures range from 75°F to 90°F.


The population of Guinea-Bissau was estimated at 1.3 million in 2000. Bissau, the capital, is estimated to have a population of 233,000. Other population centers of Bafata, Gabu, and Canchungo have 10-20,000 inhabitants. The majority of the people live in small villages. Ethnic groups include the Balanta, Fula, Manjaco, Mandinga, and Papel.

Portuguese is the official language; Crioulo, a mixture of Portuguese and various African languages, is the lingua franca. Each ethnic group also retains its own language, customs, and social life in rural areas.

50 percent of the people are ani-mists and follow traditional African religions. Moslems comprise about 45 percent and are concentrated in the Fula and Mandinga areas in the northeast. Some 5 percent of the population is Christian, with Roman Catholic the largest denomination. Several Protestant churches are also represented.

Public Institutions

The rivers of Guinea and the islands of Cape Verde were among the first areas in Africa explored by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Although the nominal rulers of Guinea-Bissau for 500 years, the Portuguese did not have a major impact on the country beyond giving it its official language. Even today, most of Guinea-Bissau's inhabitants live in traditional African societies, almost untouched by the outside world.

The independence movement was born in 1956 with the formation of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), the country's current ruling party. The PAIGC moved its headquarters to neighboring Conakry in 1960 and initiated armed rebellion in 1963. Despite the presence of more than 35,000 Portuguese troops, the PAIGC had gained control over much of the country by 1972 and unilaterally declared independence on September 24, 1973. Hostilities in Guinea-Bissau ended in 1974, following the April revolution in Portugal. Guinea-Bissau gained formal independence in September 1974.

Amilcar Cabral, the founder of the independence movement and its widely respected leader throughout "The Struggle," was assassinated under mysterious circumstances in Conakry in 1973. Today, his picture is displayed in every government office in Guinea-Bissau, his birthday is a national holiday, and the country's leadership is still dominated by his disciples.

At independence, the new government adopted an essentially Marxist philosophy, emphasizing government control of the economy. By 1980, the economy had failed to improve and complaints against the Cape Verdean-dominated government were widespread. A successful coup d'etat with support from the armed forces, ousted President Luis Cabral in November 1980. The leader of the coup, Prime Minister Joao Bernardo Vieira, was awarded the Presidency and has ruled Guinea-Bissau ever since.

In 1984 a new Constitution, which continued the tradition of a single legal political party, was approved by the one-party legislature. By the mid-1980s the paralysis of the statist economic system led to broad economic reforms; in 1989 the ruling PAIGC under the direction of President Vieira began to outline a political liberalization program which the legislature approved in 1991. Under the revised constitution, multiple political parties were legalized, freedom of the press was recognized, and independent trade unions given the right to strike. There are 13 recognized political parties.

Guinea-Bissau's first multi-party elections were held in July and August 1994 and were judged free and fair by all international observers. Elctions were once again held in 1999, when Koumba Yala of the Social Renewal Party (PRS) won the presidency and his party gained a majority in the legislature. The term for President is 5 years and for members of the legislature, 4 years.

The President selects, with the advice of the various political parties, a Prime Minister, who heads the government and presides over the Cabinet (currently 26 ministers and Secretaries of State). The President currently appoints judges, but under the revised Constitution the independence of the judiciary should be enhanced through judicial selections made by a panel of senior judges with Presidential concurrence.

The President appoints mayors, called presidents of the council, for the major urban areas. The country is divided into eight regions, plus the capital area.

Arts, Science, and Education

Except for local artisans working in traditional modes, such as weaving lengths of fabric called "panos," arts and sciences are extremely limited. A few local outlets, including a church-run artisans' workshop, sell African arts and crafts, which are mostly wood carvings and masks.

Education is primarily a function of the central government and remains one of the country's major problem areas. In a country where the great majority of the population live in dispersed rural settlements, schools compete with the agricultural industry to attract students. There are shortages of educational facilities, teachers and supplies. The suitability of Portuguese as the initial language of instruction, instead of Crioulo or indigenous languages, has long been debated without resolution. An estimated 70 percent of the population remains illiterate in any language.

Beyond secondary school, there is a law faculty affiliated with Lisbon University, a 3-year secondary teacher training college; a medical faculty relying on Cuban doctors and curriculum, nurses' and medical technicians' training facilities (these three health facilities are to be merged in the near future), and a 3-year accounting/public administration course granting a technical mid-level degree. The Catholic Church also runs a seminary.

Commerce and Industry

Guinea-Bissau is one of the twenty the 20 poorest countries in the world, with a per capita GDP of about $850. Over 60 percent of economic activity is informal and is not reflected in statistics. The economy is dominated by subsistence farming. Commercial farming includes cashews, peanuts and palm kernels. USAID projects include local processing of cashew nuts and improving mango production for export. Guinea-Bissau is the world's sixth largest cashew producing country. Cashews comprise 70 percent of product exports, generating over $20 million in 1994, double the revenue earned from fishing licenses. Some fishing license agreements are being renegotiated to reduce over-fishing and provide more revenue. Although rice production has increased, imports of this staple remain high. Crops for domestic consumption include rice, millet, maize, sorghum, beans, cassava, manioc, and vegetables, as well as bananas and other fruits.

The nation is completing the transition to a market economy. The state no longer dominates either the productive or service sectors, having abolished state marketing boards, privatized some companies, ended price controls (except on petroleum), passed a new investment law, and adopted laws and procedures to facilitate private economic activity. Transport, commerce, and service sector responses to these changes have been very positive.

The most successful aspects of Guinea-Bissau's structural adjustment program have been in trade reform and price liberalization. A military conflict between the government and a military junta in 1998 and 1999 caused a major decline in economic activity. The GDP has begun to recover since, and the country saw 7.6 percent growth in 2000. Guinea-Bissau has one of the heaviest debt burdens in the world. External debt is over US$600 million; a debt to GDP ratio of 300 percent. A Paris Club rescheduling of bilateral debt in February 1995 reduced debt service payments and improved the economic climate.



Traffic outside the capital in Guinea-Bissau is light, though one must be watchful for people, cattle, pigs, goats, or chickens suddenly crossing the road. Within Bissau, as the economic reform program has begun to take effect, commercial activity and traffic have increased. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that there is only one main road into town from the airport.

Throughout Guinea-Bissau and especially in the capital, defensive driving is a must! Pedestrians wander at will, without regard for vehicular traffic. Most local drivers are first-generation, with little experience. Motorists must be prepared for all kinds of unpredictable behavior, from stopping suddenly in the middle of the road to pick someone up, to dangerous maneuvers at excessive speeds which cause many accidents in the country. A related problem is caused by failure to impose effective motor vehicle inspection standards. Many cars and trucks simply are not road worthy, lacking rearview mirrors, lights, or windshields. The presence of these unsafe vehicles on the roads and highways of the country offers an additional challenge to the motorist in Guinea-Bissau.

Although inexpensive, buses are usually crowded and not reliable in terms of a regular schedule. Taxis are generally available, except late in the evening or in the predawn morning hours. They are "communal" in the sense drivers pick up passengers until the car's capacity is reached, dropping customers off along the way while proceeding in the general direction you want to go.


Guinea-Bissau has no railroads. Travel between towns is normally by "bush taxi," the ubiquitous enclosed trucks which have equipped the rear end with benches. People are squeezed in like sardines and transported to where they want to get off. Bush taxis are cheap, but only the hardy wishing to gain intimate contact with the sights, sounds, and smells of the country choose this mode of transportation.

Most major roads are paved and one can easily travel overland to Senegal and The Gambia. Roads in Guinea-Conakry are poor, but the trip from Bissau to Conakry can be made in the dry season. Many secondary roads in Guinea-Bissau are impassable during the rainy season.

Travelers must have valid entry visas for The Gambia and Guinea-Conakry.

Air service to and from Bissau is available from Europe and neighboring countries. T.A.P. (Air Portugal) operates a weekly flight from Lisbon. Air Bissau and Air Afrique jointly operate a weekly flight from Paris via Bamako. Flights are available 4 days a week to and from Dakar on Air Senegal or Air Bissau. Other flights are scheduled during the week which link Conakry, Banjul, and Praia with Bissau.


Telephone and Telegraph

Local telephone service is not up to U.S. standards. Individuals can expect their telephones to be out of service for several days per year. It is not always easy to telephone from the capital to other parts of the country.

However, international service is reliable, and it is easy to call Europe or the U.S. from Bissau. International direct dial was instituted in the country a few years ago. The costs are high, but connections are quick and usually very good. However, not all countries can dial direct into Guinea-Bissau. Telephone calls to Bissau from Europe and other African countries can be difficult.

Telegraphic links also are adequate.

Radio and TV

Guinea-Bissau's TV station began broadcasting in 1989 and now broadcasts up to 8 hours daily. Most TV programs are in Portuguese, though often U.S. films are aired in English, with Portuguese subtitles.

Local TV operates using the European system (PAL).

A shortwave radio receiver is another item travelers cannot do without. VOA, BBC, and other international broadcasters beam strong signals into Guinea-Bissau in the morning and evening hours.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

Guinea-Bissau's Government-owned newspaper, No Pintcha, and several independent papers appear irregularly. Some foreign publications, including the International Herald Tribune and the Economist, can be purchased at the local book shop and arrive within a week of publication. A number of Portuguese and Brazilian newspapers can be found on a regular basis.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Guinea-Bissau has one of the poorest medical systems in the world. Local medical providers are, in most cases, competent, but due to limited facilities and supplies are unable to manage problems at a Western level of care. Only the most basic diagnostic tests can be done in country. Therefore, the need for medical evacuation to more appropriate medical facilities is frequent.

Community Health

Travelers are encouraged to receive all immunizations recommended by Medical Services prior to arriving in Bissau.

Malaria is a constant threat in Guinea-Bissau, and everyone should take steps to prevent it. Primary prevention (how not to get bit by mosquitoes) is at the forefront of the malaria battle. Keeping screens in good shape and using bed nets is also encouraged. Bring plenty of insect repellant (DEET based). In addition, individuals should start malaria prophylaxis prior to arriving in Bissau. The most effective malarial prophylaxis is mefloquine.

Preventive Measures

All water in Guinea-Bissau must be boiled or chemically treated prior to consumption. Bottled water and drinks are readily available in restaurants and markets. All fruits and vegetables must be cooked or chemically treated prior to eating. Meats, seafood, and poultry need to be well cooked. Fresh milk is difficult to find and requires boiling, but powdered and heat-treated milk are available.

Although some over-the-counter medications and supplies are available in Bissau, the brand selection, compared to the U.S. is limited, costly, and unfamiliar. Those coming to Guinea-Bissau should ship or bring most items normally found in their medicine cabinets. As Guinea-Bissau's water is deficient in fluoride, parents should bring fluoride supplements for their children.

You should have a prescription for refills, either in hand or on record at your pharmacy.


The U.S. Department of State warns American citizens against travel to Bissau. Although the civil war has ended, the political situation is unstable and potentially dangerous.

There are still landmines located throughout the country, and any travelers should exercise extreme caution at all times.

Those traveling to Bissau usually fly an American carrier to Lisbon or Paris, and then take the weekly Air Portugal (T.A.P.) or Air Afrique flights to Bissau. Alternatively, one can fly to Europe and transfer to a plane bound either for Banjul or Dakar, then fly into Bissau. A final possibility is to catch the thrice weekly New York/Dakar flight of Air Afrique and then make the Bissau connection.

You must secure a visa before entering Bissau. Visas can be obtained from the Guinea-Bissau Embassy in Washington, D.C. the Guinea-Bissau Mission to the U.N. in New York, or Guinea-Bissau's Embassies in Lisbon or Dakar. Allow 2 weeks to get the visa.

Pets may be brought into the country if a valid official veterinarian's certificate of health is presented. Check the pet regulations in the Lisbon Post Report if transiting Lisbon with a pet. Inoculate pets every 6-12 months against rabies and other diseases as advised by the veterinarian.

A veterinarian at the government veterinary facility in Bissau will treat private cases. The Peace Corps medical officer has only rabies vaccine on hand.

Few houses have sufficient outside exercise space, and ticks, fleas, and other pests abound.

The unit of currency is the CFA franc. In January 2001, the exchange rate was U.S. $1 equals 699 CFA francs. Money can be exchanged at the International Bank of Guinea-Bissau.

For emergency travel, bring travelers checks, as they cannot be purchased in Bissau. Credit cards are accepted only at the Hotti Hotel and at some, but not all, of the airlines in Bissau. Senegalese resorts accept VISA cards more often than others.

Guinea Bissau uses the metric system of weights and measures.


Jan.1 New Year's Day

Jan. Heroes' Day*

Mar. 8 Women's Day

Mar/Apr. Good Friday*

Mar/Apr. Easter*

May 1 Labor Day

Aug. 3 Martyrs of Colonialism Day

Sept. 24 Independence Day

Nov.14 Readjustment Movement Day

Dec. 24 Christmas Eve

Dec. 25 & 26 Christmas


Id al-Fitr*

Id al-Adha*



These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Bennett, Norman R. and Brooks, George E., Jr. New England Merchants in Africa. Boston Univ. Press: 1965.

Brooks, George., Jr. Yankee Traders, Old Coasters & African Middlemen, Boston Univ. Press: 1970.

. Landlords and Strangers: Ecology, Society and Trade in Western Africa, 1000-1630. West-view Press: 1993.

Chabal, Patrick. Amilcar Cabral: Revolutionary Leadership and People's War. Cambridge University Press: Cam-bridge, 1980.

Chilcote, Ronald H. Amilcar Cabral's Revolutionary Theory and Practice. Lynne Rienner Publishers: Boulder, Co., 1990.

Davidson, Basil. No Fist is Big Enough to Hide the Sky: The Liberation of Guinea-Bissau. Humanities Press International: 1981.

Forest, Joshua B. Guinea-Bissau: Power, Conflict and Renewal in a West African Nation. Westview Press: Boulder, Co., 1992.

Galli, Rosemary Guinea-Bissau: Politics, Economics, and Society. Lynne Rienner Publishers: Boulder, Co., 1987.

Lobban, Richard, and Joshua Forrest. Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau. 2nd ed. African Historical Dictionaries, no. 22. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1988.

Lopes, Carlos. Guinea-Bissau: From Liberation Struggle to Independent State. Westview Press: 1987.

Lopes, Carlos. Guinea-Bissau: From Liberation Struggle to Independent Statehood. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987.

McCulloch, J. In the Twilight of Revolution. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.

Washington, Shirley. Guinea-Bissau. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1989.

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Guinea-Bissau
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 1,285,715
Language(s): Portuguese, Crioulo
Literacy rate: 53.9%

Background & General Characteristics

Guinea-Bissau is a small West African country situated on the Atlantic coast, directly south of Senegal and northwest of Guinea (Guinea-Conakry). Colonized by the Portuguese during the European colonial era, Guinea-Bissau became independent in 1974 after a long and violent war led by the leftist African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), with Luis Cabral at its helm. Its capital city is Bissau.

Guinea-Bissau has a population of approximately 1.3 million. The major language groups in the country are Portuguese, Crioulo, and a number of African languages. The population practices Islam, Christianity, and indigenous religions. Because illiteracy is very highabout 50 percentnews broadcasts by radio are the most practical and popular means of communicating current events and perspectives on domestic and international situations.

Kumba Yala, Guinea-Bissau's current president, won free elections held in January 2000. Yala's rise to power followed four years of civil war from 1994 to 1998 that ended with foreign mediation and two years of policing by West African peacekeepers. The country continues to struggle with internal conflicts and has a fractious relationship with the Gambia, leading to rumors from time to time that armed conflict is about to erupt between the two countries. In part, this explains the government's special sensitivity to security concerns but by no means excuses the harsh treatment meted out to members of the media.

President Yala, formerly a teacher, has supported the following goals for Guinea-Bissau: fostering national reconciliation after the civil war, balancing the national budget, making the economy more productive with an emphasis on agriculture, diminishing public spending, and canceling special benefits for government ministers. However, he has been accused of being temperamental and authoritarian in his manner of leadership. This led to the resignation of some of his governing coalition partners in mid-2001 and made President Yala's party, the Social Renewal Party, a minority party. After this occurred, the president reportedly became more aggressive and confrontational with other members of the government and officials in the other two branches of government, the legislature and judiciary.

As the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) noted in its Africa 2001 report, "At the end of the summer [2001], the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the president's decision to expel members of the Ahmadiyya Islamic sect, whom he had accused of causing instability. Over the next two months, Yala went on a rampage." CPJ reported that four Supreme Court judges lost their positions after the president charged them with corruption. President Yala also threatened to replace most of Guinea-Bissau's public servants with persons from his own political party, and he "threatened to shoot any politician who tried to use the army against him," in CPJ's words.

As Reporters without Borders noted in its annual report for 2001, "Guinea-Bissau has still not recovered from the multiple coups d'etat and armed conflict in the past few years." During 2001, government limitations of press freedom increased, a pattern that was repeated if not exacerbated in 2002. In its annual report for 2001, Amnesty International reported, "Journalists were harassed and briefly detained for publishing articles critical of the government or organizing radio debates deemed sensitive by the authorities."

No Pintcha is the government-affiliated newspaper. A few private newspapers exist, though some have repeatedly met with government attempts to silence them. The Diário de Bissau, one of the leading private newspapers until late 2001, generally published several times a week, though certain stories and some of its leading staff members came under repeated government attack. In October 2001 the paper was closed down by Attorney General Caetano N'Tchama, who alleged it was not properly licensed. The same fate befell the private weekly, Gazeta de Noticias, allegedly for the same reason. Both papers also were accused of having caused severe damage to Guinea-Bissau's independence. Other private weeklies include Correio de Bissau, Banobero, and Fraskera, the latter of these a new paper added at the close of 2001.

Economic Framework

Guinea-Bissau has a very troubled economy, despite the fact that before its civil war, the country was viewed as a possible model for African development. Huge foreign debt saddles the economy of Guinea-Bissau, and the country depends heavily on international donor assistance to survive. Government corruption appears to have contributed to the sorry state of Guinea-Bissau's economy. As CPJ remarked, "widespread allegations of corruption and mismanagement" plagued the government in 2001.

The economy of Guinea-Bissau is basically agricultural, the principal exports being cashew nuts, shrimp, peanuts, palm kernels, and cut timber. Annual per capita income is only about US $180. By 2002 health standards were very low and average life expectancy was only 43 years for men and 48 years for womenabysmally low by international standards.

The private press often is strapped for funds because of the poor national economy and the fact that a lack of advertising in the private press often puts many independent newspapers on the edge of financial sustainability and the brink of closure. The state media does not fare much better. As Reporters without Borders observed, "Employees of the RTGB, the national broadcasting company, went on several strikes during the year to demand better working conditions and payment of their salaries. Some RTGB journalists and technicians have not been paid for nearly two years." State media professionals allegedly practice self-censorship even more stringently than private journalists, in order to protect themselves from government sanctions.

The fact that all newspapers in Guinea-Bissau public and private togethermust be printed in the government printing house adds to the tenuousness of publication schedules. The printing house fees are high, and printing supplies frequently are unavailable to publish papers in sufficient quantities. No other domestic printing company is available to the country's media.

Press Laws

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and of the press. However, the government of Guinea-Bissauarguably overreacting to concerns about potential, new insurrections in the country and rumors of rebel incursions supported from nearby Gambiahas acted repressively toward journalists and the private press. In March 2001 about 30 journalists signed a petition in which they protested "censorship and detention without trial of journalists practicing their profession in Guinea-Bissau."

The new Attorney General appointed in September 2001, Caetano N'Tchama, served as prime minister of Guinea-Bissau until President Yala dismissed him from his head-of-government position in March 2002. He had been particularly harsh toward the media. The same month he was appointed Attorney General, N'Tchama entered the private radio station, Radio Pidjiquiti, and demanded that tapes from an earlier broadcast be turned over to him. When the broadcasters refused, N'Tchama sent armed men the next day to intimidate station staff even further. He continued to demand the tapes from a program where journalists from the private newspaper, Diário de Bissau, had suggested N'Tchama was dismissed from his post as prime minister due to incompetence.


In March 2001 Assistant State Prosecutor Genésio de Carvalho made an outright recommendation to Guinea-Bissau's media professionals that they practice "self-censorship." Journalists, publishers, and editors in both the private and the public media must pay attention to whether their reports and broadcasts are likely to come under criticism by the government in order to avoid government harassment, intimidation and threats, personal detention, and media closures.

Two of the latest examples of the government's ongoing efforts to silence media critiques were the respective arrests on July 17 and 20, 2002 of João de Barros, publisher and editor of a private weekly news magazine, Correio de Bissau, and Nilson Mendonca, reporter for the RDN. De Barros had appeared on a talk show of the independent radio station, Radio Bombolom, and had claimed that rather than being true, recent rumors of plots against the president were aimed at directing attention away from government corruption; he also discounted rumors that Gambian officials were supporting rebel activity in Guinea-Bissau. After being detained for two days, de Barros was released on the condition that he report to the authorities on a frequent, regular basis. Mendonca appeared to have been arrested for stating that the president should apologize to Gambian officials after accusing them of supporting rebels in Guinea-Bissau. Questioned about his sources, Mendonca was released after 24 hours' detention.

The World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors' Forum (the latter a subgroup of the larger association, WAN), both based in Paris, sent a letter to President Yala and denounced the arrests, reminding the president that the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees freedom of expression and calling on the government of Guinea-Bissau to stop harassing journalists.

Continual efforts by President Yala to stop criticism of himself and his government by the private media and to exercise control over the types of news reported have led to repeat arrests for João de Barros, the publisher and editor of Diário de Bissau, and the closure of that paper in October 2001. De Barros restarted a private weekly of his that had been closed down five years earlier, Correio de Bissau, in December 2001; de Barros and that paper have been no less successful in escaping the wrath of government censors in 2002. Athizar Mendes, another journalist with the Diário de Bissau, also met with government reprisal for the stories he has covered. One of his stories, published in June 2001, alleged the president's involvement with an array of top civil servants in misappropriating large sums of money from the public treasury. Mendes and de Barros have been arrested repeatedly for their work.

In January 2001 Bacar Tcherno Dole, a state radio journalist and reporter for No Pintcha, the government newspaper, was arrested and mistreated for having mistakenly reported a violent incursion into the country's Sao Domingo region by rebels from Casamance in neighboring Senegal. The U.S. Department of State stated that the journalist was "abused physically and intimidated by the military and police during his detention," based on an Amnesty International report.

State-Press Relations

State-press relations are none too positive in Guinea-Bissau in the aftermath of the civil war of the mid-1990s. Government censorship of the media abounds, and state as well as private journalists, publishers, editors, and broadcasters must watch their words or risk government abuse.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

Upon occasion, government mishandling of the press does not stop with the domestic media. In March 2001 Adolfo Palma, a correspondent for LUSA, the Portuguese news agency, was charged with defamation after reporting on the arrest in February of persons in Guinea-Bissau. Government officials accused him of misrepresenting the truth.

Radio Mavegro, a private commercial station, includes programming from the British Broadcasting Corporation's World Service in its broadcasts.

Broadcast Media

The only television station in the country is Radio Televisao de Guinea-Bissau (RTGB). However, in 1997 the Portuguese government established a television broadcasting station, RTP Africa, comprised of a network of local stations in all the states that were formerly Portuguese colonies. The local managers are from the countries where the stations are situated, but the financing and studio equipment come from the Portuguese government.

The national radio broadcasting station in Guinea-Bissau is Radio Nacional. Private radio stations are few in number but include Radio Mavegro, a commercial station that also broadcasts some programs produced by the British Broadcasting Company's World Service, Radio Bombolom FM, and Radio Pidjiquiti. In October 2001 Attorney General N'Tchama accused the latter two private and very popular radio stations of irregularly handling "their administrative and legal situation" and threatened to close them down. However, the two stations were allowed to continue to operatebecause of their usefulness to the government in broadcasting news and also because of their great popularity, according to some local journalists.

Local community radio stations previously supported by non-governmental associations did not resume broadcasting in 2001. The government does not restrict access to the Internet, which is available in Guinea-Bissau.


Despite the fact that the country of Guinea-Bissau had a very promising past in terms of its economic and social development, the country today is rife with problemseconomic, social, and political. In consequence, members of the media frequently are threatened and harassed by government officials who appear to seek scapegoats to blame for the problems they have not yet solved and to which they have contributed. Both state and private media professionals face problems in being irregularly or poorly paid, the state printing house frequently lacks necessary supplies that prevent the public and private press from publishing regularly, and government intimidation of journalists occurs fairly regularly. Some journalists and editors are arrested repeatedly, targeted by the government for critiquing government behavior and for supposedly adding to real or perceived national security risks.

With the greater involvement of international media associations and human rights organizations in monitoring the status of journalism and the treatment of fellow journalists, publishers, and editors, some hope exists that the media in Guinea-Bissau will see better times in the not-too-distant future. With improved access to the Inter-netrapidly growing throughout Africagovernment officials may find it increasingly hard to harass those who practice the delicate art of informing their fellow citizens and the world at large of the ongoing problems and challenges in their societies. Certainly the people of Guinea-Bissau will benefit from a more watchful eye by the international community of the welfare not only of media members but also of the general population. By continuing to exert influence on the shaping of public opinion regarding government policies and private practices, members of the pressboth domestic and internationalhopefully in the longer run will contribute to the general improvement of society and politics in Guinea-Bissau.

The crucial role of the international and domestic press in monitoring civil rights abuses, including those exacted upon media professionals as they carry out their daily work, cannot be overstressed. This is especially apparent in Guinea-Bissau, a country on the path toward national reconciliation but facing many hard challenges of leadership along the way.

Significant Dates

  • 1994-1998Civil war.
  • 1997: Portuguese government establishes a television broadcasting station, RTP Africa, consisting of local stations from Portugal's former colonies, managed by local media staff.
  • 1998-2000: International peacekeeping force composed of West Africans monitors the country.
  • 2000: Kumba Yala wins free presidential election.
  • March 2001: 30 journalists sign a petition protesting censorship
  • October 2001: Diário de Bissau and Gazeta de Noticias, two leading private newspapers, are closed down by Attorney General Caetano N'Tchama, who also threatens to close two private radio stations.
  • July 2002: João de Barros, publisher and editor of a private weekly news magazine, Correio de Bissau, and Nilson Mendonca, reporter for the RDN, are arrested and detained after criticizing President Yala's accusatory comments regarding Gambian government officials.


Amnesty International. "Guinea-Bissau." Amnesty International Report 2002. London: Amnesty International, May 28, 2002. Available at

BBC Monitoring. "Country profile: Guinea-Bissau." Reading, UK: British Broadcasting Corporation, July 5, 2002. Available at

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State. "Guinea-Bissau." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2001. Washington, DC: Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State, March 4, 2002. Available at

Committee to Protect Journalists. "Guinea-Bissau." Attacks on the Press in 2001: Africa 2001. New York, NY: CPJ, 2002. Available at

Reporters without Borders. "Guinea-Bissau." Africa annual report 2002. Paris, France: Reporters sans frontiéres, April 30, 2002. Available at

World Association of Newspapers. "WAN, WEF Protest Against Arrest of Journalists in Bissau." Paris, July 3, 2002. Available at

Barbara A. Lakeberg-Dridi, Ph.D.

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Guinea-Bissau (gĬn´ē-bĬs´sou´), officially Republic of Guinea-Bissau, republic (2005 est. pop. 1,416,000), 13,948 sq mi (36,125 sq km), W Africa. It borders on the Atlantic Ocean in the west, on Senegal in the north, and on Guinea in the east and south. The country includes the nearby Bijagós (Bissagos) Archipelago and other islands in the Atlantic. Bissau is the capital and only large city.

Land and People

The country is largely a low-lying coastal plain and has many rivers, some with wide swampy estuaries. The chief towns are Gabú, Oio, Cacheu, and Bolama. About half of the inhabitants adhere to traditional beliefs, and 45% are Muslim; there is a small Christian minority. The population is comprised mainly of five ethnic groups: the Balante, the Fulani, the Mandjack, the Mandinka, and the Papel. Portuguese is the official language, but Crioulo (a Portuguese creole) and a number of African languages are also spoken.


Guinea-Bissau is one of the world's poorest nations. Farming and fishing are the leading occupations; cashew nuts are the main cash crop, and rice, corn, beans, cassava, and cotton are grown for domestic use. The country's mineral resources, including phosphates, bauxite, granite, and limestone, are largely unexploited; however, prospecting for offshore petroleum deposits has begun. Industrial activity is mostly limited to the processing of agricultural products. Cashew nuts are by far the largest export; fish, seafood, peanuts, palm kernels, and timber are also exported. Imports include foodstuffs, machinery, transportation equipment, and petroleum products. The nation's location and political instabilitiy has also made it a major transshipment point for the illegal drug trade from Latin America to Europe and the Middle East. The main trading partners are India, Italy, Senegal, Nigeria, and Portugal.


Guinea-Bissau is governed under the constitution of 1984 as amended. The president, who is the head of state, is popularly elected for a five-year term; there are no term limits. The prime minister, who is the head of government, is appointed by the president. The unicameral legislature consists of the 100-seat National People's Assembly, whose members are popularly elected for four-year terms. Administratively, Guinea-Bissau is made up of nine regions.


The area that became Portuguese Guinea was first visited by the Portuguese in 1446–47, and in the 16th cent. it was an important source of slaves sent to South America. The territory was administered as part of the Portuguese Cape Verde Islands possession until 1879, when it became a separate colony. In 1951 it was constituted an overseas province.

In 1956, Amilcar Cabral founded the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). After some years of sporadic violence, the PAIGC launched a war of independence in Portuguese Guinea in the early 1960s; in 1973 it declared the province, renamed Guinea-Bissau, independent of Portugal. A government was established and elections for a national assembly were held in PAIGC-controlled areas. Following the coup in Portugal (1974), the new Portuguese government initiated negotiations with the PAIGC.

In Aug., 1974, an agreement was reached under which Portugal granted (Sept. 10) independence to Guinea-Bissau. Luis de Almeida Cabral (the brother of Amilcar Cabral, who had been assassinated in 1973) became the first president, and Guinea-Bissau was admitted to the United Nations that year. Although Portugal refused to give the Cape Verde Islands and Guinea-Bissau independence together (granting Cape Verde separate independence in 1975), the two maintained the PAIGC as a common political party for five years. Guinea-Bissau remained a single-party state with limited civil rights. Security was a primary concern in the early years of independence, as the regime was weak in Bissau where there was lingering support for the Portuguese.

In 1980 a coup brought João Bernardo Vieira to power. The new regime opposed unification with Cape Verde, but relations between the two nations were normalized in 1983. Although Vieira's regime in the 1980s was characterized by purgings of political enemies and suppression of dissent, he also introduced health reforms and initiatives to increase agricultural production and economic diversity. However, the economy did poorly and the country relied on outside aid to make up for enormous deficits. In 1991 the national assembly officially revoked the PAIGC's status as the sole legal party, and in 1994 Vieira was chosen as president in the country's first free elections.

An army mutiny began in June, 1998, eventually turning into a war in which neighboring Senegal and Guinea intervened on Vieira's behalf, but the coup almost marked the beginning of a period of economic and political troubles. In May, 1999, the military ousted Vieira and installed Malam Bacai Sanhá, the former head of parliament, as interim president. In Dec., 1999, two opposition parties won a majority in parliament, and, after defeating Sanhá in a runoff in Jan., 2000, Party for Social Renewal (PRS) candidate Kumba Yala won the presidency. An army rebellion in Nov., 2000, by former junta leader Gen. Ansumane Mane was crushed and Mane was killed. Yala, hampered by the poor economy and heading an unstable government, was ousted in Sept., 2003, by a military coup that subsequently received the support of many civilian leaders. Businessman Henrique Rosa was appointed president of a transitional national government. Parliamentary elections in Mar., 2004, resulted in a plurality for the PAIGC, and Carlos Gomes, Jr., became prime minister with the support of the PRS. In October the chief of the armed forces was killed in a brief mutiny over back pay, but a peaceful end to uprising was negotiated.

Presidential elections were held in June, 2005, and were dominated by the candidacies of former presidents Vieira (who returned from exile), Sanhá, and Yala (who had originally been barred from political activity but was nominated by the PRS and was permitted to run). The month before the election Yala claimed to be the rightful president, revoking his "renunciation of power" and occupying the presidential palace. Although Yala's move came to nothing, it raised tensions in the nation. When he placed third in the June vote Yala claimed to have won nonetheless, but ended up accepting the results even as he denied them. A runoff between Sanhá, who placed first but failed to win a majority, and Vieira in July resulted in a win for Vieira. Sanhá asserted the vote was marred by fraud, and his party, the PAIGC, refused until September to recognize the result.

At the end of Oct., 2005, Vieira dismissed Gomes as prime minister, and then appointed Aristides Gomes, a political ally, to the post. In Mar., 2006, fighting erupted when government troops attempted to oust Casamance rebels from Senegal who had established bases in NW Guinea-Bissau. A no-confidence vote in Gomes's goverment in Mar., 2007, led to the appointment of Martinho N'Dafa Cabi, a PAIGC leader, to the post the next month. In July, 2007, the president, citing the nation's financial straits, rescheduled the Mar., 2008, parliamentary elections so that they would coincide with the 2009 presidential election.

When Prime Minister Cabi dismissed several officials in July, 2008, without consulting the coalition parties, the PAIGC withdrew from the government; the president subsequently dissolved parliament and the cabinet and called for new elections in November. In August, Carlos Correia was named prime minister. Also that month, an attempted coup by the head of the navy, Rear Admiral José Américo Bubo Na Tchuto, was foiled. The parliamentary elections were won by the PAIGC, and in Jan., 2009, Carlos Gomes, Jr., again became prime minster.

Meanwhile, in Nov., 2008, there was another apparent coup attempt against the president; the armed forces chief of staff had, during the elections, accused the president of being involved with drug traffickers. In Jan., 2009, the president's guard was blamed for an assassination attempt against the armed forces chief, who subsequently was killed in an explosion in March. Vieira was assassinated the next day by soldiers who blamed him for the bombing, and parliament speaker Raimundo Pereira became interim president. The military subsequently continued a campaign of violence against perceived opponents. In April a former prime minister who had criticized the military was severely beaten by soldiers, and in June a presidential candidate and a former defense minister were killed (and subsequently accused of plotting a coup).

In the presidential election in late June, PAIGC candidate Malam Bacai Sanhá came in first but won only a plurality of the vote, necessitating a runoff with Kumba Yala in July, which Sanhá won. Yet another apparent coup attempt occurred in Apr., 2010, apparently by supporters of Rear Admiral Na Tchuto, who had returned to the country and found refuge in the UN's local headquarters in Dec., 2009; the government had been seeking his surrender. Though the government was not overthrown, real power in Guinea-Bissau appeared to shift to the military, in particular to Na Tchuto, who was subsequently accused by the U.S. government of drug trafficking. A possible coup attempt in Nov., 2011, led to the arrest of Na Tchuto and the former head of the army.

In Jan., 2012, President Sanha died abroad while in Paris for medical treatment; parliament speaker Raimundo Pereira became interim president. A coup in April was apparently sparked by the expected election of Carlos Gomes, Jr., as president in a runoff vote. The army was known not to favor Gomes, and his opponent, former president Yala, had lost badly in the first round and alleged the election had been rigged. In May, a transitional government was established with Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo, a former president of the assembly, as president, and Rui Duarte de Barros as prime minister; one of the coup leaders became defense minister, and West African forces were deployed in Guinea-Bissau as peacekeepers. Na Tchuto was released from prison in June.

According to the UN and other international officials, the flow of illegal drugs through the country increased after the coup. In Oct., 2012, an apparent coup attempt failed; the government accused Gomes, Portugal, and other Portuguese-speaking nations of being behind it. In Apr., 2013, Na Tchuto was arrested in international waters by U.S. drug agents in a drugs-for-weapons sting operation; Gen. Antonio Indjai, the armed forces chief, was later indicted by the United States on trafficking charges arising from the same case. The 2014 presidential election, decided after a runoff in May, resulted in a win for José Mário Vaz, a former finance minister and the PAIGC candidate, and the PAIGC's Domingos Simões Pereira was subsequently (July) appointed prime minister. In August, Indjai was dismissed as armed forces chief.


See C. Lopes, Guinea-Bissau: From Liberation Struggle to Independent Statehood (1987); R. Lobban and J. Forrest, Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau (2d ed. 1988).

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Official name : Republic of Guinea-Bissau

Area: 36,120 square kilometers (13,946 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: An unnamed point located on the Gabú Plateau (300 meters/984 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Western

Time zone: 11 a.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 336 kilometers (209 miles) from north to south; 203 kilometers (126 miles) from east to west

Land boundaries: 724 kilometers (450 miles) total boundary length; Senegal 338 kilometers (210 miles); Guinea 386 kilometers (240 miles)

Coastline: 350 kilometers (217 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Guinea-Bissau is located on the North Atlantic coast of West Africa, between the countries of Guinea and Senegal. With an area of about 36,120 square kilometers (13,946 square miles), the country is slightly less than three times the size of the state of Connecticut. Guinea-Bissau is divided into nine administrative regions.


Guinea-Bissau has no outside territories or dependencies.


Guinea-Bissau has a very moderate, tropical climate. The average temperature does not vary significantly throughout the year. In the cooler rainy season, temperatures average from 26° to 28°C (79° to 82°F) and during the dry harmattan season, temperatures do not exceed 24°C (75°F) on average.

The rainy season lasts from mid-May to mid-November, with rainfall exceeding 198 centimeters (78 inches). Because of monsoon winds blowing off the ocean, the bulk of the rain falls during July and August. The harmattan season reverses the wind direction, blowing dry, dusty air from the Sahel across the country from mid-December to mid-April. This wind brings cooler temperatures and almost no precipitation. The country is prone to drought and brush fires.


Guinea-Bissau is located on the coast of West Africa where a large cluster of islands is found on the extensive continental shelf. The country is made up of a mainland, the Bisagos Islands (Arquipélago dos Bijagós), and various coastal islands. The mainland consists of a coastal plain and a transition plateau forming the Bafatá Plateau (Planalto de Bafatá) in the center and the Gabú Plateau (Planalto de Gabú), which borders the Fouta Djallon highland region of neighboring Guinea.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

Guinea-Bissau faces the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Coral reefs and islands dominate the coastal region.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The Gêba Canal is an inlet that connects the Gêba River to the Atlantic Ocean.

Islands and Archipelagos

Guinea-Bissau contains many islands. Located to the southwest of the capital city of Bissau, the Bisagos chain consists of over eighteen islands, including Caravéla, Caraxe, Formosa, Uno, Orango, Orangozinho, Bubaque, and Roxa. The country also includes various other coastal islands such as Jeta, Bolama, Melo, Pecixe, Bissau, Areicas, and Como.

Coastal Features

The coast of Guinea-Bissau is very irregular and deeply indented by swampy estuaries called "rias." Serpentine, mangrove-lined tidal rivers feed the rias. The capital, Bissau, is located on the largest of these estuaries that snakes into the center of the country.


Guinea-Bissau has no significant lakes.


There are six main rivers in Guinea-Bissau. The first, the Cacheu, flows near the northern border with Senegal and is also known as Farim for part of its course. The Mansôa flows from the center of the country and dumps into the Atlantic Ocean near the city of Bissau. The Gêba originates in Senegal and bisects the country. The Corubal originates in Guinea and meanders close to the southern border. On the southern border with Guinea is the Cacine. The last of the major rivers is the Rio Grande. These rivers provide the principal means of transportation. Ocean-going vessels of shallow draught can reach most of the main towns, and flat-bottomed tugs and barges can reach most of the smaller settlements, except for those in the northeast.


There are no significant desert regions in Guinea-Bissau; however, the country's climate is affected by the dry, harmattan winds of the Sahel region of neighboring countries. Sahel is an Arabic word meaning "shore." It refers to the 5,000-kilometer (3,125-mile) stretch of savannah that is the shore or edge of the Sahara Desert. The Sahel spreads west to east from Mauritania and Senegal to Somalia.


The low-lying coastal plain is characterized by wetlands that are submerged at high tide. Owing to excessive monsoon rains during the rainy season, swamps and marshes appear further inland as well.

About 46 percent of the land in Guinea-Bissau is meadows and pastures. Savannah predominates in the east and northeast, providing a mixture of lightly wooded forest interspersed with grasses.

About 38 percent of the land is covered in forests and woodlands. Mangroves dominate the coastal region, while tangled forests are found in the interior plains. Thick forests give way to less dense savannah cover and grasses on the planaltos.


There are no significant mountain regions in Guinea-Bissau.


There are no significant caves or canyons in Guinea-Bissau.


Aside from the low-lying coastal plain and islands, Guinea-Bissau's most defining characteristic is the transitional plateau, rising gradually from the plain to a few hundred feet in elevation. In the center of the country this plateau is called the Bafatá Plateau, and along the eastern border with Guinea it is called the Gabú Plateau. The highest point in the country is an unnamed spot on the Gabú Plateau near the city of Buruntuma, where the plateau rises to a height of about 300 meters (984 feet).


At high tide, about 10 percent of Guinea-Bissau's coastland is submerged. This causes erosion and also allows for a high level of salt deposits to remain in the soil of the coastal plain. In order to prevent this damage, many "anti-salt" dams have been constructed along the Atlantic coast.


In 1996, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the Bisagos Islands (Bijagós Archipelago) and parts of the coastal region as a biosphere reserve. A biosphere reserve is a terrestrial or coastal ecosystem that serves as a living laboratory for testing and demonstrating techniques that manage an integrated system of land, water, and biodiversity. The reserve in Guinea-Bissau includes several islands with mangroves, swamp forest, estuaries, mudflats, intact palm groves, hippos, green turtle breeding site, manatee, dolphins, winter ground for wading birds, and key natural resources for the local population.



Africa South of the Sahara 2002. "Guinea-Bissau." London: Europa Publishers, 2001.

Galli, Rosemary. Guinea-Bissau. Santa Barbara, CA: Clio Press, 1990.

Lobban, R.A., and P.K. Mendy. Historical Dictionary of Guinea-Bissau. 2 nd ed. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1997.

Lopes, Carlos. Guinea-Bissau: From Liberation Struggle to Independent Statehood. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987.

Web Sites

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization: Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB). (accessed May, 2003).

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Guinea-Bissau
Region: Africa
Population: 1,285,715
Language(s): Portuguese, Crioulo
Literacy Rate: 53.9%

Located primarily on the western coast of Africa (and including the archipelago of Bijagoz), Guinea-Bissau has approximately 1,000,000 inhabitants. As a colony of Portugal, education was originally the province of Roman Catholic missionaries, who followed the governmental policy of assimilating indigenous peoples into European culture. Upon liberation from Portuguese rule in 1974, the Partido Africano da Independencio da Guine e Cabo Verde or PAIGC (African Independence Party) established broad educational goals for the country that included the elimination of illiteracy, free compulsory education for ages 7 through 14, and the provision of technical/professional training.

The educational system currently has 2 main levelsprimary and secondary. Primary education represents 6 years (ages 7 through 12) of free, compulsory, basic schooling divided into elementary (4 years) and complementary tiers (2 years). In 1994 approximately 64 percent of children were receiving a rudimentary education in primary school. Secondary education consists of two types: a 3-year general-secondary stream (grades 7 through 9) and 2-year postsecondary education (grades 10 through 12); and 3-year vocational programs. The National lycee Kwame N'Krumah includes grades 7 through 12, while other lycees include only grades 7 through 9. Upon completion of grade 9, students can attend the National School of Physical Education and Sport or the School of Law. Vocational training is available for students who have completed Grade 6 and wish to take courses in vocational-technical training such as mechanics, construction, and agribusiness. Since the agrarian economy is predominant, there is a focus on vocationaltechnical education to improve the country's economic status and offset the effects of widespread poverty. There is one agricultural collegethe residential School of the Comrades Institute in Boethat offers a three-year course following graduation from Grade 6.

Since there are no universities in the country, students seeking tertiary education must go abroad, typically to Cuba, Portugal, Eastern European, and neighboring African countries. In addition, nonformal night courses in basic education aimed particularly at illiterate adults were added to the formal educational system beginning in the late 1960s. By 1982, literacy courses in Creole and other national languages were being developed.

Although the PAIGC supports education as the right of every citizen, illiteracy remains high. Despite the fact that the official language of instruction is Portuguese, 90 percent of the inhabitants speak Creole and/or other native dialects. In 1991, the illiteracy rate stood at approximately 68 percent. With the introduction of mass literacy programs, UNESCO estimates the average rate of adult illiteracy had declined by 1995 to 45.1 percent.

Educational problems include the lack of educational facilities, teaching resources, and equipment, as well as transportation difficulties. In particular, Guinea-Bissau's inability to hire qualified educational personnel has been detrimental to the PAIGC objective of providing a culturally and economically relevant education that meets national needs. Like many emerging nations, the educational system still displays vestiges of the former colonial system (found most notably in the lycee ).

The Commissariat of State for National Education and Culture is the chief educational policy-making agency. For the period 1990-1991, the education budget was 300 million pesos (US$60,240), amounting to six percent of the GNP.


Carneiro, Roberto, and Jeanne Marie Moulton. An Outline of the Educational System in Guinea-Bissau. Paris: UNESCO, 1976.

Darcy de Oliveira, Rosiska, and Miguel Darcy de Oliveira. Guinea-Bissau: Reinventing Education. Geneva: IDAC, 1976.

Leal Filho, W.D.S. ronmental Problems and Structural Development in Africa: Cultural Challenge. Geneva: UNGLS, 1991.

Mendes-Barbosa, Julieta. "Framework for Educational Reform in Guinea-Bissau: The Choice of Language of Instruction (Africa)". Ed. D. diss., University of Masssachusetts, 1990.

Jayne R. Beilke

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Country statistics


36,120sq km (13,946sq mi) 1,285,715

capital (population):

Bissau (288,300)


Multi-party republic

ethnic groups:

Balante 32%, Fulani (Peul) 20%, Malinke (Mandingo or Mandinka) 13%, Mandyako 11%, Pepel 10%


Portuguese (official), Crioulo


African beliefs 45%, Sunni Muslim 38%, Roman Catholic 11%


Guinea-Bissau peso = 100 centavos

Small republic in West Africa; the capital and chief port is Bissau.

Land and Climate

Mostly low-lying, with a swampy coastal plain and broad river estuaries. Mangrove forests line the coasts, and dense rainforest covers much of the coastal plain. It has a tropical climate.


It was first visited by Portuguese navigators in 1446. From the 17th to the early 19th century, Portugal used the coast as a slave-trading base. In 1836, Portugal appointed a governor to administer Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde islands. In 1879, the two territories separated, and Guinea-Bissau became the colony of Portuguese Guinea. In 1956, Amilcar Cabral founded the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). Portugal's determination to keep its overseas territories led the PAIGC to begin a guerrilla war in 1963, and by 1968 it held 66% of the country. In 1972, a rebel National Assembly in the PAIGC-controlled area voted to form the independent republic of Guinea-Bissau. In 1974, it formally achieved independence (followed by Cape Verde in 1975). In 1980, an army coup, led by Major João Vieira, overthrew the government. The new Revolutionary Council was against unification with Cape Verde; it concentrated on national policies and socialist reforms. In 1991, the PAIGC voted to introduce a multi-party system. The PAIGC won the 1994 elections, and Vieira was re-elected president. In 1999, a military coup toppled Vieira, triggering a brief civil war. Kumba Yalá became president in 2000 elections and in 2003 he was removed by a military coup. Henrique Rosa became president.


Guinea-Bissau is a poor country (2000 GDP per capita, US$850), with agriculture employing more than 80% of the workforce. Major crops include rice, coconuts, and groundnuts – the last two make up 40% of its exports. Fishing is also important.

Political map

Physical map


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Culture Name


Alternative Name

Formally known as The Republic of Guinea-Bissau


Identification. "Guinea" was used by European explorers and traders to refer the coast of West Africa. It comes from an Arabic term meaning "the land of the blacks." "Bissau," the name of the capital, may be a corruption of "Bijago," the name of the ethnic group that inhabits the dozens of small islands along the coast. The combined name distinguishes the country from its southern neighbor, Guinea.

Location and Geography. Guinea-Bissau, one of the smallest and poorest West African nation-states, is surrounded by former French colonies. Sharing a border to the north with Senegal and to the south with Guinea, it has a land area of 13,944 square miles (36,125 square kilometers). The terrain is generally flat and nearly at sea level, although there are hills in the southeastern region. Wide tidal estuaries surrounded by mangrove swamps penetrate forty miles into the interior, where coastal rain forest gives way to sparsely wooded savanna.

Demography. In 1998, the population was at 1,206,311. The population is 76 percent rural, but almost 20 percent of the inhabitants live in the capital city. More than half the citizens were born after independence in 1974. Fula and Mandinga, who were traditionally politically centralized and make up the Moslem majority in the interior, account for roughly 30 percent of the population. Balanta, Manjaco, and Papel in the coastal and tidal zone constitute a sizable demographic majority.

Linguistic Affiliation. Government documents are written in Portuguese, students beyond the first few years of elementary school are taught in Portuguese, and government officials speak that language. However, only about 10 percent of the citizens are fluent in Portuguese. The national lingua franca is Criolu, which is derived primarily from Portuguese. Almost all Guineans born after 1974 know Criolu, although most speak it as a second language. Criolu developed in the era of slave trading, when it was used for communication between Portuguese merchant-administrators and the local populations. It became the primary language of Cape Verdeans, who were descendants of West African slaves and resettled in Portuguese coastal enclaves. These people were employed by the government in the lower levels of the colonial bureaucracy and engaged in local commercial activities. Criolu became the de facto national language during the struggle for liberation (19611974). Today Criolu is associated with an urban ethnic minority that identifies itself as Cape Verdean. It is also the language of national identity. Patriotic songs and slogans are invariably in Criolu and the national news is broadcast in that language.

Most residents are more comfortable speaking local African languages; close to half the population is monolingual in a local language. Balanta, Manjaco, and Papel speak related but mutually unintelligible languages that are distantly related to languages spoken in Senegal. The language of the Bijagos islanders off the coast is unrelated to that of any neighboring group. The languages spoken by Mandinga and Fula allow them to communicate with their cultural kin in neighboring nations.

Symbolism. The flag, with horizontal stripes of green, red, and yellow and a black star in the center, reflects an explicit concern to define the country in terms of national liberation and as pan-African rather than ethnic. During the revolution, efforts were made to minimize ethnic distinctions, and this effort is reflected in the pervasive use of Criolu as the language of political slogans and patriotic celebration. Schools and avenues are named after heroes of the revolution, such as Domingos Ramos, who was killed while leading the first organized guerrilla battalion. Pan-African martyrs to national liberation such as Patrice Lumumba are similarly enshrined.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. By the sixteenth century, European traders had established permanent trading posts along the coast and encouraged local peoples to raid their neighbors for slaves. The slave trade created and reinforced ethnic distinctions in the region. Bijagos became notorious slave raiders, and Manjaco and Papel produced food for the coastal trading posts, along with trade goods, such as elaborately patterned textiles.

After the end of the slave trade in the mid-nineteenth century, Bijagos maintained their independence until the 1930s. Manjaco and Papel were among the first people in the region to migrate to Cape Verdean and European pontas or concessions, to share-crop peanuts. They were active in the wild rubber trade in the early twentieth century, migrating to Senegal and Gambia. The end of the slave trade led to political collapse and chaos among the more politically centralized Moslem groups in the interior. As Moslem factions fought, they also raided the coast, leading to confrontations with European traders.

The nation began as a colony consisting of the mainland territory and the islands of Cape Verde. Not until the first decades of the twentieth century were the Portuguese able to control the territory. Until then, the Portuguese had ruled only the coastal enclaves and were the virtual hostages of their African hosts, who controlled food and water supplies. In 1913 the Portuguese, under Teixeira Pinto, allied themselves with Fula troops under Abdulai Injai and defeated all the coastal groups. Then the Portuguese exploited divisions among the Moslems to destroy Injai and his followers, becoming the sole power in the region.

During the Salazarist era, the Portuguese built roads, bridges, hospitals, and schools. At the beginning of the 1960s their rule was contested by African nationalists under the leadership of Amilcar Cabral. By 1974, when Portugal recognized the nation's independence, the nationalist forces had developed a political and economic infrastructure providing basic services for the vast majority of local residents.

National Identity. The success of the revolutionary struggle created a strong sense of national identity that was reinforced by linguistic distinctiveness. Because of the upheaval caused by the war for liberation, large numbers of residents migrated to neighboring countries and to Europe.

Efforts to liberalize the economy and democratize the political system have led to corruption and exacerbated the gap in wealth between government officials and the citizens. As a result, the nation-state has come to be perceived as a platform for enriching oneself and one's family and a source of passports and identity papers that allow people to escape from the nation.

Ethnic Relations. In recent national elections, ethnically based parties have not been successful. As the nation becomes increasingly divided economically, ethnicity may become a way to mobilize factions. Recent coup attempts have divided the military, and animosity toward the wealthy may be increasingly directed at Cape Verdeans. Persons of Cape Verdean descent have been banned from running for the presidency.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Bissau is a huge city relative to the country's size. Many of the larger buildings were constructed by the Portuguese. The core of the city is a planned colonial capital, with buildings, boulevards, and vistas in the modernist style. The smaller district capitals also feature colonial architecture. There are postcolonial buildings such as the Chinese hospital in Canchungo, but the architecture is largely West African. Rectangular houses with zinc roofs and concrete floors are common in villages and small towns. In villages, much housing is still traditional in form and materials. Dried mud and thatched circular huts in ethnically distinct styles are a common feature.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Rice is a staple among the coastal peoples. It is also a prestige food, and so the country imports it to feed the urban population. Millet is a staple crop in the interior. Both are supplemented with a variety of locally produced sauces that combine palm oil or peanuts, tomatoes, and onions with fish.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Most people participate in elaborate life cycle ceremonies in which family and community celebrates events such as birth, circumcision, marriage, and death. Most of these events, especially funerals, entail the sacrifice of livestock for consumption and ritual offering and the consumption of large quantities of palm wine or rum.

Basic Economy. The economy depends heavily on foreign aid to support the governmental bureaucracy, teachers and health workers, and the oversized military. The economy is basically agricultural; the vast majority of residents live off what they and their neighbors grow. Villagers depend on funds from emigrant workers. Urban government workers at all but the highest levels depend on their village kin for food. The West African franc (C.F.A.) is the currency used.

Land Tenure and Property. Traditional land tenure practices and systems of property ownership were not altered significantly by the colonial government or the independent state. A range of customary practices tend to protect the livelihoods of rural families and promote economic cooperation at the village level. There are no landless poor, but with economic liberalization and attempts to generate an export income, so-called empty lands have been granted to members of the government. Known as pontas, these concessions are enlarged extensions of earlier colonial practices. Ponta owners provide materials to local farmers who grow cash crops in exchange for a share of the profits or for wages.

Commercial Activities. There is a thriving rural market in livestock and foodstuffs. Most significantly Fula, Mandinga, and Balanta breed cattle and other livestock for consumption among the coastal groups who pay with funds repatriated by emigrant kin living in Senegal and Europe. There is some local business activity in Bissau but firms are small and relatively unimportant economically.

Trade. Guinea-Bissau produces and exports cashews, peanuts, fish and shellfish, and palm nuts. Export partners include Spain, Portugal, and Sweden. The country imports food, primarily rice, petroleum products, transport equipment, and consumer goods from Portugal, Russia, Senegal, and France.

Division of Labor. In urban centers, women work alongside men in the government. Urban men who are not employed by the government drive taxis, work in local factories, and are employed as laborers, sailors, and dock workers. Urban women do domestic work and trade in the markets. In the villages, children herd livestock, and young people work collectively to weed or prepare fields. Women do most domestic tasks. In some regions, women perform agricultural tasks that once were done by their husbands.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. In the colonial era, there were castes in Mandinga and Fula society, along with specific occupational groups. Among Manjaco and Papel, distinctions were made between aristocratic groups and commoners. Aristocrats among coastal and Moslem peoples continue to enjoy the privileges of rank.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Markers of wealth include business suits, cars, and cell phones. In the villages, funerals in wealthy families involve large slaughters of cattle; the dead are wrapped in greater quantities of cloth, and the guests are more numerous and better fed.

Political Life

Government. Until 1994, the country was a one-party republic with widespread participation and support. Today opposition parties have gained a considerable following and the current president ran against the revolutionary party.

The president selects a cabinet of ministers. Basic laws are enacted by the hundred delegates to the National Assembly, who are elected by universal sufferage.

Since the early 1990s, the government has increasingly privatized basic services and industries but continues to be the largest employer of workers outside the agricultural sector.

Leadership and Political Officials. Until the elections of 1999, almost all political leaders and officials came from the ranks of those who fought in the revolution. Midlevel and regional leaders often came from local aristocratic families.

Social Problems and Control. Social problems include smuggling, corruption, and emigration of the educated. With joblessness high in the capital city, there has been a rise in crime and prostitution.

Military Activity. The military forces that fought in the revolution emerged with prestige, organizational skill, and political authority. The armed forces were also large in proportion to the population. With the end of the Cold War and with economic and political liberalization, the army has become an economic burden and a threat to political stability. Several coups have been attempted since independence. The coup attempt of 1998 paralyzed the nation for six months and sent a flood of refugees to Senegal and Europe, because of protracted fighting in Bissau.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Rural Mandinga and Fula and the peoples of the coastal ethnic groups continue to practice arranged marriage in which a brideprice or groom service is given. However, young people can make matches on their own. Interethnic marriage rates are low but increasing. Men marry later than do women. Polygamy is accepted. Widows often remarry the husband's brother, thereby remaining in the same domestic household group.

Domestic Unit. In the villages, the domestic unit is a large kinship group with common rights to agricultural property and obligations to work for one another.

Inheritance. Land passes from fathers to sons or from older brothers to younger brothers. Among the Manjaco and Papel, rice fields owned by domestic groups are inherited by a sister's sons, who act as caretaker-managers, dividing use rights to portions of the fields.

Kin Groups. All the ethnic groups are organized in fairly large kin groups known as clans or lineages. Most kin groups tend to be patrilineal and patrilocal, although there are also large categories of matrilineal kin who share rights to land and to local religious and political offices.


Infant Care. High infant mortality rates result from a lack of modern health services.

Child Rearing and Education. Education at the primary school level is almost universal.

Higher Education. In the colonial era, only a handful of residents, primarily of Cape Verdean ancestry, went to Portugal for a higher education. Guineans in Senegal received degrees from French colonial institutions. During the revolution, many young people were sent to East Germany, the Soviet Union, Cuba, and China to be educated at the university and postgraduate level. After the revolution, the government was able to increase the literacy rate and the numbers of students who earned a high school diploma. Some of these students study in technical schools, but it is still necessary to go abroad for training in a university. Many students with such educations remain abroad.


Religious Beliefs. Despite centuries of Catholic and Protestant missionary activity, few people claim to be Christian. The overwhelming majority (over 60 percent) of residents practice indigenous religions.

Rituals and Holy Places. The coastal groups believe that ancestor spirits exercise power over their living descendants, and those spirits are recognized in household shrines at which periodic offerings are made. In every village, there are dozens of shrines to tutelary or guardian spirits. These spirits are recognized at public ceremonies in which food and alcohol offerings are made and animals are sacrificed. Such spirits are thought to protect the community against misfortune. Individuals visit the shrines to request personal favors. Certain shrines have gained a transethnic reputation for reliability and power. Guineans abroad continue to return to those shrines and send money to pay for sacrifices and ceremonies.

Over 30 percent of Guineans are Moslem and recognize their allegiance to Islam through practices such as circumcision and fasting and various forms of Islamic mysticism.

Death and the Afterlife. The most elaborate and expensive life cycle rituals are associated with death, burial, and the enshrinement of ancestors.

Medicine and Health Care

Malaria and tuberculosis are rampant. Infant mortality rates are high and life expectancy is generally low because Western medicine is available only intermittently. Most residents seek out local healers, go to diviners, and make offerings at shrines. The government has made efforts to provide primary nursing care in the villages, but the country continues to rely on foreign doctors. There is a hospital in the district capital of Canchungo that is run by Chinese medical personnel but also employs European doctors. Cubans once provided advance care in the hospital in Bissau.

Secular Celebrations

Independence Day, celebrated on 24 September, is the major national holiday. Carnival in Bissau, once a festival associated with Catholic Criolu culture, has become a multiethnic celebration.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. National television programming and radio programming provide some support for the arts.

Literature. Amilcar Cabral wrote extensively on the goals and theories of national liberation. His speeches are widely read today. Guineans of Cape Verdean ancestry such as Fausto Duarte, Terencio Anahory, and Joao Alves da Neves have begun to write fiction in Criolu. The Manjaco poet Antonio Baticam Ferreira has been published in Europe.

Graphic Arts. Art tends to be religious and traditional, and is made and used by villagers. There is not much of a market for tourist art, but Bijagos islanders produce carvings for the tourist markets.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Until the civil war of 1998, there was a research program in Bissau called the Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisas (INEP). During the war, the INEP building was damaged and its archives and library were vandalized.


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Eric Gable

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