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total: 36,125 sq km
land: 28,120 sq km
water: 8,005 sq km
total: 762 km
border countries (2):
Guinea 421 km,
Senegal 341 km
generally hot and humid; monsoonal-type rainy season (June to November) with southwesterly winds;
dry season (December to May) with northeasterly harmattan winds
mostly low-lying coastal plain with a deeply indented estuarine coastline rising to savanna in the east; numerous off-shore islands including the Archipelago Dos Bijagos consisting of 18 main islands and many small islets
mean elevation: 70 m
elevation extremes: lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: unnamed elevation in the eastern part of the country 300 m
fish, timber, phosphates, bauxite, clay, granite, limestone, unexploited deposits of petroleum
agricultural land: 44.8%
arable land 8.2%; permanent crops 6.9%; permanent pasture 29.7%
other: 0% (2011 est.)
250 sq km (2012)
Population – distribution:
approximately one-fifth of the population lives in the capital city of Bissau along the Atlantic coast; the remainder is distributed among the eight other, mainly rural, regions
hot, dry, dusty harmattan haze may reduce visibility during dry season; brush fires
People and Society
According to the CIA Factbook, Guinea-Bissau’s population was 1,792,338 in 2017, compared to 518,000 in 1950. The proportion of the population below the age of 15 in 2010 was 41.3%, 55.4% were aged between 15 and 65 years of age, while 3.3% were aged 65 years or older. Guinea-Bissau’s young and growing population is sustained by high fertility; approximately 60% of the population is under the age of 25. Its large reproductive-age population and the total fertility rate of more than 4 children per woman offset the country’s high infant and maternal mortality rates. The latter is among the world’s highest because of the prevalence of early childbearing, a lack of birth spacing, the high percentage of births outside of health care facilities, and a shortage of medicines and supplies.
Guinea-Bissau’s history of political instability, a civil war, and several coups (the latest in 2012) have resulted in a fragile state with a weak economy, high unemployment, rampant corruption, widespread poverty, and thriving drug and child trafficking. With the country lacking educational infrastructure, school funding and materials, and qualified teachers, and with the cultural emphasis placed on religious education, parents frequently send boys to study in residential Koranic schools (daaras) in Senegal and The Gambia. They often are extremely deprived and are forced into street begging or agricultural work by marabouts (Muslim religious teachers), who enrich themselves at the expense of the children. Boys who leave their marabouts often end up on the streets of Dakar or other large Senegalese towns and are vulnerable to even worse abuse.
1,792,338 (July 2017 est.)
Fulani 28.5%, Balanta 22.5%, Mandinga 14.7%, Papel 9.1%, Manjaco 8.3%, Beafada 3.5%, Mancanha 3.1%, Bijago 2.1%, Felupe 1.7%, Mansoanca 1.4%, Balanta Mane 1%, other 1.8%, none 2.2% (2008 est.)
Crioulo (lingua franca), Portuguese (official; largely used as a second or third language), Pular (a Fula language), Mandingo
Muslim 45.1%, Christian 22.1%, animist 14.9%, none 2%, unspecified 15.9% (2008 est.)
Ethnicity, Language, and Religion
Guinea-Bissau’s population is dominated by more than 20 African ethnicities, including the Balante, one of the largest ethnic groups in the country, the numerous Fulani and their many subgroups, the Diola, the Nalu, the Bijagó, the Landuma, the Papel (Pepel), and the Malinke. There is also a small Cape Verdean minority with mixed African, European, Lebanese, and Jewish origins. During the colonial period, the European population consisted mainly of Portuguese but also included some Lebanese, Italian, French, and English groups, as well as members of other nationalities. Notably, there was never a substantial settler population in Guinea-Bissau, as there was in other Portuguese colonies.
Although perceived as one of the national languages of Guinea-Bissau since independence, Standard Portuguese is spoken mostly as a second language, with few native speakers and often confined to the intellectual and political elites. Schooling from primary to university levels is conducted in Portuguese although only 67% of children have access to any formal education. Data suggested the number of Portuguese speakers ranges from 11 to 15%. The Portuguese Creole is spoken by 44% which is effectively the national language of communication among distinct groups for most of the population. The remaining rural population speaks a variety of native African languages unique to each ethnicity: Fula (16%), Balanta (14%), Mandinga (7%), Manjaco (5%), Papel (3%), Felupe (1%), Beafada (0.7%), Bijagó (0.3%) and Nalu (0.1%), which form the ethnic African languages spoken by the population.
Half of the population in Guinea Bissau are Muslim. Forty percent follow indigenous beliefs and another 10 percent are Christians. Muslims are followers of Islam. Islam is an Arabic word meaning “submission to the will of Allah (God).” Animism is the term used to categorize the plethora of localized indigenous religions throughout the world. Animists live in a world dominated by a complex interplay of spiritual powers—those of the creator or creators (gods), the destroyers (demons), the forces of nature, the deceased (ancestors), and the living (healers or witches). Christians are followers of Jesus, a carpenter and a Jew from the city of Nazareth in present-day Israel. Christians believe that Jesus is the only son of God, born of a virgin woman (Mary) in a stable in Bethlehem. His story is told in the New Testament of the Christian holy book, the Bible.
Upon liberation from Portuguese rule in 1974, the Partido Africano da Independencia 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 levels—primary 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 vocational-technical education to improve the country’s economic status and offset the effects of widespread poverty. There is one agricultural college—the residential School of the Comrades Institute in Boe—that 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 2017, literacy courses in Creole and other national languages were being developed. Non-formal education is centered on community schools and the teaching of adults. In 2017 the literacy rate was estimated at 59.9% (71.9% male, and 48.3% female)
The economy of Guinea-Bissau includes a mixture of state-owned and private companies. Plans for industrial development have been reduced, and those supporting agriculture have been increased. Guinea Bissau’s economy continues to expand in spite of political gridlock and the suspension of donor flows to the country. Following growth of 5.1% in 2015, real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth was projected at above 5.1% for 2016. Inflation is expected to pick up with the pace of economic activities but should remain well below 3%. The fiscal situation is still strained by political instability and the suspension of budget support.
Guinea-Bissau is highly dependent on subsistence agriculture, cashew nut exports, and foreign assistance. Two out of three Bissau-Guineans remain below the absolute poverty line. The legal economy is based on cashews and fishing. Illegal logging and trafficking in narcotics also play significant roles. The combination of limited economic prospects, weak institutions, and favorable geography have made this West African country a way station for drugs bound for Europe. Guinea-Bissau has substantial potential for development of mineral resources, including phosphates, bauxite, and mineral sands. Offshore oil and gas exploration has begun. The country’s climate and soil make it feasible to grow a wide range of cash crops, fruit, vegetables, and tubers; however, cashews generate more than 80% of export receipts and are the main source of income for many rural communities.
Real GDP growth is projected to average 5% over 2016–2018. The pickup in growth reflects the assumption that output from the agriculture sector will remain fairly robust, and that political stability is achieved to allow for a return of donor financing that would support a recovery in the secondary sector. Given the history of fragility in Guinea Bissau, the outlook is highly uncertain, with pronounced risks to growth and poverty reduction. The reliance on cashew nuts for economic livelihood exposes two-thirds of the population to terms-of-trade shocks. Further diversification, either through moving up the value chain—with agricultural technology and market support systems—or through capitalizing on other green shoots in the agriculture sector will be key to bolstering the resilience of the economy.
The country is participating in a three-year, IMF extended credit facility program that was suspended because of a planned bank bailout. The program was renewed in 2017, but the major donors of direct budget support (the EU, World Bank, and African Development Bank) have halted their programs indefinitely. Failure to introduce urgently needed reforms to strengthen project appraisal capacity and introduce equity-based formulas for budget allocation could delay the gains from fiscal and economic improvements. Addressing high inequality in the country also requires efforts to improve service delivery and enhance access to basic services. However, accelerating or even sustaining the pace of poverty reduction will be difficult if the political situation remains unresolved, and if the major development challenges that constrain growth, inclusiveness, and sustainability are not addressed.
GDP (purchasing power parity):
$3.071 billion (2017 est.)
$2.925 billion (2016 est.)
$2.783 billion (2015 est.
note: data are in 2017 dollars
GDP (official exchange rate):
$1.295 billion (2017 est.)
GDP – real growth rate:
5% (2017 est.)
5.1% (2016 est.)
5.1% (2015 est.)
GDP – per capita (PPP):
$1,800 (2017 est.)
$1,800 (2016 est.)
$1,700 (2015 est.)
Gross national saving:
11.2% of GDP (2017 est.)
14% of GDP (2016 est.)
11.9% of GDP (2015 est.)
GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
services: 43% (2017 est.)
Agriculture – products:
rice, corn, beans, cassava (manioc, tapioca), cashew nuts, peanuts, palm kernels, cotton; timber; fish
agricultural products processing, beer, soft drinks
Population below poverty line:
67% (2015 est.)
revenues: $226 million
expenditures: $267 million (2017 est.)
The economy of Guinea-Bissau is mostly agricultural but also includes forestry and fishing. Guinea-Bissau produces its own food, and farming is largely based on local subsistence. Some of the most common crops grown in the country are rice, vegetables, beans, cassava, peanuts, potatoes and palm oil. They also raise livestock and catch fish and shrimp, which are used locally as well as exported. Due to the vast subsistence farming and importing, crop failure and rising prices can be devastating to the population. Guinea-Bissau was hit hard by the global food crisis in 2008 when they could not afford international prices and lacked the resources to keep up with food production. The country has also been affected by the practice of slash-and-burn agriculture, which causes soil fertility to decline. Lastly, a lack of resources has allowed much of the fertile land in Guinea-Bissau to go uncultivated.
Sustainable agriculture in Guinea-Bissau has become vital to solving these problems. In a direct response to the crisis in 2008, the revitalization of agriculture and specifically rice production became priorities. Several regions within the country have suitable land for rice production, yet these lands were uncultivated and caused citizens within these regions to fall into poverty, as they are isolated from other areas of food production. With new sustainable practices, rice production has now doubled in these areas. The European Union has also created a financing program to rehabilitate 300 kilometers of road in the area, allowing for a more efficient transport of goods. More sustainable practices and projects like these are also vital to combating climate change, a problem the country has been facing the effects of for years.
Guinea-Bissau has also turned to cashew nuts to enhance production. In 2013, cashew nuts accounted for 87.7 percent of the country’s total exports. The industry has been increasing since the late 1990s, and now 85 percent of people living in rural areas depend on these orchards in some way for their livelihoods. This has allowed for great economic improvement, yet the lack of biodiversity involved with this monocultural practice leaves citizens extremely vulnerable. If crops failed or were struck by disease, hundreds of thousands of citizens would be negatively affected.
The most important feature of sustainable agriculture in Guinea-Bissau is now education. Non-governmental organizations like Agrisud International are working with people within the country to promote and teach more sustainable practices. They have also been working with the country’s government to make these practices public policy. With the continued support of international organizations and the government, Guinea-Bissau’s agricultural practices will only continue to improve.
population without electricity: 1,300,000
electrification – total population: 21%
electrification – urban areas: 37%
electrification – rural areas: 6% (2013)
Electricity – production:
34 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – consumption:
31.62 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – exports:
0 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – imports:
0 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – installed generating capacity:
28,000 kW (2015 est.)
Electricity – from fossil fuels:
100% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Electricity – from nuclear fuels:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Telephones – fixed lines:
total subscriptions: 0 (July 2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 221
Telephones – mobile cellular:
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 72 (July 2016 est.)
Internet country code:
percent of population: 3.8% (July 2016 est.)
Industry and Mining
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 enterprises—a 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 the 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.
A strong infrastructure enhances the competitiveness of an economy and improves the quality of life of the population. Good infrastructure connects firms to their customers and suppliers and enables the use of modern production technologies. Conversely, deficiencies in infrastructure create barriers to productive opportunities and increase costs for all firms, from microenterprises to large multinational corporations. In order to survive and prosper in a competitive marketplace, firms must innovate and increase their productivity. A sound investment climate encourages firms to experiment and learn; it rewards success and punishes failure. Enterprise Surveys provide indicators that describe several dimensions of technological efficiency and innovation.
With a small and underdeveloped banking sector as well as an embryonic microfinance segment, Guinea-Bissau is barely able to harvest the growth benefits that could accrue from a more efficient and effective financial intermediation. Acknowledging that the financial sector’s vulnerabilities are very much driven by the fragile political and economic environment, there are key policy recommendations that the country ought to follow in order to improve the status quo. In this regard, more robust policies, regulations, and procedures should be implemented in order to strengthen the financial sector and promote financial deepening. But getting regulation right will not be enough. Political stability, economic formalization of firms and diversification away from the cashew sector as well as stricter enforcement of the rule of law are also needed.
The financial system in Guinea-Bissau is very much limited to the banking sector. There are currently four banks operating in what can be considered a small market. As far as bank ownership is concerned, regional private foreign banks have larger stakes in the local banks than any other investor. In 2012, they held 65% of shares in the Bissau-Guinean banking system, ahead of other foreign investors (15%). Private local investors only held 6% (IMF 2013). This mostly foreign-owned structure is similar to that of other WAEMU (West African Economic and Monetary Union) countries bar Côte d’Ivoire (see figure 13 in Annex). Banks are regulated and overseen by the WAEMU authorities.
Today, the banking system in Guinea-Bissau is not only narrow, but it is also characterized by low intermediation. Financial intermediation is the basic function performed by banks through the pooling of deposits to be converted into loans. On average in 2011, African banks intermediated about 74% of their deposits, while the ratio was of 109% in non-African banks (Beck et al 2011: 38). In Guinea-Bissau, although the trend has been on the increase, the ratio stood at 60% in 2013 (figure 3). The implication of this low ratio is that existing resources held by banks are not efficiently channeled to support private sector activities. What is unclear however is the extent to which it is banks which are unwilling or unable to extend credit, or whether it is the private sector which is not coming forth with adequately bankable projects.
As of 2013, five five microfinance institutions (MFIs) were effectively functioning in the country10. In terms of clientele, the number of clients has increased in the past year in particular as MFIs increased outreach outside of Bissau through the opening of 5 outlets, which now tally up to 19 across the country. As far as deposits are concerned, 2012 saw a 31.2% drop amidst the economic slowdown following the April 2012 coup. In the same vein, NPLs increased from 25% to 51% of total loans, considering that the sector’s regulatory prudential ratio is a maximum of 5%, reflecting important gaps in the capacity of MFIs to conduct operations and calling for a serious reform of the sector.
Guinea Bissau is the best place for tourists planning to visit this destination. Guinea Bissau is an independent nation located in West Africa alongside popular countries such as Senegal and Guinea. Guinea has a current history of civil war that suppressed the economy to the high extent, but the country is recovering from the damage. Overall, Guinea Bissau has lots to offer in its tourism sector, with great application of its unique, beautiful attractions. The local heritage is also necessary to explore as one of the splendid African heritage surviving in this modern world. Guinea Bissau is a Creole-speaking nation, but the Portuguese language is the official language. The climate of the country is generally warm with alternating dry and wet seasons, between December and April, and between June and October respectively.
There are three routes that travelers can use to enter Guinea Bissau. Airplane routes can be used from Portugal, other European countries, some United States of America cities, and Dakar-Senegal. The international airport in Bissau, the capital city of Guinea-Bissau, operates international flights between Bissau and the destinations named, with the facilitation of the following airline; TAP, Royal Air Maroc, Daily Air Senegal, and the TACV Carbo Verde Airlines.
Place of Attraction
Orange Island; Galumphing hippos drift in and out of the brackish lagoons of Orango Grande, one of the undisputed jewels of the Bissagos Islands and a distinct national park in its own right. Wildlife lovers flock to this small land mass in the Atlantic to see the rare salt-water creatures in their natural habitat, and there are oodles of local guides here that operate wetland safaris out into the waterways and mangroves to see them.
The Bijagós Archipelago is an off-the-beaten-path destination some 25 miles off the coast of mainland Guinea-Bissau. It is made up of more than 18 small islands; some of which are inhabited but rarely visited by travelers. Two of the most accessible isles are Bubaque and Bolama, the old capital of Guinea-Bissau. Great beaches, as well as excellent camping, await.
Travel back in time around the rustic yet vibrant capital of Bissau. The city features a wide range of attractions that date to the country’s colonial era. A walk through the Portugal quarter will take you to a world of fascinating architecture, while the coastal area brings stunning beaches. Other remnants of the past can be found throughout the city, ranging from the Fortaleza d’ Amura barracks to cultural landmarks like the Pidjiguiti Memorial and the Museum of African Artifacts. The beautiful Geba River flows through the city, providing more views to admire.
Nearby to Orange, just across a short straight in the Atlantic to the east, the whitewashed tropical sands of Bubaque come totally deserted; peppered with salt-sprayed driftwood and leaning palms, all looking like something out of Castaway. This is the gateway to the greater Bissagos Islands, thanks to the presence of Bubaque airport and the archipelago’s largest town, also called just Bubaque.
The Mandinka are the descendants of the Mali Empire, which rose to power in the 13th century under the rule of king Sundiata Keita who founded an empire which would go on to span the large part of West Africa. They migrated west from the Niger River in search of better agricultural lands and more opportunities for conquest. The Mandinka people live primarily in West Africa in Mali, The Gambia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Mauritania and Ivory Coast. Although widespread, in most countries the Mandinka are not the largest ethnic group, except in The Gambia and Guinea where they constitute the largest ethnic group. Most Mandinka lives in family-related compounds in traditional rural villages. Their traditional society has featured socially stratified castes. Mandinka communities have been fairly autonomous and self-ruled, being led by a chief and group of elders. Mandinka has been an oral society where mythologies, history, and knowledge are verbally transmitted from one generation to next. More than 99% of Mandinka in contemporary Africa are Muslim.
The Mandés was initially a part of many fragmented kingdoms that formed after the collapse of Ghana empire in the 11th century. During the rule of Sundiata Keita, these kingdoms were consolidated, and the Mandinka expanded west from the Niger River basin under Sundiata’s general Tiramakhan Traore. This expansion was a part of creating a region of conquest, according to the oral tradition of the Mandinka people. This migration began in the later part of the 13th century. Another group of Mandinka people, under Faran Kamara – the son of the king of Tabou – expanded southeast of Mali, while a third group expanded with Fakoli Kourouma.
In 1324, Sultan Mansa Musa who ruled Mali went on Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca with caravan carrying gold. Shihab al-Umari, the Arabic historian, described his visit and stated that Musa built mosques in his kingdom, established Islamic prayers and took back Maliki school of Sunni jurists with him. According to Richard Turner – a professor of African American Religious History, Musa was highly influential in attracting North African and Middle Eastern Muslims to West Africa. The Mandinka people of Mali converted early, but those who migrated to the west did not convert and retained their traditional religious rites. One of the legends among the Mandingo of western Africa is that the general Tiramakhan Traore led the migration because people in Mali had converted to Islam and he did not want to. Another legend gives a contrasting account and states that Traore himself had converted and married Muhammad’s granddaughter. The Traore’s marriage with Muhammad’s granddaughter, states Toby Green, is fanciful, but these conflicting oral histories suggest that Islam had arrived well before the 13th century and had a complex interaction with the Mandinka people.
The Kaabu Empire
The Kaabu Empire (1537–1867), also written Gabu, Ngabou, and N’Gabu’, was a Mandinka empire of Senegambia centered within modern northeastern Guinea-Bissau, Larger parts of today’s Gambia; Kingdom of Saloum, extending into Koussanar, Koumpentoum regions of South Eastern Senegal, and Casamance in Senegal. It rose to prominence in the region thanks to its origins as a former imperial military province of the Mali Empire. After the decline of the Mali Empire, Kaabu became an independent Empire.
The Mandinka arrived in Guinea-Bissau around the year 1200. One of the generals of Sundiata Keita, Tirmakhan Traore, conquered the area making Kaabu one of Mali’s western Tinkuru, or provinces in the 1230s. By the beginning of the 14th century, much of Guinea-Bissau was under the control of the Mali Empire and ruled by a Farim Kaabu (Commander of Kaabu) loyal to the Mansa of Mali. As in many places that saw Mandinka migrations, much of Guinea-Bissau’s native population was dominated or assimilated. Resisters being sold into slavery via the trans-Sahara trade routes to Arab buyers. Although the rulers of Kaabu were Mandinka, many of their subjects were from ethnic groups who had resided in the region before the Mandinka invasion.
After the middle of the 14th century, Mali saw a steep decline due to raids by the Mossi to their south and the growth of the new Songhai Empire. During the 16th century, Mali lost many of its provinces reducing it to not much more than the Mandinka heartland. Succession disputes between heirs to Mali’s throne also weakened its ability to hold even its historically secure possessions in Senegal, the Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau. Free of imperial oversight, these lands splintered off to form independent kingdoms. The most successful and longest lasting of these was Kaabu, which became independent in 1537. Kaabu’s governor, Sami Koli, became the first ruler of an independent Kaabu. He was the grandson of Tiramakhan Traore.
Kaabu carried on the legacy of the Mali Empire much in the same way the Byzantine Empire preserved the culture and social structure of the Roman Empire. The rulers of the Kaabu Kingdom believed their right to rule came from their history as an imperial province. The kings of independent Kaabu discarded the title of Farim Kaabu for Kaabu Mansaba. Among the vast provinces of the Kabu empire included but not limited to Firdu, Pata, Kamako, Jimara, Patim Kibo, Patim Kanjaye, Kantora, Sedhiou, Pakane Mambura, Kiang, Kudura, Nampaio, Saloum, Koumpentoum, Koussanar, Barra, Niumi, Pacana etc etc
The Portuguese Crown commissioned its navigators to explore the Atlantic coast of West Africa to find the sources of gold. The gold trade was controlled by Morocco, and Muslim caravan routes across the Sahara also carried salt, kola, textiles, fish, grain, and slaves. The navigators first passed the obstruction of Cape Bojador in 1437 and were able to explore the West African coast as far as Sierra Leone. Other Explorer includes Nuño Tristão, a Portuguese navigator who set out in the early 1440s in search of slaves and was killed in 1446 or 1447 by coastal inhabitants who were opposed to his intrusion. Early reports of Europeans reaching this area include those of the Venetian Alvise Cadamosto’s voyage of 1455, the 1479–1480 voyage by Flemish-French trader Eustache de la Fosse, and Diogo Cão. In the 1480s this Portuguese explorer reached the Congo River and the lands of Bakongo, setting up the foundations of modern Angola, some 4200 km down the African coast from Guinea-Bissau. The Portuguese monopolized the exploration and trade along the Upper Guinea coast from the later 15th and early 16th centuries until the French, Spanish, and English began to compete for the wealth of Africa.
Although the rivers and coast of this area were among the first places colonized by the Portuguese, who set up trading posts in the 16th century, they did not explore the interior until the 19th century. The local African rulers in Guinea, some of whom prospered greatly from the slave trade, controlled the inland trade and did not allow the Europeans into the interior. They kept them in the fortified coastal settlements where the trading took place. African communities that fought back against slave traders also distrusted European adventurers and would-be settlers. The Portuguese in Guinea were largely restricted to the ports of Bissau and Cacheu. A small number of European settlers established isolated farms along Bissau’s inland rivers.
The gold ultimately came from the upper reaches of the Niger River and Volta River and the Portuguese crown aimed to divert the gold trade towards the coast. To control this trade, the king ordered the building of a castle, called São Jorge da Mina (now Elmina Castle), on the Portuguese Gold Coast in 1482 and other trading posts. The Portuguese government instituted the Company of Guinea to deal with the trading and to fix the prices of the goods. Besides gold, ivory, Melegueta pepper and slaves were traded. It is estimated that the Atlantic slave trade transported around 11 million people from Africa between 1440 and 1870, including 2 million from Senegambia or Upper Guinea.
The Slave Trade
The Portuguese Gold Coast area was the source of an estimated 150,000 African slaves transported by the Portuguese, mainly from Upper Guinea before 1500, some used to grow cotton and indigo in the previously uninhabited Cape Verde islands. Portuguese traders and exiled criminals penetrated the rivers and creeks of Upper Guinea forming a mulatto population using Portuguese-based Creole language as their lingua franca. However, after 1500 the main area of Portuguese interest, both for gold and slaves, was further south in the Gold Coast. At the start of the 17th century, the main Portuguese bases for the export of slaves were Santiago, Cape Verde for the Upper Guinea traffic, and São Tomé Island for the Gulf of Guinea. In the 1630s and 1640s, the Dutch drove the Portuguese from most of the Gold Coast, but they retained a foothold at São João de Ajuda, now called Ouidah in Benin, as they preferred to acquire slaves from the Gulf of Guinea rather than Upper Guinea before the 1750s. In the 17th century, the French at Saint-Louis, Senegal, the English at Kunta Kinteh Island on the Gambia River and Dutch at Gorée had established bases in Upper Guinea.
The very weak Portuguese position in Upper Guinea was strengthened by the first Marquess of Pombal who promoted the supply of slaves from this area to the provinces of Grão-Pará and Maranhão in northern Brazil, and between 1757 and 1777, over 25,000 slaves were transported from the “Rivers of Guinea”, which approximates Portuguese Guinea and parts of Senegal, although this area had been largely neglected by the Portuguese for the previous 200 years. Bissau, founded in 1765, became the center of Portuguese control. Further British interest in the area led to a brief attempt in the 1790s to establish a base on the island of Bolama, where there was no evidence of any continuous Portuguese presence.
Between the retreat of the British settlers in 1793 and the official Portuguese occupation of the island in 1837, there were several attempts to establish a European presence on the island. Even after the Portuguese had asserted their claim in 1837, Afro-Portuguese lived and worked there alongside Afro-British from Sierra Leone, since Britain did not relinquish its claim to Bolama until 1870. The abolition of the slave trade by Britain in 1807 presented the slave traders of Guinea with a virtual monopoly of the West Africa slave trade with Brazil. Despite the Brazilian and Portuguese governments agreeing to stop this traffic in the 1830s, it probably continued at 18th-century.
In Guinea-Bissau and neighboring territories, slaves were captured among the coastal peoples or among interior groups at war. While Kaabu was ascendant, the Fulani were common victims. In 1867 the kingdom of Kaabu was overthrown by the Fulani, after which the numbers of Mande increased on the slave ships’ rosters. Groups of slaves were bound together in coffles and driven to the coastal barracoons (temporary enclosures) at Cacheu, Bissau, and Bolama by Grumetes (mercenaries). There the prices were negotiated by tangomãos (who functioned as both translators and mediators), and slaves were sold to the lançados and Senhoras (slave-trading women of mixed parentage).
Despite the five centuries of contact between Guineans and the Portuguese, one cannot truly speak of a deeply rooted colonial presence until the close of the 19th century. The long-lasting joint administration of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau was terminated in 1879 and both became separate colonial territories: Cape Verde and Portuguese Guinea. However, the European rivalries for control of the larger Guinea region only intensified. Long-term Anglo-Portuguese bickering over the ownership of Bolama was finally resolved when U.S. Pres. Ulysses S. Grant adjudicated the dispute in Portugal’sfavorr in 1870. The Franco-Portuguese conflict over the Casamance region, however, was resolved in France’s favour in May 1886.
The struggle for dominance around Guinea-Bissau fell within the context of the greater scramble for Africa that characterized the 1884–85 Berlin Congress, which saw English demands for Guinean territories to the south and French demands along the north and east. The Guinean people were certainly not consulted about such matters, and they resisted, revolted, and mutinied by any available means whenever possible. The Berlin Congress had called for the demonstration of “effective occupation,” though, and, in an attempt to satisfy this condition, the brutal “pacification” campaign of Capt. João Teixeira Pinto—with the employed support of an African mercenary force—was conducted from 1913 to 1915. The killings and severe punitive measures exacted by the Portuguese and their mercenaries brought a widespread outcry. Nevertheless, the Portuguese continued their pacification efforts against the Guinean population, especially the coastal peoples, and launched three more major campaigns of pacification, the latest of which was undertaken in January 1936.
Struggle For Independence
Portuguese Guinea (as well as the nearby Cape Verde archipelago) had been claimed by Portugal since 1446 and was a major trading post for commodities and African slaves during the 18th century before the former had been outlawed by the Portuguese authorities. The interior was however not fully controlled by the Portuguese until the latter half of 19th century. Sporadic fighting continued during the early 20th century and the Bijagós Islands were not pacified under Portuguese rule until 1936. Portuguese Guinea was dependent from the government of Cape Verde until 1887 when it gained the status of a separate overseas province of Portugal. In 1892, it received the status of the autonomous district, becoming again a province in 1896. At the beginning of the 20th century, Portuguese Guinea started to be referred to as “colony”, despite still having the generic status of the overseas province. With the effectiveness of the Portuguese Colonial Act of 1930, the designation “colony” fully replaced that of “province”.
In 1952, by a constitutional amendment, Portuguese Guinea became again referred as an overseas province, losing the status of “colony”. While there had always been local resistance it was not until 1956 the first liberation movement was founded by Amílcar Cabral and Rafael Barbosa, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). The first major activity of the PAIGC was a strike by dock-workers in Bissau on August 3, 1959. The colonial police violently repressed the strike and more than 50 people died, the incident became known as the Pijiguiti Massacre. The massacre led to a major upswing of popular support for the PAIGC. By 1960, it was decided to move headquarters to Conakry in neighboring Republic of Guinea (former French Guinea) in order to prepare for an armed struggle.
Open hostilities broke out in January 1963 when guerrillas from the PAIGC attacked the Portuguese garrison in Tite, near the Corubal River, south of Bissau, the capital of Portuguese Guinea. Similar guerrilla actions quickly spread across the colony, mainly in the south. The geography, dense forests with numerous waterways, were favorable to guerrilla activity. In 1964 PAIGC opened their second front in the north. In April 1964 the Portuguese launched a counter-offensive. They attacked the PAIGC held island of Como in the south of the country. 3,000 Portuguese, with air support, were involved but after 65 days were forced to withdraw. In 1965 the war spread to the eastern part of the country; that same year the PAIGC expanded its attacks in the northern area of the country, where at the time only the Front for the Liberation and Independence of Guinea (FLING), a minor insurgent force, was operating. By this time, the PAIGC, led by Amílcar Cabral, began openly receiving military support from the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba.
Despite being confronted by large numbers of Portuguese soldiers and their accompanying military technology, the PAIGC gained control of some two-thirds of the country, with the Portuguese colonial army under Gen. António de Spínola surviving only in the major towns and heavily fortified bases. On January 20, 1973, Cabral was assassinated; nevertheless, on September 24, 1973, independence was declared. This event, compounded by the drawn-out wars in Portugal’s other overseas provinces, precipitated a crisis that led to a successful coup in Lisbon on April 25, 1974. Portugal’s new government soon began negotiating with African nationalist movements. Full independence was achieved by Guinea-Bissau on September 10, 1974; Cape Verde achieved independence the following year. The Cape Verdean revolutionary comrades Luís de Almeida Cabral (half-brother of Amílcar Cabral) and Aristides Pereira became the first presidents of Guinea-Bissau and the Republic of Cape Verde, respectively. João (“Nino”) Vieira became the commander in chief of the armed forces of Guinea-Bissau.
In the first post-independence elections held in December 1976–January 1977, 80% of the population approved the PAIGC list of candidates for Regional Council membership. 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, the 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. 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.
The 21st Century Guinea-Bissau
An army uprising that triggered the Guinea-Bissau Civil War in 1998, created hundreds of thousands of displaced persons. The president was ousted by a military junta on 7 May 1999. An interim government turned over power in February 2000 when opposition leader Kumba Ialá took office following two rounds of transparent presidential elections. Guinea-Bissau’s transition back to democracy has been complicated by a crippled economy devastated by civil war and the military’s predilection for governmental meddling. In January 2000, the second round of a general election took place. The presidential election resulted in a victory for opposition leader Kumba Ialá of the Party for Social Renewal (PRS), who defeated Malam Bacai Sanhá of the ruling PAIGC. The PRS was also victorious in the National People’s Assembly election, winning 38 of the 102 seats.
In September 2003, a military coup was conducted. The military arrested Ialá on the charge of being “unable to solve the problems”. After being delayed several times, legislative elections were held in March 2004. A mutiny of military factions in October 2004 resulted in the death of the head of the armed forces and caused widespread unrest. In June 2005, presidential elections were held for the first time since the coup that deposed Ialá. Ialá returned as the candidate for the PRS, claiming to be the legitimate president of the country, but the election was won by former president João Bernardo Vieira, deposed in the 1999 coup. Vieira beat Malam Bacai Sanhá in a run-off election. Sanhá initially refused to concede, claiming that tampering and electoral fraud occurred in two constituencies including the capital, Bissau.
On 2 March 2009, however, Vieira was assassinated by what preliminary reports indicated to be a group of soldiers avenging the death of the head of joint chiefs of staff, General Batista Tagme Na Wai, who had been killed in an explosion the day before. Military leaders in the country pledged to respect the constitutional order of succession. National Assembly Speaker Raimundo Pereira was appointed as an interim president until a nationwide election on 28 June 2009. It was won by Malam Bacai Sanhá of the PAIGC, against Kumba Ialá as the presidential candidate of the PRS. On 9 January 2012, President Sanhá died of complications from diabetes, and Pereira was again appointed as an interim president. On the evening of 12 April 2012, members of the country’s military staged a coup d’état and arrested the interim president and a leading presidential candidate. Former vice chief of staff, General Mamadu Ture Kuruma, assumed control of the country in the transitional period and started negotiations with opposition parties. The return to democratically elected civilian rule was stalled, as legislative and presidential elections, originally scheduled to take place in 2013, were delayed. The presidential election, which was held on May 18. former finance minister José Mário Vaz emerged victorious, winning about 62 percent of the vote.