From New World Encyclopedia

República da Guiné-Bissau
Republic of Guinea-Bissau
Flag of Guinea-Bissau Emblem of Guinea-Bissau
MottoPortuguese: "Unidade, Luta, Progresso" 
"Unity, Struggle, Progress"
AnthemPortuguese: "Esta é a Nossa Pátria Bem Amada" 
"This is Our Well-Beloved Motherland"
Location of Guinea-Bissau
(and largest city)
11°52′N 15°36′W
Official languages Portuguese
Recognized regional languages Crioulo
Demonym Bissau-Guinean(s)[1]
Government Semi-presidential republic
 -  President Malam Bacai Sanhá
 -  Prime Minister Carlos Gomes
Independence from Portugal 
 -  Declared September 24, 1973 
 -  Recognized September 10, 1974 
 -  Total 36,125 km² (136th)
13,948 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 22.4
 -  2010 estimate 1,647,000[2] (148th)
 -  2002 census 1,345,479 
 -  Density 44.1/km² (154th)
115.5/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $1.784 billion[3] 
 -  Per capita $1,084[3] 
GDP (nominal) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $837 million[3] 
 -  Per capita $508[3] 
Gini (1993) 47 (high
Currency CFA franc (XOF)
Time zone GMT (UTC+0)
Internet TLD .gw
Calling code +245

Guinea-Bissau, officially the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, is one of the smallest nations in continental Africa. Formerly the Portuguese colony of Portuguese Guinea, upon independence, the name of its capital, Bissau, was added to the country's official name in order to prevent confusion with the Republic of Guinea.

After a protracted war for independence, then decades of socialist and authoritarian rule and a civil war, Guinea-Bissau is one of the world's poorest countries, with more than two-thirds of its population living below the poverty line. Lacking resources, the economy depends mainly on agriculture and fishing, and cashew nuts are its major export. It is ranked at 173 out of 177 nations by the UN Human Development Index.

The government, while ostensibly a republic, harasses political opponents. Corruption is rampant, and organized crime and drug traffickers have moved in.


Map Of Guinea Bissau
Satellite image of Guinea-Bissau, generated from raster graphics data supplied by The Map Library

Guinea-Bissau is bordered by Senegal to the north, Guinea to the south and east, and the Atlantic Ocean to its west. At 13,945 sq mi. (36,120 sq km), it is nearly identical in size to Taiwan and somewhat larger than the U.S. state of Maryland. The Bijagos Archipelago, consisting of eighteen islands, extends out to sea.

The terrain is generally flat and nearly at sea level, although there are hills in the southeastern region; its highest point is 984 feet (300 m). Wide tidal estuaries surrounded by mangrove swamps penetrate forty miles into the interior, where coastal rainforest gives way to sparsely wooded savanna in the north.

Its monsoon-like rainy season alternates with periods of hot, dry harmattan winds blowing from the Sahara Desert. December and January are the driest, coolest months. March to May are the hottest months, with daytime temperatures reaching 93°F (34°C) and humidity levels very high. The rainy season lasts from June to October. Daily temperatures rarely dip below 86°F (30°C) throughout the year.

The most important rivers include the Cacheu, Mansoa, Geba, and Corubal.

Parts of Guinea-Bissau are rich in wildlife, including several species of antelope, buffalo, monkeys, and snakes. The Cacheu River Natural Park protects large mangrove areas and sacred forests. Wildlife includes over two hundred bird species (such as flamingos, Senegal parrots, and African giant kingfishers), monkeys, alligators, hippopotamus, manatees, panthers, gazelles, and hyenas. Africa's most western population of chimpanzees in found in the south.


The Balanta people who today live along the southern coast are probably the group that has been in Guinea-Bissau the longest, later joined by Mandinga and Fula. The early settlers were agriculturalists. Part of present-day Guinea-Bissau was included in the Sahelian Mali Empire, which flourished between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. The Portuguese reached the coast in the mid-fifteenth century and traded for gold, ivory, pepper, and slaves. They established permanent trading posts along the coast in the sixteenth century and encouraged raids of neighboring ethnic groups for slaves as the demand grew.

Colonial era

The nation began as a colony consisting of the mainland territory and the islands of Cape Verde. But it was only in the 1880s, during the European scramble for African colonies, that the Portuguese moved inland. Until then, they had ruled only coastal enclaves, and their African hosts controlled their access to food and water supplies. Their encroachments were met with resistance, and the Portuguese did not consolidate their control until 1915.

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 Muslims to destroy Injai and his followers, becoming the sole power in the region.

Other Europeans were allowed to lease land for plantations, mainly to produce groundnuts (peanuts) and palm oil, until the Salazar era. The Portuguese built some roads, a few bridges, hospitals, and schools. There was only one secondary school and no opportunity for political expression. Even as other European powers were relinquishing their colonies, the Portuguese refused to abandon their empire, resulting in a protracted liberation struggle under the leadership of Cape Verdean Amilcar Cabral.


The armed rebellion by the left-wing African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), under the leadership of Amílcar Cabral, gradually consolidated its hold on the country. Unlike other Portuguese anticolonial efforts, the PAIGC rapidly extended its military control over large portions of the country, aided by the jungle-like terrain and large quantities of arms from Cuba, China, the Soviet Union, and other African countries. The PAIGC even acquired a significant anti-aircraft capability to defend itself against aerial attack.

By 1973, the PAIGC controlled most of the country, pinning down Portuguese troops in the urban centers. Independence was unilaterally declared on September 24, 1973, and was recognized by a 93-7 UN General Assembly vote in November 1973. Recognition became universal following the 1974 socialist-inspired military coup in Portugal.

At the time of independence, few people could read, life expectancy was 35 years, and rice production had fallen by over 70 percent during the war.


Guinea-Bissua was controlled by a Revolutionary Council until 1984. Amilcar Cabral had been assassinated in 1973. There was little economic infrastructure, and much of the country was relatively inaccessible. The country's rulers followed a rigid socialist program, with state control of the economy and private enterprise restricted to small shops. In 1980, amid shortages of food and basic goods, Maj. Joao Vieira ousted Luis Cabral, Amilcar's half-brother. After his takeover, Cape Verde ended its union with Guinea-Bissau. The country continued its socialist policies, and political dissent was banned. The Soviet Union continued sending arms and advisers.

By the late 1980s, with economic conditions worsening, Vieira initiated some economic reforms. The first multiparty elections were not held until 1994, and Vieira won them with 52 percent of the vote. An army uprising in 1998 led to civil war between rebels and government troops. Many civilians were killed, thousands displaced, and the fragile economy disrupted before the president was ousted. When elections were held in January 2000, Kumba Ialá was elected president.

In September 2003, a coup took place in which 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 a candidate, claiming to be the legitimate president, but the election was won by former president João Bernardo Vieira, who had been deposed in the 1998 coup. Vieira, a candidate for one faction of the PAIGC, defeated Malam Bacai Sanha in a runoff election. Sanha initially refused to concede, charging that the elections were fraudulent in two constituencies, including the capital Bissau.

Despite reports that there had been an influx of arms in the weeks leading up to the election and reports of some "disturbances during campaigning" - including attacks on the presidential palace and the Interior Ministry by as-yet-unidentified gunmen - European monitors described the election as "calm and organized." [4]


Guinea-Bissau is a republic. In the past, the government has been highly centralized and multiparty governance has been in effect since mid-1991. The president is the head of state and the prime minister is the head of government. At the legislative level, there is a unicameral National People's Assembly made up of 100 members. They are popularly elected from multi-member constituencies to serve a four-year term. At the judicial level, there is a Supreme Court, which consists of nine justices appointed by the president. They serve at the pleasure of the president.

João Bernardo "Nino" Vieira became president of Guinea-Bissau in 2005, returning to power only six years after being ousted from office. Previously, he held power for nineteen years after taking power in 1980 in a bloodless coup that toppled the government of Luís Cabral. The government still uses suppression of political opposition and purging of political dissidents to maintain its control. The police are known to use violent means when dispersing otherwise peaceful demonstrations. Human rights activists are often arrested and beaten due to the work they are trying to promote.

Administrative divisions

Guinea-Bissau is divided into eight regions and one autonomous sector. These in turn are subdivided into thirty-seven sectors.

Map of the regions of Guinea-Bissau


Guinea-Bissau gained its independence from Portugal in 1974 after a protracted liberation war that brought tremendous damages to the country’s economic infrastructure. The civil war that took place in 1998 and 1999 and a military coup in September 2003 again disrupted economic activity, leaving a substantial part of the economic and social infrastructure in ruins and intensifying the already widespread poverty. Following the parliamentary elections in March 2004 and presidential elections in July 2005, the country is trying to recover from the long period of instability despite a still-fragile political situation.

Guinea-Bissau is one of the world's poorest countries, with more than two-thirds of its population living below the poverty line. The economy depends mainly on agriculture and fishing, and cashew nuts are its major exports. A long period of political instability has resulted in depressed economic activity, deteriorating social conditions, and increased macroeconomic imbalances. The key challenges for the country in the period ahead will be to restore fiscal discipline, rebuild public administration, improve the climate for private investment, and promote economic diversification.

GDP per capita is $900 (2006 est.). Agriculture contributes 62 percent of the GDP, followed by industry 12 percent and services: 26 percent (1999 est.). Some 82 percent of the labor force is engaged in agriculture, with industry and services only 18 percent (2000 est.).

The main export partners are India 72.4 percent, Nigeria 17.2 percent, Ecuador 4.1 percent (2006). Guinea-Bissau imports foodstuffs, machinery and transport equipment, and petroleum products, chiefly from Senegal 22.6 percent, Portugal 17.7 percent, Italy 12.2 percent, and Pakistan 4.3 percent (2006).

The country has become an increasingly important transit country for Latin American cocaine en route to Europe, aided by an environment of pervasive corruption; the archipelago-like geography around the capital also facilitates drug smuggling.


The population of Guinea-Bissau is ethnically diverse and has many distinct languages, customs, and social structures. Nearly 99 percent of Guineans are black and can be divided into the following three categories: Fula and the Mandinka-speaking people, who comprise the largest portion of the population and are concentrated in the north and northeast; the Balanta and Papel people, who live in the southern coastal regions; and the Manjaco and Mancanha, who occupy the central and northern coastal areas. The Bijago people live on the offshore islands. Most of the remaining one percent are mestiços of mixed Portuguese and black descent, including a Cape Verdean minority. Pure Portuguese comprise only a very small portion of Guinea-Bissauans. This deficit was directly caused by the exodus of Portuguese settlers that took place after Guinea-Bissau gained independence. The country also has a Chinese minority, including people of mixed Portuguese and Chinese blood from Macau.

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. Life expectancy for the total population is 47.18 years (males 45.37 years and females 49.04 years). The HIV/AIDS rate is ten percent (2003 est.)

The abuse of children, including child labor, continues to be a problem in the region. Child trafficking is also an issue.


Only 14 percent of the population speaks the official language, Portuguese; another 44 percent of the population speaks Kriol, a Portuguese-based creole language, and the remainder speaks native African languages. Pure-blooded Portuguese and mestiços speak one of the African languages and Kriol as second languages. French is also learned in schools, as the country is a member of La Francophonie.

Only 42.4 percent of the adult population is literate (males 58.1 percent and females 27.4 percent).


Most people are farmers with traditional religious beliefs (animism); 45 percent are Muslim, principally the Fula and Mandinka peoples. Less than 8 percent are Christian, most of whom are Roman Catholic.

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 trans-ethnic reputation for reliability and power. Guineans abroad continue to return to those shrines and send money to pay for sacrifices and ceremonies. The most elaborate and expensive life cycle rituals are associated with death, burial, and the enshrinement of ancestors.


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.

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.

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

Education at the primary school level is almost universal. However, attendance and quality of education are low due to lack of resources. Teachers are poorly trained and paid, sometimes not receiving salaries for months at a time. For economic reasons, children often are required to help families in the fields, which conflicts with schooling.

The law prohibits discrimination against women but it remains a problem, particularly in rural areas where traditional and Islamic law are dominant. Women are responsible for most work on subsistence farms and have limited access to education. Among certain ethnic groups, women cannot own or manage land or inherit property.

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.

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.

Independence Day, celebrated on September 24, is the major national holiday.


The music of Guinea-Bissau is usually associated with the polyrhythmic gumbe genre, the country's primary musical export. However, civil unrest and a small size have combined over the years to keep gumbe and other genres out of mainstream audiences, even in generally syncretist African countries.

The calabash is the primary musical instrument of Guinea-Bissau, and is used in extremely swift and rhythmically complex dance music. Lyrics are almost always in Guinea-Bissau Creole, a Portuguese-based creole language, and are often humorous and topical, revolving around current events and controversies, especially HIV/AIDS.

The word gumbe is sometimes used generically, to refer to any music of the country, although it most specifically refers to a unique style that fuses about ten of the country's folk music traditions. Tina and tinga are other popular genres, while extent folk traditions include ceremonial music used in funerals, initiations and other rituals, as well as Balanta brosca and kussundé, Mandinga djambadon and the kundere sound of the Bijagos islands.


Rice, a staple among the coastal peoples, has become a prestige food that is imported 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.


In the Bolama archipelago, a matriarchal or at least matrilineal social system has survived to the present day, although it is currently being eroded by globalization and Christian missionary influence. In this system, women choose husbands who are compelled to marry them, and religious affairs are controlled by a female priesthood.

Future issues

Organized crime and drug trafficking

On July 11, 2007, UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro called for greater international support to Guinea-Bissau and other African nations emerging from conflict "if they are to consolidate peace and address the socio-economic and other root causes of conflict." Briefing reporters on her trip there, she said Guinea-Bissau remains in a "fragile, post-conflict period," noting that the country is now facing a growing problem of drug trafficking and organized crime, in addition to its long-standing development challenges. Migiro's visit was intended to reaffirm U.N. support for efforts to consolidate peace, national reconciliation and constitutional governance.


A serious threat remains from landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW). In the north, ERW contamination has left most of the population with unusable farmland. According to a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) humanitarian situation report, contamination prevents subsistence farming and cash crop harvesting in affected areas. According to the UNDP, 32 out of 39 sectors of Guinea Bissau, including some 278 villages, remain contaminated by mines and munitions left over from the war of independence and civil war; spillover from the conflict in the Casamance region of Senegal exacerbated the situation.


The destruction of mangroves on the coast to expand rice production is an environmental issue. So is groundnut production, which exhausts soil nutrients. Overfishing may become an issue.


  1. Background Note: Guinea-Bissau. US Department of State (December, 2009). Retrieved 7 February 2010.
  2. Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division (2009). World Population Prospects, Table A.1. NB: The preliminary results of the National population census in Guinea-Bissau put the figure at 1,449,230, according to email information by the Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisa, Bissau.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Error on call to template:cite web: Parameters url and title must be specified. International Monetary Fund.
  4. BBC News. July 28, 2005.Army man wins G Bissau election, Retrieved August 10, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Lobban, Richard A., Jr. and Peter K. Mendy. Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, 3rd ed. Scarecrow Press, 1998. ISBN 0810832267
  • Cutter, Charles H. 2006. Africa, 2006. World Today series. Harpers Ferry, WV: Stryker-Post Publications. ISBN 1887985727
  • Gailey, Harry A. History of Africa: Volume III, From 1945 to present. Malabar. FL: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1989. ISBN 0894642960
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary et al. 2002. West Africa, 5th ed. Victoria, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications. ISBN 1740592492
  • Countries and Their Cultures. Culture of GUINEA-BISSAU, Retrieved July 12, 2023.

External links

All links retrieved July 18, 2017.


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