Guinea-Bissau country profile

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Map of Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau in West Africa was part of the Portuguese Empire for centuries.

Once hailed as a potential model for African development, the country is now one of the poorest in the world.

The crucial crop of cashew nuts provides a modest income for most farmers in Guinea-Bissau and is the main source of foreign exchange.

But today the country has a huge foreign debt and an economy heavily dependent on foreign aid. It has become a transshipment point for Latin American drugs.

In the late 1990s, the country experienced a conflict that attracted Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal and France and ended with the president going into exile.

  • Capital: Bissau

  • Area: 36,125 square kilometers

  • Population: 2.02 million

  • languages: Portuguese, Guinea Bissau Creole, plus English, French, Arabic, Fula, Mandinka and others

  • Life expectancy: 61 years old (men) 65 years old (women)

Chairman: Umaro Sissoco Embaló

President Umaro Sissoco Embalo of Guinea-Bissau

President Umaro Sissoco Embalo of Guinea-Bissau

Mr Embaló won the December 2019 presidential election but faced a last-minute confrontation with parliament before taking office in February.

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This reflected the continued instability of state institutions in a country that has experienced nine coups or attempted coups since 1980, and the opposition of the longest-ruling PAIGC party to an opposition candidate’s victory. Mr. Embaló, former prime minister, is the first president elected without the support of the PAIGC.

His predecessor, Jose Mario Vaz, was the first elected leader since the 2012 army mutiny that plunged the country – already beset by corruption and the cocaine trade – into chaos, and the first to serve out his term without being overthrown.

Family working with cashew nuts in Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau is one of the world’s largest cashew nut producers

Restrictions on the media and freedom of association have eased somewhat, although police continued to disrupt some demonstrations, says US NGO Freedom House.

Private radio stations operate alongside the state broadcaster. A government newspaper publishes alongside non-state titles.

A rebel army on patrol armed with part of the issued assortment of Russian weapons during the Portuguese Colonial War, Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, 1972

The Guinea-Bissau War of Independence is sometimes referred to as “Portugal’s Vietnam” because it was a protracted, costly guerrilla war that caused significant political unrest in Portugal

Some key dates in the history of Guinea-Bissau:

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1446-47 – First Portuguese arrive; subsequently administered as part of the Portuguese Cape Verde Islands, the Guinea area becomes important in the slave trade. Guinea-Bissau becomes a separate colony in the Portuguese Empire in 1879.

15th-19th century – Portuguese control of the region has been limited to fortresses along the coast for much of this period. Portugal gains full control of the mainland only after the military campaigns of 1912-1915.

1956 – Amilcar Cabral founds the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).

1963-74 – Bissau-Guinean War of Independence. An armed struggle between Portugal and the PAIGC, which is supported by Cuba, the USSR and Yugoslavia.

1970 – Operation Mar Verde – Portugal’s amphibious assault on Guinea-Conakry, designed to capture the PAIGC leadership. It fails and the attack strains Portuguese relations with other Western countries.

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1973 – Amilcar Cabral killed. PAIGC unilaterally declares Guinea-Bissau independent from Portugal and gives it its current name.

1974 – Portugal grants Guinea-Bissau independence after the Carnation Revolution in Portugal, with Luis Cabral, brother of Amilcar Cabral, as president.

1980 – Luis Cabral is overthrown in a military coup led by Joao Bernardo Vieira; plans for unification with Cape Verde were dropped. The overthrow is the first of many political coups that will undermine the country’s stability over the next four decades.

2006 – Guinea-Bissau soldiers fight Senegalese rebels along the southern border.

2006 – Guinea-Bissau calls for international help to prevent smugglers from using its remote coastline to smuggle migrants, including Asians, to Europe.

2007 – Parliament passes a law guaranteeing amnesty for any violence committed during the years of political unrest between 1980 and 2004.

2011 – EU suspends part of its aid to Guinea-Bissau over concerns about governance and the rule of law.

2012 – The UN Security Council expresses its concern about the increase in drug trafficking and demands a return to the constitution.

2020 – Former Prime Minister Umaro Sissoco Embaló takes office after winning the presidential election, ending 46 years of PAIGC or military rule.

People walk and shop in the street of Bissau on July 28, 2022

Only about 2% of the population speak Portuguese as a first language, while a third speak it as a second language

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