Guinea-Bissau (09/03)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Republic of Guinea-Bissau

Area (including Bijagos Archipelago): 36,125 sq. km., about one-third the size of Indiana.
Cities: Capital--Bissau. Other cities--Bafata, Gabu, Canchungo.
Terrain: Coastal plain; savanna in the east.
Climate: Tropical.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Guinean(s).
Population (est. 2001): 1.3 million.
Annual growth rate (est. 2001): 2.23%.
Ethnic groups: Balanta 30%, Fula 20%, Manjaca 14%, Mandinka 13%, Papel 7%.
Religions: Indigenous beliefs 50%, Muslim 45%, Christian 5%.
Languages: Portuguese (official), Creole, French, many indigenous languages, including Mandinka and Fula.
Education: Years compulsory--4. Literacy--34% of adults. Health: Infant mortality rate--130/1,000. Life expectancy--44 years.
Work force (480,000): Agriculture--78%; industry, services, and commerce--14%; government--8%.

Type: Republic, multi-party since 1991.
Independence: September 24, 1973 (proclaimed unilaterally); September 10, 1974 (de jure from Portugal).
Constitution: Adopted 1984. The National Assembly adopted a new Constitution in 2001, but it was neither promulgated nor vetoed by the President.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state and head of government), prime minister and council of state, ministers and secretaries of state. Legislature--People's National Assembly (ANP), 102 members directly elected in 1999. Judicial--Supreme Court and lower courts. Administrative Subdivisions: Autonomous sector of Bissau and eight regions. Political Parties: The Party for Social Renovation (PRS) was the ruling party until the September 14 military intervention. Other parties are the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC); the Guinea-Bissau Resistance-Ba-Fata Movement (RGB-FM); the Union for Change (UM); Front for the Liberation and Independence of Guinea (FLING); Guinean Civic Forum or (FCG); International League for Ecological Protection (LIPE); National Union for Democracy and Progress (UNDP); Party for Democratic Convergence (PCD); and the United Social Democratic Party (PUSD).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.

Flag: Guinea-Bissau flag

GDP (2000 est.): $201 million; real growth rate (2000 est.): 7.6%.
Per capita income (2000 est.): $173.
Natural resources: Fish and timber. Bauxite and phosphate deposits are not exploited; possible offshore petroleum.
Agriculture: Products--cashews, rice, peanuts, cotton, palm oil. Arable land--43%.
Industry: Very little industrial capacity remains from the 1998 internal conflict.
Trade: Exports--$80 million (f.o.b., 2000 est.): cashews (70%), shrimp, peanuts, palm kernels, sawn lumber. Major markets--India 59%, Singapore 12%, Italy 10% (1998). Imports--$55.2 million (f.o.b., 2000 est.): foodstuffs, machinery and transport equipment, petroleum products. Major suppliers--Portugal 26%, France 8%, Senegal 8%, Netherlands 7% (1998).

The population of Guinea-Bissau is ethnically diverse with distinct languages, customs, and social structures. Most people are farmers, with traditional religious beliefs (animism); 45% are Muslim, principally Fula and Mandinka-speaker concentrated in the north and northeast. Other important groups are the Balanta and Papel, living in the southern coastal regions, and the Manjaco and Mancanha, occupying the central and northern coastal areas.

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. Portugal claimed Portuguese Guinea in 1446, but few trading posts were established before 1600. In 1630, a "captaincy-general" of Portuguese Guinea was established to administer the territory. With the cooperation of some local tribes, the Portuguese entered the slave trade and exported large numbers of Africans to the Western Hemisphere via the Cape Verde Islands. Cacheu became one of the major slave centers, and a small fort still stands in the town. The slave trade declined in the 19th century, and Bissau, originally founded as a military and slave-trading center in 1765, grew to become the major commercial center.

Portuguese conquest and consolidation of the interior did not begin until the latter half of the 19th century. Portugal lost part of Guinea to French West Africa, including the center of earlier Portuguese commercial interest, the Casamance River region. A dispute with Great Britain over the island of Bolama was settled in Portugal's favor with the involvement of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant.

Before World War I, Portuguese forces, with some assistance from the Muslim population, subdued animist tribes and eventually established the territory's borders. The interior of Portuguese Guinea was brought under control after more than 30 years of fighting; final subjugation of the Bijagos Islands did not occur until 1936. The administrative capital was moved from Bolama to Bissau in 1941, and in 1952, by constitutional amendment, the colony of Portuguese Guinea became an overseas province of Portugal.

In 1956, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) was organized clandestinely by Amilcar Cabral and Raphael Barbosa. The PAIGC moved its headquarters to Conakry, Guinea, in 1960 and started an armed rebellion against the Portuguese in 1961. Despite the presence of Portuguese troops, which grew to more than 35,000, the PAIGC steadily expanded its influence until, by 1968, it controlled most of the country.

It established civilian rule in the territory under its control and held elections for a National Assembly. Portuguese forces and civilians increasingly were confined to their garrisons and larger towns. The Portuguese Governor and Commander in Chief from 1968 to 1973, Gen. Antonio de Spinola, returned to Portugal and led the movement which brought democracy to Portugal and independence for its colonies.

Amilcar Cabral was assassinated in Conakry in 1973, and party leadership fell to Aristides Pereira, who later became the first president of the Republic of Cape Verde. The PAIGC National Assembly met at Boe in the southeastern region and declared the independence of Guinea-Bissau on September 24, 1973. Following Portugal's April 1974 revolution, it granted independence to Guinea-Bissau on September 10, 1974. The United States recognized the new nation that day. Luis Cabral, Amilcar Cabral's half-brother, became President of Guinea-Bissau. In late 1980, the government was overthrown in a relatively bloodless coup led by Prime Minister and former armed forces commander Joao Bernardo Vieira.

From November 1980 to May 1984, power was held by a provisional government responsible to a Revolutionary Council headed by President Joao Bernardo Vieira. In 1984, the council was dissolved, and the National Popular Assembly (ANP) was reconstituted. The single-party assembly approved a new constitution, elected President Vieira to a new 5-year term, and elected a Council of State, which was the executive agent of the ANP. Under this system, the president presides over the Council of State and serves as head of state and government. The president also was head of the PAIGC and commander in chief of the armed forces.

There were alleged coup plots against the Vieira government in 1983, 1985, and 1993. In 1986, first Vice President Paulo Correia and five others were executed for treason following a lengthy trial. In 1994, the country's first multi-party legislative and presidential elections were held. An army uprising against the Vieira government in June 1998 triggered a bloody civil war that created hundreds of thousands of displaced persons. The president was ousted by a military junta in May 1999. An interim government turned over power in February 2000 when opposition leader Kumba Yala, founder of the Social Renovation Party (PRS), took office following two rounds of transparent presidential elections.

Despite the elections, democracy did not take root in the succeeding three years. President Yala neither vetoed nor promulgated the new constitution that was approved by the National Assembly in April 2001. The resulting ambiguity undermined the rule of law. Impulsive presidential interventions in ministerial operations hampered effective governance. On November 14, 2002, the President dismissed the government of Prime Minister Alamara Nhasse, dissolved the National Assembly, and called for legislative elections. Two days later, he appointed Prime Minister Mario Pires to lead a caretaker government controlled by presidential decree until the September 14 military intervention. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary and for the Supreme Court to choose its own leadership; however, it was subject to political influence and corruption, and was undermined when President Yala replaced the President of the Supreme Court on two occasions in 2002.

Elections for the National Assembly were scheduled for April, but later postponed until June and then October. On September 12, the President of the National Electoral Commission announced that it would be impossible to hold the elections on October 12 as scheduled. The army, led by Chief of Defense General Verrisimo Correia Seabra, intervened on September 14. President Yala announced his "voluntary" resignation and was placed under house arrest. The government was dissolved and 25-member Committee for Restoration of Democracy and Constitutional Order was established. On September 28, businessman Henrique Rosa, was sworn-in as President. He had the support of most political parties and of civil society. Artur Sanha, PRS President, was sworn-in as Prime Minister.

The country is in a transitional period. An ad-hoc committee prepared a pact to form a transitional government. Their goals are to hold Supreme Court elections, organize legislative and presidential elections, and promulgate the new Constitution (adopted in 2001). Most Guineans support this transitional government and its effort to return to the rule of law and rebuild political institutions. However, it is uncertain how long this process will take and whether the transitional government has the capacity to accomplish its stated goals.

Principal Government Officials
President--Henrique Perreira ROSA
Prime Minister-Artur SANHA
Ambassador to the UN--Luzeria Dos Santos JALO
Ambassador to the U.S.--VACANT

Guinea-Bissau does not have official respresentation in Washington. The Mission of Guinea-Bissau to the United Nations is located at 211 East 43rd Street, Suite 604, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-611-3977).

Guinea-Bissau is among the world's least developed nations and depends mainly on agriculture and fishing. Guinea-Bissau exports some fish and seafood, along with small amounts of peanuts, palm kernels, and timber. License fees for fishing provide the government with some revenue. Rice is the major crop and staple food. Because of high costs, the development of petroleum, phosphate, and other mineral resources is not a near-term prospect. However, unexploited offshore oil reserves may possibly provide much-needed revenue in the long run.

The military conflict that took place in Guinea-Bissau from June 1998 to early 1999 caused severe damage to the country's infrastructure and widely disrupted economic activity. Agricultural production is estimated to have fallen by 17% during the conflict, and the civil war led to a 28% overall drop in GDP in 1998. Cashew nut output, the main export crop, declined in 1998 by an estimated 30%. World cashew prices dropped by more than 50% in 2000, compounding the economic devastation caused by the conflict. Before the war, trade reform and price liberalization were the most successful part of the country's structural adjustment program under IMF sponsorship. Under the government's post-conflict economic and financial program, implemented with IMF and World Bank input, real GDP recovered in 1999 by almost 8%. In December 2000 Guinea-Bissau qualified for almost $800 million in debt-service relief under the first phase of the enhanced HIPC initiative.

Guinea-Bissau follows a nonaligned foreign policy and seeks friendly and cooperative relations with a wide variety of states and organizations. France, Portugal, Brazil, Egypt, Nigeria, Taiwan, Libya, Cuba, Sweden, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Russia have diplomatic offices in Bissau.

Guinea-Bissau is a member of the UN and many of its specialized and related agencies, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF); African Development Bank (AFDB), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Organization of African Unity (OAU), and permanent Interstate Committee for drought control in the Sahel (CILSS). Guinea-Bissau also is a member of the G-77, ICAO, FAO and WHO.

The U.S. embassy suspended operations in Bissau on June 14, 1998, in the midst of violent conflict between forces loyal to then-President Vieira and the military-led junta. Prior to and following the embassy closure, the United States and Guinea-Bissau have enjoyed excellent bilateral relations. The U.S. recognized the independence of Guinea-Bissau on September 10, 1974. Guinea-Bissau's ambassador to the United States and the United Nations was one of the first the new nation sent abroad. The U.S. opened an embassy in Bissau in 1976, and the first U.S. ambassador presented credentials later that year.

U.S. assistance began in 1975 with a $1 million grant to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for resettlement of refugees returning to Guinea-Bissau and for 25 training grants at African technical schools for Guinean students. Emergency food was a major element in U.S. assistance to Guinea-Bissau in the first years after independence. Since 1975, the U.S. has provided more than $65 million in grant aid and other assistance.

At the time of the closure of the U.S. embassy in Bissau, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) assistance to the country was less than $5 million per year. It focused primarily on increasing sustainable private sector economic activity in Guinea-Bissau's critical growth sectors through USAID's TIPS program, which covered the production, processing, and marketing of cashews, rice, fruits, and vegetables as well as fish and forest products. Removing legal, regulatory, and judicial constraints to private sector activity also as a goal of U.S. assistance. In 2001, USAID re-started its TIPS program using $1.6m in funding remaining from the preconflict period. This assistance includes programs for "peace-building" and cashew processing. Also in 2001, the State Department approved $250,000 in Economic Support Funds for Guinea-Bissau, which was used to fund good governance programs for the legislature and the judiciary.

The United States and Guinea-Bissau signed an international military training agreement (IMET) in 1986, and prior to 1998, the U.S. provided English-language teaching facilities as well as communications and navigational equipment to support the navy's coastal surveillance program. The IMET program ceased in 1998.

The Peace Corps withdrew from Guinea-Bissau in 1998 at the start of the civil war.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
There is no U.S. embassy in Bissau. Ambassador Richard Roth, resident in Dakar, is accredited as the U.S. Ambassador to Guinea-Bissau. All official U.S. contact with Guinea-Bissau is handled by the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal.

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.