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Diplomacy in Action

Guinea-Bissau (01/02)


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


Official Name:
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; amended 1991, 1993 and 1996.
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) is the ruling party. 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 (54% of GDP): Products--cashews, rice, peanuts, cotton, palm oil. Arable land--43%.
Industry (15% of GDP): Types--agricultural processing, fish processing, light construction, soft drinks.
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.

In 1989, the ruling PAIGC under the direction of President Vieira began to outline a political liberalization program which the ANP approved in 1991. Reforms that paved the way for multi-party democracy included the repeal of articles of the constitution, which had enshrined the leading role of the PAIGC. Laws were ratified to allow the formation of other political parties, a free press, and independent trade unions with the right to strike.

Guinea-Bissau's first multi-party elections for president and parliament were held in 1994. Following the 1998-99 civil war, presidential and legislative elections were again held, bringing opposition leader Kumba Yala and his PRS party to power. The PRS currently holds 38 of 102 National Assembly seats and 18 of 25 Cabinet seats.

Principal Government Officials
President--Kumba Yala Kobde Nhanca
Prime Minister--Alamara Intchia Nhasse
Minister of Foreign Affairs/International Cooperation and Communities--Filomena Mascarenhas Tipote
Minister of National Defense--Dr. Brun Sitna Na'Mone
Minister of Internal Administration--Marcelino Simoes Lopes Cabral
Minister of Justice--Carlos Pinto Perreira
Minister of Economy and Finance--Carlos Sousa
Minister of Commerce and Industry--Fernando Correia Landim
Minister of Social Infrastructure--Braima Djassi
Minister of Agriculture Forest, Hunting and Cattle Breeding--Luis Olundo
Minister of Energy and Natural Resources--Carlitos Barrai
Minister of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs--Dioniso Cabi
Minister of Education, Youth, Culture and Sport--Geraldo Martins
Minister of Public Health--Antonio Serifo Embalo
Minister of PublicAdministration and Labor--Rui Duarte de Barros
Minister of the Council of Ministers, Media and Parliamentary Affairs--Jose de Pina
Ambassador to the UN--Luzeria Dos Santos Jalo
Ambassador to the U.S.--Vacant

The embassy of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau is located at 918 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006 (tel. 202-872-4222). 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 and is scheduled to submit its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper in March 2002. Guinea-Bissau will receive the bulk of its assistance under the enhanced HIPC initiative when it satisfies a number of conditions, including implementation of its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper.

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. 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 and was re-started in 2001.

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.

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