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 the size of Maryland.
Cities: Capital--Bissau. Other cities-- Bafata, Gabu, Canchungo, Farim, Cacheu. Regions: Oio, Tombali, Cacheu, Bolama, Quinara, Biombo, Bafata, Gabu.
Terrain: Coastal plain; savanna in the east.
Nationality: Noun and adjective-Bissau-Guinean(s).
Population (July 2004 est.): 1,388,363.
Population growth rate: 1.99%.
Ethnic groups: African 99% (Balanta 30%, Fula 20%, Manjaca 14%, Mandinga 13%, Papel 7%), European and mulatto less than 1%.
Religions: Indigenous beliefs 50%, Muslim 45%, Christian 5%.
Languages: Portuguese (official), Creole, French, many indigenous languages: Balanta-Kentohe 26%; Pulaar 18%; Mandjak 12%; Mandinka 11%; Pepel 9%; Biafada 3%; Mancanha 3%; Bidyogo 2%; Ejamat 2%; Mansoanka 1%; Bainoukgunyuno 1%; Nalu 1%; Soninke 1%; Badjara 1%; Bayote 0,5%; Kobiana 0,04%; Cassanga 0,04%, Basary 0, 03%.
Education: Years compulsory--4. Literacy--42.4% of adults.
Health: Infant mortality rate--108.72 deaths/1,000 live births. Life expectancy-46.98 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), prime minister (head of government) and Council of State, ministers and secretaries of state. Legislature--People's National Assembly (ANP), 102 members directly elected in 2004. Judicial--Supreme Court and lower courts.
Administrative subdivisions: Autonomous sector of Bissau and eight regions.
Political parties: The African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) [leader Carlos Domingos Gomes Jr.] won the most seats (45) in the March 2004 legislative elections. Other parties represented in the ANP include: the Party for Social Renovation (PRS) ) [leader Alberto Nambeia] with 35 seats, the United Social Democratic Party (PUSD) [leader Francisco Jose Fadul] with 17 seats, the Electoral Union (UE) [leader Joaquim Balde] with 2 seats, and the United Popular Alliance (APU) with one seat. Other parties include: the Guinea-Bissau Resistance-Ba-Fata Movement (RGB-FM) [leader Salvador Tchongo], the Union for Change (UM) [leader Amin Saad], Front for the Liberation and Independence of Guinea (FLING) [leader Catengul Mendy], Guinean Civic Forum or (FCG) [leader Antonieta Rosa Gomes], International League for Ecological Protection (LIPE), National Union for Democracy and Progress (UNDP), Party for Democratic Convergence (PCD) [leader Victor Mandinga], Party of National Unity (PUN) [leader Idrissa Djalo], Party of Solidarity and Employment (PST) [leader Iamcuba Indjai], Guinean Democratic Movement (MDG) [leader Silvestre Alves], Guinean Popular Party (PPG) [leader Joao Tatis Sa], Socialist Alliance (AS) [leader Fernando Gomes]. Coalitions: Platform for Unity (PU) [leader Victor Mandinga].
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP (2003 est.): $251 million; real growth rate (2003 est.): -7%.
Per capita income (2003 est.): $180.
Natural resources: Fish and timber. Bauxite and phosphate deposits are not exploited; offshore petroleum.
Agriculture: Products--cashews, tropical fruits, rice, peanuts, cotton, palm oil. Arable land--43%.
Industry: Very little industrial capacity remains following the 1998 internal conflict. The cashew processing industry is nascent.
Trade: Exports--$40 million (f.o.b., 2003 est.): cashews ($45.1 million, 2001 est.), cotton ($1.1 million, 2001 est.), shrimp, peanuts, palm kernels, sawn lumber. Major markets--India 50.49%, Uruguay 19.1%, Thailand 19%, Italy 2.6% (2002). Imports--$59 million (f.o.b., 2003 est.): foodstuffs ($18.1 million, 2001 est.), machinery and transport equipment, petroleum products ($6 million, 2002 est.). Major suppliers-Senegal 19.6%, Portugal 19.1%, India 15.4%, China 4.3%, France, Netherlands (2002 est.).
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 speakers 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, Amilcar Cabral and Raphael Barbosa organized the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) clandestinely. 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 that 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 presided over the Council of State and served 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 3 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. Elections for the National Assembly were scheduled for April 2003, but later postponed until June and then October. On September 12, 2003, the President of the National Elections Commission announced that it would be impossible to hold the elections on October 12, 2003, as scheduled. The army, led by Chief of Defense General Verrisimo Correia Seabra, intervened on September 14, 2003. President Yala announced his "voluntary" resignation and was placed under house arrest. The government was dissolved and a 25-member Committee for Restoration of Democracy and Constitutional Order was established. On September 28, 2003 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. On March 28 and 30, 2004, Guinea-Bissau held legislative elections which international observers deemed acceptably free and fair. On May 9, 2004, Carlos Gomes Junior became Prime Minister.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
On August 10, 2005 Joao Bernardo Vieria was declared the winner of a July 24 presidential runoff election over Malam Bacai Sanha in an election judged by international observers to be free and fair.
The country is still in a transitional period. According to Guinea-Bissau's constitution, last modified in 1993, and the Pact of Transition, the newly selected prime minister serves as the head of government, but President Vieria will take over after his inauguration. Tasks facing the new government include determining whether to modify the April 2001 constitution before the President promulgates it.
Principal Government Officials
President--Joao Bernardo Vieria
Prime Minister--Carlos GOMES Junior
Ambassador to the UN--Alfredo Cabral
Ambassador to the U.S.--none
Guinea-Bissau does not have official representation in Washington, DC. For routine information, travelers can contact Guinea-Bissau's representative in Washington, Henrique Da Silva, at P.O. Box 33813, Washington, DC 20033, (301) 947-3958 main/fax. The Mission of Guinea-Bissau to the United Nations does not have a physical office in New York City.
Guinea-Bissau is among the world's least developed nations and depends mainly on agriculture and fishing. Guinea-Bissau exports some fish and seafood, although most fishing in Guinea-Bissau's waters is presently not done by Bissau-Guineans and very little fish and seafood is processed in Guinea-Bissau. The country's other important product is cashews. License fees for fishing provide the government with some revenue. Rice is a major crop and staple food and, if developed, Guinea-Bissau could potentially be self-sufficient in rice. Tropical fruits such as mangos could also provide more income to the country if the sector were developed. 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 gross domestic product (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 International Monetary Fund (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 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. However, Guinea-Bissau's Poverty Reduction and Growth Fund program with the IMF was suspended that same month--following disbursement of the first tranche--due to off-program expenditures by the Yala regime. Thus, IMF and Paris Club internal debt relief for Guinea-Bissau was also suspended in 2001. Presently, Guinea-Bissau is benefiting from World Bank and African Development Bank debt relief.
Guinea-Bissau follows a nonaligned foreign policy and seeks friendly and cooperative relations with a wide variety of states and organizations. The European Union, France, Gambia, Portugal, Brazil, Egypt, Nigeria, People's Republic of China, Libya, Senegal, Guinea, the Palestinian Authority, and Russia have embassies in Bissau. Belgium, Canada, Germany, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. conduct diplomatic relations with Guinea-Bissau through their embassies in neighboring Dakar, Senegal.
Guinea-Bissau is a member of the UN and many of its specialized and related agencies. It is a member of 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--now the African Union), and permanent Interstate Committee for drought control in the Sahel (CILSS). Guinea-Bissau also is a member of the Group of 77 (G-77), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and World Health Organization (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.
Since the 1998 war the U.S. has provided over $800,000 for humanitarian demining to a non-governmental organization (NGO) which has removed over 2,500 mines and 11,000 unexploded ordnance from the city of Bissau; $1.6 million in food aid; and nearly $3 million for assistance for refugees, improving the cashew industry, and promoting democracy.
The United States and Guinea-Bissau signed an international military education and training (IMET)agreement 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 U.S. European Command's Humanitarian Assistance Program has assisted with $390,000 for constructing or repairing schools, health centers, and bridges.
The Peace Corps withdrew from Guinea-Bissau in 1998 at the start of the civil war.
In August 2004, sanctions under Section 508 of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act--which were imposed as a result of the September 2003 military coup--were lifted and Bissau once again became eligible for IMET and other direct aid.
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. Local employees staff the U.S. Office in Bissau and American diplomats from the Embassy in Dakar travel frequently to Bissau to conduct normal diplomatic relations.