Country Profiles

Guinea-Bissau is located on the west coast of Africa, with Senegal in the north and Guinea in the south defined by Rivers cross the lowlands on the coast, while the eastern inland is drier and has more hilly terrain. The climate is warm and humid, with rainy season from May to October. Around 40-45 percent of the population are Muslims, between 5 and 10 percent are Christians, and the rest belong to animist African religions.

Each ethnic group has its own language or dialect. Portuguese is the official language, but it is spoken only by a minority of the population. In recent years, kriol has taken over more and more as a common language for everyone.

Politically unstable

In 1956, Amilcar Cabral founded the African Independence Party for Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). A military campaign against the Portuguese colonial armies was launched in 1961, and in 1973, João Vieira, a young war hero named Nino, declared independence for the Republic of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde.

Cabral had been killed and his half-brother Luís Cabral was appointed president.

Following a military coup in Lisbon in April 1974, the Republic was recognized by General Spinola, former Portuguese governor and commander-in-chief of Portuguese Guinea.

The political situation in the country has been unstable since independence. In 1980, Nino took power in a military coup, ending the union between Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. In 1994, Nino won the first presidential election, while PAIGC won the election at the National Assembly. Four years later, a military uprising broke out after the army chief, Ansumane Mané, with the support of a majority in the military, protested when he was deposed by Nino, allegedly for smuggling weapons into separatist guerrillas in the southern province of Casamance in Senegal. In May 1999, Nino lost the war against his own military, despite support from neighboring Senegal and Guinea, and went into political asylum in Portugal.

After the war, the opposition emerged victorious in the election of a new national assembly, and Kumba Yala became the new president. Yala’s administration proved chaotic, and in 2003 he was placed under house arrest by the army. Businessman Henrique Rosa was named interim president. Following new elections in 2004, PAIGC entered into an alliance with Yala’s party, and to great surprise, Nino now won the 2005 presidential election, with support from Yala.

In addition to allegations of electoral fraud, concern was expressed about where Nino had his financial support from – it was obvious that it was very strong. Nevertheless, the UN Security Council commended the people of Guinea-Bissau for their participation in free, fair elections.

After the elections, there were charges of organized crime and drug smuggling from Colombia via Guinea-Bissau to Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The balance of power between Nino, the military and the National Assembly was uncertain until now

PAIGC won an absolute majority in the 2008 election. On March 1, 2009, General Tagme Na Waie was killed in a bomb blast, and the next day, just after midnight, President Vieira (Nino) was brutally killed by armed soldiers.

In the wake of the killings, Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manha published a statement from anonymous sources claiming that they had been invited to Guinea-Bissau in 2005 to engage in business. They claimed that they had been deceived by local partners and named ten people, who they said would be defeated by all means. On the list were the names of Nino and Tagme Na Waie. In June, another person on the list was murdered, along with one of the candidates for the upcoming presidential election.

The presidential election was held in June and July 2009. Malam Bacai Sanha won the election, which was declared peaceful, free and fair. The candidate who lost, Kumba Yala, accepted the result.

Economic and social conditions

The economic and social conditions in Guinea-Bissau are very marked by the 1998 uprising and the events following it. There is no clear ethnic background to the conflict. Causes pointed to include attempts to halt illegal arms sales to Casamance insurgents, a reduction in the military budget, tensions in the military and corruption. The introduction of the West African CFA CFA in 1997 was followed by rising prices and higher living costs with subsequent unrest. At the same time, there were several cuts in aid. Prior to the conflict, donors had classified the country as a difficult partner country with poor results. In 1999, total aid to the country was less than a third of what it had been just three years earlier. The most important donor countries, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United States, had decided to leave the country before the war broke out.

One that peace was restored, donors have been reluctant to respond to repeated UN Security Council recommendations to provide assistance to Guinea-Bissau, which is now classified as a weak state. On the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI), the country is now in the 173rd place of the 182 countries on the list. On Women’s Day, March 8, 2010, Guinea-Bissau was voted the tenth worst country in the world for women, primarily due to poverty and extremely high maternal mortality.

Agriculture is crucial to the economy The most important products are cashew nuts, tropical fruits, rice, peanuts, cotton and palm oil. The most important export items are cashew nuts, fish, shrimp, peanuts, palm kernels and timber. Most of it goes to India, Nigeria and Pakistan. Imports are primarily food, fuel, energy and capital goods, and the main importing countries are Portugal, Senegal, Pakistan and France. Guinea-Bissau’s most important natural resources are fish and timber, and there is some bauxite and phosphate, which, however, is not recovered. International oil companies are conducting sample drilling in the waters on the Senegal border.

No discrimination is reported on a religious basis, but human rights violations abound. This includes murder, ill treatment and torture, suppression of freedom of expression and arbitrary arrests. The abuses continue without any investigation. In other words, without a structural change in the military, there is no need to be optimistic about the future.

Still, there are some positive elements. Drug trafficking from South America via Guinea-Bissau has decreased recently. Important reasons for this are successful international support to curb smuggling, decline in cocaine demand due to the global financial crisis and the installation of a new radar to monitor Venezuela’s airspace.

Some stabilization of the situation after the presidential elections in the summer of 2009 gives hope that the international community’s interest in the population’s situation may return. The most important thing for most people is whatever peace and a good crop.

Country facts:

Area: 36 125 km2 (42nd largest)

Population: 1.6 million

Population density: 44 per km2

Urban population: 30 percent

Largest city: Bissau – approx. 330 000

GDP per capita: USD 257

Economic growth: 3 percent

HDI Position: 173