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Republic of Guinea-Bissau
República da Guiné-Bissau
Flag Emblem
Motto: Portuguese: "Unidade, Luta, Progresso"  
"Unity, Struggle, Progress"
Anthem: Portuguese: " Esta é a Nossa Pátria Bem Amada"  
"This is Our Well-Beloved Motherland"
and largest city
11°52′N 15°36′W
Official languages Portuguese
Recognised regional languages Crioulo
Demonym Bissau-Guinean(s)
Government Semi-presidential republic
 -  President Malam Bacai Sanhá
 -  Prime Minister Carlos Gomes
Independence from Portugal
 -  Declared September 24, 1973 
 -  Recognised September 10, 1974 
 -  National Day September 24 
 -  Total 36,125 km2 ( 136th)
13,948 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 22.4
 -  2010 estimate 1,647,000 ( 148th)
 -  2002 census 1,345,479
 -  Density 44.1/km2 ( 154th)
115.5/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2009 estimate
 -  Total $1.720 billion
 -  Per capita $1,068
GDP (nominal) 2009 estimate
 -  Total $826 million
 -  Per capita $512
Gini (1993) 47
HDI (2010) 0.289
low · 164th (out of 169 listed)
Currency West African CFA franc ( XOF)
Time zone GMT ( UTC+0)
Drives on the right
Calling code 245
ISO 3166 code GW
Internet TLD .gw

The Republic of Guinea-Bissau ( / ˈ ɡ ɪ n i b ɪ ˈ s /; Portuguese: República da Guiné-Bissau, pronounced:  [ʁeˈpublikɐ dɐ ɡiˈnɛ biˈsaw]) is located in West Africa. It is bordered by Senegal to the north, and Guinea to the south and east, with the Atlantic Ocean to its west.

It covers 36,125 km² (nearly 14,000 sq mi) with an estimated population of 1,600,000.

Guinea-Bissau was once part of the kingdom of Gabu, part of the Mali Empire; parts of this kingdom persisted until the eighteenth century, while others were part of the Portuguese Empire. It then became the Portuguese colony of Portuguese Guinea in the 19th century. Upon independence, declared in 1973 and recognised in 1974, the name of its capital, Bissau, was added to the country's name to prevent confusion with the Republic of Guinea.

Only 14% of the population speaks the official language, Portuguese. 44% speak Kriol, a Portuguese-based creole language, and the remainder speaks native African languages. The main religions are Islam and African traditional religions, and there is an important Christian (mostly Catholic) minority.

It is a member of the African Union, Economic Community of West African States, Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the Latin Union, Community of Portuguese Language Countries, La Francophonie and the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone.

The country's per-capita gross domestic product is one of the lowest in the world.


Guinea-Bissau was once part of the kingdom of Gabu, part of the Mali Empire; parts of this kingdom persisted until the eighteenth century, while others were part of the Portuguese Empire. Portuguese Guinea was known also, from its main economic activity, as the Slave Coast.

Early reports of Europeans reaching this area include those of the Venetian Alvise Cadamosto's voyage of 1455, the 1479-1480 voyage by Flemish-French trader Eustache de la Fosse, and Diogo Cão who in the 1480s reached the Congo River and the lands of Bakongo, setting up thus the foundations of modern Angola, some 1200 km down the African coast from Guinea-Bissau.

Although the rivers and coast of this area were among the first places colonized by the Portuguese, since the 16th century, the interior was not explored until the nineteenth century. The local African rulers in Guinea, some of whom prospered greatly from the slave trade, had no interest in allowing the Europeans any further inland than the fortified coastal settlements where the trading took place. African communities that fought back against slave traders had even greater incentives to distrust European adventurers and would-be settlers. The Portuguese presence in Guinea was therefore largely limited to the port of Bissau and Cacheu, although isolated European farmer-settlers established farms along Bissau's inland rivers.

For a brief period in the 1790s the British attempted to establish a rival foothold on an offshore island, at Bolama. But by the 19th century the Portuguese were sufficiently secure in Bissau to regard the neighbouring coastline as their own special territory, also up north in part of present South Senegal.

An armed rebellion beginning in 1956 by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) under the leadership of Amílcar Cabral gradually consolidated its hold on then Portuguese Guinea. Unlike guerrilla movements in other Portuguese colonies, the PAIGC rapidly extended its military control over large portions of the territory, aided by the jungle-like terrain, its easily reached borderlines with neighbouring allies and large quantities of arms from Cuba, China, the Soviet Union, and left-leaning African countries.

Cuba also agreed to supply artillery experts, doctors and technicians. The PAIGC even managed to acquire a significant anti-aircraft capability in order to defend itself against aerial attack. By 1973, the PAIGC was in control of many parts of Guinea. Independence was unilaterally declared on September 24, 1973. Recognition became universal following the April 25, 1974 socialist-inspired military coup in Portugal which overthrew Lisbon's Estado Novo regime.


Luís Cabral was appointed the first President of Guinea-Bissau. Following independence local black soldiers that fought along with the Portuguese Army against the PAIGC guerrillas were slaughtered by the thousands. Some managed to escape and settled in Portugal or other African nations, one of the massacres occurred in the town of Bissorã. In 1980 the PAIGC admitted in its newspaper "Nó Pintcha" (dated November 29, 1980) that many were executed and buried in unmarked collective graves in the woods of Cumerá, Portogole and Mansabá.

The country was controlled by a revolutionary council until 1984. The first multi-party elections were held in 1994, but an army uprising in 1998 led to the president's ousting and the Guinea-Bissau Civil War. Elections were held again in 2000 and Kumba Ialá was elected president.

In September 2003, a coup took place in which the military arrested Ialá on the charge of being "unable to solve the problems." After being delayed several times, legislative elections were held in March 2004 . A mutiny of military factions in October 2004 resulted in the death of the head of the armed forces, and caused widespread unrest.

The Vieira years

Map of Guinea Bissau

In June 2005, presidential elections were held for the first time since the coup that deposed Ialá. Ialá returned as the candidate for the PRS, claiming to be the legitimate president of the country, but the election was won by former president João Bernardo Vieira, deposed in the 1999 coup. Vieira beat Malam Bacai Sanhá in a runoff election, but Sanhá initially refused to concede, claiming that tampering occurred in two constituencies including the capital, Bissau.

Despite reports that there had been an influx of arms in the weeks leading up to the election and reports of some "disturbances during campaigning"—including attacks on government offices by unidentified gunmen—foreign election monitors labelled the election as "calm and organized". PAIGC won a strong parliamentary majority, with 67 of 100 seats, in the parliamentary election held in November 2008.

In November 2008, President Vieira's official residence was attacked by members of the armed forces, killing a guard but leaving the president unharmed. On March 2, 2009, however, Vieira was assassinated by what preliminary reports indicated to be a group of soldiers avenging the death of the head of joint chiefs of staff, General Batista Tagme Na Wai. Tagme died in an explosion on Sunday, March 1, 2009 in an assassination. Military leaders in the country have pledged to respect the constitutional order of succession. National Assembly Speaker Raimundo Pereira was appointed as an interim president until a nationwide election on June 28, 2009, which was won by Malam Bacai Sanhá.

2010 Guinea-Bissau military unrest

Military unrest occurred in Guinea-Bissau on 1 April 2010. Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior was placed under house arrest by soldiers, who also detained Army Chief of Staff Zamora Induta. Supporters of Gomes and his party, PAIGC, reacted to the move by demonstrating in the capital, Bissau; Antonio Indjai, the Deputy Chief of Staff, then warned that he would have Gomes killed if the protests continued.

The EU ended its mission to reform the country's security forces 4 August 2010, a risk that may further embolden powerful generals and drug traffickers in the army and elsewhere. The EU mission's spokesman in Guinea-Bissau, Miguel Souza, said the EU had to suspend its programme when the mastermind of the mutiny, Gen Antonio Indjai, became army chief of staff. "The EU mission thinks this is a breach in the constitutional order. We can't work with him".

Drug Trade

The multitude of small offshore islands and a military able to sidestep government with impunity has made it a favourite trans-shipment point for drugs to Europe. Plane drops are made on or near the islands, and speedboats pick up bales to go direct to Europe or onshore. UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called for sanctions against those involved in Guinea-Bissau's drugs trade. Air force head Ibraima Papa Camara and former navy chief Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto have been named "drug kingpins".


Ministry of Justice, Bissau

Guinea-Bissau is a republic. In the past, the government had been highly centralized, and multiparty governance has been in effect since mid-1991. The president is the head of state and the prime minister is the head of government. At the legislative level, there is a unicameral "Assembleia Nacional Popular" (National People's Assembly) made up of 100 members. They are popularly elected from multi-member constituencies to serve a four-year term. At the judicial level, there is a "Tribunal Supremo da Justiça" (Supreme Court) which consists of nine justices appointed by the president, they serve at the pleasure of the president.

The current President of Guinea-Bissau is Rachide Sambu-balde Malam Bacai Sanhá of the PAIGC (Partido da Africa Independencia da Guine-Bissau e Cape Verde) one of two major political parties in Guinea-Bissau along with the PRS (Partido Renovacao Social) and alongside over twenty smaller parties. In the 2009 election to replace the assassinated Vieira, Sanhá was the presidential candidate of the PAIGC while Kumba Iala, was the presidential candidate of the PRS.

Until March 2009 João Bernardo "Nino" Vieira was President of Guinea-Bissau. Elected in 2005 as an independent candidate, being declared winner of the second round by the CNE (Comite Nacional da Eleicoes). Vieira returned to power in 2005 after winning the presidential election only six years after being ousted from office during a civil war. Previously, he held power for 19 years after taking power in 1980 in a bloodless coup. In that action, he toppled the government of Luís Cabral. He was killed on March 2, 2009, possibly by soldiers in retaliation for the killing of the head of the joint chiefs of staff, General Batista Tagme Na Waie. This did not trigger additional violence, but there were signs of turmoil in the country, according to the advocacy group swisspeace.

Regions and sectors

Guinea-Bissau is divided into 8 regions (regiões) and one autonomous sector (sector autónomo). These in turn are subdivided into thirty-seven sectors. The regions are:

  • Bafatá
  • Biombo
  • Bissau*
  • Bolama
  • Cacheu
  • Gabu
  • Oio
  • Quinara
  • Tombali

* autonomous sector

Map of the regions of Guinea-Bissau


Typical scenery in Guinea-Bissau
Satellite image of Guinea-Bissau (2003)

At 36,125 square kilometres (13,948 sq mi), Guinea-Bissau is larger in size than Taiwan, Belgium, or the U.S. state of Maryland. This small, tropical country lies at a low altitude; its highest point is 300 metres (984 ft). The interior is savanna, and the coastline is plain with swamps of Guinean mangroves. Its monsoon-like rainy season alternates with periods of hot, dry harmattan winds blowing from the Sahara. The Bijagos Archipelago extends out to sea.

Major cities

Cities in Guinea-Bissau
Rank City Population Region
1979 Census 2005 estimate
1 Bissau 109,214 388,028 Bissau
2 Bafatá 13,429 22,521 Bafatá
3 Gabú 7,803 14,430 Gabú
4 Bissorã N/A 12,688 Oio
5 Bolama 9,100 10,769 Bolama
6 Cacheu 7,600 10,490 Cacheu
7 Bubaque 8,400 9,941 Bolama
8 Catió 5,170 9,898 Tombali
9 Mansôa 5,390 7,821 Oio
10 Buba N/A 7,779 Quinara
11 Quebo N/A 7,072 Quinara
12 Canchungo 4,965 6,853 Cacheu
13 Farim 4,468 6,792 Oio
14 Quinhámel N/A 3,128 Biombo
15 Fulacunda N/A 1,327 Quinara



Guinea-Bissau is warm all year around and there is little temperature fluctuation; it averages 26.3 °C (79.3 °F). The average rainfall for Bissau is 2,024 millimetres (79.7 in) although this is almost entirely accounted for during the rainy season which falls between June and September/October. From December through April, the country experiences drought.


Guinea-Bissau's GDP per capita is one of the lowest in the world. Its Human Development Index is also one of the lowest on earth. More than two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line. The economy depends mainly on agriculture; fish, cashew nuts and ground nuts are its major exports. A long period of political instability has resulted in depressed economic activity, deteriorating social conditions, and increased macroeconomic imbalances.

Guinea-Bissau has started to show some economic advances after a pact of stability was signed by the main political parties of the country, leading to an IMF-backed structural reform program. The key challenges for the country in the period ahead would be to achieve fiscal discipline, rebuild public administration, improve the economic climate for private investment, and promote economic diversification. After becoming independent from Portugal in 1974 due to the Portuguese Colonial War and the Lisbon's Carnation Revolution, the exodus of the Portuguese civilian, military and political authorities brought tremendous damage to the country's economic infrastructure, social order and standard of living.

After several years of economic downturn and political instability, in 1997, Guinea-Bissau entered the CFA franc monetary system, bringing about some internal monetary stability. The civil war that took place in 1998 and 1999 and a military coup in September 2003 again disrupted economic activity, leaving a substantial part of the economic and social infrastructure in ruins and intensifying the already widespread poverty. Following the parliamentary elections in March 2004 and presidential elections in July 2005, the country is trying to recover from the long period of instability despite a still-fragile political situation.

Bula, Guinea-Bissau

Beginning around 2005, drug traffickers based in Latin America began to use Guinea-Bissau, along with several neighboring West African nations, as a transshipment point to Europe for cocaine. The nation was described by a United Nations official as being at risk for becoming a " narco-state".The government and the military did almost nothing to stop this business. In 2009 nearly all transports via Guinea Bissau have been stopped and translocated to Mali.

Guinea-Bissau is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa ( OHADA).


Crossing the river at low tide
Religion in Guinea-Bissau,
religion percent

Ethnic groups

The population of Guinea-Bissau is ethnically diverse and has many distinct languages, customs, and social structures. Guinea-Bissauans can be divided into the following ethnic groups: Fula and the Mandinka-speaking people, who comprise the largest portion of the population and are concentrated in the north and northeast; the Balanta and Papel people, who live in the southern coastal regions; and the Manjaco and Mancanha, who occupy the central and northern coastal areas. Most of the remainder are mestiços of mixed Portuguese and African descent, including a Cape Verdean minority.

Portuguese natives comprise a very small percentage of Guinea-Bissauans. This deficit was directly caused by the exodus of Portuguese settlers that took place after Guinea-Bissau gained independence. The country has also a tiny Chinese population, including those of mixed Portuguese and Chinese ancestry from Macau, a former Asian Portuguese colony.


Only 14% of the population speaks the official language, Portuguese. 44% speak Kriol, a Portuguese-based creole language, and the remainder speaks native African languages. Most Portuguese and Mestiços speak one of the African languages and Kriol as second languages. French is also learned in schools, as the country is surrounded by French-speaking countries and is a full member of the Francophonie.


Throughout the 20th century, most Bissau-Guineans practiced some form of Animism. Recently, many more have adopted Islam, which is currently practiced by 40-50 percent of the country's population; most of Guinea-Bissau's Muslims practice Sunni Islam. Approximately 10 percent of the country's population belong to the Christian community, and 40 percent continue to hold Indigenous beliefs. These statistics can be misleading, however, as both Islamic and Christan practices may be largely influenced and enriched by syncretism with traditional African beliefs.


The WHO estimates that there are fewer than 5 physicians per 100,000 persons in the country, down from 12 per 100,000 in 2007. The prevalence of HIV-infection among the adult population is 1.8%, with only 20% of infected pregnant women receiving anti retroviral coverage. Malaria is an even bigger killer; 9% of the population have reported infection, and it is the specific mortality cause almost three times as often as AIDS. (In 2008, fewer than half of children younger than five slept under antimalaria nets or had access to antimalarial drugs).


Education is compulsory from the age of 7 to 13. The enrollment of boys is higher than that of girls. Child labor is very common. A significant minority of the population are illiterate.

On the other side, Guinea-Bissau has several secondary schools (general as well as technical) and a surprising number of universities, to which an institutionally autonomous Faculty of Law as well as a Faculty of Medicine have to be added.

Life expectancy at birth has climbed since 1990, but remains short: the WHO's estimate of life expectancy for a child born in 2008 was 49 years (and only 47 years for a boy).



The music of Guinea-Bissau is usually associated with the polyrhythmic gumbe genre, the country's primary musical export. However, civil unrest and other factors have combined over the years to keep gumbe, and other genres, out of mainstream audiences, even in generally syncretist African countries.

The calabash is the primary musical instrument of Guinea-Bissau, and is used in extremely swift and rhythmically complex dance music. Lyrics are almost always in Guinea-Bissau Creole, a Portuguese-based creole language, and are often humorous and topical, revolving around current events and controversies, especially AIDS.

The word gumbe is sometimes used generically, to refer to any music of the country, although it most specifically refers to a unique style that fuses about ten of the country's folk music traditions. Tina and tinga are other popular genres, while extent folk traditions include ceremonial music used in funerals, initiations and other rituals, as well as Balanta brosca and kussundé, Mandinga djambadon, and the kundere sound of the Bissagos Islands.


Flora Gomes is an internationally renowned film director; his most famous film is Nha Fala.

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