Guinea-Bissau Background Notes

Contributed By RealAdventures

U.S. Department of State, January 2002

Background Notes: Guinea-Bissau


Official Name:
Republic of Guinea-Bissau

Area (including Bijagos Archipelago): 36,260 sq. km. (14,000 sq. mi.), about
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: Vertical red band with black star on the staff side, yellow upper
horizontal band, green lower horizontal band.

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

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

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.

>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

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.

[end of document]

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