Guinea-Bissau map

Guinea-Bissau flag Flag description: two equal horizontal bands of yellow (top) and green with a vertical red band on the hoist side; there is a black five-pointed star centred in the red band; uses the popular pan-African colours of Ethiopia. 

Location: Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Guinea and Senegal. 

Geographic coordinates: 12 00 N, 15 00 W.

Climate: tropical; generally hot and humid; monsoonal-type rainy season (June to November) with south-westerly winds; dry season (December to May) with north-easterly winds. 

Independence: 24 September 1973 (unilaterally declared by Guinea-Bissau); 10 September 1974 (recognized by Portugal).

Nationality: Guinean (s). 

Capital City: Bissau.

Population: 1,285,715 (July 2000 est.).

Head of State: President Koumba YALLA (since 18 February 2000).

Area: 36,120 sq km. 

Type of Government: republic, multiparty since mid-1991. 

Currency: 1 Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (CFAF) = 100 centimes.

Major peoples: African 99% (Balanta 30%, Fula 20%, Manjaca 14%, Mandinga 13%, Papel 7%), European and mulatto less than 1%. 

Religion: indigenous beliefs 50%, Muslim 45%, Christian 5%. 

Official Language: Portuguese.

Principal Languages: Portuguese, Creole, African languages.

Major Exports: cashew nuts 70%, shrimp, peanuts, palm kernels, sawn lumber (1996). 

History: The Portuguese first landed in Guinea-Bissau in 1446 and established trading posts there.  The area centered on the town of Cacheu was a major centre of the slave trade in the 17th century.  For a time, Guinea-Bissau was part of a larger Portuguese domain to the north and south. 

The area of Portuguese control was reduced by British and French incursions in the late 19th century.  Until 1879, Guinea-Bissau was controlled from headquarters in Cape Verde, 900 km (560 mi) away in the Atlantic Ocean.  Cape Verdians, composed of mulattoes and returned slaves, were often agents of Portuguese rule.  The Portuguese did not try to control and subjugate the interior of Guinea-Bissau until the late 19th century and they were unsuccessful in doing so until 1915.  Portuguese colonial rule provided little in terms of education and development for the inhabitants.

Amilcar Cabral, a Cape Verdian, organized the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC, from its Portuguese name) in 1956.  An armed struggle against Portuguese rule was launched in 1962.  The conflict, which involved 40,000 Portuguese soldiers, exhausted the Portuguese. It also disrupted Guinea-Bissau society, with two thirds of the cultivated land being abandoned, food production drop dramatically. 

The PAIGC formed a government and issued a unilateral declaration of independence on Sept. 24, 1973, before the fighting ended.  Cabral was assassinated in 1973 and his brother, Luis de Almeida Cabral, became the country's first president.  After a 1974 revolution in Portugal, a new government there recognized the independence of Guinea-Bissau as of Sept. 10, 1974.

The PAIGC has an elaborate party organization similar to those of revolutionary one-party systems, with a governing central committee and political bureau.  There has been substantial political instability within the PAIGC since independence. 

In 1980 the the prime minister, Gen. Joao Bernardo Vieira, overthrew Luis Cabral, alleging Cape Verdian domination of the government.  Diplomatic relations with Cape Verde were suspended until 1982, and previous plans to unite the two countries were abandoned. 

In 1984, under a new constitution that increased the powers of the president, the ruling Council of the Revolution was replaced by an indirectly elected National People's Assembly, which elected the president.  

An economic crisis and alleged discrimination against the Balente sparked a major coup attempt in July 1986, after which Vieira managed to persuade PAIGC militants of the need to abandon unsuccessful socialist economic policies and allow market-based reforms.

In April 1990 the Bafata Resistance Movement, one of several opposition groups in exile in Portugal, demanded an end to the one-party system and other reforms.  Despite strong initial PAIGC resistance, Vieira bowed to pressures from international aid donors and the wave of political change sweeping Africa in the early 1990s. 

Legislation passed in 1991 legalized political parties, independent unions, and a free press. Once legalized, opposition parties pressured a reluctant Guinea-Bissau leadership until it rescheduled the nation's first multiparty elections, originally promised for 1994.