US DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTE: GUINEA-BISSAU
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
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 (pop. 200,000 est.) Other cities--Bafata,
Gabu, Canchungo. Terrain: Coastal plain; savanna in the east.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Guinean(s).
Population (est.): 1 million.
Annual Growth Rate (est.): 2.3%.
Ethnic Groups: Balanta 27%, Fula 23%, Mandinka 12%, Manjaco 11%, Papel
Religions: Indigenous beliefs 65%, Muslim 30%, Christian 5%.
Languages: Portuguese (official), Criolo, French, many indigenous
languages, including Mandinka and Fula.
Education: Years compulsory--4. Literacy--30% of adults.
Health: Infant mortality rate--140/1,000. Life expectancy--43 years.
Work Force (454,000): Agriculture--78%. Industry, services and
Independence: September 24, 1973 (proclaimed unilaterally); September
10, 1974 (de jure from Portugal).
Constitution: Adopted 1984; amended 1991.
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), 150 members indirectly
elected in 1989. Judicial--Supreme Court and lower courts.
Administrative Subdivisions: Autonomous sector of Bissau and eight
Political Parties: African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau
and Cape Verde is the ruling party; 11 other political parties were
legalized during 1991-93.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
Flag: Vertical red band with black star on the staff side, yellow upper
horizontal band, green lower horizontal band.
GDP (1993 est): $190 million; annual growth rate: 3%.
Per Capita Income (1993): $200.
Natural Resources: Fish and timber. Bauxite and phosphate deposits are
not exploited; possible off-shore petroleum.
Agriculture (50% of GDP): Products--cashews, rice, peanuts, cotton,
palm oil, sugar. Arable land--43%.
Industry (16% of GDP): Products--agricultural processing, fish
processing, light construction, soft drinks.
Trade (1991): Exports--$20.4 million: cashews, cotton, wood, fish and
shellfish, coconuts. Major markets--Portugal, India, Spain, France.
Imports $67.5 million--rice and other foodstuffs, transportation
equipment, machinery and spare parts, construction equipment, petroleum
products. Major suppliers--Portugal, Germany, Netherlands, Taiwan,
Exchange Rate: (March 1994): 12,300 Guinea-Bissau Pesos=U.S.$1. Rate
fluctuates daily; pesos not convertible abroad.
The population of Guinea-Bissau is ethnically diverse with distinct
languages, customs, and social structures. Most people are
agriculturalists, with traditional religious beliefs (animism); 30%
percent 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 various
groups mix easily in urban areas, where there is a notable lack of
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 under Maj. Teixeira Pinto, 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, 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 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 150-
member 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 is 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 is also head of the PAIGC and commander in chief of the
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.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
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 which 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.
By late 1993, there were 12 legal political parties in the country. A
national elections law was approved in February 1993, and a month later
a national elections commission was established. Guinea-Bissau's first
multi-party elections for president and parliament are tentatively
planned for 1994, following a nationwide voter registration process.
Principal Government Officials
President of the Council of State--Gen. Joao Bernardo Vieira
Prime Minister--Carlos Correia
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation--Bernardino Cardoso
Ambassador to the UN--Boubacar Toure
Ambassador to the U.S.--Alfredo Lopes Cabral
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. The
principal economic activity is agriculture. Cashew crops have increased
in recent years, and the country now ranks sixth in cashew production.
Guinea-Bissau exports some fish and seafood, along with small amounts
of peanuts, palm kernels, and timber. License fees for fishing provided
the government with revenues of $13.5 million in 1992. Rice is the
major crop and staple food. Rice production has increased by more than
10% per year since 1983, largely because of improved economic
incentives. However, rice imports remain high--up to 80,000 tons per
In 1987, the government launched a program of economic reform and signed
an agreement for a structural adjustment program with the World Bank. A
second structural adjustment credit, worth about $18 million, was
negotiated with the World Bank in 1989.
Trade reform and price liberalization are the most successful areas of
the country's structural adjustment program. While institutional
weaknesses in the public and private sectors persist, reforms and the
development of the private sector have begun to invigorate the economy.
Real gross domestic product has grown steadily at 3%-to-6% per annum.
Inflation decreased from 70% in 1992 to 30% in 1993. There were major
reforms in tax revenue and customs collections. Monetary expansion was
reduced from 118% in 1992 to 40% in 1993. However, with an external
debt of $600 million, the country has a debt-to-GDP ratio of 300% and an
annual debt service more than twice the value of exports.
At independence, Guinea-Bissau had little infrastructure and its
industry consisted of one factory--a brewery. A socialist-statist
program for light industries during the late 1970s resulted in extensive
foreign debt and failed enterprises. A corrective program has been
established to privatize parastatal organizations. The country plans to
develop its timber resources and rich offshore fish and shellfish
Mineral deposits have proved difficult to develop, and any potential
off-shore petroleum reserves may lie in the area which the International
Court of Justice declared in 1991 to be Senegalese maritime territory.
Bissau's port facilities have been expanded and improved in recent
years, with better shipping connections to European ports. The city's
international airport can accommodate any type of jet aircraft; a new
passenger terminal is under construction. The country has 2,600
kilometers (1,600 mi.) of roads, of which 550 (350 mi.) kilometers are
Guinea-Bissau follows a non-aligned 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, Russia, and the
U.S. have diplomatic offices in Bissau.
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 Community
(CEDAO), Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Organization of
African Unity (OAU), and permanent Interstate Committee for drought
control in the Sahel (CILSS).
The United States and Guinea-Bissau enjoy 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 that 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
Currently U.S. Agency for International Development assistance to the
country is about $5.5 million per year. It is designed to increase
sustainable private sector economic activity in Guinea-Bissau's critical
growth sectors--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 is also a goal of U.S. assistance. Direct private sector
assistance is offered to help the country respond quickly to emerging
The United States and Guinea-Bissau signed an international military
training agreement (IMET) in 1986, and the U.S. has provided English-
language teaching facilities as well as communications and navigational
equipment to support the navy's costal surveillance program.
Beginning in 1988, Peace Corps volunteers began working as English
teachers, teacher trainers, health workers, and agricultural extension
agents. The Peace Corps now has about 40 volunteers throughout the
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Administrative Officer--Daniel Hirsch
Political/Economic/Consular Officer--Debbie Potter
USAID Representative--Michael Lukomski
Peace Corps Director--Carol Herrera
The U.S. embassy in Bissau is located at Bairro de Penha, tel (245) 25-
2273/74/75/76. The USAID telephone is (245) 20-1800; Peace Corps is
Clothing: Lightweight, loose-fitting, washable clothing is recommended.
Dress is casual.
Currency: The Guinea-Bissau peso is not convertible outside the
country. Dollars and travelers checks can be exchanged at banks. Some
hotels and stores accept only hard currency or international credit
Customs: U.S. citizens must obtain visas before arrival; airport visas
are not issued. Immunization against yellow fever is required.
Health: Sanitation is poor, and tap water is not potable. Hospitals
are inadequately staffed, and medicines often are in short supply.
Although the Guinea-Bissau Government only requires immunization for
yellow fever, immunization against typhus, typhoid, cholera, rabies,
hepatitis, and tetanus is strongly recommended. Malaria is prevalent,
and visitors should begin a regimen of malaria prophylaxis prior to
arrival. Gastrointestinal infections, bilharzia, HIV infection, and
tuberculosis are endemic. Medical air evacuation insurance coverage is
highly recommended for all visitors.
Transportation: There are weekly flights between Bissau, Lisbon, and
Paris. Regular air service also links Bissau with Dakar, Banjul, and
Praia. Unreliable ferry service in northern areas makes travel by road
between Guinea-Bissau and Senegal difficult. Land transportation
between Bissau and Conakry is very difficult and usually takes at least
two days in the dry season (longer in the rainy season).
Telecommunications: International telephone calls can be dialed direct,
and connections with the U.S. are good. Internal telephone service is
adequate. Telegraphic communications generally are reliable. Bissau is
five time zones ahead of eastern standard time, in the Greenwich mean
Published by the U.S. Department of State--Bureau of Public Affairs --
Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC -- April 1994 --
Managing Editor: Peter A. Knecht
Department of State Publication 7966 Background Note Series--THis
material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without
permission; citation of this source is appreciated.
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing
Office, Washington, DC 20402.
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