Guinea-Bissau country profile

  • 9 February 2016
  • From the section Africa
Map of Guinea-Bissau

West Africa's Guinea-Bissau was part of the Portuguese Empire for centuries and was once known as the Slave Coast; today 14% of the population speaks Portuguese.

Once hailed as a potential model for African development, the country is now one of the poorest countries in the world.

The vital cashew nut crop provides a modest living for most of Guinea-Bissau's farmers and is the main source of foreign exchange.

But today the nation has a massive foreign debt and an economy that relies heavily on foreign aid. It has become transhipment point for Latin American drugs.

At the end of the 1990s the country experienced a conflict which drew in Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal, and France and ended with the president going into exile.


The Republic of Guinea-Bissau

Capital: Bissau

  • Population 1.6 million

  • Area 36,125 sq km (13,948 sq miles)

  • Major languages Portuguese, Crioulo - a form of Portuguese, African languages

  • Major religions Indigenous beliefs, Islam, Christianity

  • Life expectancy 47 years (men), 50 years (women)

  • Currency CFA (Communaute Financiere Africaine) franc



President: Jose Mario Vaz

Image copyright Getty Images

A former finance minister, Jose Mario Vaz won the presidential election run-off of May 2014 by a big margin.

He is the first elected leader since the army mutinied in 2012 and plunged the country - already plagued by corruption and cocaine trafficking - into chaos.

Mr Vaz's election was meant to draw a line under those events, but Guinea-Bissau has a record of military coups, and no elected leader has served a full term since independence 40 years ago.

In a speech following his election win, Mr Vaz vowed to fight poverty and bring stability to the country.

But the latter goal has proved elusive. A year after coming to power, Mr Vaz dismissed his prime minister and party colleague, Domingos Simoes Pereira, following a series of disputes between the two, including over the naming of a new army chief.


Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Guinea-Bissau is one of the world's biggest producers of cashew nuts

The media experience "harsh treatment" from the authorities, security forces, and individuals with connections to the military and drug traffickers, US-based Freedom House reports.

A climate of fear has led to self-censorship, which particularly affects reporting on drug trafficking.

Broadcasters face many challenges, not least the lack of a reliable power supply. Private radio and newspapers exist but they are hindered by financial instability.


Some key date in Guinea-Bissau's history:

1446-47 - First Portuguese arrive; subsequently administered as part of the Portuguese Cape Verde Islands, the Guinea area becomes important in the slave-trade. Guinea-Bissau becomes a separate colony in the Portuguese Empire in 1879.

1974 - Independence following a guerrilla war.

1980 - Country's first president, Luis Cabral, is ousted in military coup led by Joao Bernardo Vieira; plans for unification with Cape Verde dropped. The overthrow is the first of many political coups that undermine the country's stability over the next four decades.

2006 - Guinea-Bissau soldiers battle Senegalese rebels along the southern border.

2006 - Guinea-Bissau appeals for international help to stop people-traffickers using its remote coastline to smuggle migrants, including Asians, to Europe.

2007 - Donors have one last opportunity to save Guinea-Bissau from chaos and to combat Latin American drug cartels, the UN and International Monetary Fund warn.

2010 - US names two top military officials as international drugs traffickers and freezes their US assets. EU announces it is ending mission to reform Guinea Bissau's security forces, saying lack of respect for rule of law is making this an impossible task.

2011 - EU suspends part of its aid to Guinea-Bissau because of concerns over governance and the rule of law. Several months later, thousands take to the streets to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior for his failure to curb rising food prices.

2012 - The UN Security Council expresses concern that drug trafficking has increased, and demands a return to constitutional rule.

2014 - Presidential election run-off is won by Jose Mario Vaz. A year later, international donors pledge more than $1.1bn to help Guinea-Bissau's economy revive after years of instability.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Guinea-Bissau's parliament in the capital Bissau

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