Republic of Guinea-Bissau
República da Guiné-Bissau (Portuguese)
𞤘𞤭𞤲𞤫 𞤄𞤭𞤧𞤢𞥄𞤱𞤮 (Fula)
ߖߌߣߍ ߺ ߓߌߛߊߥߏ߫ (Mandinka)
Unidade, Luta, Progresso
"Unity, Struggle, Progress"
Esta É a Nossa Pátria Bem Amada
"This is Our Beloved Homeland"
Location of Guinea-Bissau (dark blue) – in Africa (light blue & dark grey) – in the African Union (light blue)
Location of Guinea-Bissau (dark blue)

– in Africa (light blue & dark grey)
– in the African Union (light blue)

and largest city
11°52′N 15°36′W / 11.867°N 15.600°W / 11.867; -15.600
Official languagesPortuguese
Spoken languages
Ethnic groups
GovernmentUnitary semi-presidential republic
• President
Umaro Sissoco Embaló
Geraldo Martins
LegislatureNational People's Assembly
Independence from Portugal
• Declared
24 September 1973
• Recognized
10 September 1974
• Independence
5 July 1975
• Total
36,125 km2 (13,948 sq mi) (134th)
• Water (%)
• 2023 estimate
2,078,820[6] (150th)
• Density
46.9/km2 (121.5/sq mi) (154th)
GDP (PPP)2018 estimate
• Total
$3.8 billion[7]
• Per capita
GDP (nominal)2018 estimate
• Total
$1.480 billion[7]
• Per capita
Gini (2010)Negative increase 50.7[8]
HDI (2021)Steady 0.483[9]
low · 177th
CurrencyWest African CFA franc (XOF)
Time zoneUTC (GMT)
Driving sideright
Calling code+245
ISO 3166 codeGW

Guinea-Bissau (/ˌɡɪni bɪˈs/ (listen) GHIN-ee biss-OW; Portuguese: Guiné-Bissau; Fula: 𞤘𞤭𞤲𞤫 𞤄𞤭𞤧𞤢𞥄𞤱𞤮, romanized: Gine-Bisaawo; Mandinka: ߖߌߣߍ ߺ ߓߌߛߊߥߏ߫ Gine-Bisawo), officially the Republic of Guinea-Bissau (Portuguese: República da Guiné-Bissau [ʁɛˈpuβlikɐ ðɐ ɣiˈnɛ βiˈsaw]), is a country in West Africa that covers 36,125 square kilometres (13,948 sq mi) with an estimated population of 2,026,778. It borders Senegal to its north and Guinea to its southeast.[10]

Guinea-Bissau was once part of the kingdom of Kaabu,[11] as well as part of the Mali Empire.[11] Parts of this kingdom persisted until the 18th century, while a few others were under some rule by the Portuguese Empire since the 16th century. In the 19th century, it was colonised as Portuguese Guinea.[11] Portuguese control was restricted and weak until the early 20th century with the pacification campaigns. These campaigns solidified Portuguese sovereignty in the area. The final Portuguese victory over the remaining bastion of mainland resistance, the Papel ruled the Kingdom of Bissau in 1915 by the Portuguese military officer Teixeira Pinto, and recruited Wolof mercenary Abdul Injai was the event to solidify mainland control.[12] The Bissagos, islands off the coast of Guinea-Bissau, were officially conquered in 1936, ensuring Portuguese control of both the mainland and islands of the region.[13] 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 Guinea (formerly French Guinea). Guinea-Bissau has a history of political instability since independence, and only one elected president (José Mário Vaz) has successfully served a full five-year term.[14] The current president is Umaro Sissoco Embaló, who was elected on 29 December 2019.[15]

Only about 2% of the population speaks Portuguese, the official language, as a first language, and 33% speak it as a second language. However, Guinea-Bissau Creole, a Portuguese-based creole, is the national language and also considered the language of unity. According to a 2012 study, 54% of the population speak Creole as a first language and about 40% speak it as a second language.[16] The remainder speak a variety of native African languages. The nation is home to numerous followers of Islam, Christianity and traditional faiths, though no single religious group represents a majority of the population.[17][18] The country's per-capita gross domestic product is one of the lowest in the world.

Guinea-Bissau is a member of the United Nations, African Union, Economic Community of West African States, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Community of Portuguese Language Countries, Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, and the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone, and was a member of the now-defunct Latin Union.


Main articles: History of Guinea-Bissau and Portuguese Guinea

Pre-European contact

The deep history of what is now Guinea-Bissau is poorly understood by historians. The earliest inhabitants were the Jolas, Papels, Manjaks, Balantas, and Biafadas. Later the Mandinka and Fulani migrated into the region in the 13th and 15th centuries respectively, pushing the earlier inhabitants towards the coast and onto the Bijagos islands.[19][20]: 20 

The Balanta and Jola had weak or non-existent institutions of kingship but instead put an emphasis on heads of villages and families.[20]: 64  The Mandinka, Fula, Papel, Manjak, and Biafada chiefs were vassals to kings. The customs, rites, and ceremonies varied, but nobles commanded all the major positions, including the judicial system.[20]: 66, 67, 73, 227  Social stratification was seen in the clothing and accessories of the people, in housing materials, and in transportation options.[20]: 77–8 

Trade was widespread between ethnic groups. Items traded included pepper and kola nuts from the southern forests; kola nuts, iron, and iron utensils from the savannah-forest zone; salt and dried fish from the coast; and Mandinka cotton cloth.[21]: 4 

Kingdom of Bissau

According to oral tradition, the Kingdom of Bissau was founded by the son of the king of Quinara (Guinala) who moved to the area with his pregnant sister, six wives, and subjects of his father's kingdom.[22] Relations between the kingdom and the Portuguese were initially warm, but deteriorated over time.[23]: 55 

The kingdom strongly defended its sovereignty against the Portuguese 'Pacification Campaigns,' defeating them in 1891, 1894, and 1904. However in 1915 the Portuguese under the command of Officer Teixeira Pinto, and warlord Abdul Injai fully absorbed the kingdom.[12]

Biafada kingdoms

The Biafada people inhabited the area around the Rio Grande de Buba in three kingdoms: Biguba, Guinala, and Bissege.[20]: 65  The former two were important ports with significant lancado communities.[23]: 63, 211  They were subjects of the Mandinka mansa of Kaabu.[23]: 211 

The Bijagos

In the Bijagos Islands, different islands were populated by people of different ethnic origins, leading to great cultural diversity in the archipelago.[20]: 24 [23]: 52 

Bijago society was warlike. Men were dedicated to boat-building and raiding the mainland, attacking the coastal peoples as well as other islands, believing that on the sea they had no king. Women cultivated land, constructed houses, and gathered food, and could choose their husbands, generally warriors with the best reputation. Successful warriors could have many wives and boats, and were entitled to 1/3 of the spoils of the boat from any expedition.[20]: 204–205 

Bijago night raids on coastal settlements had significant impact on the societies attacked. Portuguese traders on the mainland tried to stop the raids, as they hurt the local economy, but the islanders also sold considerable numbers of slaves to the Europeans, who frequently pushed for more captives.[20]: 205  The Bijagos themselves were mostly safe from enslavement, out of reach of mainland slave raiders. Europeans avoided having them as slaves. Portuguese sources say the children made good slaves but not the adults, whom were likely to commit suicide, lead rebellions aboard slave ships, or escape once reaching the New World.[20]: 218–219 


States in medieval Africa

Main article: Kaabu

Kaabu was established first as a province of Mali through the conquest of the Senegambia by a general of Sundiata Keita named Tiramakhan Traore, in the 13th century. By the 14th century much of Guinea Bissau was under the administration of Mali and ruled by a farim kaabu (commander of Kaabu).[24][better source needed]

Mali declined gradually, beginning in the 14th century. Formerly secure possessions in what is now Senegal, the Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau were cut off by the expanding power of Koli Tenguella in the early 16th century.[25] Kaabu therefore became an independent federation of kingdoms.[26]: 13 .[27] The ruling classes were composed of elite warriors known as the Nyancho (Ñaanco) who traced their patrilineal lineage to Tiramakhan Troare.[28]: 2  The Nyancho were a warrior culture, reputed to be excellent cavalry men and raiders.[26]: 6  The Kaabu Mansaba was seated in Kansala, today known as Gabu, in the eastern Geba region.[21]: 4 

The slave trade dominated the economy, enriching the warrior classes with imported cloth, beads, metalware, and firearms.[26]: 8  Trade networks to North Africa were dominant up to the 14th century, with coastal trade with the Europeans increasing beginning in the 15th century.[21]: 3  In the 17th and 18th centuries an estimated 700 slaves left the region annually, many of them from Kaabu.[21]: 5 

In the late 18th century, the rise of the Imamate of Futa Jallon to the east posed a powerful challenge to animist Kaabu. During the first half of the 19th century civil war erupted as local Fula people sought independence.[21]: 5–6  This long-running conflict in the 1867 Battle of Kansala that marked the end of the Kaabu and the rise of Fuladu, though some smaller Mandinka kingdoms survived until their absorption by the Portuguese.

European contact

15th–16th centuries

Guinea-Bissau was made known to Europeans by the mid-1400s by mainly Portuguese explorers: Venetian explorer Alvise Cadamosto in 1455, Portuguese explorer Diogo Gomes in 1456, Portuguese explorer Duarte Pacheco Pareira in the 1480s, and Flemish explorer Eustache de la Fosse in 1479–1480 (pp. 7, 12, 13, 16).[29] Additionally, the region was mentioned in secondary sources like the writings of Gomes Eanes de Zurara in the 1450s, Valentim Fernandes in the early 1500s, and German scholar Jerome Münzer in the early 1500s. (pp. 4, 9, 15).[29]

The region from at least 1550 was known to the Portuguese as 'The Guinea of Cape Verde', Santiago was the administrative capital of the region (p. 138).[20] Additionally, most of the settlers in Guinea-Bissau at the time were whites of Cape Verdean origin (p. 139).[20] Trade between European and African agents began as early as the 1440s (p. 151).[20]

White settlements on the mainland was discouraged by Portuguese authorities, in contrast to the offshore Islands where settlements were encouraged. This discouragement was ignored by the Lançados (p. 140).[20] Tangomão were white trader who assimilated into indigenous culture and customs, also used to describe white traders native auxiliaries (p. 141).[20] Allied to the Lançados were the 'Grumete' made up of different natives in the region, these were at first slaves of sailors but later began to apply to free native assistants. Assistants varied on the rationale for their placement, some were slaves, others employed, and some relatives to the European trader. Grumetes remained an important part of the Lançados community (p. 151).[20] Lançados were mainly from impoverished backgrounds, most traders were from Cape Verde and were people exiled from Portugal, traders were also of Jewish and New Christians backgrounds a result of anti-Semitism in the Iberian peninsula (pp. 148, 150).[20] Lançados were targeted by Portuguese authorities as they ignored rules and regulations, rules such as the illegality of entering the region without a royal licence, trading goods without being a licensed trader, ships only porting at authorised ports, captains were responsible for their crews, and people regardless of rank could not assimilate into the native community (p. 142).[20] In the 1500s Portugal took steps to reduce the Lançado problem in the region, aiming legislations at Cape Verde as the Islands acted like recruitment centres. Rules were made to reduce the chances of recruitment or the carrying out of illegal trade. The legislations were ineffective and did not reduce illegal trading with the mainland (p. 144).[20] In 1520 measures against the Lançados reduced, trade and settlements increased on the mainland (p. 145).[20] Reasons for reduced measures were religious and commercial, and in the latter half of the 1500s no hostile legislation passed against the Lançados (pp. 145, 146).[20] The settlement population increased on the mainland and it was normal for Europeans to be living side by side with the natives. These Europeans were mainly Portuguese but there were also Spanish, Genoese, English, French, and Dutch settlers in the region (p. 150).[20]

The Lançados were focused on slavery and as intermediaries between European vessels and African producers, the regions rivers possessed no natural harbours, leaving the Lançados to navigate riverways and creeks in small boats, to take native products back to European vessels on the few ports available, being Cacheu, Bissau, and Guinala. The waterways being the main mode of transport, small boats were used by both the Lançados and native to navigate these rivers. Lançados bought boats from European vessels, or in most circumstances built them themselves through specially trained grumetes. At different estuaries trading depots were established some linked to Cape Verde, and others serving as clearing houses for the trading centres of Cacheu, Guinala, and Bissau. The furthest point of the rivers held trading centres connected to the produce of the interior (pp. 153–157).[20] Settlements were established in relation to these trading centres, convenient villages and locations were chosen for settlement. Villages that had a Lançado population attracted other Africans. Movement in the areas of Bissau, Cacheu, Guinala, and local trading centres were one type of migration because of Portuguese activity, the other was groups from the interior migrating closer to the coast in small numbers, Interior expeditions by the Portuguese were more common than migration. The Mande from the interior offered resources like gums, ivory, hides, civet, dyes, slaves, and gold of which Lançados traversed into the interior for, transporting it back to the coast to be made available to the international community (pp. 158–160).[20] Trade was not limited to the Atlantic as Lançados helped establish trade between different regions of the Upper Guinea, trade was opened from the Gambia through Guinea-Bissau to the Cape Mount region (pp. 162, 163).[20]

Europeans were not accepted in all communities, the Jolas, Balantas, and at first the Bijagos were hostile, in the 1500s a common sarcastic saying used by the Papels was:

"If you do not like it here, then perhaps the Balantas or the Bijagos would be more to your liking."

The other ethnicities of the region interacted with Europeans friendlier, all the groups harboured communities of Lançados. Lançados primarily interacted with the higher echelons of the regions society, any European trader on the land of a native king would be subject to taxation (p. 164, 165).[20] Moreover, Lançados were subject to the laws and customs of the community they lived in, he was also subject to the local courts. The Lançados would use these local customs to their advantage, pushing to swear oaths and secure deals in the native way to have 100% guarantee (pp. 172, 173).[20] Latter half of the 1500s the Lançados and their agreement to follow local customs came into question, their attempts to change certain customs and rules caused disagreements, such as in 1580 when they abandoned the settlement of Buguendo near Cacheu, once again in 1583 their settlement in Guinala, and Cacheu where they felt the customs were causing them harm and decided to create fortified settlements of their own along the coast. The forts construction was granted by the King Chapala of Cacheu in 1589 (pp. 175–177).

These changes led to Papels, Manjaks, and Biafadas becoming hostile towards the Portuguese, other reasons for the declining relations was that the natives became fluent in Kriol, and becoming familiar with Lançados for some reason became contemptuous of them (p. 177, 178).[20] In 1591 the first significant hostility between the Portuguese and mainland natives occurred, the Manjaks of Cacheu invaded the Fort of Cacheu which was a failure, the conflict ended in a peace agreement. This violent reaction contrasted the Biafadas reaction to the Portuguese actions in 1583, the Biafadas began to charge more for slaves and resources (pp. 179, 180).[20] These responses by the native resulted in Lançados withdrawing into their own forts, to defend from any future attacks, and find exemption from native rules and customs. A lack of manpower meant garrisoning the forts of Cacheu and Guinala was difficult, and so they were still subject to the local rules and customs. Kicking the Lançados out was out of the question, as goods that the Lançados brought in were in demand with the upper class natives (pp. 180–184).[20]

The Portuguese were still dealing with the Lançados, whom not hunted like in the early 1500s, still defied authorities in the region causing difficulties with the Portuguese receiving their revenues from the trade, and governing Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau (p. 242).[20] In 1580 because of the Iberian Union possessions in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde were attacked by the enemies of Spain. The French, Dutch, and English ships made Portuguese monopoly difficult, and trade increased between other Europeans and the natives. The Lançados would facilitate trade with the English, French, and Dutch in the late 1500s especially at Cacheu, and Cacheu was the centre of Portuguese trade in the region (pp. 244–253).[20]

17th–18th centuries

In the 1500s, Upper Guinea was split into two districts: the 'Sierra Leone' and 'Rivers of Guinea' with the region of Guinea Bissau falling into the latter. In 1637, the contract of Cape Verde-Guinea was tied to three clauses that gives insight into the regional administration, from Santiago at least 12 ships in a four year period must be sent to the coast, prohibitions on certain items being sold to the natives (Primarily weapons), and guaranteeing settlers free trade on the mainland, along with enough slaves being imported for their own use (pp. 243, 244).[20] Santiago's importance in the 1600s was reflected in the custom of all ships heading to and from the mainland, stopping and paying duties at Santiago. Santiago stopped ships from Spain and the Canaries going to the mainland, and heading to the Spanish Indies and not paying duties, in 1608 and 1615 Cape Verdeans petitioned to further enforce the Santiago rule that was being ignored, Portugal in 1619 reaffirmed the earlier decree of that ships must go through Santiago but was ineffective. After 1640 the Portuguese fought European encroachment in the region of Cape Verde-Guinea Bissau, in the form of commercial attacks in Cacheu. Portugal had to re-establish monopoly in the region, that had been weakened during the Iberian Union (pp. 254–261).[20]

Collapse of the Iberian Union (1640)

The main centres of Portuguese activity after the Iberian Unions collapse in 1640 was Bissau and Cacheu (p. 260).[20] An independent Portugal tried to counter Spain's influence, King João IV decreed Cape Verde-Guinea Bissau could not trade with Spain, Spanish vessels had to go through the Portuguese authorities, and Spanish ships were embargoed in the ports. These impositions on Spanish vessels were precursors to Portuguese conflicts with the natives and Lançados. From 1580 to 1640, the Spanish were key traders in the region, so Portuguese legislation against Spain affected the natives and pro-Spanish Lançados (pp. 261, 262).[20]

In 1641, settlers in Bissau, Guinala, Geba, and Cacheu swore allegiance to the Portuguese King and aired grievances stemming from Spanish refusal to trade because of the embargo, further grieved by the 1639 to 1641 famines caused by locust attacks. Spanish trade resumed in 1641, welcomed by the Lançados and Manjak chiefs at Cacheu. The Manjaks who controlled the Cacheu port, viewed European merchandise as necessities, the Spanish not trading caused the Manjaks to threaten the white settlers of Cacheu with death if Captain-Major Luis de Magalhães did not allow free trade (p. 263).[20] The settlement at Cacheu was not allowed a water supply leaving the supply of water in Manjak hands, if cut off then trouble would ensue, additionally the famine of 1639–1641 wiped out the slave population in charge of defending the settlement, these and the fact Manjaks surrounded the ports once a ship was spotted to facilitate free trade, pushed Captain-Major Luis de Magalhães to lift the embargo and allow free trade against the wishes of the authorities. Free trade in the region between the Spanish, Bissau, Geba, and Cacheu continued regardless of the Portuguese ban, through the facilitation of the Lançados and Manjak, Papel, and Biafada chiefs (pp. 263–265).[20]

The position of Captain-Major was decided by the Conselho Ultramarino, and in 1641 Luis de Magalhães stepped down and was replaced with Gonçalo de Gamboa de Ayala, and Paulo Barradas da Silva was made treasurer. The Portuguese goal was to turn the fort of Cacheu to a fortress of stone, for better protection against European and the natives. Ayala won over the local King of Mata, Chief of Mompatas, Chief of Baorilla, and stopped Spanish ships at Cacheu. The peaceful approach taken was questioned after negotiations with the King Equendé of Bissau, two Spanish ships entered Bissau and were afforded full protection, Ayala for the first time pushed for violent repercussions against the King of Bissau though nothing came of it. Another problem was getting the Lançados under control, he was successfully through resettling the settlers of the infamous settlement of Geba, to the settlement of Farim north of Cacheu taking back control of the rivers estuary, and counter illegal commerce in the region (pp. 266–271).[20] Successful as these attempts were at monopolising control in the region, the British, French, and Dutch were still making profits off the Portuguese and native traders (p. 277).[20] Free trade was difficult for the Portuguese to deal with, as the economic interests of the native leaders and Lançados never fully aligned with the Portuguese.

Slave trade

The slave trade in the region was not as prominent as it was in other regions; however, Guinea-Bissau was a significant region in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade (p. 186).[20] Slaves at the start were mainly sent to Cape Verde and the Iberian Peninsula, moreover, the Madeira and Canary Islands saw an influx of Bissau Guinean slaves at lower volumes (p. 187).[20] From 1580 to 1640 slaves from Guinea-Bissau were destined for the Spanish Indies (p. 278).[20] There were five main ways slaves were made, as punishment for law breaking, selling themselves or relatives during famines, kidnapped by native marauders or European raiders, previously a slave sold to Europeans by a previous master, or as prisoners of war (pp. 198, 199, 210, 211, 216).[20] Europeans rarely risked slave raiding, the selling of themselves into slavery was most rare, and commonly slaves were bought by Europeans from local rulers or traders (pp. 199, 200).[20]

The diverse number of ethnicities made the slave trade common in the region, wars produced prisoners that could be sold off, however, most wars were waged for the sole purpose of capturing slaves (p. 204).[20] The Bijagos mirrored the latter reason, staging coastal raids to capture slaves, the victims of the Bijagos were the Biafadas, Papels, Jolas, and Balantas (p. 204).[20] The Papels slave raided the Balantas, Biafadas, and Bijagos with the direct assistance of the Lançados (p. 209).[20] The Mandinka had great political and military power in the region, in the form of Kaabu Empire, slave raided the coastal groups (pp. 219–221).[20] The Biafadas were singled out for the amount of criminals sold to Europeans, neighbouring groups accused them of introducing slavery (p. 217).[20] The Balantas and Jolas did not slave raid and were hostile towards it (p. 208, 217).[20] In the Jolas case Mandinka slave raiders from Gambia travelled sailed south capturing them, later on Jolas would become prepared for this and in turn captured Mandinkas (p. 208).[20] The Bijagos were too far from the mainland, coupled with their ferocious nature, proclivity to commit suicide, stage rebellions on ships, and tendency to escape plantations meant the Europeans did not favour them as slaves unless as children (p. 218).[20] The inter-ethnic wars were noted to never be about territorial gain or political dominance, and only rarely happened because of any real animosity (p. 208).[20] The incentive of European goods fuelled these wars, that European observers from the time deemed little more than robberies and man-hunts (p. 209).[20] Slave raiding in this way started to take the form of a profession, individuals would wholly dedicate themselves to the act of capturing slaves for profit, the heir of the throne of the Kingdom of Bissau in the 1600s was himself a professional slave raider (p. 210).[20]

The slave trade and class divisions were intertwined in the region, victims of the slave trade were mostly of the lower class, the laws that could get individuals enslaved were created and implemented by nobles and king, this was summarised by Mateo de Anguiano:

"the rich and powerful enjoy the privilege of making captives, because there is nobody to resist them. They (the nobles) look upon so many persons with dislike, and when they feel so inclined, they easily exercise their privilege, because their own interests are not harmed by their greed. The king proceeds with the same licence." (p. 228).[20]

If captured nobles were likely to be released, as the captors would be paid a ransom for them, even the Bijagos were willing to offer back captured nobles for a price, and this practice continued until the end of the 18th century, where captured nobles would be released on payment of a ransom (p. 229).[20] This practice of nobles escaping slavery even carried over to the Europeans, when nobles were captured they were usually released once their nobility was discovered (p. 230). The relationship between kings and European traders was one of partnership and cooperation, with the two regularly making deals on how the trade was to be conducted, who was to be enslaved and who was not, and the prices of the slaves (pp. 230, 233, 234).[20] It was noted by Fernão Guerreiro and Mateo de Anguiano when they questioned multiple kings on their part in the slave trade, they recognised the trade as evil but reasoned that they did it because the Europeans would buy no other goods from them (p. 234).[20] The trade would carry on until the 19th century when it was abolished.


Comparison of Africa in the years 1880 and 1913

Guinea-Bissau was once part of the kingdom of Kaabu, part of the Mali Empire in the 16th century.[30] Parts of this kingdom persisted until the 18th century. Other parts of the territory in the current country were considered by the Portuguese as part of their empire.[31][better source needed] Portuguese Guinea was known as the Slave Coast,[32] as it was a major area for the exportation of African slaves by Europeans to the western hemisphere.[33][32]

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,[34] and Diogo Cão. In the 1480s this Portuguese explorer reached the Congo River and the lands of Bakongo, setting up the foundations of modern Angola, some 4200 km down the African coast from Guinea-Bissau.[35]

Flag of the Portuguese Company of Guinea

Although the rivers and coast of this area were among the first places colonized by the Portuguese, who set up trading posts in the 16th century, they did not explore the interior until the 19th century. The local African rulers in Guinea, some of whom prospered greatly from the slave trade, controlled the inland trade and did not allow the Europeans into the interior.[32] They kept them in the fortified coastal settlements where the trading took place.[36] African communities that fought back against slave traders also distrusted European adventurers and would-be settlers. The Portuguese in Guinea were largely restricted to the ports of Bissau[32] and Cacheu. A small number of European settlers established isolated farms along Bissau's inland rivers.[36]

For a brief period in the 1790s, the British tried to establish a rival foothold on an offshore island, at Bolama.[37] But by the 19th century the Portuguese were sufficiently secure in Bissau to regard the neighbouring coastline as their own special territory.[32]

Portuguese Colonial War in Portuguese Guinea, 1968

An armed rebellion, begun in 1956 by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) under the leadership of Amílcar Cabral[32] gradually consolidated its hold on the then Portuguese Guinea.[38] 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.[39] Cuba also agreed to supply artillery experts, doctors, and technicians.[40] 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, although the movement suffered a setback in January 1973 when Cabral was assassinated.[41]

Independence (1973)

PAIGC forces raise the flag of Guinea-Bissau in 1974.

Independence was unilaterally declared on 24 September 1973, which is now celebrated as the country's Independence Day, a public holiday.[42] Recognition became universal following 25 April 1974 socialist-inspired military coup in Portugal, which overthrew Lisbon's Estado Novo regime.[43] Nicolae Ceaușescu's Romania was the first country to formally recognise Guinea-Bissau and the first to sign agreements with the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde.[44][45]

That same time upon independence, Esta É a Nossa Pátria Bem Amada, the national anthem of Guinea-Bissau, was shared alongside Cape Verde, which later adopted its own official national anthem Cântico da Liberdade in 1996, separating it.

Luís Cabral, brother of Amílcar and co-founder of PAIGC, was appointed the first president of Guinea-Bissau.[32] Independence had begun under the best of auspices. The Bissau-Guinean diaspora had returned to the country en masse. A system of access to school for all had been created. Books were free and schools seemed to have a sufficient number of teachers. The education of girls, previously neglected, was encouraged and a new school calendar, more adapted to the rural world, was adopted. In 1980, economic conditions deteriorated significantly, leading to general discontent with the government in power. On 14 November 1980, João Bernardo Vieira, known as "Nino Vieira," overthrew President Luís Cabral. The constitution was suspended and a nine-member military council of the revolution, chaired by Vieira, was established. Since then, the country has moved toward a liberal economy. Budget cuts have been made at the expense of the social sector and education.[46]

The country was controlled by a revolutionary council until 1984. The first multi-party elections were held in 1994. An army uprising in May 1998 led to the Guinea-Bissau Civil War and the president's ousting in June 1999.[47] Elections were held again in 2000, and Kumba Ialá was elected president.[48]

In September 2003, a military coup was conducted. The military arrested Ialá on the charge of being "unable to solve the problems".[49] After being delayed several times, legislative elections were held in March 2004. A mutiny in October 2004 over pay arrears resulted in the death of the head of the armed forces.[50]

From Vieira years to present

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 run-off election. Sanhá initially refused to concede, claiming that tampering and electoral fraud occurred in two constituencies including the capital, Bissau.[51]

Despite reports of arms entering the country prior to the election and some "disturbances during campaigning", including attacks on government offices by unidentified gunmen, foreign election monitors described the 2005 election overall as "calm and organized".[52]

Three years later, PAIGC won a strong parliamentary majority, with 67 of 100 seats, in the parliamentary election held in November 2008.[53] In November 2008, President Vieira's official residence was attacked by members of the armed forces, killing a guard but leaving the president unharmed.[54]

On 2 March 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, who had been killed in an explosion the day before.[55] Vieira's death did not trigger widespread violence, but there were signs of turmoil in the country, according to the advocacy group Swisspeace.[56] Military leaders in the country pledged to respect the constitutional order of succession. National Assembly Speaker Raimundo Pereira was appointed as an interim president until a nationwide election on 28 June 2009.[57] It was won by Malam Bacai Sanhá of the PAIGC, against Kumba Ialá as the presidential candidate of the PRS.[58]

Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embaló with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, 25 October 2022

On 9 January 2012, President Sanhá died of complications from diabetes, and Pereira was again appointed as an interim president. On the evening of 12 April 2012, members of the country's military staged a coup d'état and arrested the interim president and a leading presidential candidate.[59] Former vice chief of staff, General Mamadu Ture Kuruma, assumed control of the country in the transitional period and started negotiations with opposition parties.[60][61]

José Mário Vaz was the President of Guinea-Bissau from 2014 until 2019 presidential elections. At the end of his term, Vaz became the first elected president to complete his five-year mandate. He lost the 2019 election, however, to Umaro Sissoco Embaló, who took office in February 2020. Embaló is the first president to be elected without the backing of the PAIGC.[62][63]

On 1 February 2022, there was an attempted coup d'état to overthrow President Umaro Sissoco Embaló.[64][65][66] On 2 February 2022, state radio announced that four assailants and two members of the presidential guard had been killed in the incident.[67] The African Union and ECOWAS both condemned the coup.[68] Six days after the attempted coup d'état, on 7 February 2022, there was an attack on the building of Rádio Capital FM,[69] a radio station critical of the Bissau-Guinean government;[70] this was the second time the radio station suffered an attack of this nature in less than two years.[69] A journalist working for the station recalled, while wishing to stay anonymous, that one of their colleagues had recognized one of the cars carrying the attackers as belonging to the presidency.[70]

In July 2022, during ongoing Russian invasion, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky met with his counterpart Umaro Sissoco Embaló in a press conference, encouraging him to contribute the just solution to the conflict in Ukraine.


Main article: Politics of Guinea-Bissau

The Presidential Palace of Guinea-Bissau
Public Order Police officer during a parade in Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau is a republic.[71] In the past, the government had been highly centralized. Multi-party governance was not established until mid-1991.[71] The president is the head of state and the prime minister is the head of government. From independence in 1974, until Jose Mario Vaz ended his five-year term as president on 24 June 2019, no president successfully served a full five-year term.[62]

At the legislative level, a unicameral Assembleia Nacional Popular (National People's Assembly) is made up of 100 members. They are popularly elected from multi-member constituencies to serve a four-year term. The judicial system is headed by a Tribunal Supremo da Justiça (Supreme Court), made up of nine justices appointed by the president; they serve at the pleasure of the president.[72]

The two main political parties are the PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde) and the PRS (Party for Social Renewal). There are more than 20 minor parties.[73]

Foreign relations

Further information: Foreign relations of Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau is a founding member state of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), also known as the Lusophone Commonwealth, and international organisation and political association of Lusophone nations across four continents, where Portuguese is an official language.[74]


Further information: Military of Guinea-Bissau

A 2019 estimate put the size of the Guinea-Bissau Armed Forces at around 4,400 personnel and military spending is less than 2% of GDP .[75]

In 2018, Guinea-Bissau signed the UN treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.[76]

Administrative divisions

Main articles: Regions of Guinea-Bissau and Sectors of Guinea-Bissau

A clickable map of Guinea-Bissau exhibiting its eight regions and one autonomous sector.Bafatá RegionBiombo RegionBiombo RegionBissau RegionBissau RegionBolama RegionCacheu RegionGabú RegionOio RegionQuinara RegionQuinara RegionTombali Region
A clickable map of Guinea-Bissau exhibiting its eight regions and one autonomous sector.

Guinea-Bissau is divided into eight regions (regiões) and one autonomous sector (sector autónomo).[77] These, in turn, are subdivided into 37 Sectors.[78] The regions are:[78]

  1. ^ Autonomous sector.


Main article: Geography of Guinea-Bissau

Rare salt water Hippopotamuses in Orango Island
Caravela, Bissagos Islands
Typical scenery in Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau is bordered by Senegal to the north and Guinea to the south and east,[78] with the Atlantic Ocean to its west.[78] It lies mostly between latitudes 11° and 13°N (a small area is south of 11°), and longitudes 11° and 15°W.[79]

At 36,125 square kilometres (13,948 sq mi),[78] the country is larger in size than Taiwan or Belgium. The highest point is Monte Torin with an elevation of 262 metres (860 ft). Its terrain is mostly low coastal plains with swamps of the Guinean mangroves rising to the Guinean forest–savanna mosaic in the east.[80] Its monsoon-like rainy season alternates with periods of hot, dry harmattan winds blowing from the Sahara. The Bijagos Archipelago lies off of the mainland.[81] The country is home to two ecoregions: Guinean forest–savanna mosaic and Guinean mangroves.[82]


Main article: Climate of Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau is warm all year round with mild temperature fluctuations; 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.[83]

Environmental problems

Severe environmental problems include deforestation, soil erosion, overgrazing, and overfishing.[80] Guinea-Bissau had a 2019 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 5.7/10, ranking it 97th globally out of 172 countries.[84]


Main article: Wildlife of Guinea-Bissau


Main articles: Economy of Guinea-Bissau and Mining industry of Guinea-Bissau

A proportional representation of Guinea-Bissau exports, 2019
Seat of the Central Bank of Guinea-Bissau
Petrol station in São Domingos

Guinea-Bissau's GDP per capita is one of the lowest in the world, and its Human Development Index is one of the lowest on earth. More than two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line.[85] The economy depends mainly on agriculture; fish, cashew nuts, and ground nuts are its major exports.[86]

A long period of political instability has resulted in depressed economic activity, deteriorating social conditions, and increased macroeconomic imbalances. It takes longer on average to register a new business in Guinea-Bissau (233 days or about 33 weeks) than in any other country in the world except Suriname.[87]

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.[88]

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.[89] 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.[90]

Beginning around 2005, drug traffickers based in Latin America began to use Guinea-Bissau, along with several neighbouring West African nations, as a transshipment point to Europe for cocaine.[91] The nation was described by a United Nations official as being at risk for becoming a "narco-state".[92] The government and the military have done little to stop drug trafficking, which increased after the 2012 coup d'état.[93] The government of Guinea-Bissau continues to be ravaged by illegal drug distribution, according to The Week.[94] Guinea-Bissau is a member of the Organisation for the Harmonisation of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).[95]



Main article: Demographics of Guinea-Bissau

Population Guinea-Bissau 1950–2020
(Left) Guinea-Bissau's population between 1950 and 2020. (Right) Guinea-Bissau's population pyramid, 2005. In 2010, 41.3% of Guinea-Bissau's population were aged under 15.[96]

According to the 2022 revision of the World Population Prospects[97][98], Guinea-Bissau's population was 2,060,721 in 2021, compared to 518,000 in 1950. The proportion of the population below the age of 15 in 2010 was 41.3%, 55.4% were aged between 15 and 65 years of age, while 3.3% were aged 65 years or older.[96]

Ethnic groups

Ethnic groups in Guinea-Bissau[99]
Ethnic groups percent
Bijagós [pt]
Felupe [pt]
Balanta Mane
Not Stated
Guinea-Bissau present-day settlement pattern of the ethnic groups

The population of Guinea-Bissau is ethnically diverse and has many distinct languages, customs, and social structures.[71]

Bissau-Guineans can be divided into the following ethnic groups:[71]

Most of the remainder are mestiços of mixed Portuguese and African descent.[100][101]

Portuguese natives are a very small percentage of Bissau-Guineans.[100] After Guinea-Bissau gained independence, most of the Portuguese nationals left the country. The country has a tiny Chinese population.[102] These include traders and merchants of mixed Portuguese and Cantonese ancestry from the former Asian Portuguese colony of Macau.[100]

Major cities

Main cities in Guinea-Bissau include:[103]

Rank City Population
2015 estimate Region
1 Bissau 492,004 Bissau
2 Gabú 48,670 Gabú
3 Bafatá 37,985 Bafatá
4 Bissorã 29,468 Oio
5 Bolama 16,216 Bolama
6 Cacheu 14,320 Cacheu
7 Bubaque 12,922 Bolama
8 Catió 11,498 Tombali
9 Mansôa 9,198 Oio
10 Buba 8,993 Quinara


Languages in Guinea-Bissau[99]
Languages percent
Portuguese Creole

Main article: Languages of Guinea-Bissau

Voter education posters in Kriol for Guinea-Bissau legislative election, 2008, Biombo Region

Though a small country, Guinea-Bissau has several ethnic groups which are very distinct from each other, with their own cultures and languages. This is due to Guinea-Bissau being a refugee and migration territory within Africa. Colonisation and racial intermixing brought Portuguese and the Portuguese creole known as Kriol or crioulo.[104]

The sole official language of Guinea-Bissau since independence, Standard Portuguese is spoken mostly as a second language, with few native speakers and its use is often confined to the intellectual and political elites. It is the language of government and national communication as a legacy of colonial rule. Schooling from the primary to tertiary levels is conducted in Portuguese, although only 67% of children have access to any formal education. Data suggests that the number of Portuguese speakers ranges from 11 to 15%.[100] In the latest census (2009) 27.1% of the population claimed to speak non-creole Portuguese (46.3% of city dwellers and 14.7% of the rural population, respectively).[105] Portuguese creole is spoken by 44% of the population and is effectively the lingua franca among distinct groups for most of the population.[100] Creole's usage is still expanding, and it is understood by the vast majority of the population. However, decreolisation processes are occurring, due to undergoing interference from Standard Portuguese and the creole forms a continuum of varieties with the standard language, the most distant are basilects and the closer ones, acrolects. A post-creole continuum exists in Guinea-Bissau and crioulo 'leve' ('soft' creole) variety being closer to the Portuguese-language norm.[104]

The remaining rural population speaks a variety of native African languages unique to each ethnicity: Fula (16%), Balanta (14%), Mandinka (7%), Manjak (5%), Papel (3%), Felupe (1%), Beafada (0.7%), Bijagó (0.3%), and Nalu (0.1%), which form the ethnic African languages spoken by the population.[104][106] Most Portuguese and Mestiços speakers also have one of the African languages and Kriol as additional languages. Ethnic African languages are not discouraged, in any situation, despite their lower prestige. These languages are the link between individuals of the same ethnic background and daily used in villages, between neighbours or friends, traditional and religious ceremonies, and also used in contact between the urban and rural populations. However, none of these languages are dominant in Guinea-Bissau.[104]

French is taught as a foreign language in schools, because Guinea-Bissau is surrounded by French-speaking nations.[100] Guinea-Bissau is a full member of the Francophonie.[107]


Main article: Religion in Guinea-Bissau

Religion in Guinea-Bissau (CIA, 2020 est.)[108]
Religion Percent
Folk religions

Various studies suggest that slightly less than half of the population of Guinea-Bissau is Muslim, while substantial minorities follow folk religions or Christianity. The CIA World Factbook's 2020 estimate stated that the population was 46.1% Muslim, 30.6% following folk religions, 18.9% Christian, 4.4% other or unaffiliated.[108] In 2010, a Pew Research survey determined that the population was 45.1% Muslim and 19.7% Christian, with 30.9% practicing folk religion and 4.3 other faiths.[18][109] A 2015 Pew-Templeton study found that the population was 45.1% Muslim, 30.9% practicing folk religions, 19.7% Christian, and 4.3% unaffiliated.[110] The ARDA projected in 2020 the share of the Muslim population to be 44.7%. It also estimated 41.2% of the population to be practitioners of ethnic religions and 13% to be Christians.[111]

Men in Islamic garb, Bafatá, Guinea-Bissau

Concerning religious identity among Muslims, a Pew report determined that in Guinea-Bissau there is no prevailing sectarian identity. Guinea-Bissau shared this distinction with other Sub-Saharan countries like Tanzania, Uganda, Liberia, Nigeria and Cameroon.[112] This Pew research also stated that countries in this specific study that declared to not have any clear dominant sectarian identity were mostly concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa.[113] Another Pew report, The Future of World Religions, predicts that from 2010 to 2050, practitioners of Islam will increase their share of the population in Guinea-Bissau.[110]

Many residents practice syncretic forms of Islamic and Christian faiths, combining their practices with traditional African beliefs.[80][114] Muslims dominate the north and east, while Christians dominate the south and coastal regions. The Roman Catholic Church claims most of the Christian community.[115]

The 2021 US Department of State Report on International Religious Freedom[116] mentions the fact that leaders of different religious communities believe that the existing communities are essentially tolerant, but express some concerns about rising religious fundamentalism in the country. An incident in July 2022, when a Catholic Church in the overwhelmingly Muslim region of Gabú was vandalised, raised concern amongst the Christian community that Islamic extremism might be infiltrating the country. However, there have been no further similar incidents, and no direct links to Islamic extremists have surfaced.[117]


Main article: Health in Guinea-Bissau


Main article: Education in Guinea-Bissau

Universidade Lusófona of Bissau (up). Students at Biblioteca Jovem, Bairro da Ajuda, in Guinea-Bissau. (down)

Education is compulsory from the age of 7 to 13.[118] Pre-school education for children between three and six years of age is optional and in its early stages. There are five levels of education: pre-school, elemental and complementary basic education, general and complementary secondary education, general secondary education, technical and professional teaching, and higher education (university and non-universities). Basic education is under reform, and now forms a single cycle, comprising six years of education. Secondary education is widely available and there are two cycles (7th to 9th classe and 10th to 11th classe). Professional education in public institutions is nonoperational, however private school offerings opened, including the Centro de Formação São João Bosco (since 2004) and the Centro de Formação Luís Inácio Lula da Silva (since 2011).[104]

Higher education is limited and most prefer to be educated abroad, with students preferring to enroll in Portugal.[104] A number of universities, to which an institutionally autonomous Faculty of Law as well as a Faculty of Medicine that is maintained by Cuba and functions in different cities.

Child labor is very common.[119] The enrollment of boys is higher than that of girls. In 1998, the gross primary enrollment rate was 53.5%, with higher enrollment ratio for males (67.7%) compared to females (40%).[119]

Non-formal education is centered on community schools and the teaching of adults.[104] In 2011, the literacy rate was estimated at 55.3% (68.9% male, and 42.1% female).[120]


Usually, the many different ethnic groups in Guinea-Bissau coexist peacefully, but when conflicts do erupt, they tend to revolve around access to land.[121]


Guinea-Bissau's second largest city, Gabú
Port of Bissau
Bridge in São Vicente, Cacheu
Hotels at Bissagos Islands
Carnival in Bissau
National singer Manecas Costa


Main article: Media of Guinea-Bissau


Main article: Music of Guinea-Bissau

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.[122]

The cabasa is the primary musical instrument of Guinea-Bissau,[123] 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.[124]

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.[125] 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.[126]


Further information: Cuisine of Guinea-Bissau

Common dishes include soups and stews. Common ingredients include yams, sweet potato, cassava, onion, tomato, and plantain. Spices, peppers, and chilis are used in cooking, including Aframomum melegueta seeds (Guinea pepper).[127]


Flora Gomes is an internationally renowned film director; his most famous film is Nha Fala (English: My Voice).[128] Gomes's Mortu Nega (Death Denied) (1988)[129] was the first fiction film and the second feature film ever made in Guinea-Bissau. (The first feature film was N’tturudu, by director Umban u’Kest [fr] in 1987.) At FESPACO 1989, Mortu Nega won the prestigious Oumarou Ganda Prize. In 1992, Gomes directed Udju Azul di Yonta,[130] which was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.[131] Gomes has also served on the boards of many Africa-centric film festivals.[132] The actress Babetida Sadjo was born in Bafatá, Guinea-Bissau.[133]


Football is the most popular sport in Guinea-Bissau. The Guinea-Bissau national football team is controlled by the Federação de Futebol da Guiné-Bissau. They are a member of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and FIFA.

Further information: Quinara FC

See also


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Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from The World Factbook. CIA.

Further reading

  • Abdel Malek, K.,"Le processus d'accès à l'indépendance de la Guinée-Bissau", In : Bulletin de l'Association des Anciens Elèves de l'Institut National de Langues et de Cultures Orientales, N°1, Avril 1998. – pp. 53–60
  • Forrest, Joshua B., Lineages of State Fragility. Rural Civil Society in Guinea-Bissau (Ohio University Press/James Currey Ltd., 2003)
  • Galli, Rosemary E, Guinea Bissau: Politics, Economics and Society, (Pinter Pub Ltd., 1987)
  • Lobban Jr., Richard Andrew and Mendy, Peter Karibe, Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, third edition (Scarecrow Press, 1997)
  • Vigh, Henrik, Navigating Terrains of War: Youth And Soldiering in Guinea-Bissau, (Berghahn Books, 2006)



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12°N 15°W / 12°N 15°W / 12; -15