Guinea-Bissau country profile

  • Published
Map of Guinea-Bissau

West Africa's Guinea-Bissau was part of the Portuguese Empire for centuries.

Once hailed as a potential model for African development, the country is now one of the poorest 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: Umaro Sissoco Embaló

Image source, SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images

Mr Embaló won the December 2019 presidential election, but faced a last-minute stand-off with parliament before taking office in February.

This reflected the continuing instability of state institutions in a country that has seen nine coups or attempted coups since 1980, and the resistance of the long-governing PAIGC party to the victory of an opposition candidate.A former prime minister, Mr Embaló is the first president to be elected without the backing of the PAIGC.

His predecessor, Jose Mario Vaz, was the first elected leader since the army mutinied in 2012 and plunged the country - already plagued by corruption and cocaine trafficking - into chaos, and the first to complete his term without being overthrown.


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

The constitution provides for press freedom and there is some media diversity, says US NGO Freedom House. But it says journalists face harassment.

Private radio stations operate alongside the state broadcaster. A government newspaper publishes alongside non-state titles.


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.

2020 - Umaro Sissoco Embaló takes office as the first opposition candidate to win a presidential election.

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

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.