History of Guinea Bissau

Published on 16th May 2006

The land now known as Guinea-Bissau was once the kingdom of Gabú, which was part of the larger Mali Empire. After 1546 Gabú became more autonomous, and at least portions of the kingdom existed until 1867. The first European to encounter Guinea-Bissau was the Portuguese explorer Nuño Tristão in 1446; colonists in the Cape Verde Islands obtained trading rights in the territory, and it became a center of the Portuguese slave trade. 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 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, 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 Bijagós 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.Ćause.

In 1956, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) was organized clandestinely by Amílcar Cabral and Rafael Barbosa. The PAIGC moved its headquarters to Conakry, Guinea, in 1960 and started an armed rebellion against the Portuguese in 1961 (for a detailed account of this struggle, see the PAIGC page). 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, General António de Spínola, returned to Portugal and led the movement which brought democracy to Portugal and independence for its colonies.

Amílcar 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 and was recognized by a 93-7 UN General Assembly vote in November, unprecedented as it denounced illegal Portuguese aggression and occupation and was prior to complete control and Portuguese recognition.

Following Portugal's April 1974 Carnation Revolution, it granted independence to Guinea-Bissau on September 10, 1974. Luís Cabral, Amílcar 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 João Bernardo Vieira.

From November 1980 to May 1984, power was held by a provisional government responsible to a Revolutionary Council headed by President João Bernardo Vieira. In 1984, the council was dissolved, and the 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 was the executive agent of the ANP.

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.

In 1994, 20 years after independence from Portugal, the country's first multiparty legislative and presidential elections were held. An army uprising that triggered the Guinea-Bissau Civil War in 1998, created hundreds of thousands of displaced persons. The president was ousted by a military junta in May 7, 1999. An interim government turned over power in February 2000 when opposition leader Kumba Yalá took office following two rounds of transparent presidential elections.  

In Sept. 2003 he was deposed in a military coup. Yalá's increasingly repressive measures and refusal to hold elections were cited as causes. In 2005, former president Vieira returned from six years of exile in Portugal and won the presidency in the July 2005 elections

National name: Républica da Guiné-Bissau
President: João Bernardo Vieira (2005)
Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Bissau, 296,900
Monetary unit: CFA Franc
Languages: Portuguese (official), Criolo, African languages
Ethnicity/race: African 99% (Balanta 30%, Fula 20%, Manjaca 14%, Mandinga 13%, Papel 7%), European and mulatto less than 1%
Religions: indigenous beliefs 50%, Islam 45%, Christian 5%

Below is an analysis of Guinea Bissau according to The 2006 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal:

Rank: 131
Score: 3.65
Category: Mostly Unfree
Population: 1,489,209
Total area: 36,120 sq. km
GDP: $201.5 million
GDP growth rate: 0.6%
GDP per capita: $135
Major exports: cashew nuts, fish and shrimp
Exports of goods and services: $76.3 million
Major export trading partners: India 66.9%, Nigeria 16.8%, Italy 7.7%
Major imports:  food stuffs, petroleum products
Imports of goods and services: $84 billion
Major import trading partners: Senegal 20.6%, Portugal 16.7%, China 10.7%, Italy 10.1%
Foreign direct investment (net): $19 million

The 2006 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal

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