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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #22 of 54: Guinea | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #24 of 54: Ivory Coast »

May 27, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #23 of 54: Guinea Bissau

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- 23. GUINEA BISSAU Flag of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau

Formal Name: Republic of Guinea Bissau.

Term for Citizens: Guinea Bissauns.

Capital: Bissau. Population: 292,000.

Independence Achieved: September 10, 1974, from Portugal.

Major Cities: Bissau.


Guinea Bissau is in West Africa. Guinea Bissau covers an area of 13, 948 square miles. Guinea Bissau is bounded by Senegal, Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. The country is mainly low-lying land and covered with mud flats and mangrove swamps. The swamps are often inundated by rising tides. The lowlands gradually give way to the Futa Djalon highlands in Guinea. The country also has islands in the Atlantic. It has two seasons, wet and dry. There is substantial rainfall at the coast.


The population is estimated at 1,493,000.

Ethnic Groups: Fulani, Balantes, Mandigo (Manyako, Malinke, and Papel).

Languages: Portuguese and several African languages.

Religion: Christianity and Islam.

Education: primary school education is available to all children. Literacy rate is estimated at 55%.

Economy: Farming is the primary activity in the country. Rice, sorghum, sweet potatoes, cassava, maize, beans, and other crops are raised for food and cashew is raised for export. Fishing is also an important economic activity. In the higher lands, herding of sheep, goats and cattle is prevalent. Bauxite mining is becoming a prominent economic activity. GDP estimate: $1.1 billion; Per Capita GDP: US $160 (World Bank, 2005). Monetary Unit: CFA Franc BCEAO (XOF).

History and Government:

Portugal was the colonial ruler of Guinea Bissau until 1974. Portugal refused to give the country independence when it demanded it and a long protracted war ensued, a war that ended only in 1974. Military persons in Guinea Bissau quickly overthrew the civilian government. The competition between civilians and the military to rule the country has not died down to produce a genuine democracy. The country is divided into 9 regions. An interim president governs the country.


Guinea Bissau was part of the ancient empire of Mali. However, its contemporary history began with the Portuguese visits to the Guinea coast in the fifteen hundreds, to buy African slaves to be shipped to the Americas. Guinea Bissau became part of Portugal during the European scramble to colonize Africa. It was part of Portuguese Guinea and Cape Verde. Portugal essentially transformed the territory to cashew plantations and exported cashew nuts from the area to the rest of the world.

Portugal regarded its African territories as part of itself and was not interested in giving them independence. Whereas the British and French made plans to give their colonies independence, after the Second World War, Portugal claimed that her African territories were continuous to Portugal and did not make such arrangements.

Seeking independence from Portugal, African nationalists formed a group called The African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, PAIGC, in 1956. The group engaged in war with Portugal, and in 1973 unilaterally declared its independence from Portugal. In 1974, the dictatorial Salazar government of Portugal fell and the United Nations recognized the Independence of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde.

PAIGC leader, Amilca Cabral was installed as the President of the country. Mr. Cabral proceeded to nationalize the economy and turn it towards socialism. Thereafter, the economy went south and the people suffered. He appointed Joao Bernardo Vieira his military chief. Six years later, complaining about the country’s economic mismanagement and corruption, Vieira successfully carried out a military Coup and removed Mr. Cabral from office.

Subsequently, there was a falling out between the more Europeanized persons living at Cape Verde Islands and the more Africans living at Guinea Bissau and the later separated from the joint republic. Mr. Vieira continued to rule Guinea Bissau.

In 1994, there was a brief uprising by the army and in 1998/9 there was a civil war when Mr. Vieira removed the leader of his military. In an election conducted in 2000, Mr. Vieira lost and went into exile.

Mr. Kumba Yala was elected the president. In 2003 there was a military coup against Mr. Yala and he was removed from office. In 2005, another presidential election was held and Mr. Vieira, who had by now returned from his exile in Portugal, won the election and is the present President of Guinea Bissau. Mr. Vieira changed the direction of the country, from Mr. Cabral’s socialistic tendencies to a more pro-western, capitalist economy.

Guinea Bissau is divided into eight regions, which are, in turn, subdivided into 37 sectors.

The economy of Guinea Bissau is based on the exporting of cashew. This is not much of a resource and the country is poor, with an income per capita of only US $160 (World Bank, 2005).

The economic future of Guinea looks bleak. However, if democratization becomes real, it is possible for the country to attract foreign investment and that would improve things, some.

Posted by Administrator at May 27, 2006 12:07 PM


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