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Country Profile

Area: 36,120 sq km
Population: 1.52 million (2010 United Nations estimate)
Capital City: Bissau
People and languages: The main ethnic groups of Guinea-Bissau are the Balanta, the Fula, the Manjaca, the Mandinga and the Papel. Portuguese is the official language. Crioulo and indigenous African languages are widely spoken.
Religion(s): Islam, Christianity and indigenous beliefs are all practised.
Currency: Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (CFA franc), pegged to the Euro.
Major political parties: African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC); Guinea-Bissau Resistance-Ba Fata Movement (RGB-MB); Party for Democratic Convergence (PCD); Social Renovation Party (PRS); Union for Change (UM).
Interim Head of State: Mr Raimundo Pereira, President of the National Assembly
Prime Minister: Carlos Gomes Junior
Membership of major international groupings/organisations: United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Union Economique et Monetaire Ouest Africaine (UEMOA), African Development Bank (AFDB), Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP).

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Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$837 million (2010 est)
Annual Growth: 3.5%3.3% (2010 est)
Inflation: 4.0% (2011 IMF estimate)
Main economic sectors: agricultural products (peanuts, palm kernels, cashew nuts, rice), cotton, beer, soft drinks, timber, fish.
Main trade partners: Netherlands, Thailand, Brazil, India, China, Portugal, France, Nigeria, and Senegal.
Exchange rate: Euro 1 = 655.957 Central Africa CFA Franc (pegged).
Guinea-Bissau’s economy is weak and is dependent on low value primary products, mainly cashew nuts, and subsistence crop production. There are a very high number of public sector employees, including a large army. The government has had recurrent difficulties meeting salary obligations. There is some hope that off-shore oil will be found in Guinea-Bissau waters, part of which are managed by a joint Senegalese-Guinea-Bissau organisation (the Agence de Gestion et de Cooperation).

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Guinea-Bissau was a Portuguese colony until 1974. The African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) fought a protracted guerrilla war for the independence of both colonies. It was led by Amilcar Cabral. He was assassinated by dissidents in his own movement in 1973. However, Guinea-Bissau unilaterally declared its independence under the leadership of his brother, Luis Cabral, and, following the carnation revolution in Lisbon in 1974, Portugal withdrew its troops and recognised the independence of Guinea Bissau.

Luis Cabral governed Guinea-Bissau as a one-party state, with socialist policies but a non-aligned foreign policy. He was overthrown in 1980 by a coup led by Joao Bernardo ‘Nino’ Vieira. The coup was the beginning of a pattern in Guinea-Bissau of military coups and resultant instability, which has continued to the present day.

BBC News Country Timeline: Guinea-Bissau (

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In the 1990s, relations with neighbouring Senegal were strained due to incidents in the Casamance border area. Several times in the 1990s, Guinea-Bissau accused the Senegalese army of encroaching on Guinea-Bissau territory in their fight against Casamance separatists, whom the Senegalese accused Guinea-Bissau of supporting and arming. Relations have improved significantly since the death of General Mane, and the subsequent efforts by the Guinea-Bissau army to expel the Casamance separatists from the country. Guinea-Bissau and Senegal have also had a land and maritime border dispute, which was resolved in 1995 after being taken to the ICJ by Guinea-Bissau. Relations with other neighbours have generally been good. In 1997 Guinea-Bissau joined the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) and thereby the Franc Zone, giving up its currency in favour of the West African Franc. ECOWAS brokered the Abuja peace agreement of November 1998 that paved the way for eventual elections in the following year.

On the wider international stage, Guinea-Bissau has enjoyed close relations with Portugal since independence, despite occasional disputes related to the presence of dissidents or opposition leaders in Lisbon. Guinea-Bissau looks to Portugal to support its case in the international donor community. Portugal and France are the only EU states with embassies in Bissau. In 1996, Guinea-Bissau was a founding member of the community of Portuguese speaking states (the CPLP) and recently hosted the CPLP Assembly. The CPLP has been active in trying to mediate during periods of instability in Guinea-Bissau.

Since 1999, the United Nations has worked to help the country achieve stability, most recently through the United Nations Integrated Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS). Notwithstanding, in 2007, the UN Security Council referred Guinea Bissau to the UN Peace Building Commission. However, in tandem, the two main foci of the international community’s work in Guinea-Bissau have been development and security sector reform. The military mutiny of April 2010 increased tensions between the international community and the Government of Guinea-Bissau, and contributed to the EU’s decision in September 2010 to terminate its Security Sector Reform mission and to enter into an Article 96 dialogue with Guinea Bissau under the Cotonou Agreement. The United States also suspended its military assistance to the country.

African Union (

Guinea-Bissau's Relations with the UK

British interests in Guinea-Bissau are covered by the British Embassy in Dakar, Senegal. The British Honorary Consul in Bissau is Mr Jan Van Maanen. Britain's Ambassador in Senegal is Mr John Marshall. The Guinea-Bissau Embassy in Paris is accredited to Britain.

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Guinea-Bissau is a small country of 36,120 sq kms wedged between Senegal to the north and Guinea (Conakry) to the east and south. The terrain is mostly low coastal plain rising to savannah in the east. The coastline is heavily indented with many creeks and mangrove swamps. The climate is generally hot and humid.

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Trade and Investment with the UK

UK Trade with Guinea-Bissau is small. There was less than £1 million worth of British exports in 2010.

Development and Development Aid

Guinea-Bissau’s economy, already weak, was shattered by the protracted conflict of 1998 and the instability thereafter. The country’s rudimentary infrastructure was badly damaged. The population is desperately poor. Life expectancy at birth is 48.6 years and the country is ranked low, at 164 out of 169, in the UNDP’s 2010 human development index.

Relations with aid donors broke down in the late 1990s as a result of instability and financial mismanagement. Agricultural production is estimated to have fallen by 17% during this time and led to a 28% overall drop in gross domestic product (GDP). In 2009, Guinea-Bissau made important progress in stabilizing its economy.
However, economic growth was low at 3%, but inflation slowed and budgetary stability was regained. The relative stability of the current government has brought some much-needed improvements. In May 2010, the IMF Executive Board approved a three-year Extended Credit Facility (ECF) arrangement of $33.3 million to support Guinea-Bissau’s medium-term economic programme. Guinea-Bissau reached the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative completion point in December 2010. Tax revenues exceeded predictions by 2% of GDP, a sign of a good cashew harvest. The government contained spending and kept domestic arrears on target. In May, 2011, the Paris Club of creditors cancelled $283 million in debt owed by the Government of Guinea-Bissau. Its priority has been to solicit bilateral donations to cover immediate expenditure, such as payment of salaries. Portugal is the largest bilateral donor. The UK provides funds via the EU and UN agencies.

The July 2011 European Council decided to conclude Article 96 negotiations while setting clear governance benchmarks that will need to be met for the EU’s cooperation programme to resume in full.

Economy and Development Links

World Bank (
International Monetary Fund (IMF) (
Franc Zone (
European Union (EU) (

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In 1991, following domestic and international pressure, President Joao Vieira accepted multi-party democracy. Guinea-Bissau is now a presidential democracy which allows for multiparty politics and has an elected national assembly. Vieira won the first Presidential poll in 1994. An attempted coup in 1998 led to a protracted stalemate between loyalist and rebel forces. The next Presidential elections were eventually held in December 1999 and January 2000. The opposition leader Kumba Yala won the second round.

The 1999/2000 elections failed to resolve the tensions between the government and the military hierarchy. In 2000 an attempted rebellion by General Mane was cut short by forces loyal to the president and General Mane was killed. However, Yala’s rule was characterised by chronic political instability as he constantly sacked ministers and reshuffled his government. Eventually he was deposed in a bloodless coup in 2003. All political parties, including Yala's own, supported the coup. The military handed power to the businessman Henrique Pereira Rosa as interim President. Legislative elections were held in the following year, though no party came out with an overall majority.

Presidential elections took place in 2005. Yala was beaten into third place by Vieira and Malam Bacai Sanha. Yala and his supporters initially refused to accept the results. However, after mediation by President Wade of neighbouring Senegal, he conceded defeat and declared his support for Vieira in the second round. Vieira emerged as the winner in a close finish, and was sworn in as President. The government coalition collapsed, however, in 2007 when the National Assembly withdrew its support. After a stand-off the opposition leader Martinho N’Dafa Kabi became Prime Minister. The mandate of the legislature ended in April 2008. The President then passed a temporary constitutional amendment allowing the continuation of the legislature until further elections could take place. These occurred in November 2008 and resulted in January 2009 in the appointment of a new Prime Minister, Carlos Gomez Junior. Following the assassination of President Viera in March 2009, Presidential elections were held in June 2009 and resulted in the election of Guinea-Bissau’s current President, Malam Bacai Sanhá.

In April 2010 members of the Bissau-Guinean armed forces, led by the deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, took part in a military mutiny in which the serving Chief of the Defence Staff, Zamora Induta, and the Prime Minister, Carlos Gomes Junior, were detained. While the Prime Minister was released almost immediately, the former Chief of the Defence Staff was illegally detained for a lengthy period. In August 2010, the EU withdrew its mission to reform Guinea-Bissau’s security forces after the leader of the mutiny, General Antonio Indjai became Chief of the Defence Staff.

Media reports have bought to public attention a growing problem of drug trafficking through Guinea Bissau. Drugs coming from Latin America are being smuggled to Europe via the country, taking advantage of the mangrove swamps and jagged coastline, and the poor capacity of the government to deal with the problem. In 2010, the current Air Force head, Ibraima Papa Camara, and former navy chief Bubo Na Tchuto were named "drug kingpins" by the US In spite of this, Bubo Na Tchuto was reappointed to his former position as navy chief.

After a four-month imposition, the EU, in July 2011 concluded Article 96 sanctions against Guinea-Bissau, urging Guinea-Bissau to set out a clear timetable for reform. The government has promised to ensure the primacy of civilian authority, and to improve democratic governance, guarantee the safeguarding of constitutional order and the rule of law, and to tackle impunity and organised crime. The Guinea-Bissau government has also undertaken to investigate assassinations, prepare plans to implement security sector reform and improve the administrative and financial management of civilian and military employees.

BBC News: Africa (

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Guinea-Bissau has a poor human rights record and the illegal detentions of the Prime Minister and former Chief of Defence Staff, following the April 2010 mutiny, along with the impunity with which the perpetrators of the assassination of the former President Viera acted, underline that fact. Opposition politicians and journalists have frequently been harassed in the course of their work. This is partly due to low capacity in the security services, the judiciary and the prison system. It is also due to successive governments acting in an arbitrary manner, undermining the rule of law and allowing the development of a culture of impunity for petty corruption in the police and armed forces. There have been a number of credible reports of journalists investigating the drug trade being harassed.

Human Rights Report (#)

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Last Updated: January 2012

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