Alternative names: Portuguese Guinea, Republic of Guinea-Bissau. The capital is Bissau.
Guinea-Bissau, a state in West Africa. Located on the Atlantic coast, this predominantly low-lying country is slightly hilly further inland. The name Guinea remains a matter of debate; it may be a distortion of an Amazigh (Berber) word meaning “country of blacks.” The country also uses the name of its capital, Bissau, to distinguish it from Guinea, its neighbor to the east and south.
In the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries the Portuguese dominated the entire west coast of Africa. Gradually their monopoly gave way to invasions by French, Dutch, English and other European powers. The French exerted pressure on both the northern and southern borders of what is now Guinea-Bissau and completely subjugated the Casamance region of southern Senegal to French rule after the end of the nineteenth century. The English competed with the Portuguese on the coast, especially in Bolama; a long dispute between the two powers resulted in Guinea-Bissau falling under Portuguese rule. Although Bissau is now the capital and largest city of the country, the cities of Bolama and Cachéu played an important role during the slave trade and during the colonial era.
Guinea-Bissau on a map
Guinea-Bissau on a map
The country borders Senegal to the north, Guinea to the east and south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. It includes the Bissagos Archipelago (Bissagos) and other islands lying off the coast.
Physical features of Guinea-Bissau
Almost all of Guinea-Bissau is low-lying and washed daily by tidal waters that reach 100 km inland. In the southeastern part of the country, the Fouta Djallon plateau rises about 180 meters. The Boe hills extend from the western slopes of Fouta Djallon to the Koroubal River basin and the Gabou Plain.
Drainage and soils.
The coastal zone is bounded by a dense network of flooded valleys called ria. The Bafat plateau is drained by the Geba and Korubal rivers. The Gabu Plain occupies the northeastern part of the country and is drained by the Cacheu and Geba rivers and their tributaries. The interior plains are part of the southern edge of the Senegal River basin. The even elevation of the mature floodplain allows the rivers to meander and makes the area susceptible to flooding during the rainy season. Some eastern regions of Guinea-Bissau form part of the upper basin of the Gambian river system.
The penetration of the tides inland, aided by Guinea-Bissau’s flat coastal topography, has some agricultural advantages: the brackish water tide can be used to irrigate the vast flooded rice fields called bolanhas. The anti-colonial war had a devastating effect on the soil of Guinea-Bissau. The arable land that went out of use was subjected to soil erosion, and with the destruction of protective river dams, the arable capacity of some soils was compromised by excessive salinization.
Guinea-Bissau has a generally tropical climate, influenced by the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), a belt of converging trade winds that orbits the earth near the equator.
There are two distinct seasons: the hot, rainy season, which usually lasts from June to November, and the hot, dry season. April and May are the hottest months, and temperatures can reach highs of 90° F (mid-30° C).
Precipitation in Guinea-Bissau does not vary greatly in elevation, although it varies between coastal and inland areas. The coastal areas receive between 1,500 and 3,000 mm, while the interior is influenced by a tropical savannah climate with large variations in rainfall and temperature.
Plant and animal life
Guinea-Bissau’s three ecological zones-the tidal estuaries, the heavily forested interior plains, and the savannah-are home to a remarkably diverse flora and fauna. Water and river birds such as flamingos and pelicans are especially abundant in the coastal marshes, which are also home to a variety of reptiles such as snakes, crocodiles, and sea turtles, the latter of which are endangered. The plains and forests are home to lizards, gazelles, antelopes, monkeys, parrots, hyenas, and leopards. Although there was once a significant population of elephants here, today they have all but disappeared. Many wild animals are hunted for their meat and skins.
Guinea-Bissau is dominated by more than 20 African ethnic groups, including the Balante, one of the largest ethnic groups in the country, the Fulani and their many subgroups, the Diola, Nalou, Bijago, Landouma, Papel and Malinque. There is also a small minority of Cape Verdeans of mixed African, European, Lebanese, and Jewish ancestry. During the colonial period, the European population consisted mainly of Portuguese, but included some Lebanese, Italian, French, and English groups as well as other nationalities. It is noteworthy that Guinea-Bissau never had a significant number of settlers as in other Portuguese colonies.
Among the African languages spoken in Guinea-Bissau, about 20 languages and dialects belonging to the Atlantic and Mandean branches of the Niger-Congolese languages predominate. Although Portuguese is the official language of the country, it is the Crioulo-Creole language, which emerged during the slave trade, that is used as the language of the Franks and has a unifying influence in rural areas.
Guinea-Bissau: Religious Affiliation
About two-fifths of the population are Muslim. Among Christians, about one-fifth of the population, Catholicism predominates. About one-sixth of the population practices traditional beliefs, which include ancestor cults, possession, and animism, and are particularly prevalent along the coast and in the central regions. Christianity and Islam are enriched with African traditional beliefs, resulting in a unique religious syncretism; holy days, for example, may be celebrated with drumming, processions, masks, and traditional dances.
Most of Guinea-Bissau’s population lives in small villages and a few of the country’s main cities. In the low-lying coastal lands and savannahs, the population is small. Most of the population of Guinea-Bissau has traditionally lived in rural villages and individual households.
From 1963 to 1974, during the armed struggle for independence, about a third of the rural population fled to neighboring countries in search of asylum. Those who remained tried to rebuild their lives in the liberated zones, while the colonial military introduced a system of aldeamentos, concentrated settlements designed to isolate the population from nationalist forces.
Bissau – Capital of Guinea-Bissau
Although migration to urban centers such as Bissau, Cacheu, and Bolama has generally increased since independence, much of the urban population fled during the fighting that broke out in the late 1990s.
Guinea-Bissau: Demographic Trend
Population growth in Guinea-Bissau is lower than in the rest of the African continent. Life expectancy for both men and women is significantly lower than the African average and significantly lower than the world average, and infant mortality is high. The population of Guinea-Bissau as a whole is very young, with around two fifths of the population under the age of 15 and about two thirds under the age of 30.
There are no significant numbers of expatriates living outside the country in Guinea-Bissau, with the exception of those living in the neighboring countries of Guinea and Senegal. Historically, the only traditional form of emigration was human trafficking; during the 15th-19th centuries, thousands of Guineans were exported to Cape Verde and the New World, especially Cuba and the northern Brazilian states of Gran Para and Maranhão as slaves or indentured servants.
Guinea-Bissau’s economy includes a mixture of public and private companies. Industrial development plans have been reduced and agricultural support plans have been increased. The number of state-owned enterprises has been greatly reduced since the government adopted a liberal market economy in 1987, endorsed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Guinea-Bissau is easily self-sufficient in food, and most of the labor goes to subsistence agriculture. Some crops are grown for export. Various small industries and services also produce part of the gross national product. Because of a number of destructive factors-including an exploitative colonial legacy, military damage, inflation, debt service, corruption, subsidies, poor planning, civil unrest, and poor governance-the economy has fallen far short of its promise, leading to a long-term negative trade balance and the status of Guinea-Bissau as one of the poorest countries in the world. Various foreign aid and loan programs were developed to address this problem.
The economy is largely agrarian, with good prospects for forestry and fisheries. Products produced for local consumption include rice, vegetables, beans, cassava, potatoes, palm oil, and peanuts. Livestock includes pigs, goats, sheep, cattle and poultry. Fish and shrimp, grown both for domestic consumption and for export, are also important. Guinea-Bissau is densely forested, with forests occupying about three-fifths of its territory. Most timber is harvested for domestic fuel, but the country exports small quantities of lumber. Exports of commercial goods such as cashews, palm products, rice, peanuts, timber, and cotton have long played an important role in the country’s economy.
Large tracts of land are not cultivated, both because of the traditional practice of slash-and-burn farming and because of the lack of agricultural credit and investment due to political and military conditions.
There has not been a comprehensive survey of mineral resources, but large deposits of bauxite in the east along the Guinea border and phosphate in the center and northwest have been found. Offshore oil and gold are additional assets that could be more fully developed with improved infrastructure.
As a lowland country with a pronounced rainy season, Guinea-Bissau has sufficient water for subsistence and commercial agriculture as well as human consumption, although water quality and water systems still need improvement. The Corubal River has enormous hydropower potential, especially around the Saltinho rapids.
Production in Guinea-Bissau is based mainly on handicrafts, such as basketry, blacksmithing, tanning and tailoring. There are only a few small industries; these include food processing, brewing, and the processing of cotton, wood, and other goods. Much of Guinea-Bissau’s industrial capacity suffered during the conflict of the late 1990s.
Guinea-Bissau: Finance and Trade
A major restructuring of Guinea-Bissau’s banking system that began in 1989 replaced the National Bank of Guinea-Bissau with separate institutions, including the Central Bank, the Commercial Bank, and the National Credit Bank. Guinea-Bissau joined the West African Economic and Monetary Union and the Franc Zone in 1997, and the Guinean peso was eventually replaced by the CFA Franc (Communauté Financière Africaine) after the two currencies had coexisted for several months. The role of central bank was taken over by the Central Bank of West African States, based in Dakar, Senegal. Participation in the banking system among Guineans is very low, and only a small fraction of them have bank accounts.
During the colonial period, Portugal was Guinea-Bissau’s most important trading partner. Although Portugal has retained a significant role since independence, Guinea-Bissau also maintains important trade relations with countries such as Senegal and India.
Guinea-Bissau: Labor and Taxation
About three-quarters of the labor force is employed in agricultural production. Workers are allowed to join unions; of those who are union members, the vast majority are state or parastatal employees (state-owned enterprises). Most of the country’s tax revenue comes from taxes levied on international trade transactions, income taxes, and general sales taxes.
Transport and Telecommunications
Guinea-Bissau’s transportation system is generally poor due to a lack of bridges, connecting services, and maintenance. Some roads in Guinea-Bissau are paved for all-weather use, but most of the country is served by unpaved roads. Many homes and villages can only be reached by footpaths and canoes. There are no railroads.
The airport in Bissau serves international air traffic, while several smaller airports and airstrips serve the interior of the country. Shipping and ferry services connect seaports and river ports along the coast to the interior of the country. The country’s main port is located in Bissau.
Guinea-Bissau is a small state in West Africa, off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The country’s territory consists of a continental part and many (about 60) coastal islands. The total area is 36 125 km². Until 1973 Guinea-Bissau was a colony of Portugal. The official language is Portuguese.
Almost all of the mainland territory of Guinea-Bissau is a lowland plain, crossed by numerous full-flowing rivers that flow into the ocean through wide funnel-shaped estuaries. The flooding of the coasts by the ocean has caused the separation of numerous islands from the mainland, in particular the Bijagos Archipelago at the mouth of the Jeba and Corubal Rivers.
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The boundary between water and land is very variable: it varies depending on the rise and fall of rivers, tidal fluctuations of the sea (tidal wave height up to 4 m). Not without reason this coast is called “amphibian area”. With increasing distance from the ocean, the land surface rises and the relief becomes slightly hilly, in the east, crystalline rocks come to the surface, there are uplands formed by sandstones. The country’s climate is equatorial monsoon with average monthly temperatures of 24-28 ° C and total rainfall (falling mostly from June to October) of 1400 mm per year in the continental to 2500 mm in the pre-oceanic part of the country. A characteristic feature of vegetation in Guinea-Bissau is the ubiquitous distribution along the coast of extensive mangroves – low thickets of evergreen trees, adapted to live in a semi-submerged state in the intertidal zone. Farther out from the ocean, the mangroves are replaced by freshwater swamp forests and then by hardwood forests. Natural forests have survived only in the river valleys, and in the interfluves they are displaced by tall grass savannahs, which occupy large areas in the interior as well. The animal world is also severely impoverished by man. Only hippos, buffalo, leopards, and antelopes can be found here and there, although monkeys are quite numerous. Its rivers and coastal seas are rich in fish.
The population of Guinea-Bissau is 1,815,698 (2016). More than one-third are Balante people and their relatives Manjak, Pepel, Mancaña, Bolu, and others, who are primarily farmers and practice traditional African religions. Another large ethnic group, the nomadic pastoralists Fulbe, are Muslims. The most densely populated coastal areas are the main cities of Bissau (80,000 people), Bolama, Cachéu, Bafata, and Farin.
Colonization of the territory of modern Guinea-Bissau began in 1446, as part of the Portuguese colonial expansion, but it was not until 1886 that the borders of Portuguese possessions were finally established, but it was not until 1920 that the colonial administration gained real control of the interior. In 1879 Guinea-Bissau was transformed into a separate colony.
Since the early 1960s Guinea-Bissau, like other major Portuguese colonies in Africa, such as Angola and Mozambique, experienced an insurgency war against the colonial regime, led by the PAIGC party, ideologically close to the MPLA and FRELIMO.
Military operations generally favored the rebels, and on September 24, 1973, an independent Republic of Guinea-Bissau was proclaimed in territory under the control of the PAIGC, which by then comprised 50 to 70 percent of the colony. In 1974, after a revolution in Portugal, a new government recognized the independence of Guinea-Bissau on September 10, 1974.
Since independence, the country has established a one-party political system and a command-planned economy. Guinea-Bissau maintained a generally pro-Soviet orientation in its foreign policy and provided airfields for the transit of Cuban troops to Angola, although it rejected a Soviet proposal to establish a naval base in the Jeba River Estuary. After 1986 the economy began to liberalize, and a new constitution was adopted in 1989, allowing the formation of alternative ruling parties. The PAIGC won the 1990 elections by a landslide, but the 1990s were marked by increasing instability. In June 1998 there was an attempted military coup, with clashes between rebels and government troops. The government was able to retain power largely due to the presence of troops from neighboring countries Guinea-Bissau – the Republic of Guinea and Senegal. In the early years of the twenty-first century, the country gradually returned to a system of parliamentary democracy.
Guinea-Bissau’s complex coastline is heavily dissected by estuaries of rivers. The Bijagos Islands, located off the Atlantic coast of the country, were formed when the ancient delta of the Jeba River was submerged. In the southeast of the country are the spurs of the Fouta Djallon Plateau, up to 262 m high. From east to west extends a flat alluvial-marine lowland (in some places marshy), gradually descending, because it is located in the area of recent submersion on the continental margin of Africa. Deposits of bauxites, phosphorites, gold, and offshore oil and gas are known among minerals.
Climate is subequatorial monsoon with humid summers and dry winters. Average air temperature is ≈ +26°C throughout the year. Annual rainfall decreases from 3000 mm on the coast to 1200 mm in the west, where droughts and dust storms are common.
A dense river network is represented by high-water rivers (Zheba, Kasheu, Korubal, Balana), navigable for a long distance.
Along the coast, mangrove forests grow on swampy mangrove soils, followed by deciduous evergreen forests. And beyond these, in the interior of the country along river valleys there are gallery forests on alluvial soils, and in place of deforested forests there are high grass savannahs on red ferrate soils. Native forests occupy 37% of Guinea-Bissau, decreasing annually by 1%. Birds are the best preserved of the animals, while mammals have been mostly exterminated by man (monkeys, hippos, otters, and manatees occur).
Guinea-Bissau is one of the five poorest countries in the world.
There are deposits of phosphate, bauxite, oil, but they are not exploited.
The economy is based on agriculture and fishing. In recent years the cultivation of cashew nuts increases (Guinea-Bissau is the sixth place in the world by their gathering.) Rice is the main food crop. Corn and tapioca are also grown.