Guinea Bissau

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Guinea (Bissau)


A country in West Africa, on the Atlantic coast. It borders Senegal in the north and the Republic of Guinea in the east and south. Guinea-Bissau includes some continental land, the island of Bolama, and the offshore Bijagós islands (about 60 of them). Area, 36,100 sq km. Population, 530,000 (1969 estimate). Since Sept. 24, 1973, it has been an independent state. Its capital is the city of Bissau, and it is divided into three administrative districts and nine municipalities.

Physical features. The continental part of Guinea-Bissau is a flat, in places swampy, lowland. The coastline is heavily indented by estuaries. The climate is equatorial-monsoon, with rainy summer and dry winter seasons. The mean temperature in January is 24° C, and in July 26° C. Precipitation along the coast reaches 2,000 mm a year or more, and in the interior it is 1,200-1,500 mm. From east to west, Guinea-Bissau is intersected. by short but deep rivers (the Corubal, Geba, and Cacheu). Vegetation varies from wood savanna evergreen to tropical rain forests. The forests are filled with monkeys, buffalo, leopards, wild boars, and snakes, and birds are numerous.

Population. More than 80 percent of the population are peoples of the Atlantic (western Bantu) language group, among them the Balante, Mandja, Pepel (along the coast), and Fulani (in the interior). The northeast is inhabited by the Malinke (Mandingo language group); Europeans, mainly Portuguese, number about 2,500, and there are mestizos. The official language is Portuguese. More than half the population maintains the traditional local religions, about 40 percent are Muslims, and some are Christians. The official calendar is the Gregorian.

Population growth from 1963 to 1969 averaged 0.2 percent annually. Average population density is about 15 to the sq km. The economically active part of the population numbers 312,000, more than 90 percent of whom are engaged in agriculture. The cities are Bissau (27,000 residents in 1965), Bolama (15,000), and Cacheu (10,000).

History. The ancient and medieval history of the peoples of Guinea-Bissau has not been thoroughly studied. In the 15th century the Portuguese appeared on the west coast of Africa and converted the territory that is now Guinea-Bissau into a transshipment point in the slave trade. In the 16th to 18th centuries the Portuguese slave traders established a number of bases there (Farim, Cacheu, Bissau, and others); hundreds of thousands of slaves were exported from there to America and the West Indies. Until the beginning of the 19th century, the Portuguese controlled only single points on the coast and islands; real control over the interior was established in the 1930’s. With the beginnings of Africa’s division, Guinea-Bissau became in the last quarter of the 19th century the object of rivalry between France and Great Britain. Their conflicting interests enabled Portugal to retain its control over Guinea-Bissau. (Its final borders were set by the Franco-Portuguese Treaty of May 12, 1886.) Until 1879, the country was administered by the governor of the Portuguese colony on the Cape Verde Islands, and then it became a separate colony.

The people of Guinea-Bissau offered bitter resistance to the foreigners. In the days of the slave trade the Portuguese bases were attacked by the Africans more than once. An anticolonial uprising began in 1908 and lasted until 1915, and the Pepel waged a stubborn fight for independence until 1916. The liberation movement in Guinea-Bissau became especially intense after World War II. In 1956 a national revolutionary party was formed—the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and the Cape Verde Islands (PAIGC), which assumed leadership of the independence struggle. (The General Secretary of the party until Jan. 20, 1973, was A. Cabral.) In August 1961 the PAIGC announced a move to armed struggle against the Portuguese colonialists. In 1963 the armed struggle embraced all of Guinea-Bissau. The armed forces of the PAIGC (the army of national liberation, partisan detachments, and the people’s militia) had by 1974 liberated and were in control of more than two-thirds of the territory of the country. Local organs of government, people’s courts, farming cooperatives, and schools have been established on the liberated territory. Other progressive reforms were being carried out. Upon the overthrow of the fascist regime in Portugal in 1974 the new Portuguese government recognized the independence of Guinea-Bissau. In August 1974 the evacuation of Portuguese troops began. On Sept. 23-24, 1973, the first session of the National Assembly, which had been elected in 1972, proclaimed the Republic of Guinea-Bissau. In November 1973 the republic became a member of the Organization of African Unity. As of 1974, the Republic of Guinea-Bissau was recognized by more than 100 member countries of the United Nations. On Oct. 1, 1973, it was recognized by the USSR.

Economy. As a result of long colonial rule, Guinea-Bissau is economically one of the most backward countries in Africa. The natural wealth (forests and so forth) was exploited by foreign monopolies, mainly Portuguese. The land belonged to European settlers and the local feudal aristocracy, who leased it to the peasants. Forced labor was carried out extensively on the big plantations. The principal occupation was tropical agriculture; 9.4 percent of the available land was worked.

Of commercial importance are peanuts (90,000 hectares [ha], 65,000 tons in 1968) and rice (70,000 ha, 130,000 tons in 1964), which are cultivated on peasant farms, and palm kernels (8,000 tons in 1968) and palm oil (8,000 tons) from palm trees grown mainly on plantations. Cotton, castor oil, rubber plants, cocoa, and sugarcane are also produced. The fruit of wild oil and coconut palms are widely harvested. Livestock breeding figures (in thousands of head, in 1967-68) are cattle (245), hogs (107), goats (172), and sheep (62). There is also coastal fishing.

Electric power output is 7.7 million kilowatt-hours (1968). Industry consists of the primary processing of peanuts, rice, rubber, and sugarcane (for alcohol); soap, lumber, pulp and paper, ceramics, vegetable oil and bricks are also produced. Annually 320,000 cubic m of valuable tropical wood are produced. There are no railroads. Highways total 3,500 km (1969-70) in length, including 2,200 km of hardtop. The length of navigable rivers is 800 km. There is coastwise shipping. The seaports are Bissau, Bolama, and Cacheu. Bissau has an international airport. Exports are peanuts (which account for two-thirds of export revenues), palm oil and kernels, rubber, timber, and sawtimber. Imports are cement, fabrics, petroleum products, foodstuffs, and tobacco. The bulk of foreign trade is conducted with Portugal.

People’s authorities have carried out a number of democratic reforms. The monetary unit is the Guinea escudo (since 1973).


Education. Those attending schools are chiefly Europeans and mixed-bloods; a very small number of Africans are formally educated. Instruction is given in Portuguese. Elementary schools admit children of different ages. Primary schooling lasts four years, and secondary lasts seven. Most Africans complete only the first two primary grades. Vocational training is poorly developed and is based on the elementary schools. There are no specialized secondary schools or higher educational institutions. In 1966-67 enrollment in the elementary schools was 17,800, in the one secondary school 446, and in vocational schools 652. The city of Bissau contains a museum of Guinea-Bissau with a small library.


Silva, J. Portugal’ skie kolonii v Afrike. Moscow, 1962. (Translated from Portuguese.)
Khazanov, A. M. Politika Portugalii v Afrike i Azii. Moscow, 1967.
Sheinis, V. L. Portugal’ skii imperializm v Afrike posle Vtoroi mirovoi voiny. Moscow, 1969.
Teixeira Pinto, J. A ocupaçāo militar da Guiné. [Lisbon] 1936.
Galvāo, H., and C. Selvagem. Colónia da Guiné. Lisbon, 1950.
Mota, T. Guié Portuguesa. Lisbon, 1954. [6-494-3; updated]
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