Know Your History: Guinea-Bissau

Guinea Bissau 1


The territory of modern-day Guinea-Bissau has been inhabited for thousands of years by various ethnic groups. The first documented kingdom in the area was the Kingdom of Gabu, which emerged in the 13th century. The kingdom lasted until the 19th century when it was conquered by the Fulani Empire. During this period, Portuguese traders began establishing contacts with the region.


In the 15th century, Portuguese explorers discovered the area that is now Guinea-Bissau and started trading with the locals. In the 16th century, the Portuguese established a trading post, which eventually turned into a colony. The Portuguese named the colony Portuguese Guinea, and it became one of the main centers of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

The Portuguese maintained control over Guinea-Bissau until 1973, when the Portuguese Armed Forces Movement overthrew the Portuguese government and granted Guinea-Bissau independence. The country was officially recognized as an independent nation in 1974.

Civil War

Guinea-Bissau’s first president, Luis Cabral, was overthrown in a military coup in 1980, and the country was then ruled by João Bernardo Vieira. While Vieira made some positive reforms in the country, he was also accused of being corrupt, and his rule led to economic decline and political instability.

In 1998, a civil war broke out in Guinea-Bissau. The fighting between government troops and rebel groups lasted for several years and caused significant damage to the country’s economy and infrastructure. A peace agreement was finally reached in 1999, but the country remained politically unstable.

Recent History

Since the end of the civil war, Guinea-Bissau has been struggling to rebuild its economy and political system. The country has faced significant challenges, including corruption, drug trafficking, and political instability.

In 2012, President Malam Bacai Sanhá died while in office, leading to a political crisis. The following year, Parliament was dissolved, and an interim government was established that oversaw the country’s first peaceful election in over a decade. José Mário Vaz was elected president in 2014, and his tenure has been marked by several political crises and instability.

Guinea-Bissau is currently one of the poorest countries in the world, with a high level of poverty and unemployment. The country’s economy is heavily reliant on agriculture, with cashew nuts being the main export crop. The government has recently made efforts to diversify the economy and attract foreign investment.


The territory that is now known as Guinea-Bissau has been inhabited for thousands of years. The first known inhabitants were the Papel, Felupe, and Manjaco peoples who were known for their agriculture, fishing, and hunting. In the 15th century, Portuguese explorers arrived in the region, starting the slave trade in the area. They later established a trading post on the Island of Bolama and also colonized the nearby Cape Verde Islands.

The Portuguese continued to use Guinea-Bissau as a major source of slaves until the late 19th century, when the slave trade was abolished. During this period, many Africans were forcibly transported to the Americas, Europe, and other parts of Africa.

In the early 20th century, there was a significant growth of nationalism and anti-colonial protests in Guinea-Bissau. This eventually culminated in the declaration of independence in 1973, and the establishment of the independent republic of Guinea-Bissau in 1974.

The Portuguese Colonial Era

In the late 19th century, Portugal consolidated its territorial claims in Guinea-Bissau and officially declared the region a Portuguese colony in 1886. The Portuguese initially focused on extracting cashew nuts, peanut oil, and timber, later branching out into other products such as palm oil, cotton, and rice.

During the colonial period, the Portuguese made efforts to integrate Guinea-Bissau into their empire by introducing Portuguese language, culture, and education. This was met with resistance from Guinea-Bissau nationalists and commonly led to violent confrontations.

Despite a prolonged period of anti-colonial struggles and military conflict, the Portuguese maintained control of the colony until the 1970s.

Struggle for Independence

The Guinea-Bissau War of Independence lasted from 1963 to 1974 and was led by guerrilla fighters from the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). Led by Amilcar Cabral, the PAIGC was formed in 1956 and quickly gained support from peasants and workers in the region.

The guerrilla fighters utilized hit-and-run tactics, ambushes, and booby traps to harass Portuguese forces. The Portuguese responded with heavy-handed tactics such as aerial bombing and the forced relocation of villagers. The war also spilled over into neighboring countries, with cadres from the PAIGC launching an attack in the nearby Portuguese colony of Guinea (now Guinea-Conakry).

Despite the odds against them, the PAIGC was ultimately successful in securing independence in 1973, which was officially recognized by Portugal the following year.

The Post-Independence Period

After independence, Guinea-Bissau experimented with several political systems, including Marxism, socialism, and democracy. This was marked by a series of coups and counter-coups. The country has been characterized by political instability and economic underdevelopment, with several political assassinations and failed governance systems.

The country’s economy is mainly based on agriculture, with cashew nuts being the country’s primary export. Guinea-Bissau has suffered from chronic poverty, corruption, and underdevelopment despite being a country with significant economic potential. Currently, the country is undergoing various political and institutional reforms to improve stability and promote development.

Social, cultural, or political context

Guinea-Bissau is a small country situated in West Africa. It shares its borders with Senegal to the north and Guinea to the south and east. The country has a rich history that is influenced by social, cultural, and political contexts.

Pre-colonial era

Before colonization, Guinea-Bissau was a collection of small kingdoms, each with its own distinct customs, traditions, and languages. The kingdom of Gabu was the most powerful, and it controlled most of the present-day territory of Guinea-Bissau. The people of Guinea-Bissau were primarily subsistence farmers who depended on fishing, hunting, and agriculture to sustain themselves.


In the late 19th century, Guinea-Bissau came under the control of the Portuguese. The Portuguese established a colonial administration and ruled the country until 1973. The colonial period was marked by forced labor, exploitation of resources, and political repression.

Independence and political instability

In September 1973, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) declared independence from Portugal. This led to a 11-year-long war with Portugal, which finally ended in 1974 when Portugal recognized Guinea-Bissau’s independence. However, the country plunged into political instability, with coups, countercoups, and civil wars becoming common occurrences.

Civil war

In 1998, the country experienced a civil war that lasted until 1999. The war was sparked by political and military tensions between the government and the armed forces. The conflict caused widespread destruction, displacement, and loss of life.

Drug trafficking

Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in the world, and its weak government and porous borders have made it an attractive base for drug traffickers. The country has become a key transit point for cocaine traffic from South America to Europe. Drug trafficking has fueled corruption, violence, and political instability in the country.

Current political situation

In recent years, Guinea-Bissau has made some progress in stabilizing its political situation. The country held successful presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019, which resulted in the election of President Umaro Sissoco Embalo. However, the country still faces significant challenges, including poverty, corruption, and insecurity.

Key Figures

Guinea-Bissau has a rich history of key figures who played an important role in shaping the country’s political and social landscape. Some of the most prominent figures include:

Amilcar Cabral

Amilcar Cabral is considered the father of Guinea-Bissau’s independence movement. Born in Bafata in 1924, Cabral was educated in Portugal and later returned to Guinea-Bissau to pursue a career in politics. He founded the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) in 1956 and led the organization’s fight against Portuguese colonial rule. Cabral was assassinated in Guinea-Bissau in 1973, just months before the country gained independence.

Luis Cabral

Luis Cabral is Amilcar Cabral’s half-brother and the first President of Guinea-Bissau. Born in Bafata in 1931, Luis Cabral joined PAIGC in its early years and played a key role in the organization’s guerrilla campaign against Portuguese colonial rule. After independence in 1974, Luis Cabral became President of Guinea-Bissau, a position he held until he was overthrown in a military coup in 1980.

João Bernardo Vieira

João Bernardo Vieira, also known as Nino Vieira, was a Guinea-Bissauan politician who served as President of Guinea-Bissau for most of the period between 1980 and 2008. Born in 1939 in Bissau, Vieira played a key role in the country’s fight for independence and later served as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. He became President in 1980 after leading a military coup that ousted Luis Cabral. Vieira was assassinated in 2009, bringing an end to his long and controversial career.

Kumba Ialá

Kumba Ialá was a Guinea-Bissauan politician who served as President of Guinea-Bissau from 2000 to 2003. Born in 1953 in Bafata, Ialá began his political career as a member of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), but later broke away to form his own party, the Party for Social Renewal (PRS). Ialá’s presidency was marked by political turmoil and economic instability, and he was eventually overthrown in a bloodless coup in 2003.

Carlos Gomes Júnior

Carlos Gomes Júnior is a Guinea-Bissauan politician who served as Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau from 2004 to 2005 and again from 2009 to 2012. Born in 1949 in Ingoré, Gomes Júnior was a member of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) and played a key role in the country’s fight for independence. After independence, he served in various government positions before becoming Prime Minister. Gomes Júnior was deposed in a military coup in 2012, but has since returned to politics and is currently a candidate in the 2019 presidential election.

Impact and Significance

Guinea-Bissau is a small country located in West Africa that was once a Portuguese colony. Its history is marked by colonialism, independence struggles, and political instability. In this article, we will explore the impact and significance of key events in Guinea-Bissau’s history.

Portuguese Colonialism

The Portuguese arrived in Guinea-Bissau in the 15th century and established a colony. They soon began to exploit the country’s resources, including gold, ivory, and slaves. Portuguese colonialism in Guinea-Bissau was brutal, marked by forced labor, violence, and exploitation.

The impact of Portuguese colonialism on Guinea-Bissau was significant. It stunted the country’s economic, social, and political development, leaving it impoverished and underdeveloped. The legacy of exploitation and oppression left deep scars on the country’s psyche, fueling resentment and resistance.

Struggle for Independence

The struggle for independence in Guinea-Bissau began in the 1950s with the formation of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). The PAIGC waged a guerrilla war against the Portuguese, which lasted more than a decade.

The impact of the struggle for independence was significant. It mobilized the people of Guinea-Bissau and brought together various ethnic and social groups under a common cause. The struggle also exposed the brutality of Portuguese colonialism, bringing international attention to the cause of African liberation.

The significance of the struggle for independence was also far-reaching. It inspired other liberation movements across Africa and served as a model for anti-colonial resistance. The success of the PAIGC in securing independence also demonstrated the potency of armed struggle against colonial powers.

Civil War and Political Instability

After independence was achieved in 1973, Guinea-Bissau quickly descended into civil war and political instability. Political coups, assassinations, and military rule characterized the country’s governance for decades.

The impact of the civil war and political instability on Guinea-Bissau was devastating. The country’s infrastructure and institutions were destroyed, leading to widespread poverty and insecurity. The state’s inability to provide basic services and maintain law and order reinforced a culture of impunity and corruption.

The significance of the civil war and political instability was also damaging. It weakened the legitimacy of the state and eroded the social contract between citizens and the government. It also undermined the country’s development prospects, alienating potential investors and creating a hostile environment for economic growth.

Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime

In recent years, Guinea-Bissau has emerged as a major hub for drug trafficking and organized crime. The country’s porous borders, weak institutions, and political instability have made it an attractive destination for drug traffickers and criminal networks.

The impact of drug trafficking and organized crime on Guinea-Bissau has been devastating. It has led to the erosion of the rule of law, deepened corruption, and heightened insecurity. It has also reinforced the country’s reputation as a failed state, further isolating it from the international community and undermining its development prospects.

The significance of drug trafficking and organized crime in Guinea-Bissau is also profound. It highlights the failure of the international community to address the root causes of the country’s instability and insecurity. It also underscores the urgent need for comprehensive and coordinated action to tackle transnational crime and drug trafficking in the region.

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