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Capital and largest city:

Bissau;11°52′N 15°36′W

Official language(s): Portuguese

Recognised national language(s): Upper Guinea Creole


Guinea-Bissau was once part of the kingdom of Gabu, as well as part of the Mali Empire. West Africa’s Guinea-Bissau was part of the Portuguese Empire for centuries. Parts of this kingdom persisted until the 18th century, while a few others were under some rule by the Portuguese Empire since the 16th century.

In the 19th century, it was Upon independence, declared in 1973 and recognised in 1974, the name of its capital, Bissau, was added to the country’s name to prevent confusion with Guinea (formerly French Guinea). Guinea-Bissau has a history of political instability since independence, and only one elected president (José Mário Vaz) has successfully served a full five-year term.

Once hailed as a potential model for African development, the country is now one of the poorest in the world. Various foreign aid and loan programs have been sought to address the country’s economic crisis.

Guinea Bissau is wedged between Senegal and Guinea on Africa’s west coast, the country is notorious for its volatility. It has seen multiple coup attempts since independence from Portugal in 1973, four of which have been successful.


Seat of the Central Bank of Guinea-Bissau. Photography: Wikipedia

The number of state-owned businesses declined significantly after the government adopted a liberal free-market economy in 1987, as endorsed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Guinea–Bissau’s economic freedom score is 54.0, making its economy the 135th freest in the 2019 Index. Its overall score has decreased by 2.9 points, with a sharp drop in scores for judicial effectiveness, business freedom, and trade freedom far exceeding a modest increase in the tax burden score. Guinea–Bissau is ranked 25th among 47 countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa region, and its overall score is below the regional and world averages.

The economy of Guinea-Bissau includes a mixture of state-owned and private companies. Plans for industrial development have been reduced, and those supporting agriculture have been increased.


Guinea-Bissau is easily self-sufficient in food production, and the majority of labour is devoted to agriculture at the subsistence level; some crops are raised for export.

They use earnings from cashew nuts to buy imported foods. But food prices skyrocketed in 2008 the price of imported rice was 68 percent higher than in the previous year at the same time farmers’ purchasing power dropped.

Diversifying production

Growing one or two main crops is a gamble. A shock, whether market-related or a natural disaster, can seriously dent production and with it, a farmer’s ability to make a living. Guinea-Bissauan farmers produce more and varied foods to boost nutrition and incomes.

Farming has helped women’s groups grow and market vegetables and has supported school gardens. Working with producer organizations, it has tested new rice varieties suited to the country’s different ecosystems, and has supported the cashew value chain, distributing kits for shelling and tools for processing and preserving cashew products.


Guinea-Bissau’s population was 1,874,303 in 2018, compared to 518,000 in 1950. The proportion of the population below the age of 15 in 2010 was 41.3%, 55.4% were aged between 15 and 65 years of age, while 3.3% were aged 65 years or older, according to the 2019 revision of the World Population Prospects.


Industry constitutes a small part of Guinea-Bissau’s economy, contributing approximately 15% a year to GDP. Industries include a sugar refinery and a rice and groundnut processing plant. Guinea-Bissau ranks sixth in the world in cashew production. Brewing and urban construction are also represented in the industrial sector.

In the late 1980s, Guinea-Bissau attempted to attract foreign interest in several enterprises a fish-processing plant, a plywood and furniture factory, and a plastics factory.

The government moved to raise producer prices and to partially privatize parastatal trading companies during the 1990s, but civil war in 1998 disturbed these plans. In 1999, production resumed with foreign aid.

Oil exploration began in the 1960s, and the oil industry presents hopeful prospects for the country. Guinea-Bissau is in the midst of a border dispute with Senegal over an offshore exploration area, and under a 1995 agreement, the area in dispute is jointly managed by the two countries.

Proceeds from the area are divided between Senegal and Guinea-Bissau on an 85–15 ratio, and in the early 2000s, Guinea-Bissau was negotiating for better terms to the agreement.

Various small-scale industries and services also generate a part of the gross national product. Because of a variety of damaging factors including an exploitative colonial inheritance, war damage, inflation, debt service, corruption, subsidization, poor planning, civil disorder, and mismanagement the economy has fallen far short of its promise, resulting in a protracted negative balance of trade.

Natural resources

Guinea-Bissau has substantial potential for development of mineral resources, including phosphates, bauxite, and mineral sands. Offshore oil and gas exploration has begun.

Import / Export

Women working a Cashew processing factory in Bissau

The country’s climate and soil make it feasible to grow a wide range of cash crops, fruit, vegetables, and tubers; however, cashews generate more than 80% of export receipts and are the main source of income for many rural communities.

Guinea-Bissau had a total export of 23,244.87 in thousands of US$ and total imports of 111,684.81 in thousands of US$ leading to a negative trade balance of -88,439.94 in thousands of US$. The Effectively Applied Tariff Weighted Average (customs duty) for Guinea-Bissau is 11.62% and the Most Favored Nation (MFN) Weighted Average tariff is 11.62%. The trade growth is -4.44% compared to a world growth of 6.15%. GDP of Guinea-Bissau is 1,346,841,897 in current US$. Guinea-Bissau exports of goods and services as percentage of GDP is 27.36% and imports of goods and services as percentage of GDP is 31.60%.


Ponta Anchaca on Rubane island. Photography: The Guardian

The jewel of the crown of Guinea-Bissau, is the beautiful Archipelago of Bijagos, the hidden gem of the Atlantic and UNESCO world heritage.
The Bijagós Islands, also spelled Bissagos, are a group of about 88 islands and islets located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the African nation of Guinea-Bissau.

Archipel des Bijagós. Photography: UNESCO/Jean-François Hellio et Nicolas Van Ingen

The archipelago was formed from the ancient delta of the Rio Geba and the Rio Grande and spans an area of 12,958 km².
It comprises of 18 major islands and dozens of smaller ones, covers 2,500 sq km of ocean.
Islands, creeks, mangroves, islets, sandy bays and no more than 11 settlements on 88 islands. The biological richness of the islands makes them a unique space, especially in the fauna and flora. The archipelago is the only place in the world where one can see hippos swimming in ocean.

Islands in Guinea-Bissau are also home to five of the seven endangered species of sea turtles and rare migratory birds. You can also find dwarf crocodile, African forest elephants, West African Manatee, Atlantic humpback dolphin, buffalos and large marine herbivores, such as the manatee.

The beaches are accompanied by rich forests offering a great natural diversity. The islands crystal waters are bursting with fishes and are still unspoilt as it awaits your first cast. The adventure seekers can discover several coral reefs, perfect for diving and exploring.

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