Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau, officially the Republic of Guinea-Bissau  is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Senegal to the north and Guinea to the south and east, with the Atlantic Ocean to its west. It covers 36,125 km² (nearly 14,000 sq mi) with an estimated population of 1,600,000.

Guinea-Bissau was once part of the kingdom of Gabu, as well as part of the Mali Empire. Parts of this kingdom persisted until the 18th century, while a few others were part of the Portuguese Empire since the 16th century. It then became the Portuguese colony of Portuguese Guinea in the 19th century. 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. Guinea-Bissau has a history of political instability since gaining independence, and no elected president has successfully served a full five-year term. On the evening of 12 April 2012, members of the country’s military staged a coup and arrested the interim president and a leading presidential candidate. The military has yet to declare a current leader for the country.[4] However, former vice chief of staff, General Mamadu Ture Kuruma has taken care of the country in the transitional period and started negotiations with opposition parties.[5][6]

Only 14% of the population speaks the official language, Portuguese. A plurality of the population (44%) speaks Kriol, a Portuguese-based creole language, and the remainder speak native African languages. The main religions are African traditional religions and Islam, and there is aChristian (mostly Roman Catholic) minority. The country’s per-capita gross domestic product is one of the lowest in the world.

Guinea-Bissau is a member of the African UnionEconomic Community of West African StatesOrganisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Latin UnionCommunity of Portuguese Language CountriesLa Francophonie and the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone.

History

Guinea-Bissau was once part of the kingdom of Gabu, part of the Mali Empire; parts of this kingdom persisted until the 18th century, while others were part of the Portuguese Empire.[7] Portuguese Guinea was known also, from its main economic activity, as the Slave Coast. Early reports of Europeans reaching this area include those of the Venetian Alvise Cadamosto‘s voyage of 1455,[8] the 1479–1480 voyage by Flemish-French trader Eustache de la Fosse,[9] and Diogo Cão who in the 1480s reached the Congo River and the lands of Bakongo, setting up thus the foundations of modern Angola, some 1200 km down the African coast from Guinea-Bissau.[10]

Although the rivers and coast of this area were among the first places colonized by the Portuguese, since the 16th century, the interior was not explored until the 19th century. The local African rulers in Guinea, some of whom prospered greatly from the slave trade, had no interest in allowing the Europeans any further inland than the fortified coastal settlements where the trading took place.[11] African communities that fought back against slave traders had even greater incentives to distrust European adventurers and would-be settlers. The Portuguese presence in Guinea was therefore largely limited to the port of Bissau and Cacheu, although isolated European farmer-settlers established farms along Bissau’s inland rivers.

For a brief period in the 1790s, the British attempted to establish a rival foothold on an offshore island, at Bolama.[12] But by the 19th century the Portuguese were sufficiently secure in Bissau to regard the neighbouring coastline as their own special territory, also up north in part of present South Senegal. An armed rebellion beginning in 1956 by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) under the leadership ofAmílcar Cabral gradually consolidated its hold on then Portuguese Guinea.[13] Unlike guerrilla movements in other Portuguese colonies, the PAIGC rapidly extended its military control over large portions of the territory, aided by the jungle-like terrain, its easily reached borderlines with neighbouring allies, and large quantities of arms from CubaChina, the Soviet Union, and left-leaning African countries.[14] Cuba also agreed to supply artillery experts, doctors, and technicians.[15] The PAIGC even managed to acquire a significant anti-aircraft capability in order to defend itself against aerial attack. By 1973, the PAIGC was in control of many parts of Guinea, although the movement suffered a setback in January 1973 when Cabral was assassinated.[16]

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