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Economy of Guinea-Bissau
Currency CFA Franc
Fiscal year Calendar Year
Trade organisations AU, WTO
Statistics [1]
GDP ranking 191st (2004) [2]
GDP $1.008 billion (2004)
GDP growth 2.6% (2004)
GDP per capita $700 (2004)
GDP by sector agriculture (62%), industry (12%), services (26%) (1999)
Inflation 4% (2002)
Pop below poverty line N/A (2004)
Labour force 480,000 (1999)
Labour force by occupation agriculture (82%)(2000)
Unemployment N/A (1998)
Main industries agricultural products processing, beer, soft drinks
Trading Partners [3]
Exports $54 million (2002)
Export - Commodities cashew nuts, shrimp, peanuts, palm kernels, sawn lumber
Main partners India 54.9%, U.S. 24.2%, Nigeria 12.7%, Italy 4.1% (2004)
Imports $104 million (2002)
Imports - Commodities foodstuffs, machinery and transport equipment, petroleum products
Main Partners Senegal 23.4%, Portugal 20.4%, the People's Republic of China 8.2%, Netherlands 5.8% (2004)
Public finances [4]
Public debt N/A (2004)
Revenues N/A (2004)
Expenses N/A (2004)
Economic aid $115.4 million (recipient)(1995)

Guinea-Bissau is among the world's least developed nations and one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, and depends mainly on agriculture and fishing. Cashew crops have increased remarkably in recent years, and the country now ranks sixth in cashew production. Guinea-Bissau exports fish and seafood along with small amounts of peanuts, palm kernels, and timber. License fees for fishing provide the government with some revenue. Rice is the major crop and staple food.



Early colonialism

The flag of the Guinea Company, a Portuguese company that traded in several commodities and slaves around the Guinea coast from the 15th century.

From the viewpoint of European history the Guinea Coast is associated mainly with slavery. Indeed one of the alternative names for the region is the Slave Coast. When the Portuguese first sailed down the Atlantic coast of Africa in the 1430s, they were interested in gold. Ever since Mansa Musa, king of the Mali Empire, made his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1325, with 500 slaves and 100 camels (each carrying gold) the region had become synonymous with such wealth. The trade from sub-Saharan Africa was controlled by the Islamic Empire which stretched along Africa's northern coast. Muslim trade routes across the Sahara, which had existed for centuries, involved salt, kola, textiles, fish, grain, and slaves.[1] As the Portuguese extended their influence around the coast, Mauritania, Senegambia (by 1445) and Guinea, they created trading posts. Rather than becoming direct competitors to the Muslim merchants, the expanding market opportunities in Europe and the Mediterranean resulted in increased trade across the Sahara.[2] In addition, the Portuguese merchants gained access to the interior via the Senegal and Gambia rivers which bisected long-standing trans-Saharan routes. The Portuguese brought in copper ware, cloth, tools, wine and horses. Trade goods soon also included arms and ammunition. In exchange, the Portuguese received gold (transported from mines of the Akan deposits), pepper (a trade which lasted until Vasco da Gama reached India in 1498) and ivory. There was a very small market for African slaves as domestic workers in Europe, and as workers on the sugar plantations of the Mediterranean. However, the Portuguese found they could make considerable amounts of gold transporting slaves from one trading post to another, along the Atlantic coast of Africa. Muslim merchants had a high demand for slaves, which were used as porters on the trans-Saharan routes, and for sale in the Islamic Empire. The Portuguese found Muslim merchants entrenched along the African coast as far as the Bight of Benin.[3] Before the arrival of the Europeans, the African slave trade, centuries old in Africa, is not yet the major feature of the coastal economy of Guinea. The expansion of trade occurs after the Portuguese reach this region in 1446, bringing great wealth to several local slave trading tribes. The Portuguese used slave labour to colonize and develop the previously uninhabited Cape Verde islands where they founded settlements and grew cotton and indigo. They then traded these goods, in the estuary of the Geba river, for black slaves captured by other black peoples in local African wars and raids. The slaves are sold in Europe and, from the 16th century, in the Americas. The Company of Guinea was a Portuguese governative institution whose task was to deal with the spices and to fix the prices of the goods. It was called Casa da Guiné, Casa da Guiné e Mina from 1482 to 1483 and Casa da Índia e da Guiné in 1499. The local African rulers in Guinea, who prosper greatly from the slave trade, have no interest in allowing the Europeans any further inland than the fortified coastal settlements where the trading takes place. The Portuguese presence in Guinea is therefore largely limited to the port of Bissau.

Colonial era

As with the other Portuguese territories in mainland Africa (Portuguese Angola and Portuguese Mozambique), Portugal exercised control over the coastal areas of Portuguese Guinea when first laying claim to the whole region as a colony. For three decades there are costly and continuous campaigns to suppress the local African rulers. However, by 1915 this process was complete, enabling Portuguese colonial rule to progress in a relatively unruffled state - until the emergence of nationalist movements all over Africa in the 1950s. For a brief period in the 1790s the British attempt to establish a rival foothold on an offshore island, at Bolama, but by the 19th century the Portuguese are sufficiently secure in Bissau to regard the neighbouring coastline as their own special territory. It is therefore natural for Portugal to lay claim to this region, soon to be known as Portuguese Guinea, when the European scramble for Africa begins in the 1880s. Britain's interest in the region has declined since the ending of the British slave trade in 1807. After the abolition of slavery in the Portuguese overseas territories in the 1830s, the slave trade definitely went into serious decline. So Portugal's main rivals are the French, their energetic colonial neighbours along the coast on both sides - in Senegal and in the region which now becomes French Guinea. The Portuguese presence in Guinea is not disputed by the French. The only point at issue is the precise line of the borders. This is established by agreement between the two colonial powers in two series of negotiations, in 1886 and 1902-5. Until the end of the 19th century, rubber was the main export.

As an overseas province

In 1951, when the Portuguese government overhauled the entire colonial system, all Portugal's colonies, including Portuguese Guinea, were renamed Overseas Provinces (Províncias Ultramarinas). New infrastructures were built for education, health, agriculture, transportation, commerce, services, and administration. Cashew, peanut, rice, timber, livestock and fish were the main economic productions. The port of Bissau was one of the main employers and a very important source of taxes for the province's authorities.

Independence War

The fight for independence began in 1956, when Amílcar Cabral founded the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (Portuguese: African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde), the PAIGC. In 1961, when a purely political campaign for independence had made predictably little progress, the PAIGC adopted guerrilla tactics. Although heavily outnumbered by Portuguese troops (approximately 30,000 Portuguese to some 10,000 guerrillas), the PAIGC had the great advantage of safe havens over the border in Senegal and Guinea, both recently independent of French rule. Several communist countries supported the guerrillas with weapons and military trainning. The conflict in Portuguese Guinea involving the PAIGC guerrillas and the Portuguese Army was the most intense and damaging of all Portuguese Colonial War. Thus, during the 1960s and early 1970s, Portuguese development plans promoting strong economic growth and effective socioeconomic policies, like those applied by the Portuguese in the other two theaters of war (Portuguese Angola and Portuguese Mozambique), were not possible. In 1972 Cabral sets up a government in exile in Conakry, the capital of neighbouring Guinea. It was there, in 1973, that he was assassinated outside his house - just a year before a left-wing military coup in Portugal dramatically altered the political situation. By 1973 the PAIGC controlled most of the interior of the country, while the coastal and estuary towns, including the main populational and economic centres remained under Portuguese control. The village of Madina do Boé in the southeasternmost area of the territory, close to the border with neighbouring Guinea, was the location where PAIGC guerrillas declared the independence of Guinea-Bissau on September 24, 1973. The war in the colonies was increasingly unpopular in Portugal itself as the people got weary of war and balked at its ever-rising expense. Following the coup d'état in Portugal in 1974, the new left-wing revolutionary government of Portugal began to negotiate with the PAIGC and decided to offer independence to all the overseas territories.

After independence

As his brother Amílcar Cabral had been assassinated in 1973, Luís Cabral became the first president of independent Guinea-Bissau after independence was granted on September 10, 1974. Already as the President of Guinea-Bissau, Luís Cabral tried to impose a planned economy in the country, and supported a socialist model that left the economy of Guinea-Bissau itself ruined. Similarly, the repression the authoritarian single-party regime[4] he led imposed on the population and severe food shortages also left marks and, despite having always denied, Luís Cabral was accused of being responsible for the death of a large number of black Guinea-Bissauan soldiers who had fought along with the Portuguese Army against the PAIGC guerrillas during the Portuguese Colonial War.[5] Luís Cabral served from 1974 to 1980, when a military coup d'état led by João Bernardo "Nino" Vieira deposed him. After the military coup, in 1980 PAIGC admitted in its official newspaper "Nó Pintcha" (dated November 29, 1980) that many were executed and buried in unmarked collective graves in the woods of Cumerá, Portogole and Mansabá. All these events did not help the new-country to reach the level of prosperity, economic growth and development the new rulers had promised to its population.

Macro-economic trend

This is a chart of trend of gross domestic product of Guinea-Bissau at market prices estimated [6] by the International Monetary Fund and EconStats with figures in millions of CFA Francs.

Year Gross Domestic Product
1990 70,699
1995 124,100
2000 153,400
2005 280,000

Current GDP per capita of Guinea-Bissau grew just 3.40% in the turbulent 1970s and reached a peak growth of 71% in the 1980s. But this proved unsustainable and it consequently shrank by 34% in the 1990s. Average wages in 2007 hover around $1-2 per day.[7]

Intermittent fighting between Senegalese-backed government troops and a military junta destroyed much of the country's infrastructure and caused widespread damage to the economy in 1998; the civil war led to a 28% drop in GDP that year, with partial recovery in 1999. Agricultural production is estimated to have fallen by 17% during the conflict, and the civil war led to a 28% overall drop in GDP in 1998. Cashew nut output, the main export crop, declined in 1998 by an estimated 30%. World cashew prices dropped by more than 50% in 2000, compounding the economic devastation caused by the conflict. Real GDP has steadily grown at an average of 2.3% from 2003 onwards.

Before the war, trade reform and price liberalization were the most successful part of the country's structural adjustment program under IMF sponsorship. The tightening of monetary policy and the development of the private sector had also begun to reinvigorate the economy. Under the government’s post-conflict economic and financial program, implemented with IMF and World Bank input, real GDP recovered in 1999 by almost 8%. In December 2000 Guinea-Bissau qualified for almost $800 million in debt-service relief under the first phase of the enhanced HIPC initiative and is scheduled to submit its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper in March 2002. Guinea-Bissau will receive the bulk of its assistance under the enhanced HIPC initiative when it satisfies a number of conditions, including implementation of its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper.

Because of high costs, the development of petroleum, phosphate, and other mineral resources is not a near-term prospect. It produces 400,000 barrels/day of petrol.

Income from waste dumping

In the 1980s Guinea-Bissau was part of a trend in the African continent toward the dumping of waste as a source of income. Plans to import toxic waste from Europe were cancelled after an international campaign to halt the trade.[8] The government was offered a contract to dispose of 15 million tons of toxic wastes over a 15 year period. The income from it was equivalent to twice the value of its external debt. After strong pressure from other African countries and environmental groups the Guinea-Bissau government renounced the deal.[9]

Drug trafficking

Over the last decade European consumption of cocaine is believed to have tripled,[10] and West Africa has become a primary transit point for trafficking the drug from Columbia to Europe.[11] Guinea-Bissau is the leading West African country in this regard, with smugglers taking advantage of government corruption and disorder to operate unimpeded. [12]


  1. ^ A.L. Epstein, Urban Communities in Africa - Closed Systems and Open Minds, 1964
  2. ^ B.W. Hodder, Some Comments on the Origins of Traditional Markets in Africa South of the Sahara - Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 1965 - JSTOR
  3. ^ H. Miner, The City in Modern Africa - 1967
  4. ^ Widening trajectories: Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde since independence, Norrie MacQueen
  5. ^ A history of postcolonial Lusophone Africa, A history of postcolonial Lusophone Africa, Patrick Chabal, Edition: C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 2002, ISBN 1850655944, 9781850655947
  6. ^ Guinea_Bissau - Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
  7. ^ GDP: GDP per capita, current US dollars
  8. ^ Brooke, James (1988-09-25). "African Nations Barring Foreign Toxic Waste". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-25. 
  9. ^ Friman, H. Richard; Peter Andreas (1999). The Illicit Global Economy and State Power . Maryland, United States: Rowman and LIttlefield. ISBN 0-8476-9303-1. 
  10. ^ Walt, Vivienne (2007-06-27). "Cocaine Country". Time.,9171,1637719,00.html. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  11. ^ "Guinea Bissau requests INTERPOL assistance following major drugs seizure". Interpol. 2008-07-21. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  12. ^ Parenti, Christian (February 2009). "The Drug Coast". Playboy. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the CIA World Factbook.

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