Guinea-Bissau was once part of the
kingdom of Gabu, part of the Mali Empire; parts of this kingdom persisted until
the eighteenth century, while others were part of the Portuguese Empire.
Portuguese Guinea was known also, from its main economic activity, as the Slave
Early reports of Europeans reaching this area include those of the Venetian Alvise Cadamosto's voyage of 1455, the 1479-1480 voyage by Flemish-French trader Eustache de la Fosse, 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.
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 nineteenth 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. 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. 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 of Amílcar Cabral gradually consolidated its hold on then Portuguese Guinea. 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 Cuba, China, the Soviet Union, and left-leaning African countries.
Cuba also agreed to supply artillery experts, doctors and technicians. 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. Independence was unilaterally declared on September 24, 1973. Recognition became universal following the April 25, 1974 socialist-inspired military coup in Portugal which overthrew Lisbon's Estado Novo regime.
Luís Cabral was appointed the first President of Guinea-Bissau. Following independence local black soldiers that fought along with the Portuguese Army against the PAIGC guerrillas were slaughtered by the thousands. Some managed to escape and settled in Portugal or other African nations, one of the massacres occurred in the town of Bissorã. In 1980 the PAIGC admitted in its 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.
The country was controlled by a revolutionary council until 1984. The first multi-party elections were held in 1994, but an army uprising in 1998 led to the president's ousting and the Guinea-Bissau Civil War. Elections were held again in 2000 and Kumba Ialá was elected president.
In September 2003, a coup took place in which the military arrested Ialá on the charge of being "unable to solve the problems." After being delayed several times, legislative elections were held in March 2004 . A mutiny of military factions in October 2004 resulted in the death of the head of the armed forces, and caused widespread unrest.
The Vieira Years
In June 2005, presidential elections were held for the first time since the coup that deposed Ialá. Ialá returned as the candidate for the PRS, claiming to be the legitimate president of the country, but the election was won by former president João Bernardo Vieira, deposed in the 1999 coup. Vieira beat Malam Bacai Sanhá in a runoff election, but Sanhá initially refused to concede, claiming that tampering occurred in two constituencies including the capital, Bissau.
Despite reports that there had been an influx of arms in the weeks leading up to the election and reports of some "disturbances during campaigning"—including attacks on government offices by unidentified gunmen—foreign election monitors labelled the election as "calm and organized". PAIGC won a strong parliamentary majority, with 67 of 100 seats, in the parliamentary election held in November 2008.
In November 2008, President Vieira's official residence was attacked by members of the armed forces, killing a guard but leaving the president unharmed. On March 2, 2009, however, Vieira was assassinated by what preliminary reports indicated to be a group of soldiers avenging the death of the head of joint chiefs of staff, General Batista Tagme Na Wai. Tagme died in an explosion on Sunday, March 1, 2009 in an assassination. Military leaders in the country have pledged to respect the constitutional order of succession. National Assembly Speaker Raimundo Pereira was appointed as an interim president until a nationwide election on June 28, 2009, which was won by Malam Bacai Sanhá.
2010 Guinea-Bissau Military Unrest
Military unrest occurred in Guinea-Bissau on 1 April 2010. Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior was placed under house arrest by soldiers, who also detained Army Chief of Staff Zamora Induta. Supporters of Gomes and his party, PAIGC, reacted to the move by demonstrating in the capital, Bissau; Antonio Indjai, the Deputy Chief of Staff, then warned that he would have Gomes killed if the protests continued.
The EU ended its mission to reform the country's security forces 4 August 2010, a risk that may further embolden powerful generals and drug traffickers in the army and elsewhere. The EU mission's spokesman in Guinea-Bissau, Miguel Souza, said the EU had to suspend its programme when the mastermind of the mutiny, Gen Antonio Indjai, became army chief of staff. "The EU mission thinks this is a breach in the constitutional order. We can't work with him".
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