Since independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has experienced considerable political and military upheaval. In 1980, a military coup established authoritarian dictator Joao Bernardo 'Nino' VIEIRA as president. Despite setting a path to a market economy and multiparty system, VIEIRA's regime was characterized by the suppression of political opposition and the purging of political rivals. Several coup attempts through the 1980s and early 1990s failed to unseat him. In 1994 VIEIRA was elected president in the country's first free elections. A military mutiny and resulting civil war in 1998 eventually led to VIEIRA's ouster in May 1999. In February 2000, a transitional government turned over power to opposition leader Kumba YALA, after he was elected president in transparent polling. In September 2003, after only three years in office, YALA was ousted by the military in a bloodless coup, and businessman Henrique ROSA was sworn in as interim president. In 2005, former President VIEIRA was re-elected president pledging to pursue economic development and national reconciliation.
The population of Guinea-Bissau is ethnically diverse with distinct languages, customs, and social structures. Most people are farmers, with traditional religious beliefs (animism); 45% are Muslim, principally Fula and Mandinka speakers concentrated in the north and northeast. Other important groups are the Balanta and Papel, living in the southern coastal regions, and the Manjaco and Mancanha, occupying the central and northern coastal areas.
The rivers of Guinea and the islands of Cape Verde were among the first areas in Africa explored by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Portugal claimed Portuguese Guinea in 1446, but few trading posts were established before 1600. In 1630, a 'captaincy-general' of Portuguese Guinea was established to administer the territory. With the cooperation of some local tribes, the Portuguese entered the slave trade and exported large numbers of Africans to the Western Hemisphere via the Cape Verde Islands. Cacheu became one of the major slave centers, and a small fort still stands in the town. The slave trade declined in the 19th century, and Bissau, originally founded as a military and slave-trading center in 1765, grew to become the major commercial center.
Portuguese conquest and consolidation of the interior did not begin until the latter half of the 19th century. Portugal lost part of Guinea to French West Africa, including the center of earlier Portuguese commercial interest, the Casamance River region. A dispute with Great Britain over the island of Bolama was settled in Portugal's favor with the involvement of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant.
Before World War I, Portuguese forces, with some assistance from the Muslim population, subdued animist tribes and eventually established the territory's borders. The interior of Portuguese Guinea was brought under control after more than 30 years of fighting; final subjugation of the Bijagos Islands did not occur until 1936. The administrative capital was moved from Bolama to Bissau in 1941, and in 1952, by constitutional amendment, the colony of Portuguese Guinea became an overseas province of Portugal.
In 1956, Amilcar Cabral and Raphael Barbosa organized the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) clandestinely. The PAIGC moved its headquarters to Conakry, Guinea, in 1960 and started an armed rebellion against the Portuguese in 1961. Despite the presence of Portuguese troops, which grew to more than 35,000, the PAIGC steadily expanded its influence until, by 1968, it controlled most of the country.
It established civilian rule in the territory under its control and held elections for a National Assembly. Portuguese forces and civilians increasingly were confined to their garrisons and larger towns. The Portuguese Governor and Commander in Chief from 1968 to 1973, Gen. Antonio de Spinola, returned to Portugal and led the movement that brought democracy to Portugal and independence for its colonies.
Amilcar Cabral was assassinated in Conakry in 1973, and party leadership fell to Aristides Pereira, who later became the first President of the Republic of Cape Verde. The PAIGC National Assembly met at Boe in the southeastern region and declared the independence of Guinea-Bissau on September 24, 1973. Following Portugal's April 1974 revolution, it granted independence to Guinea-Bissau on September 10, 1974. The United States recognized the new nation that day. Luis Cabral, Amilcar Cabral's half-brother, became President of Guinea-Bissau. In late 1980, the government was overthrown in a relatively bloodless coup led by Prime Minister and former armed forces commander Joao Bernardo 'Nino' Vieira.
From November 1980 to May 1984, power was held by a provisional government responsible to a Revolutionary Council headed by President Joao Bernardo Vieira. In 1984, the council was dissolved, and the National Popular Assembly (ANP) was reconstituted. The single-party assembly approved a new constitution, elected President Vieira to a new 5-year term, and elected a Council of State, which was the executive agent of the ANP. Under this system, the president presided over the Council of State and served as head of state and government. The president also was head of the PAIGC and commander in chief of the armed forces.
There were alleged coup plots against the Vieira government in 1983, 1985, and 1993. In 1986, first Vice President Paulo Correia and five others were executed for treason following a lengthy trial. In 1994, the country's first multi-party legislative and presidential elections were held. An army uprising against the Vieira government in June 1998 triggered a bloody civil war that created hundreds of thousands of displaced persons and resulted in President Vieria having to request assistance from the governments of Senegal and Guinea, who provided troops to quell the uprising. The President was ousted by a military junta in May 1999. An interim government turned over power in February 2000 when opposition leader Kumba Yala, founder of the Social Renovation Party (PRS), took office following two rounds of transparent presidential elections.
Despite the elections, democracy did not take root in the succeeding 3 years. President Yala neither vetoed nor promulgated the new constitution that was approved by the National Assembly in April 2001. The resulting ambiguity undermined the rule of law. Impulsive presidential interventions in ministerial operations hampered effective governance. On November 14, 2002, the President dismissed the government of Prime Minister Alamara Nhasse, dissolved the National Assembly, and called for legislative elections. Two days later, he appointed Prime Minister Mario Pires to lead a caretaker government controlled by presidential decree. Elections for the National Assembly were scheduled for April 2003, but later postponed until June and then October. On September 12, 2003, the President of the National Elections Commission announced that it would be impossible to hold the elections on October 12, 2003, as scheduled. The army, led by Chief of Defense General Verrisimo Correia Seabra, intervened on September 14, 2003. President Yala announced his 'voluntary' resignation and was placed under house arrest. The government was dissolved and a 25-member Committee for Restoration of Democracy and Constitutional Order was established. On September 28, 2003, businessman Henrique Rosa was sworn in as President. He had the support of most political parties and of civil society. Artur Sanha, PRS President, was sworn in as Prime Minister. On March 28 and 30, 2004, Guinea-Bissau held legislative elections which international observers deemed acceptably free and fair. On May 9, 2004, Carlos Gomes Junior became Prime Minister.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
On August 10, 2005 Joao Bernardo Vieria was declared the winner of a July 24 presidential runoff election over Malam Bacai Sanha in an election judged by international observers to be free and fair. President Vieria was inaugurated on October 1, 2005. Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior refused to accept Vieira?s victory, and on October 28, Vieira dismissed Gomes and his government. Five days later, he installed former PAIGC official Aristide Gomes as Prime Minister.
Throughout 2006, President Vieira struggled to maintain control over the National Assembly and the general operations of the government. In early March 2007, the three main political parties, the PAIGC, the PRS, and the PUSD agreed to push for a 'government of consensus'? in the interests of parliamentary stability. President Vieira refused to accept the decision, and on March 19 the National Popular Assembly passed a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Aristide Gomes. President Vieira was then faced with the decision of dissolving the government and calling for new elections or appointing a new prime minister. Prime Minister Gomes resigned on March 29. In early April 2007, after much resistance, President Vieira accepted the appointment of Martinho N'Dafa Cabi as the new Prime Minister. Cabi has called for a 'relentless' fight against drug trafficking and vowed to instill fiscal discipline in the Government of Guinea-Bissau.
Principal Government Officials
President--Joao Bernardo Vieria
Prime Minister--Martinho N'Dafa Cabi
Minister of Economy--Abudacar Demba Dahaba
Minister of Finance--Issufo Sanha
Minister of Defense--Marciano Silva Barbeiro
Minister of Justice--Carmelita Barbosa Rodrigues Pires
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Carmelita Barbosa Rodrigues Pires
Guinea-Bissau is among the world's least developed nations and depends mainly on agriculture and fishing. Guinea-Bissau exports some fish and seafood, although most fishing in Guinea-Bissau?s waters is presently not done by Bissau-Guineans and very little fish and seafood is processed in Guinea-Bissau. The country?s other important product is cashews. License fees for fishing provide the government with some revenue. Rice is a major crop and staple food and, if developed, Guinea-Bissau could potentially be self-sufficient in rice. Tropical fruits such as mangos could also provide more income to the country if the sector were developed. Because of high costs, the development of petroleum, phosphate, and other mineral resources is not a near-term prospect. However, unexploited offshore oil reserves may possibly provide much-needed revenue in the long run.
The military conflict that took place in Guinea-Bissau from June 1998 to early 1999 caused severe damage to the country's infrastructure and widely disrupted economic activity. Agricultural production is estimated to have fallen by 17% during the conflict, and the civil war led to a 28% overall drop in gross domestic product (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. Before the war, trade reform and price liberalization were the most successful part of the country's structural adjustment program under International Monetary Fund (IMF) sponsorship. 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 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. However, Guinea-Bissau?s Poverty Reduction and Growth Fund program with the IMF was suspended that same month--following disbursement of the first tranche--due to off-program expenditures by the Yala regime. Thus, IMF and Paris Club internal debt relief for Guinea-Bissau was also suspended in 2001.
The year 2006 was disastrous for Guinea-Bissau's economy. Real GDP growth slowed from 2005, as did exports, which was largely the result of the government's cashew-pricing policy. The government had artificially set the price of cashews at 70 U.S. cents/kg--more than twice what traders were willing to pay. Farmers were eventually forced to sell their crops at knock-down prices, and many were pushed to the brink of starvation. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has advised the government to let market forces dictate prices in the future. In an effort to stimulate exports, the government has significantly reduced export taxes.
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