Guinea-Bissau, the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, is a West African nation on the continent’s Atlantic coast. Relatively unknown to the outside world, this small tropical nation is home to some of the best national parks and diverse wildlife in the region. Here are some interesting facts about Guinea-Bissau.
Facts about Guinea-Bissau
1. Guinea-Bissau is the sixth-smallest country on the African mainland.
Occupying a total area of 36,125 km² (13,948 sq mi), Guinea-Bissau is the 134th largest nation in the world. Comparatively, it is roughly the same size as Taiwan or slightly larger than the US state of Maryland.
2. Guinea-Bissau shares a land border with two countries.
Guinea-Bissau is bordered by Senegal (341 km/212 mi) to the north and Guinea (421 km/262 mi) to the south and east.
3. The territory of Guinea-Bissau also includes an archipelago called the Bissagos Islands.
Located about 48 km (30 mi) off Guinea-Bissau’s coast lie the Bissagos (or Bijagós) islands – an archipelago of over 80 islands and islets. They contain a rich variety of wildlife, are covered with lush vegetation, and have sandy beaches.
4. Guinea-Bissau has a total coastline length of 320 km (199 mi).
Along much of Guinea’s 350 km (217 mi) long coastline lie some of Africa’s most exotic beaches and swamps of mangroves.
5. The terrain of Guinea-Bissau is rather flat and the country’s mean elevation is only 70 m (230 ft).
The terrain of Guinea-Bissau consists of mostly low coastal plain with swamps of mangroves rising to Guinean forest-savanna mosaic in the east. The highest point in Guinea-Bissau is 300 m (984 ft) above sea level at an unnamed location in the northeast corner of the country.
6. Guinea-Bissau was an active part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and was known as the “Slave Coast.”
Portuguese navigators first reached Guinea-Bissau around the mid-15th century and established lucrative routes for trading slaves and goods. From the 17th century until the mid-19th century, French, British, and Portuguese traders and slavers competed with one another as the country was a major area for the exportation of African slaves to the western hemisphere.
7. Guinea is named after the Guinea region of West Africa.
Guinea-Bissau owes its name to the Guinea region of West Africa that lies along the Gulf of Guinea. It is unclear, however, where the name “Guinea” originates. Some trace it to the corruption of an Amazigh (Berber) word meaning “land of the blacks” while others think it once referred to Djenné, a trading city in Mali.
In the 15th century, Portuguese sailors used the word “Guiné” to describe what is now present-day Senegal, By the 18th century, Europeans used “Guinea” to refer to much of West Africa.
8. Guinea-Bissau is a former Portuguese colony and was formerly known as “Portuguese Guinea.”
Having formerly been under the joint Portuguese colonial administration with the nation of Cabo Verde (Cape Verde), Portuguese Guinea (as Guinea-Bissau was known back then) became a separate colony in 1879. For the large part, Portuguese Guinea was a neglected backwater, whose only economic significance was to supply Portugal with its vegetable oil needs.
9. Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde (Cape Verde) were formerly politically unified.
During the African decolonization movement in the early 1950s, both Portuguese colonies of Portuguese Guinea (Guinea-Bissau) and Cabo Verde (Cape Verde) had their status modified to overseas provinces.
Not content with this change, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau campaigned together for independence from Portugal, chiefly inspired by the Marxist-inspired African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde—PAIGC).
The party aimed to achieve independence by using peaceful means of protest. However, Portugal’s right-wing dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar, responded with violence and arrests. This led to 11 years of armed struggle in Guinea-Bissau (1963-1974) until this precipitated a military coup in Portugal in April 1974.
This resulted in Portuguese decolonization in Africa, leading to the establishment of the two linked, but independent republics: the Republic of Guinea-Bissau on 24 September 1974 and the Republic of Cape Verde on 5 July 1975.
Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau shared a flag and national anthem and their president—Luís de Almeida Cabral, was a Cape Verdean. They remained unified until a military coup in Guinea-Bissau toppled Cabral in November 1980. The coup was deeply resented in Cape Verde and led to Cape Verde separating from Guinea-Bissau.
10. Bissau is the capital and largest city of Guinea-Bissau.
Built on a low-lying estuary where the Gêba River flows into the Atlantic Ocean, Bissau is the unassuming capital and commercial hub of Guinea-Bissau. The city was founded in 1687 by the Portuguese as a fortified port and trading center.
11. Agriculture is the primary industry in Guinea-Bissau.
With agriculture being the primary economic driver in Guinea-Bissau, the country is a major producer of mangoes, cashews, groundnuts, peanuts, palm kernels, and non-fillet frozen fish and seafood.
12. Since the early 2000s, Guinea-Bissau has earned a reputation for being a “narco-state.”
One of the lesser-known facts about Guinea Bissau is that this small West African nation has been branded a “narco-state” by the UN and the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for being a transit hub for the cocaine trade out of Latin America and into Europe.
Since the early 2000s, Latin American drug cartels and other African organized crime groups have infiltrated all walks of civil society in a nation whose location midway between Central America and Europe and political instability make it the perfect stepping stone from which to smuggle cocaine into Europe. Government corruption and drug traffickers bribing government officials to stop them from interfering make the drug trade possible.
According to one high-ranking UN official, at least 30 tons of cocaine—a fifth of America’s entire annual cocaine consumption—enters and leaves Guinea-Bissau each year. There have been cases of villagers finding bricks of cocaine and mistaking them for paint or fertilizer. In addition to cocaine, other drugs such as morphine pills and tramadol are also smuggled.
13. The currency of Guinea-Bissau is the West African CFA franc (XOF).
As with seven other independent countries in West Africa, the West African CFA franc (XOF) is the official currency of Guinea-Bissau.
14. A person from Guinea-Bissau is known as a ‘Bissau-Guinean.’
Guinea-Bissau natives are called ‘Bissau-Guineans’, not Guinea-Bissauns or anything else.
15. Guinea-Bissau is home to more than 25 ethnic groups.
For a small, Guinea-Bissau is remarkably diverse and its inhabitants are divided among more than 25 ethnic groups. The two largest ethnic groups in the country are the Fulani (~28%) in the coastal and central regions and the Balanta (~23%) in the east and south.
Among the smaller ethnic groups in Guinea-Bissau are the Mandinga, Papel, Manjaco, Biafada, Mancanha, Bijago, Nalu, Mansoanca, and Balanta Mane.
16. Portuguese is the official language of Guinea-Bissau.
As a result of Portuguese influence over Guinea, the official language of the nation is Portuguese. It dominates the media and is widely used in education and administration.
However, virtually all Bissau-Guineans speak Guinea-Bissau Creole or Africanized Portuguese patois, a Portuguese-based creole with African influences that serves as the country’s lingua franca.
17. A spate of regional languages are spoken in Guinea-Bissau.
The principal local languages spoken in Guinea-Bissau are Fula, Balanta, Mandinka, Manjak, Pape, Felupe, Biafada, Bijagó, and Nalu, all of which belong to the Niger-Congo language group.
18. Guinea-Bissau is the only Lusophone country to have a Muslim majority.
About 45% of Bissau-Guineans are Muslims, making it the only Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) country with a Muslim majority.
19. Football is the most popular sport in Guinea-Bissau.
Football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in Guinea-Bissau. Unfortunately, the Guinea-Bissau men’s national football team has tasted very little success at the international level and has never even qualified for the FIFA World Cup.
20. Guinea-Bissau has never won an Olympic medal.
Although Guinea-Bissau has sent athletes to every Summer Olympics since 1996, the nation is still waiting to win an Olympic medal. Guinea-Bissau is yet to compete at the Winter Olympics.
21. There are no UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Guinea-Bissau.
Although Guinea-Bissau is home to no UNESCO World Heritage Sites, one site—the Bissagos Archipelago is on the organization’s tentative list.
22. There are no railways in Guinea-Bissau.
As Guinea-Bissau doesn’t have any railways, most of the transportation in the nation is done by boat or road.