Sunday, 08 March 2015 20:07

GUINEA-BISSAU

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Full name: The Republic of Guinea-Bissau
Population: 1.6 million (UN, 2012)
Capital: Bissau
Area: 36,125 sq km (13,948 sq miles)
Major languages: Portuguese, Crioulo, African languages
Major religions: Indigenous beliefs, Islam, Christianity
Life expectancy: 47 years (men), 50 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 CFA (Communaute Financiere Africaine) = 100 centimes
Main exports: Cashew nuts, shrimp, peanuts, palm kernels, sawn timber
GNI per capita: US $600 (World Bank, 2011)
Internet domain: .gw
International dialling code: +245

Once hailed as a potential model for African development, Guinea-Bissau is now one of the poorest countries in the world.

It has a massive foreign debt and an economy that relies heavily on foreign aid.

Compounding this, the country experienced a bitter civil war in the late 1990s in which thousands were killed, wounded or displaced.

Formerly Portuguese Guinea, Guinea-Bissau won independence from Portugal in 1974 after a long struggle spearheaded by the left-wing African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). For the next six years post-independence leader Luis Cabral presided over a command economy.

In 1980 he was overthrown by his army chief, Joao Vieira, who accused him of corruption and mismanagement. Mr Vieira led the country towards a market economy and a multi-party system, but was accused of crony capitalism, corruption and autocracy. In 1994 he was chosen as president in Guinea-Bissau's first free elections.

Four years later he was ousted after he dismissed his army chief, thereby triggering a crippling civil war. This eventually ended after foreign mediation led to a truce, policed by West African peacekeepers, and free elections in January 2000.

The victor in the poll, Kumba Yala, was ousted in a bloodless military coup in September 2003. The military chief who led the coup said the move was, in part, a response to the worsening economic and political situation.

Mr Vieira won the 2005 elections but his rule was brought to a bloody end in March 2009, when renegade soldiers entered his palace and shot him dead, reportedly to avenge the killing hours earlier of the army chief, a rival of the president.

The country's vital cashew nut crop provides a modest living for most of Guinea-Bissau's farmers and is the main source of foreign exchange.

Guinea-Bissau is also a major hub for cocaine smuggled from Latin America to Europe. Several senior military figures are alleged to be involved in the trafficking of narcotics, prompting fears that the drugs trade could further destabilise an already volatile country.

guinea bissau parly afpg
Guinea-Bissau's parliament in the capital Bissau

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