African Studies Guinea-Bissau
Jónína Einarsdóttir
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 April 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 April 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0124


The Republic of Guinea-Bissau has an estimated population of 1.7 million inhabitants. Covering 22,447 square miles (36,125 square kilometers), it borders Senegal to the north, Guinea to the south and east, and dozens of islands in the Atlantic Ocean to its west. It is a coastal region of swamps, mangrove-covered wetlands, rain forests, and inland savanna. This area has been populated for thousands of years, and at its height, The Mali Empire (1230–1600) incorporated the northeastern regions of Guinea-Bissau. The Gabu Empire replaced the Mali Empire from 1537 to 1867, which was gradually replaced by Portuguese colonization. Despite Portuguese presence in the area since the 15th century, Portugal only gained military control over the colony during the first three decades of the 20th century. O Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC), established in 1956, launched a war for independence in 1963. With military support from the former Soviet Union and Cuba, and humanitarian aid from several Western countries, Guinea-Bissau won the war, declared its independence in 1973, and was recognized by Portugal in 1974 following the fall of the Portuguese fascist regime. The international image of Guinea-Bissau has radically changed during the postcolonial period. At first the country was admired in military and ideological terms for its successful guerrilla war, both under the leadership of Amílcar Cabral. Cabral, who was murdered in January 1973, is regarded as a leading African thinker in the 20th century. The complex relationship between the political elite and the military has since contributed to a series of coups, and no president has fulfilled his term in office. However, Guinea-Bissau received generous amounts of foreign aid from the Western and Eastern blocks during the Cold War. With the end of Cold War politics and donors’ revised aid policies in the mid- and late 1990s, the country experienced huge cuts in international support. A military uprising resulted in the 1998–1999 war, and since then political and economic instability has deteriorated with the consequent reluctance of donors to give aid to the country. Guinea-Bissau is today recognized as a crucial hub for trafficking cocaine from South America to Europe, and it is frequently referred to as Africa’s first narco-state. Following a coup d’état on 12 April 2012, a transitional government—appointed by the military—governed the country, however without international recognition beyond The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Political instability has continued. Since the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2014, the sixth prime minister took office in early 2018.

General Overviews

There are few bibliographic works on Guinea-Bissau. Galli 1990 offers a comprehensive bibliography, and Lobban and Mendy 1996 provides an overview of history, as well as a large amount of entries and a thematically arranged bibliography. Forrest 2003 provides a comprehensive historical overview from precolonial times to postcolonial ones, while Mendy 1994 gives detailed historical descriptions of the colonial period, and Lopes 1987 deals with the war of liberation and the immediate postcolonial period. Chabal and Green 2016 treats the colonial and postcolonial times with emphasis on the post-1998 period. Published by the US Central Intelligence Agency, the World Factbook provides up-to-date factual information and important statistics.

  • Central Intelligence Agency. “Guinea-Bissau.” In The World Factbook.

    The World Factbook offers continually updated, factual information and statistics about important issues such as government, population, geography, economy, and so on.

  • Chabal, Patrick, and Toby Green, eds. Guinea-Bissau: Micro-State to ‘Narco-State.’ London: Hurst, 2016.

    Gives a historical background to the political instability of Guinea-Bissau as well as description and analyses of its manifestations and consequences.

  • Forrest, Joshua B. Lineages of State Fragility: Rural Civil Society in Guinea-Bissau. Western African Studies. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2003.

    A comprehensive overview of Guinea-Bissau’s history that explains Guinea-Bissau’s state fragility in terms of the strength and collaborative efforts of its multiethnic rural civil society.

  • Galli, Rosemary E. Guinea-Bissau. World Bibliographic Series 121. Oxford: Clio, 1990.

    A valuable bibliography of the literature in English, French, Portuguese, and German. The Portuguese publications from the colonial period are of great importance.

  • Lobban, Richard, Jr., and Peter Karibe Mendy, eds. Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau. 3d ed. African Historical Dictionaries 22. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1996.

    Gives a summary of Guinea-Bissau’s history, historical chronology, and maps from various periods. It also includes a large alphabetical dictionary (whose entries are unfortunately not listed) and a bibliography, including subchapters on bibliographies and periodicals, in addition to thematically sorted publications.

  • Lopes, Carlos. Guinea-Bissau: From Liberation Struggle to Independent Statehood. Translated by Michael Wolfers. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1987.

    Thoughtful examination of the background to the war of liberation, Cabral’s ideology and approaches for mobilization of the peasants, and postcolonial state formation of the country.

  • Mendy, Peter Karibe. Colonialismo Português em África: A tradição de resistência na Guiné-Bissau (1879–1959). Kacu Martel 10. Bissau, Guinea-Bissau: Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisa, 1994.

    Based on archival research, this is a detailed historical account of local resistance to colonial power. Important analyses of the colonial administrative and economic structure during the period 1879–1959.

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