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Guinea-Bissau - Introduction

The small, former Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau is one of the worlds poorest countries, with an economy based on cashew production. Its poverty, its geography, and its historic instability have contributed to a flourishing narcotics trade that has compromised many elements of the military and civilian leadership. Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in the world, with approximately 88 percent of the population living on less than the equivalent of one US dollar a day. Many people live in small villages in remote areas, often without paved roads. More than half of Guinea-Bissau's inhabitants over the age of 15 cannot read or write.

Guinea Bissau has a turbulent past, including being center for Portuguese slave trading and a number of unstable political systems and coups have impeded its development. Guinea Bissau has a low GDP per capita and it ranks as 177 of 187 on the Human Development index, with two thirds of the population living below the poverty line.

Guinea-Bissau (commonly Guinea-Bissau) stands out as the only country in sub-Saharan Africa to have completely freed itself from the colonial yoke by armed struggle, led by Amilcar Cabral (even Angola and Mozambique, other colonies Portuguese, have benefited in the end from an independence granted). The country remains permanently very poor and still depends, to a very large extent, on a quasi-monoculture of the cashew nut. Ruined by the civil war of 1998-1999, the economy has not yet regained the level it had before and does not cover the country's food needs (yet a rice exporter during the Portuguese colonization). Politically, the country is characterized by chronic constitutional instability.

Located in West Africa, Guinea-Bissau is a gateway for illicit actors that operate north into the Maghreb states of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, and the disputed area of the Western Sahara. Since it gained independence in 1974, Guinea Bissau has been racked by military coups - one in April 2012 prevented the second round of presidential elections from taking place.

One of the poorest countries in Africa, with high levels of corruption and little institutional capacity outside repressive security services, it has become an important port of entry for Latin American drug cartels that traffic cocaine north to Europe.

The nexus between criminal syndicates and local elites is very strong. With a large archipelago and maritime space but no navy to control it, anemic police and judicial institutions, a near-total absence of the rule of law, and armed forces benefiting from engagement in the drug trade, Guinea Bissau has become a major security challenge for the region. This is due to linkages that are being forged between drug traffickers and extremist groups in the north, most importantly al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Guinea Bissau was entering a new era, following the election of a new President in the country's first democratic elections in May 2014. But the country was plunged into a political crisis since August 2015, against a backdrop of rivalry between the President of the Republic and his PAIGC party.

With five separate Bissau-Guinean governments in 15 months, by 2017 the country made little headway to mitigate the conditions that led to the labeling of Guinea-Bissau as a narco-state. Moreover,the suspension of directed budget support by multilateral institutions reduced government revenues by almost half, leading to further cutbacks in already deprived and inadequate law enforcement and judicial systems. Drug barons from Latin America and their collaborators from the region and elsewhere have taken advantage of Guinea-Bissaus extreme poverty, unemployment, history of political instability, lack of effective customs and law enforcement, and general insecurity to transship drugs destined for consumer markets, mainly in Europe. Using threats and bribes, drug traffickers have been able to infiltrate state structures and operate with impunity.

The peacebuilding challenges faced by Guinea-Bissau are similar to those faced by other countries emerging from conflict. Many of those problems and the peacebuilding priorities that derive from them are interconnected. In Guinea-Bissau, political instability has had a direct and negative effect on the economic situation in the country, which in turn has severely undermined the Governments ability to tackle the huge problems in the education and health sectors. There is also a clear link between security sector reform and the revival of the economy, bearing in mind that a successful reform of the security sector hinges on an effective reintegration of the demobilized military into society.

As a small tropical country, whose highest point is only 300 meters, Guinea Bissau is heavily reliant on food and fuel imports. Guinea Bissau's main exports are cashews, ground nuts and fish. The inland is full of savannahs, while the coast line has abundant swamps of Guinean mangroves. Guinea Bissau also has around 25 small islands off its coast. Portuguese is the country's official language, although only 14% of the 1.6 million population speak it. The capital city is Bissau.

Modern medical facilities are virtually nonexistent in Guinea-Bissau. Mosquito-borne illnesses such as Zika virus and dengue fever outbreaks can occur in Guinea-Bissau. There are occasional outbreaks of cholera, particularly during the rainy season and in areas where there is poor sanitation. Guinea-Bissau is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as endemic for yellow fever. Yellow fever is a serious and potentially fatal disease preventable by vaccination. We strongly recommend that all travellers be vaccinated for yellow fever before travelling to Guinea-Bissau. Some airlines may require passengers to present a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate before being allowed to board flights out of the country.

Land mines remain a problem in parts of the country and de-mining operations are continuing. The capital city of Bissau was declared mine-free in June 2006 by the national de-mining center (CAAMI), which is responsible for de-mining operations and maintains lists of known minefields. Traffic is generally light but road conditions (including in the capital) and driving standards are poor.

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