Guinea-Bissau was originally a component of the Mali Empire’s kingdom of Gabu; portions of this kingdom lasted into the 18th century. The Portuguese believed other portions of the present country’s area to be part of their empire. The Slave Coast was the name given to Portuguese Guinea because it was a significant hub for the transportation of African slaves to the Western Hemisphere by Europeans.
Early European voyages to this region include those of Venetian Alvise Cadamosto in 1455, Flemish-French merchant Eustache de la Fosse in 1479–1480, and Diogo Co in 1479–1480. This Portuguese explorer reached the Congo River and the Bakongo regions in the 1480s, laying the foundations for modern Angola, which is located 4200 kilometers along the African coast from Guinea-Bissau.
Although the Portuguese conquered the rivers and shoreline of this region in the 16th century, they did not explore the interior until the 19th century. The inland trade was controlled by local African lords in Guinea, some of whom made a fortune from the slave trade. Europeans were not allowed into the interior. They housed them in fortified coastal towns where trade was conducted. African tribes fighting slave merchants were equally suspicious of European explorers and would-be immigrants. In Guinea, the Portuguese were mostly confined to the ports of Bissau and Cacheu. Along Bissau’s interior waterways, a tiny number of European immigrants built isolated farms.
The British attempted to create a competing foothold on an outlying island, Bolama, for a short time in the 1790s. However, by the 19th century, the Portuguese in Bissau had gained enough control of the surrounding coastline to consider it as their own unique region, which included parts of what is now South Senegal.
The African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), led by Amlcar Cabral, began an armed revolt in 1956 and progressively cemented its control over then-Portuguese Guinea. Unlike guerrilla movements in other Portuguese colonies, the PAIGC quickly expanded its military control over large swaths of the country, aided by the jungle-like terrain, easily accessible borderlines with allies, and large shipments of arms from Cuba, China, the Soviet Union, and left-leaning African countries. Cuba also promised to provide specialists in artillery, medics, and technicians. In order to protect itself against aerial assault, the PAIGC was able to develop a substantial anti-aircraft capacity. By 1973, the PAIGC had taken control of most of Guinea, but Cabral’s assassination in January of that year dealt a blow to the cause.
On September 24, 1973, the country proclaimed its independence independently. Following the socialist-inspired military revolution in Portugal on April 25, 1974, which toppled the Estado Novo government in Lisbon, recognition became universal.
Lus Cabral, Amlcar’s brother and a co-founder of PAIGC, was named Guinea-first Bissau’s president. Thousands of native Guinean troops who had fought with the Portuguese Army against insurgents were murdered by the PAIGC after independence. Some others fled to Portugal or other African countries. The town of Bissor was the scene of one of the massacres. Many Gueinean troops were killed and buried in unmarked communal graves in the forests of Cumerá, Portogole, and Mansabá, according to the PAIGC’s publication Nó Pintcha (November 29, 1980).
Until 1984, the nation was ruled by a revolutionary council. In 1994, the first multi-party elections were conducted. The Guinea-Bissau Civil War broke out in May 1998 after an army revolt, and the president was deposed in June 1999. In 2000, new elections were conducted, and Kumba Ialá was elected president.
A military coup was carried out in September 2003. Ialá was detained by the military for being “unable to address the issues.” Legislative elections were conducted in March 2004 after being postponed numerous times. In October 2004, a military mutiny culminated in the death of the chief of the armed forces and significant turmoil.
For the first time since Ialá’s deposition, presidential elections were conducted in June 2005. Ialá ran for the PRS again, claiming to be the country’s rightful president, but former president Joo Bernardo Vieira, who was ousted in the 1999 coup, won the election. In a runoff election, Vieira defeated Malam Bacai Sanhá. Sanhá originally refused to accept, alleging that election manipulation and fraud had happened in two districts, including Bissau’s capital.
Despite rumors of weapons entering the nation before to the election and several “disturbances” throughout the campaign, including unidentified gunmen attacking government buildings, foreign election observers characterized the 2005 election as “peaceful and orderly.”
PAIGC gained a significant legislative majority with 67 of 100 seats in the November 2008 parliamentary election, three years later. In November 2008, members of the armed forces assaulted President Vieira’s official home, killing one guard but leaving the president unhurt.
However, on March 2, 2009, Vieira was murdered by a gang of troops who, according to early accounts, were seeking vengeance for the death of General Batista Tagme Na Wai, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Tagme was assassinated and killed in an explosion on Sunday, March 1, 2009. Military commanders in the nation have promised to uphold the country’s constitutional succession system. Interim President Raimundo Pereira was chosen by the National Assembly Speaker pending a national election on June 28, 2009. Malam Bacai Sanhá was the winner.
Members of the country’s military attempted a coup d’état on April 12, 2012, arresting the interim president and a prominent presidential contender. General Mamadu Ture Kuruma, a former deputy chief of staff, took leadership of the nation during the transitional phase and began talks with opposition groups.