Arrival of the Europeans:
The rivers of Guinea and the islands of Cape Verde were among the first areas in Africa explored by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Portugal claimed Portuguese Guinea in 1446, but few trading posts were established before 1600. In 1630, a "captaincy-general" of Portuguese Guinea was established to administer the territory. With the cooperation of some local tribes, the Portuguese entered the slave trade and exported large numbers of Africans to the Western Hemisphere via the Cape Verde Islands. Cacheu became one of the major slave centers, and a small fort still stands in the town.
Decline of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade:
The slave trade declined in the 19th century, and Bissau, originally founded as a military and slave-trading center in 1765, grew to become the major commercial center. Portuguese conquest and consolidation of the interior did not begin until the latter half of the 19th century. Portugal lost part of Guinea to French West Africa, including the center of earlier Portuguese commercial interest, the Casamance River region. A dispute with Great Britain over the island of Bolama was settled in Portugal's favor with the involvement of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant.
Life as a Portuguese Colony:
Before World War I, Portuguese forces, with some assistance from the Muslim population, subdued animist tribes and eventually established the territory's borders. The interior of Portuguese Guinea was brought under control after more than 30 years of fighting; final subjugation of the Bijagos Islands did not occur until 1936. The administrative capital was moved from Bolama to Bissau in 1941, and in 1952, by constitutional amendment, the colony of Portuguese Guinea became an overseas province of Portugal.
Creation of the PAIGC:
In 1956, Amilcar Cabral and Raphael Barbosa organized the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC, African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde) clandestinely. The PAIGC moved its headquarters to Conakry, Guinea, in 1960 and started an armed rebellion against the Portuguese in 1961. Despite the presence of Portuguese troops, which grew to more than 35,000, the PAIGC steadily expanded its influence until, by 1968, it controlled most of the country.
General Antonio de Spinola – A Force for Democracy:
The PAIGC established civilian rule in the territory under its control and held elections for a National Assembly. Portuguese forces and civilians increasingly were confined to their garrisons and larger towns. The Portuguese Governor and Commander in Chief from 1968 to 1973, General Antonio de Spinola, returned to Portugal and led the movement that brought democracy to Portugal and independence for its colonies.
Amilcar Cabral was assassinated in Conakry in 1973, and party leadership fell to Aristides Pereira, who later became the first President of the Republic of Cape Verde. The PAIGC National Assembly met at Boe in the southeastern region and declared the independence of Guinea-Bissau on 24 September 1973. Following Portugal's April 1974 revolution, it granted independence to Guinea-Bissau on 10 September 1974. The United States recognized the new nation that day. Luis Cabral, Amilcar Cabral's half-brother, became President of Guinea-Bissau.
Vieira Take Power in 'Bloodless' Coup:
In late 1980, the government was overthrown in a relatively bloodless coup led by Prime Minister and former armed forces commander Joao Bernardo "Nino" Vieira. From November 1980 to May 1984, power was held by a provisional government responsible to a Revolutionary Council headed by President Vieira. In 1984, the council was dissolved, and the Assembleia Nacional Popular (ANP, National People's Assembly) was reconstituted. The single-party assembly approved a new constitution, elected President Vieira to a new 5-year term, and elected a Council of State, which was the executive agent of the ANP.
Single Party System:
Under this system, the president presided over the Council of State and served as head of state and government. The president also was head of the PAIGC and commander in chief of the armed forces.
Start of the Civil War:
There were alleged coup plots against the Vieira government in 1983, 1985, and 1993. In 1986, first Vice President Paulo Correia and five others were executed for treason following a lengthy trial. In 1994, the country's first multi-party legislative and presidential elections were held. An army uprising against the Vieira government in June 1998 triggered a bloody civil war that created hundreds of thousands of displaced persons and resulted in President Vieria having to request assistance from the governments of Senegal and Guinea, who provided troops to quell the uprising.
Next: A Brief History of Guinea-Bissau - Part 2
(Text from Public Domain material, US Department of State Background Notes.)