Rivermate | Guinea-Bissau flag


Comprehensive Country Overview

Explore the geography, history, and socio-economic factors shaping Guinea-Bissau

Country description

Guinea-Bissau is a small country in West Africa, bordered by Senegal to the north and Guinea to the south and east. It has a long coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. The terrain is characterized by a flat coastal plain with swamps, mangroves, and an offshore archipelago (the Bijagós Islands), and gradually rises towards low-lying hills in the east. The country has a tropical climate with a rainy season from June to October and a dry season from November to May. Temperatures are hot and humid year-round.

Natural Resources

Guinea-Bissau is endowed with fertile land, rich marine resources along the coast, and mineral deposits such as bauxite and phosphates. There are also potential offshore oil and gas reserves.

Historical Background

The region was influenced by the Mali Empire (13th-16th centuries) and the Kaabu Empire (16th-19th centuries). It became a Portuguese colony in the 15th century, known as Portuguese Guinea, and was a major hub in the transatlantic slave trade. Guinea-Bissau achieved independence in 1974 after a protracted armed struggle led by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). Since independence, the country has faced chronic political instability marked by coups, assassinations, and civil unrest, which continues to hamper development efforts.

Socio-Economic Overview

Guinea-Bissau has a population of approximately 2 million inhabitants. The country is home to diverse ethnic groups including the Balanta, Fula, Mandinka, Manjaco, and Papel. Portuguese is the official language, but Crioulo, a Creole language, is widely spoken, along with numerous indigenous languages. Islam is the predominant religion, with Christianity and traditional African religions also practiced.

The economy of Guinea-Bissau is one of the world's poorest and is heavily reliant on agriculture and fishing. Main exports include cashew nuts, fish, and timber. The country faces challenges such as corruption, infrastructure limitations, and vulnerability to external price shocks. Guinea-Bissau ranks low on the Human Development Index. Access to basic services like healthcare and education is limited, particularly in rural regions.

Workforce description

Guinea-Bissau's workforce is predominantly young, with a median age of 19 years, providing a large pool of potential labor. A significant portion of the population engages in the labor force, although precise statistics are challenging to obtain due to the sizable informal sector. Women face disadvantages in the labor market, with lower participation rates and concentration in informal and vulnerable employment sectors. The majority of the workforce resides in rural areas, where agriculture is the dominant economic activity.

Skill Levels

Guinea-Bissau's education system suffers from chronic underfunding and limitations, leading to low literacy rates and a lack of skilled workers across many sectors. There's a significant shortage of skilled labor, hindering economic development and diversification. Technical and vocational training is essential to address skills gaps and improve employability, but opportunities remain limited.

Sectoral Distribution

Agriculture is the backbone of Guinea-Bissau's economy, employing around 82% of the workforce. Most farmers engage in subsistence agriculture, producing staples like rice, cassava, and peanuts. Guinea-Bissau is a major producer of cashew nuts, providing income for many farmers. The fishing sector is vital for both income generation and food security, including both artisanal and industrial fishing activities. A vast portion of Guinea-Bissau's workforce operates in the informal sector, engaging in activities such as petty trade, small-scale manufacturing, and services.

Challenges and Outlook

Guinea-Bissau's workforce faces multifaceted challenges that constrain its full potential. These include a skills mismatch, where the skills of the workforce often don't align with the needs of emerging sectors or potential areas of growth. Job creation in the formal sector is insufficient to absorb the expanding labor force, leading to reliance on subsistence agriculture and informal activities. Poor infrastructure inhibits transportation and market access, particularly for rural producers, hindering productivity and growth. Data on Guinea-Bissau's labor force can be limited or outdated, and addressing these information gaps is crucial for policymakers and those supporting workforce development within the country.

Cultural norms impacting employment

In Guinea-Bissau, the distinction between work and personal life is less rigid, particularly in rural communities and the informal sector. Family and social obligations often blend with work responsibilities. Traditional events and religious observances may hold priority over strict work schedules. Therefore, understanding local customs and significant dates is essential.

Interplay of Work and Life

  • Less rigid distinction between work and personal life
  • Family and social obligations blend with work responsibilities
  • Traditional events and religious observances may hold priority over strict work schedules

Communication in Guinea-Bissau is relationship-focused, indirect, and language plays a significant role. Establishing strong personal relationships is paramount before moving into business discussions. Rushing interactions may be perceived as disrespectful. Guineans often prefer a less direct communication style that highlights politeness and harmony. Openly criticizing or confronting those in authority figures can be seen negatively. Fluency in Portuguese, the official language, is advantageous in formal settings. However, understanding Crioulo and local languages aids in building relationships and demonstrating cultural respect.

Communication Styles

  • Relationship-focused communication
  • Indirectness in communication
  • Importance of language fluency

Hierarchy plays a significant role in workplaces in Guinea-Bissau. Titles and age carry weight, with deference expected towards seniors and those in positions of power. Decision-making processes can be more centralized, with final decisions often resting with figures in authority. Open debate may be less common than seeking consensus within the established hierarchy. Employers may be expected to demonstrate a sense of care and responsibility towards their employees, encompassing a broader scope than work-related tasks alone.

Organizational Hierarchies

  • Respect for status and age
  • Centralized decision-making
  • Paternalistic tendencies

To navigate the workplace culture in Guinea-Bissau, dedication to building genuine relationships based on trust and mutual respect is key to successful business interactions. Understanding power dynamics and lines of authority facilitates smoother communication and decision-making processes. Employing respectful, and somewhat indirect communication styles, while being mindful of body language and local customs, eases interactions. Cultural variations exist across the diverse ethnic groups within Guinea-Bissau. It's best to observe and adapt, demonstrating an openness to learning and respecting local norms in specific contexts.

  • Investment in relationships
  • Sensitivity to hierarchy
  • Adapting communication styles
  • Observing and adapting to cultural variations

Key industries and employment sectors

The agricultural sector is the primary source of income and livelihood for over 80% of the population. Most farmers engage in small-scale, subsistence production of staple crops such as rice, maize, and cassava. Guinea-Bissau is one of the world's top cashew producers and exporters. Cashnut cultivation is a vital source of income for thousands of farmers.


The Atlantic coastline provides fertile fishing grounds, contributing to both food security and employment. Both small-scale artisanal fishing and larger-scale industrial fishing activities exist. The sector is a key source of export earnings.


Guinea-Bissau possesses mineral resources such as bauxite, phosphates, and heavy sands. While still underdeveloped, the mining sector has the potential to contribute more significantly to the economy.

Emerging Sectors


Guinea-Bissau boasts beautiful beaches and the unique Bijagós Islands. With improved infrastructure and security, tourism could become a more significant economic driver.

Renewable Energy

Guinea-Bissau has potential for both solar and hydroelectric power generation, offering opportunities to diversify its energy mix and create jobs.

Light Manufacturing

With a young workforce, Guinea-Bissau could develop light manufacturing industries, particularly in agro-processing, to create employment and add value to agricultural products.

Challenges and Outlook

While Guinea-Bissau's economy holds promise, significant challenges persist. The over-reliance on agriculture makes the economy vulnerable to weather fluctuations and cashew price volatility in international markets. Poor roads, limited electricity access, and underdeveloped ports impede development across various industries. Chronic political instability undermines investor confidence and hinders long-term economic planning and development efforts.

Rivermate | A 3d rendering of earth

Hire your employees globally with confidence

We're here to help you on your global hiring journey.