Guinea - Bissau new beginnings after troubled past: Guinea - Bissau has largely fallen off the map of dynamic Africa but this small country has no shortage of investment opportunities. In November, a British all - party parliamentary group and Ecobank organised a summit where Guinea - Bissau leaders met potential UK investors. Tom Minney reports.

Author:Minney, Tom
Position:Guinea-Bissau
 
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Guinea-Bissau is one of Africa's smallest states with a population of a little over 1.5m. It is tucked away between Senegal and Guinea on the West Coast of Africa and is composed of the mainland part and thousands of small islands on the Atlantic shore.

Guinea-Bissau won independence from the Portuguese in 1974 after a long struggle led by the African Party for the independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). Luis Cabral presided over the country for the next six years before he was overthrown by army chief Joao Vieira. This precipitated a period of political instability.

Although constitutionally a multi-party democracy the country has experienced two coups, a civil war, an attempted coup and a Presidential assassination.

It is considered one of the poorest countries in Africa with an economy reliant principally on the export of cashew nuts in raw form, potash mining and subsistence fishing and farming.

But the country is now determined to turn over a new leaf and join the growing band of African nations that are rapidly moving up the economic gears.

With its miles of unspoilt white beaches, good arable land and virtually untapped mineral resources, Guinea-Bissau is looking for investors in the tourism, agriculture and mining sectors.

It is also seeking private partners to run its telecommunications, the port, electricity, water, the national airport, forestry, timber and printing. But the government is aware that the country suffers from a poor image. Despite 'free and fair' elections in 1994, 2000, 2005 and 2009, the military interventions, including the assassination of the former President Joao Vieira and the civil war of 1998, have branded the country as unstable, thereby discouraging investors.

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In addition, organised crime has contributed to the instability. The many remote islands and run-down security forces have made Guinea-Bissau a key link in a global drugs route, estimated at $1.8bn a year. It has been used as 'stopover' point for mostly Colombian-controlled cocaine from South America heading to markets across Europe.

A vividly-written 2008 report by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime highlights the impact of the trade on countries with a small GDP and weak institutions. According to the IMF, Guinea Bissau's GDP is about $938m this year and annual exports are worth $141m. The UN report says a single 6ookg shipment of drugs could fetch $3301 on the European wholesale market.

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