Saturday, February 28, 2015


Part of the great empire of Mali that once dominated western Africa, it became Portuguese Guinea when the Europeans arrived, destroyed the ancient African tribal way of life, suppressed its culture and civilisation, took millions of its men away as slaves, raped its resources to enrich itself at home, governed it by brute force for several centuries, and then wondered why Africa is in such a mess today (it's actually all Africa's own fault; but if Africa would like some patronising aid or some belittling wise counsel from we who know so much better in Europe, we will be happy to condescend). 

Independent since 1973, it added the name of its capital to the name of the country because otherwise people might think it was Equatorial Guinea, and now go back to my notes on that great land and you will understand the wish for disassociation. There is also another Guinea next door, which used to be French Guinea, and now uses Guinea-Conakry, likewise adding the name of its capital, and for the same reason. Guinea-Bissau also has the honour and the privilege of sharing its initials with Great Britain, though it is G-B and not GB which uses the double-barrel on this occasion.

Politically too G-B likes its double barrel; it has the distinction of being the only country in the world in which, through its entire history (admittedly only forty years), not a single one of its elected Presidents has yet managed to complete a full five-year term, though the reasons and methods of replacement have varied: from military coup to civil war, from assassination to arrest, though not yet natural causes. At the moment the army is in charge, but only, of course, to aid the transition back to democracy. 

Meanwhile the country’s official language, Portuguese, cannot be spoken, let alone read or written, by more than 80% of its population, GDP per capita is in the bottom five in the world with 70% of the population living below the African poverty line (the European poverty line is drawn at the point where a household has no television, no computer, no telephone, no indoor toilet and no washing machine; the African poverty line expects none of these and is drawn at the point where a household has no food, limited clothing, and no likelihood of what is called in the NGOs “Human Development”). Having said that, G-B does produce an awful lot of cashew and ground nuts, though these are mostly exported. Presumably the natives, like me, have histamine allergies, and so can’t eat nuts anyway. Having said that, no one can claim any longer that G-B is economically depressed, given that it now houses one of the world’s most successful industries, in the top ten of contributors to the world’s economy – yes, G-B is now the principal African base for Latin American drug smugglers.



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