Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in the world. This reality is reflected in the state of the country’s telecommunications development, with a small telecoms system that features a combination of microwave radio relay, open-wire lines, radiotelephone, and mobile cellular communications.
The Internet penetration rate was barely 4.3% of the population in early 2017, one of the lowest in the world. It is estimated that in 2012 there were only 5000 fixed telephone lines serving the country’s 1.6 million inhabitants and that only 2.9% of the population had access to and were regular users of the Internet.
Guinea-Bissau’s incumbent operator is responsible for managing the tiny African nation’s telecommunications. The government is committed to making telecoms a more profitable business in the country, where 2 other companies are already providing mobile and Internet services. The incumbent is expected to manage all telecommunications infrastructure in Guinea-Bissau, including fibre-optic networks and the future connection to a submarine cable; Guinea-Bissau is the only country in the sub-region not connected to a submarine telecommunications cable. The Institut des Communications de la Guinée-Bissau (ICGB) is the regulatory agency for telecommunications in Guinea Bissau.
Guinea-Bissau is highly dependent on subsistence agriculture, raw material exports, and foreign assistance. Two out of three Bissau-Guineans remain below the absolute poverty line. The legal economy is based on farming and fishing, but illegal logging and trafficking in narcotics are also important economic activities. The combination of limited economic prospects, weak institutions, and favorable geography have made this West African country a way station for drugs bound for Europe while trade in illegal logging, food, and fishing is also significant.
Guinea-Bissau has substantial potential for development of mineral resources including phosphates, bauxite, and mineral sands. The country’s climate and soil make it feasible to grow a wide range of cash crops, fruit, vegetables, and tubers; however, cashews generate more than 80% of export receipts and are the main source of income for many rural communities.
With renewed donor support following elections in April-May 2014 and a successful regional bond issuance, the government of Guinea-Bissau made progress paying salaries, settling domestic arrears, and gaining more control over revenues and expenditures, but an internal coup in 2015 caused a political stalemate that since then has resulted in weak governance.
Guinea-Bissau’s incumbent national operator is the Companhia de Telecomunicacoes da Guine-Bissau, aka “Guinea Telecom”. The company is negotiating the signature of a contract with China-based Huawei Technologies to enable the upgrade and modernisation of its networks, with a specific focus on relaunching its ‘Guinetel’ mobile service after cancelling all business activity in the mobile sector in 2014.