Reaching the Nations International Church Growth Almanac

Country reports on the LDS Church around the world from a landmark almanac. Includes detailed analysis of history, context, culture, needs, challenges and opportunities for church growth.


By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Area: 36,125 square km.  One of the smallest continental African countries, Guinea-Bissau borders the North Atlantic Ocean, Senegal, and Guinea.  Many small islands off the mainland coast form the Archipelago Dos Bijagos.  Terrain consists of flatlands and swampy coastal plains dominated by mangroves.  Tropical climates occurs year round with a rainy season from June to November and a dry season characterized by Harmattan Wind, a dry, dusty West African trade wind originating in the southern Sahara, from December to May.  Brush fires and harmattan haze and dust resulting in poor visibility are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include deforestation, oil erosion, overgrazing, and overfishing.  Guinea-Bissau is divided into nine administrative regions. 

Population: 1,565,126 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 2.004% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 4.58 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 46.44 male, 50.22 female (2010)


Balanta: 30%

Fula: 20%

Manjaca: 14%

Mandinka: 13%

Papel: 7%

European/European mixed: 1%

Other African: 15%

Balanta, Fula, and most ethnic groups belong to the Western Bantoid family.  Balanta reside in coastal areas whereas Fula live in the southeastern interior.  Fula are found in many nations throughout West Africa.  Mandinka belong to the Mande family group and populate eastern areas. 

Languages: Balanta (26%), Fula [Pulaar or Fulani] (17%), Guinea-Bissau Portuguese Creole (13%), Manjaca (12%), Mandinka (11%), Papel (9%), Biafada (3%), Mankanya (3%), Bidyogo (2%), Jola-Felupe (1.5%), Mansoanka (1%), other (1.5%).  Portuguese is the official language.  Portuguese and Portuguese-based Creoles are commonly spoken second languages.  No languages have over one million native speakers.

Literacy: 42.4% (2003)


African tribes have inhabited Guinea-Bissau for millennia and gave rise to the Kingdom of Gabu, which was part of the Mali Empire prior to Portuguese colonization.  The Portuguese began exploring the coastal region in the late fifteenth century which became part of Portugal's West African Slave Coast.  Cuba and neighboring Portuguese colonies seeking independence assisted Guinea-Bissau in its independence movement, which culminated in independence from Portugal in 1974.  Almost continuous political turmoil and instability has occurred since independence.  A military coup in 1980 established Joao Bernardo Vieira as president until 1999, when the military removed him from office.  During this nineteen-year period, Vieira attempted to establish a free market system and held elections in 1994, but heavily controlled political affairs.  Kumba Yala was appointed president by the transitional government in 2000 until removed  by the military in 2003 and replaced by Henrique Rosa.  Vieira was reelected in 2003 but  was assassinated in 2009.  Malam Bacai Sanha was elected president in a 2009 emergency election. 


With no ethnic majority, Guinea-Bissau is an agglomeration of many West African cultures with a Portuguese colonial past.  Portuguese creoles have facilitated communication and cooperation between many ethnic groups.  Most ethnic groups practice a patriarchal society, although some groups, such as in the Bijagos Archipelago, are matriarchal.  Polygamy in most areas is socially accepted.[1]  Alcohol consumption rates are low. 


GDP per capita: $600 (2009) [1.29% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.396

Corruption Index: 1.9

Guinea-Bissau has a poorly developed economy and ranks among the poorest nations in the world.  In 1998, the infrastructure was severely damaged by fighting between government troops and rebel militias.  Some rebuilding has occurred in the past decade, with economic growth in the late 2000s.  Inequality of wealth is extreme.  Most the population relies on subsistence agriculture.  In recent years, Guinea-Bissau has become the fifth largest cashew producer.  Agriculture employs 82% of the workforce and generates 62% of the GDP.  Primary crops include rice, corn, beans, cassava, and nuts.  Industrial activity is limited to food processing.  Commercially viable mineral deposits have yet to be exploited.  Primary trade partners include India, Nigeria, Portugal, and Senegal.   

Corruption levels rank among the highest worldwide.  Corruption is perceived as widespread and in all areas of government.  Rebel forces in neighboring Senegal traffic arms into the country.  The Archipelago Dos Bijagos has become increasingly involved in trafficking cocaine and other illicit drugs from South America to Europe due to its geographic location and separation from the mainland.  Human trafficking remains a concern.  


Muslim: 50%

Indigenous beliefs: 40%

Christian: 10%


Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  125,000

Seventh Day Adventists  2,003  2

Jehovah's Witnesses  130  2

Latter-Day Saints  less than 10  0


Indigenous religions and Islam are the most widely followed religious orientations. Those practicing indigenous religious are widely found throughout the country except in northern areas.  Indigenous beliefs stress communication with spirits of the dead and the building of shrines to provide food and drink offerings.[2]  Muslims are concentrated among the Fula and Mandinka and generally reside in the north and northeast.  Christians are primarily Catholic although there are many active Protestant groups.  Christians are typically found in Bissau and in cities or large towns.[3]  

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is upheld by the government.  There have been no reported instances of government personnel or individuals discriminating or persecuting others on religious grounds.  Religious groups must be licensed by the government to operate in Guinea-Bissau.  There have been no reported instances of the government refusing to license a religious group.[4]

Largest Cities

Urban: 30%

Bissau, Bafatá, Gabú, Bissorã, Bolama, Cacheu, Bubaque, Catió, Mansôa, Buba.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregation.

None of the 10 largest cities have an LDS congregation.  32% of the national population resides in the 10 largest cities.  A quarter of Bissau-Guineans reside in Bissau. 

LDS History

There has been no reported LDS presence in Guinea-Bissau.  In 1998, Guinea-Bissau became part of the Africa West Area. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: less than 10 (2009)

Very few Bissau-Guineans have joined the Church abroad.  In spring 2010, missionaries serving in Aranjuez, Spain baptized an enthusiastic male Bissau-Guinean convert who was married to a Spaniard.  Several native members may reside in the country after joining the Church abroad, most likely in Portuguese-speaking African nations, Portugal, or Spain. 

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0  Branches: 0

There are no reported LDS congregations.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Portuguese

All LDS scriptures and most church materials are available in Portuguese.  Materials translated into Fulani and Mandinka include Gospel Principles and The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony. 

Health and Safety

Due to poor living conditions and tropical climate, Guinea-Bissau has a very high risk for the spread of infectious disease.  HIV/AIDS infects 1.8% of the population. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

As of 2010, the LDS Church is not known to have provided humanitarian service or development work in Guinea-Bissau. 


Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

No legal or cultural obstacles prevent an official LDS Church establishment.  Other Christian faiths proselyte freely and have not reported instances of societal abuse of religious freedom.  Many opportunities for humanitarian and development work have yet to be pursued, which may lead to a future LDS presence. 

Cultural Issues

With one of the highest percentages of followers of indigenous religions in Africa, the Church may face challenges adjusting teaching methods to meeting the needs of prospective investigators and members in Guinea-Bissau.  Indigenous beliefs share some similarities with Latter-day Saint beliefs, such as interest in the welfare of our departed ancestors.  The frequent and widespread practice of indigenous religion may result in a tendency for some members to retain these cultural beliefs after baptism.  Christians concentrated in Bissau and the larger cities will likely facilitate the Church's initial establishment by proselytizing a population with a religious background to whom the Church has tailored past proselytism approaches.  Furthermore larger cities allow for fewer mission outreach centers, increasing efficiency. 

National Outreach

Deep poverty, political instability, a small population, distance from currently established mission outreach centers, and the relatively recent commencement of LDS missionary activity in Portuguese-speaking Africa have contributed to a lack of an LDS presence in Guinea Bissau.  The entire population remains unreached by current LDS mission outreach efforts.  No nations bordering Guinea-Bissau have an official LDS presence.

Due to language issues, Guinea Bissau may one day be assigned to the Cape Verde Praia Mission.  Current opportunities to teach Bissau-Guineans in other nations may help the Church established an official presence.  However, many of these individuals do not return to their home country. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Although no convert baptisms have occurred in Guinea-Bissau, native members have joined the Church abroad.  However, it is undetermined whether natives who join the Church abroad ever return to their home country due to poor living standards and chronic political instability.  Bissau-Guineas appear receptive to the Church in other nations. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Guinea-Bissau exhibits a diversity of ethnic groups, none of which constitute over 30% of the population.  African nations with such large diversity tend to be politically unstable and have historic ethnic conflicts manifest themselves in all areas of society.  Such conflict may carry over into the church if members from one ethnic group in a congregation do not support the leadership of their congregation led by a rival ethnic group.  Although fluent in Portuguese and sharing a Portuguese colonial past, Cape Verdean Latter-day Saints may face challenges serving missions in Guinea-Bissau due to animosity directed toward wealthy Cape Verdeans who have in the past dominated governmental affairs.[5]

Language Issues

Portuguese LDS church materials along with limited proselytism materials in Fulani and Mandinka allow for outreach to occur among most of the literate population.  High illiteracy creates challenges for members to accurately learn about Church doctrine and develop capable, self-sufficient leadership and also provides opportunity for the Church to provide service teaching literacy skills. 

Missionary Service

Few if any Bissau-Guineans have served full-time missionaries.  No missionary work had occurred in Guinea-Bissau in 2010.  Once an official Church presence is established, the development of a local full-time missionary force will be crucial toward insuring long-term growth and self-sufficiency. 


Guinea-Bissau pertains to the Accra Ghana Temple district. 

Comparative Growth

Guinea-Bissau is one of the few non-Islamic African nations without an official LDS Church presence.  Other nations which have a Muslim minority without an official LDS Church presence in continental Africa include Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon.

Other missionary-oriented Christian churches report slow to modest growth.  These denominations have struggled to develop local leadership due to poor living conditions, political instability, and isolation from larger Christian populations.  Jehovah's Witnesses gain only a handful of new converts year to year.  However, many of these groups have small self-sufficient communities in Bissau and larger cities.    

Future Prospects

Several Church members who have petitioned the Church to begin missionary activity in unreached nations in Africa have been told that the current needs in African nations with an official Church presence combined with a lack of mission outreach resources worldwide have delayed the opening of nations like Guinea-Bissau.  The absence of a United States embassy in Guinea-Bissau,[6] limited infrastructure and health care, and ongoing political instability may lead the Church to hesitate commencing formal missionary activity due to the reliance on American senior missionaries to begin establishing the LDS Church in unreached nations.  Security issues also pose potential concerns, although LDS missions have long operated in Latin American nations with similar issues.  Due to the maturation of the Church in many more established African nations like Ghana and Nigeria, African senior missionary couples may be assigned to the country to assist in establishing a presence.  The growth of the Church in nearby Cape Verde may result in Portuguese-speaking African missionaries being assigned in small numbers to Guinea-Bissau once regional and international Church leaders  decide to begin proselytism.

[1]  "Guinea-Bissau," Countries and Their Cultures, retrieved 20 August 2010.

[2]  "Guinea-Bissau," Countries and Their Cultures, retrieved 20 August 2010.

[3]  "Guinea-Bissau," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[4]  "Guinea-Bissau," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[5]  "Guinea-Bissau," Countries and Their Cultures, retrieved 20 August 2010.

[6]  "Guinea-Bissau," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.