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Flag Source: CIA World Factbook
Prior to the arrival of Portuguese explorers in 1472, Equatorial Guinea was only sparsely inhabited. The arrival of the Portuguese set off nearly 500 years of colonial rule, first by Portugal and then by Spain. In September 1968, Francisco Macias Nguema was elected the first president of Equatorial Guinea, and its independence was recognized soon thereafter.
In July 1970, Nguema created a single-party state and began a reign of terror that led to the death or exile of nearly one-third of the population. As foreign capital and skilled labor fled, economic collapse ensued. On August 3, 1979, Nguema was overthrown in a coup d’état.
Nguema’s departure introduced a period of relative political stability and economic development. The 1982 constitution, developed with the aid of the United Nations, gives sweeping executive powers to the presidency, a post held since 1979 by the coup leader Teodoro Obiang
Nguema Mbasogo. Particularly since the discovery of oil reserves in the 1990s, President Obiang has devoted some resources to social and economic development, including infrastructure improvements, prison modernization, health, and education.
Governmental corruption has limited political and economic development, however. Although elections have taken place regularly, Obiang retains a tight hold on power and the country’s oil wealth. As a consequence, most Guineans live in poverty, while the ruling elite uses state riches to live lavishly and invest abroad. International groups have also accused Obiang and other leaders of human rights abuses.
Despite these issues, Equatorial Guinea has made great strides since Obiang’s ten-year dictatorship and is a relatively safe and welcoming locale for foreign visitors.
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1. Equatorial Guinea is located on the coast of western Africa. The mainland is bordered by Cameroon to the north and Gabon to the east and south, with five inhabited islands scattered in the Gulf of Guinea.
2. Malabo is the capital. On the mainland, Bata is the major city.
3. Spanish is spoken by a majority of the population, though both Spanish and French are official languages. Fang and Bubi are the major native dialects.
4. The majority of the population practices Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism, though some native religious practices are still adhered to.
5. Formerly called “Spanish Guinea,” the country officially named “Republic of Equatorial Guinea” is commonly referred to as “Equatorial Guinea.”