The Republic of Equatorial Guinea is located in middle Africa and has an area of 28,000 sq. km. It is one of Africa’s smallest countries. While it is one of the most prosperous, wealth is concentrated in the government and elite. 70 percent of the population lives under the poverty threshold. Its population is 1,345,873 and includes the main Continental Region and the small offshore islands. The capital Malabo, is on Bioko Island.
The southernmost island is Annobon, sitting just south of the equator. The northernmost point is Bioko Island. The mainland is between the two islands and to the east and the Gulf of Guinea is to the west. It was formerly the Spanish colony known as Spanish Guinea. It is one of Africa’s few territories with Spanish as an official language.
The country is continental Africa’s third smallest in population. Recently, oil reserves were discovered and have altered the country economically and politically. Its GDP is 31st in the world, but only a few people benefit from the country’s oil wealth.
In the Human Development Index, Equatorial Guinea ranks 9th out of 44 sub-Saharan countries and 115th overall.
The country is working on validation to comply with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Equatorial Guinea is one of 30 candidate countries and earned this status on February 22, 2008. It held its 7th EITO commission meeting in 2010 and took additional steps to implement the process.
In what is now modern Equatorial Guinea, there are believed to originally have been pygmy inhabitants. They still remain there in isolated pockets. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, Bantu tribes migrated to the area. Later, the Fang arrived and may have generated the Bubi tribe, who moved into Bioko from Cameroon in waves. The Angolan Annobon people were introduced by the Portuguese.
In 1472, Fernao do Po, a Portuguese explorer, sought a way to India and is believed to be the first European to discover Bioko. While he named it for the Portuguese word for beautiful, it took his name. Fernando Po and Annobon islands became Portuguese colonies in 1474.
Portugal ceded the islands to Spain along with their commercial rights in 1778 in exchange for American territory. This was known as the Treaty of El Pardo. From 1778 to 1810, Equatorial Guinea was governed by the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata in Buenos Aires.
In order to fight slave trading, the U.K. established a base on the island from 1827 to 1843. Pursuant to an agreement with Spain, this was moved to Sierra Leone. The area then became known as the Territories Espanoles del Golfo de Guinea Ecuatorial. In 1885 the mainland became a protectorate and eventually a full colony in 1900. The Treaty of Paris in 1900 settled conflicting claims to the mainland. From 1926 and 1959, the mainland territories were united as the colony of Spanish Guinea.
Francisco Macia Nguema became the first president in September 1968. On October 12, 1968, the country gained formal independence. Nguema abolished other political parties in favor of a one party state. His rule led to the death or expulsion of one third of the population. 80,000 are believed killed out of a total of 300,000. Skilled workers and foreigners left when the economy collapsed. On August 3, 1979, Nguema was deposed in a bloody coup by Teodoro Obiang.
Located in west-central Africa, Equatorial Guinea has a mainland territory, Rio Muni, which is bordered by Gabon to the east and Cameroon to the north. Five small islands, Corisco, Annabon, Bioko, and Great Elobey also lie to the south. Bioko sits about 40 km from the Cameroon coast and is the site of Malabo, the capital.
No part of the country actually lies on the equator. The entire nation does lie in the Atlantic Equatorial coastal forest.
The country has a tropical climate with a wet and dry season. In Annobon, rain or mist is a daily occurrence. A cloudless day has never been registered. Annual rainfall varies from 1,920 mm at Malabo to 10,920 at Ureka, Bioko.
Teodoro Obiang Nguema is the current president. The president was given extensive powers in the 1982 constitution. This includes naming and dismissing cabinet members, decreeing laws, dissolving the legislature, negotiating treaties, and serving as commander in chief. Ignacio Milam Tang is the prime minister and was appointed by the president. The prime minister’s powers are designated by the president.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) entered into a memorandum of understanding with Obiang’s government in April 2006. This agreement established a fund to begin health, education, women’s affairs, and environmental projects.
An international police consulting company based in the U.S. has been training police in human rights practices since 2005. The country also contracted with a MPRI subsidiary of the U.S. Defense Corporation for maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea.
Obiang decreed an end to torture in 2006 and commissioned modernization projects for the Black Beach prison. Other prisons in Malabo and Bata have been renovated as well.
Basic infrastructure has also improved under Obiang. 80 percent of roads now have asphalt paving and airports and maritime ports are being built.
According to a BBC report, the country’s politics are dominated by tensions between the president’s son, Teodorin, and other relatives for positions in the government. This could be due to the increase in the country’s oil production.
For political reasons, Simon Mann was released from prison on November 3, 2009. The presidential pardon cited Mann’s deteriorating health.
Obiang was re-elected in 2009. The African Union designated the election “in line with electoral law.” Ignacio Milam Tang was reappointed prime minister.
The government has stated it is dedicated to establishing friendly ties with the U.S. under the Obama administration. In order to strengthen U.S. cooperation with Africa, President Obiang urged Obama to hold a U.S. Africa summit.
Equatorial Guinea: Administrative Divisions
There are seven provinces in Equatorial Guinea. These are Annobon, Bioko Norte, Bioko Sur, Centro Sur, Kie-Ntem, Litoral, and Wele-Nzas. These are further subdivided into districts.
Before its independence, the country depended on cocoa production. In 1959, it had Africa’s highest per capita income. The country adopted the CFA franc as its currency on January 1, 1985, becoming the first non-Francophone African member of the franc zone. The national currency, the ekwele, was linked to the Spanish peseta.
Large oil reserves were discovered in 1996. The subsequent exploitation has increased the government’s revenue. In sub-Saharan Africa in 2004, Equatorial Guinea was the third largest oil producer.
Fishing, farming, and forestry are also important parts of the economy. The rural economy deteriorated under the successive brutal regimes.
Until recently, Riggs Bank, based in Washington, received most of Equatorial Guinea’s oil revenue payments. In July 2004, the U.S. Senate published its investigation in to the bank and alleged at least $35 million was taken by Obiang, his family, and senior regime officials. Obiang has denied any wrongdoing. The bank has not paid any restitution, despite doing so for wrongs in other countries.
The country belongs to the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA),
A substantial increase in oil and gas exports is expected to drive the economy into the future. GDP experienced a 105.2 percent increase in 1997. Real GDO growth was 23 percent in 1999. Income per capita doubled from $1,000 in 1998 to $2,000 in 2000. Production of oil increased from 81,000 to 210,000 barrels per day from 1998 to 2001. Additional oil and gas development is also occurring.
Equatorial Guinea also untapped human and natural resources including fertile soil, expanses of water, tropical climate, deep water ports, and labor. The eleven years of post independence dictatorship hurt the economy. The agricultural sector has still not recovered. 1969, cocoa production was 36,161 tons, which dropped to 4,800 tons in 2000. Coffee production also suffered but has bounced back to 100,000 metric tons in 2000. After oil, timber is the largest export, accounting for 12.4 percent of export earnings. Only the 3 percent is locally used with the rest going to exports. According to environmentalists, this is an unsustainable level.
Inflation was high after the nation adopted the CFA Franc, reaching 38.8 percent in 1994. It decreased to 7.8 percent in 1998 and 1 percent in 1999.
Equatorial Guinea has an open investment regime. Restrictions on imports and other requirements were lifted in 1992 when World Bank programs were adopted. The government has sold some state enterprises. Its investment laws have incentives for training, job creation, export promotion, development project support, tax exemptions, and other benefits. Since the ICN turnover tax was implemented in 1994, trade regulations have been liberalized further.
The business climate still remains difficult due to selective application of laws. There is widespread corruption and a lack of transparency in business deals. The country has little industry and a small market for industrial products.
The budget has grown over the last three years due to the oil production. Oil income is two-thirds of the government’s revenue.
In 2001, the government’s expenditures increased 50 percent from the previous year. 40 percent of the budget was for new investment projects.
In 1998, the government privatized the distribution of oil products. The government also expressed interest in privatizing the electric utility. A company from France operates cellular service. The government is very interested in increasing U.S. investment.
New oil and gas production has led to improvement in Equatorial Guinea’s balance of payments. Exports have increased, with oil accounting for 90 percent of them.
Imports are also increasing and totaled $530 million up from $420 million in 1999. Three quarters of these imports are equipment for the oil industry.
The country’s foreign debt is also down. Its ratio fell from 20 percent of GDP in 1994 to 1 percent in 2000. Foreign exchange reserves are relatively low but increasing. They are kept in an account with the Ministry of Finance.
While the country received foreign assistance in the past, this has significantly diminished. The EU, Spain, and France do have some project assistance. The government has also discussed working with the World Bank.
Until 1996, Equatorial Guinea was subject to an IMF Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility. There have been no agreements since then. After IMF consultations in 1996, 1997, and 1999, it stressed the need for Equatorial Guinea to establish more transparency, greater fiscal discipline, and greater accountability. The oil wealth allowed the government to avoid these activities. Infrastructure is not in good condition. There are few paved roads, which is being improved with the African Development Bank. China and the EU are working on road projects as well.
Larger towns have electricity due to three small hydropower facilities. Plans to double capacity are moving forward. The largest mainland city, Bata, experiences occasional blackouts.
Only available in major towns, water is not always reliable. Smaller villages are often equipped with private water pumps.
Telephone service is provided by Parastatal Getesa, a joint venture partially held by a French company. The new system is reliable in Malabo and Bata, but other parts of the system are overextended.
Two of the deepest regional seaports are in Equatorial Guinea, including the port of Bata. Malabo and Bata have seaports that are overextended and in need of rehabilitation. Incat, a British company, is working on a project to expand the port in Luba. The government hopes Luba will become a major hub for oil transportation. With the exception of minor fishing, the port is largely inactive. There is also a jetty being constructed in Malbo for use in the oil industry. Another port, Riaba is less active.
Air and sea service connects Malabo and Bata. The national aircraft fleet consists of aging Soviet-built aircraft operated by small carriers. The Malabo airport can accommodate large aircraft but Bata cannot. Bata also cannot operate at night.
While there is a per capita GDP of $30,000, the Human Development Index ranks Equatorial Guinea 121 out of 177 countries.
The majority of the population is of Bantu origin. The Fang are the largest tribe and are indigenous to the mainland. Their migration to Bioko Island has resulting in their dominating earlier Bantu inhabitants. 80 percent of the population belongs to the Fang. The Fang are further separated into 67 clans. In the north, they speak Fang-Ntumu and in the south, Fang-Okah. These dialects are mutually intelligible. Fang languages are also spoken in Gabon and Cameroon. These dialects are more distinct. In Cameroon, the Bulu Fang were rivals of those in Equatorial Guinea.
There are also coastal tribes. These are referred to as Ndowe. Other similar groups are Combes, Balengues, Bujebas, Bengas, and Fernandinos. These groups make up 5 percent of the country’s population. Europeans, many with mixed African ancestry, live in Equatorial Guinea. After independence, the majority of Spanish left. Workers from other nearby nations have increased in numbers.
The country has also permitted European settlers seeking fortune. Thousands of Equatorial Guineans moved to Spain after independence. During Nguema’s rule many also fled to neighboring countries. Due to oil production, Malabo has doubled in population.
Christianity is the main religion and is followed by 93 percent of the population. Most are Roman Catholic. Five percent are followers of indigenous beliefs and two percent others, including Muslims and followers of the Baha’i Faith.
Spanish and French are Equatorial Guinea’s official languages. In July 2007, the president announced Portuguese would be the third official language. This was required in order for the country to become a member of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). This would allow the country to access academic and professional exchange programs.
Native languages are commonly spoken along with Spanish, French, and others.
The First Hispanic-African Cultural Congress was held in 1984 to explore Equatorial Guinea’s cultural identity.
Under Macias’ regime, education was neglected. President Obiang changed this and the percentage of the population that was illiterate dropped from 73 percent to 13 percent. The number of students rose as well. Currently, education is free and compulsory for those ages 6 to 14.
The government entered into a partnership with Hess Corporation and the Academy for Education Development to establish an education program.
With the support of the Spanish government, cultural literacy organizations are not located in Equatorial Guinea. The Universidad Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial is the only university. It has a campus in Malabo and a Faculty of Medicine in Bata. It produced the first 110 national doctors in 2009. The Cuban government supports the medical school and staffed it with Cuban educators. Equatorial Guinea should have enough doctors to be self-sufficient in the coming years.
The country’s malaria control programs have impacted the infection, disease, and mortality rates in the population. The program consists of indoor spraying, medical treatment introduction, preventative treatment in pregnant women, and introduction of insecticide treated mosquito nets. This reduced the overall under-five mortality rate from 152 to 55 deaths per 1,000.
All Equatorial Guinean airlines are prohibited in the EU due to safety reasons. International carriers fly to Malabo primarily due to the oil production. These are Air France, Lufthansa, Iberia, and Kenya Airways.
There are three state-owned radio stations. Five shortwave radio stations also exist. Two magazine and two newspapers circulate. A state operated television network, Television Nacional, operates as well.
Media typically self-censors and are banned from criticizing public figures. The president’s son, Teodorin, directs the state-owned media.
Landline telephones have low prevalence of two lines for every 100 persons. One mobile phone company covers Malabo, Bata, and other mainland cities. In 2009, 40 percent had mobile telephone subscriptions. There are nine Internet providers serving 8,000 users.
Equatorial Guinea has a football team and a women’s team. The country was chosen to host the 2008 Women’s African Football Championship and the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations with Gabon. It is also famous for its national swimming champion Eric Moussambani.