Equatorial Guinea gained independence in 1968 after 190 years of Spanish rule. This tiny country, composed of a mainland portion plus five inhabited islands, is one of the smallest on the African continent. President Teodoro OBIANG NGUEMA MBASOGO has ruled the country since 1979 when he seized power in a coup. Although nominally a constitutional democracy since 1991, the 1996 and 2002 presidential elections - as well as the 1999 and 2004 legislative elections - were widely seen as flawed. The president exerts almost total control over the political system and has discouraged political opposition. Equatorial Guinea has experienced rapid economic growth due to the discovery of large offshore oil reserves, and in the last decade has become Sub-Saharan Africa's third largest oil exporter. Despite the country's economic windfall from oil production resulting in a massive increase in government revenue in recent years, there have been few improvements in the population's living standards.
The discovery and exploitation of large oil reserves have contributed to dramatic economic growth in recent years. Forestry, farming, and fishing are also major components of GDP. Subsistence farming predominates. Although pre-independence Equatorial Guinea counted on cocoa production for hard currency earnings, the neglect of the rural economy under successive regimes has diminished potential for agriculture-led growth (the government has stated its intention to reinvest some oil revenue into agriculture). A number of aid programs sponsored by the World Bank and the IMF have been cut off since 1993, because of corruption and mismanagement. No longer eligible for concessional financing because of large oil revenues, the government has been trying to agree on a "shadow" fiscal management program with the World Bank and IMF. Government officials and their family members own most businesses. Undeveloped natural resources include titanium, iron ore, manganese, uranium, and alluvial gold. Growth remained strong in 2007, led by oil.
Location: Western Africa, bordering the Bay of Biafra. Bordering nations--Cameroon, Gabon.
Area: 28,050 sq. km; slightly smaller than Maryland.
Cities: Capital--Malabo. Other cities--Bata (also capital of Littoral province on the mainland).
Terrain: Varies. Bioko Island is volcanic, with three major peaks of 9,876 feet, 7,416 feet, and 6,885 feet. Behind the coastal plain, the mainland provinces are hilly at a level of approximately 2,000 feet, with some 4,000-foot peaks. Annobon Island is volcanic.
Climate: Tropical; always warm, humid. The weather alternates between wet and dry seasons over the course of a year.
Nationality: Noun--Equatorial Guinean(s), Equatoguinean(s) Adjective--Equatorial Guinean, Equatoguinean.
Population (July 2008 est.): 616,459.
Annual growth rate (2008 est.): 2.732%; (1975-2002): 2.8%.
Ethnic groups: The Fang ethnic group of the mainland constitutes the great majority of the population and dominates political life and business. The Bubi group comprises about 50,000 people living mainly in Bioko Island. The Annobonese on the island of Annobon are estimated at about 3,000 in number. The other three ethnic groups are found on the coast of Rio Muni and include the Ndowe and Kombe (about 3,000 each) and the Bujebas (about 2,000). The pygmy populations have long been integrated into the dominant Bantu-speaking cultures. Europeans number around 2,000, primarily Spanish and French. There is a thriving Lebanese community, other Arabs (primarily Egyptians), a large number of Filipinos, and a rapidly expanding Chinese presence.
Languages: Official--Spanish, French; other--pidgin English, Fang, Bubi, Ibo.
Religion: Nominally Christian and predominantly Roman Catholic; pagan practices.
Education: Primary school compulsory for ages 6-14. Attendance (2007 est.)--90%. Adult literacy (2005 est.)--87%.
Health (2008 est.): Life expectancy--61.23 years. Infant mortality rate--83.75/1,000.
Type: Nominally multi-party Republic with strong domination by the executive branch.
Independence: October 12, 1968 (from Spain).
Constitution: Approved by national referendum November 17, 1991; amended January 1995.
Branches: Executive--President (Chief of State), Prime Minister, and a Council of Ministers appointed by the president. Legislative--100-member Chamber of People's Representatives (members directly elected by universal suffrage to serve five-year terms). Judicial--Supreme Tribunal.
Administrative subdivisions: Seven provinces--Annobon, Bioko Norte, Bioko Sur, Centro Sur, Kie-Ntem, Littoral, Wele-Nzas.
Political parties: The ruling party is the Partido Democratico de Guinea Ecuatorial (PDGE), formed July 30, 1987. There are 12 other recognized parties that formed in the early 1990s.
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal adult.
GDP (2007 est.): $10.4 billion.
Real GDP growth rate (2007 est.) 9.1%.
Inflation rate (2008 est. average): 5.5%.
Unemployment rate: (2007 est.) 8%.
Natural resources: Petroleum, natural gas, timber, small, unexploited deposits of gold, manganese, and uranium.
Agriculture (2006 est.): 2.8% of GDP. Products--coffee, cocoa, rice, yams, cassava (tapioca), bananas, palm oil nuts, manioc, livestock, and timber.
Industry (2006 est.): 92.6% of GDP. Types--petroleum, natural gas, fishing, lumber.
Services (2006): 4.5% of GDP.
Trade (2007 est.): Exports--$10.03 billion: hydrocarbons (97%), timber (2%), others (1%). Imports--$3.219 billion. Major trading partners--United States, Spain, China, Canada, France, United Kingdom, Cameroon, and Norway.
Currency: Communaute Financiere Africaine (CFA) franc.
The Republic of Equatorial Guinea is located in west central Africa. Bioko Island lies about 40 kilometers (25 mi.) from Cameroon. Annobon Island lies about 595 kilometers (370 mi.) southwest of Bioko Island. The larger continental region of Rio Muni lies between Cameroon and Gabon on the mainland; it includes the islands of Corisco, Elobey Grande, Elobey Chico, and adjacent islets.
Bioko Island, called Fernando Po until the 1970s, is the largest island in the Gulf of Guinea--2,017 square kilometers (780 sq. mi.). It is shaped like a boot, with two large volcanic formations separated by a valley that bisects the island at its narrowest point. The 195-kilometer (120-mi.) coastline is steep and rugged in the south but lower and more accessible in the north, with excellent harbors at Malabo and Luba, and several scenic beaches between those towns.
On the continent, Rio Muni covers 26,003 square kilometers (10,040 sq. mi.). The coastal plain gives way to a succession of valleys separated by low hills and spurs of the Crystal Mountains. The Rio Benito (Mbini), which divides Rio Muni in half, is not navigable except for a 20-kilometer stretch at its estuary. Temperatures and humidity in Rio Muni are slightly lower than on Bioko Island.
Annobon Island, named for its discovery on New Year's Day 1472, is a small volcanic island covering 18 square kilometers (7 sq. mi.). The coastline is abrupt except in the north; the principal volcanic cone contains a small lake. Most of the estimated 1,900 inhabitants are fisherman specializing in traditional, small-scale tuna fishing and whaling. The climate is tropical--heavy rainfall, high humidity, and frequent seasonal changes with violent windstorms.
The majority of the Equatoguinean people are of Bantu origin. The largest tribe, the Fang, is indigenous to the mainland, but substantial migration to Bioko Island has resulted in Fang dominance over the earlier Bantu inhabitants. The Fang constitute 80% of the population and are themselves divided into 67 clans. Those in the northern part of Rio Muni speak Fang-Ntumu, while those in the south speak Fang-Okah; the two dialects are mutually unintelligible. The Bubi, who constitute 15% of the population, are indigenous to Bioko Island. In addition, there are coastal tribes, sometimes referred to as "Playeros," consisting of Ndowes, Bujebas, Balengues, and Bengas on the mainland and small islands, and "Fernandinos," a Creole community, on Bioko. Together, these groups comprise 5% of the population. There are also foreigners from neighboring Cameroon, Nigeria, and Gabon.
Spanish and French are both official languages, though use of Spanish predominates. The Roman Catholic Church has greatly influenced both religion and education.
Equatoguineans tend to have both a Spanish first name and an African first and last name. When written, the Spanish and African first names are followed by the father's first name (which becomes the principal surname) and the mother's first name. Thus people may have up to four names, with a different surname for each generation.
The first inhabitants of the region that is now Equatorial Guinea are believed to have been Pygmies, of whom only isolated pockets remain in northern Rio Muni. Bantu migrations between the 17th and 19th centuries brought the coastal tribes and later the Fang. Elements of the latter may have generated the Bubi, who immigrated to Bioko from Cameroon and Rio Muni in several waves and succeeded former Neolithic populations. The Annobon population, native to Angola, was introduced by the Portuguese via Sao Tome.
The Portuguese explorer, Fernando Po (Fernao do Poo), seeking a route to India, is credited with having discovered the island of Bioko in 1471. He called it Formosa ("pretty flower"), but it quickly took on the name of its European discoverer. The Portuguese retained control until 1778, when the island, adjacent islets, and commercial rights to the mainland between the Niger and Ogoue Rivers were ceded to Spain in exchange for territory in South America (Treaty of Pardo). From 1827 to 1843, Britain established a base on the island to combat the slave trade. The Treaty of Paris settled conflicting claims to the mainland in 1900, and the mainland territories were united administratively under Spanish rule.
Spain lacked the wealth and the interest to develop an extensive economic infrastructure in what was commonly known as Spanish Guinea during the first half of this century. However, through a paternalistic system, particularly on Bioko Island, Spain developed large cacao plantations for which thousands of Nigerian workers were imported as laborers. At independence in 1968, largely as a result of this system, Equatorial Guinea had one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa. The Spanish also helped Equatorial Guinea achieve one of the continent's highest literacy rates and developed a good network of health care facilities.
In 1959, the Spanish territory of the Gulf of Guinea was established with status similar to the provinces of metropolitan Spain. As the Spanish Equatorial Region, a governor general ruled it exercising military and civilian powers. The first local elections were held in 1959, and the first Equatoguinean representatives were seated in the Spanish parliament. Under the Basic Law of December 1963, limited autonomy was authorized under a joint legislative body for the territory's two provinces. The name of the country was changed to Equatorial Guinea. Although Spain's commissioner general had extensive powers, the Equatorial Guinean General Assembly had considerable initiative in formulating laws and regulations.
In March 1968, under pressure from Equatoguinean nationalists and the United Nations, Spain announced that it would grant independence to Equatorial Guinea. A constitutional convention produced an electoral law and draft constitution. In the presence of a UN observer team, a referendum was held on August 11, 1968, and 63% of the electorate voted in favor of the constitution, which provided for a government with a General Assembly and a Supreme Court with judges appointed by the president.
In September 1968, Francisco Macias Nguema was elected first president of Equatorial Guinea, and independence was granted in October. In July 1970, Macias created a single-party state and by May 1971, key portions of the constitution were abrogated. In 1972 Macias took complete control of the government and assumed the title of President-for-Life. The Macias regime was characterized by abandonment of all government functions except internal security, which was accomplished by terror; this led to the death or exile of up to one-third of the country's population. Due to pilferage, ignorance, and neglect, the country's infrastructure--electrical, water, road, transportation, and health--fell into ruin. Religion was repressed, and education ceased. The private and public sectors of the economy were devastated. Nigerian contract laborers on Bioko, estimated to have been 60,000, left en masse in early 1976. The economy collapsed, and skilled citizens and foreigners left.
On August 3, 1979 a lieutenant colonel in charge of military police, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, led a successful coup d'etat; Macias was arrested, tried, and executed. Obiang assumed the Presidency in October 1979. Obiang initially ruled Equatorial Guinea with the assistance of a Supreme Military Council. A new constitution, drafted in 1982 with the help of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, came into effect after a popular vote on August 15, 1982; the Council was abolished, and Obiang remained in the presidency for a 7-year term. He was reelected in 1989. In February 1996, he again won reelection with 98% of the vote; several opponents withdrew from the race, however, and international observers criticized the election. Subsequently, Obiang named a new cabinet, which included some opposition figures in minor portfolios.
Despite the formal ending of one-party rule in 1991, President Obiang and a circle of advisors (drawn largely from his own family and ethnic group) maintain real authority. The president names and dismisses cabinet members and judges, ratifies treaties, leads the armed forces, and has considerable authority in other areas. He appoints the governors of Equatorial Guinea's seven provinces. The opposition had few electoral successes in the 1990s. By early 2000, President Obiang's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) party fully dominated government at all levels. In December 2002, President Obiang won a new seven-year mandate with 97% of the vote. Reportedly, 95% of eligible voters voted in this election, although many observers noted numerous irregularities.