Republic of Equatorial Guinea

POPULATION: 778,100 (2014)

AREA: 10,800 sq. mi. (27,972 sq. km)

LANGUAGES: Spanish, French (both official); Bubi, Fang, Ibo, Ndowe

NATIONAL CURRENCY: CFA Franc

PRINCIPAL RELIGIONS: Christian (mostly Roman Catholic) 79%; Traditional 21%

CITIES: Bata (capital), 24,100; Malabo, Luba, Moca, Nietang, Evinayong

ANNUAL RAINFALL: 79 in. (2,000 mm)

ECONOMY: GDP $14.31 billion (2014)

PRINCIPAL PRODUCTS AND EXPORTS: Agricultural: cocoa, timber, coffee, bananas, fish, sweet potatoes, cassava, palm oil nuts Manufacturing: sawmills, food processing, soap factories Mineral Resources: oil, gold, uranium, manganese, natural gas

GOVERNMENT: Independence from Spain, 1968. President elected by universal suffrage. Governing bodies: CÁmara de Representantes del Pueblo (national legislature), elected; Council of Ministers and prime minister, appointed by president.

HEADS OF STATE SINCE INDEPENDENCE:

  • 1968–1979 President Francisco MacÍas Nguema
  • 1979– President Brigadier General (ret.) Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

ARMED FORCES: 1,300 (1998 est.)

EDUCATION: Compulsory for ages 6–11; literacy rate 78%

Republic of Equatorial Guinea

The Republic of Equatorial Guinea consists of mainland territory on the coast of western Africa and five islands in the Gulf of Guinea. Controlled for almost 500 years by Portugal and then by Spain, the country became independent in 1968. Its struggling economy got a boost from the discovery of oil in the Gulf of Guinea. However, the rule of a harsh dictator leaves the people of Equatorial Guinea few freedoms and little opportunity to share the new wealth.

LAND AND CLIMATE

Equatorial Guinea is divided into two provinces. The mainland and the small islands of Corisco, Elobey Grande, and Elobey Chico make up the province of Mbini. The two islands farthest from the mainland, Bioko (formerly Fernando Póo) and Annóbon, form the Bioko province. The total area of Equatorial Guinea is about 10,800 square miles, roughly the size of the state of Maryland. Most of the mainland territory is a plateau covered in dense rainforests that thrive in the tropical climate. The Mbini River cuts through the plateau’s center from east to west, and many smaller streams branch off through the jungle. The region boasts some unusual wildlife, including huge frogs that grow up to 3 feet in length.

Bioko, the nation’s largest island, is located to the northwest, off the coast of CAMEROON. The island of Annobón is far to the southwest. Both islands are volcanic, with fertile soil, and hot, humid weather.

HISTORY, ECONOMY, AND CULTURE

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to explore the area that is now Equatorial Guinea. In 1494 an agreement with Spain, the Treaty of Tordesillas, gave Portugal rights to the region. Another agreement in 1778 granted Spain control of the islands of Equatorial Guinea.

However, many of the first Spanish settlers died of yellow fever, and in 1781 they abandoned the islands. Spain did not occupy the area again until it acquired the mainland territory in the mid-1800s. After making Spanish Guinea an official colony in 1900, Spain developed a thriving economy. Timber from the mainland and cocoa, coffee, and palm oil from the islands were the main exports. But as in many other European colonies, the government of Spanish Guinea did little to develop or reward the talents of the indigenous population.

Independence

After Equatorial Guinea gained independence in 1968, it suffered harsh and violent rule by dictators. Its first president, Francisco MacÍas Nguema, destroyed most of Bioko’s plantations and devastated the national economy. His political practices were equally damaging. Within the first year of his reign, he outlawed all political parties. He tortured and murdered political opponents and caused nearly all of the educated upper class to flee the country.

In 1979 MacÍas Nguema’s nephew, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, deposed him and had him killed. At first, the international community hoped that Obiang Nguema would bring greater freedom to Equatorial Guinea. Instead, he continued most of the abuses of his uncle and surrounded himself with hundreds of guards. In 1987 Obiang Nguema formed his own political party, the Partido Democratico de Guinea Ecuatorial (PDGE).

In the 1990s several events attracted foreign investment to Equatorial Guinea. Large oil reserves were discovered off the nation’s coasts. The government worked to develop the oil industry, along with investors from France and the United States. As oil production grew, so did the economy. Ports and shipping were upgraded, and roads and bridges rebuilt. Spain helped improve Equatorial Guinea’s education system and invested in local radio stations.

Even so, most citizens of Equatorial Guinea are not much better off than they were 30 years ago. Much of the money generated by the oil industry is used to support Obiang Nguema’s powerful dictatorship. The nation has no rail system and no paved roads. The “free” elections held in the 1990s were accompanied by fraud, violence, and human rights abuses, ensuring that the PDGE remained in power. The government then began a campaign to promote urban development by relocating the site of the nation’s capital, and in 2000 Bata became the administrative capital of the mainland. However, throughout the country, the best jobs still go to those connected with the PDGE.

Peoples and Culture

Most of Equatorial Guinea’s citizens are of BANTU ancestry. These include the Fang, the major ethnic group in Mbini province, and the Ndowe who dominate the mainland coast. Some Bayele PYGMIES live along the Mbini River. The island of Bioko includes a variety of peoples, such as Bubi, the island’s first inhabitants; Fang migrants from the mainland; and CREOLES, people of mixed African and European ancestry.

Years of Spanish rule left their mark on the small nation. The only Spanish-speaking country in sub-Saharan Africa, Equatorial Guinea has two branches of Spain’s national university in the cities of Malabo and Bata. Equatorial Guineans have also maintained religious ties to the largely Catholic Spain. Although many people also practice traditional African religions, over half of the population considers itself Catholic. The remaining population is primarily Protestant (13 percent) or animist (21 percent). The nation is one of the few countries in Africa in which Islam is entirely absent.