Facts about Equatorial Guinea

By benim
In Equatorial Guinea
Oct 15th, 2010
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Equatorial Guinea is a small country off West Africa which has recently struck oil and which is now being cited as a textbook case of the resource curse – or the paradox of plenty.

Since the mid 1990s the former Spanish colony has become one of sub-Sahara’s biggest oil producers and in 2004 was said to have the world’s fastest-growing economy.

However, few people have benefited from the oil riches and the country ranks near the bottom of the UN human development index. The UN says that less than half the population has access to clean drinking water and that 20 percent of children die before reaching five.

Overview

The country has exasperated a variety of rights organisations who have described the two post-independence leaders as among the worst abusers of human rights in Africa.

AT-A-GLANCE
Politics: President Obiang seized power in 1979; rights groups have condemned his rule as one Africa’s most brutal; he faces a “government in exile” and a separatist movement
Economy: Equatorial Guinea is sub-Saharan Africa’s third biggest oil producer. Oil earnings are allegedly stolen by the ruling elite
International: Equatorial Guinea and Gabon are in dispute over islands in potentially oil-rich off-shore waters

Francisco Macias Nguema’s reign of terror – from independence in 1968 until his overthrow in 1979 – prompted a third of the population to flee. Apart from allegedly committing genocide against the Bubi ethnic minority, he ordered the death of thousands of suspected opponents, closed down churches and presided over the economy’s collapse.

His successor – Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo – took over in a coup and has shown little tolerance for opposition during the three decades of his rule. While the country is nominally a multiparty democracy, elections have generally been considered a sham.

According to Human Rights Watch, the ”dictatorship under President Obiang has used an oil boom to entrench and enrich itself further at the expense of the country’s people”.

The corruption watchdog Transparency International has put Equatorial Guinea in the top 12 of its list of most corrupt states. Resisting calls for more transparency, President Obiang has for long held that oil revenues are a state secret. In 2008 the country became a candidate of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative – an international project meant to promote openness about government oil revenues – but failed to qualify by an April 2010 deadline.

A 2004 US Senate investigation into the Washington-based Riggs Bank found that President Obiang’s family had received huge payments from US oil companies such as Exxon Mobil and Amerada Hess.

Observers say the US finds it hard to criticise a country which is seen as an ally in a volatile, oil-rich region. In 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed President Obiang as a “good friend” despite repeated criticism of his human rights and civil liberties record by her own department. More recently President Barack Obama posed for an official photograph with President Obiang at a New York reception.

The advocacy group Global Witness has been lobbying the United States to act against the President Obiang’s son Teodor, a government minister. It says there is credible evidence that he spent millions buying a Malibu mansion and private jet using corruptly acquired funds – grounds for denying him a visa.

Equatorial Guinea hit the headlines in 2004 when a plane load of suspected mercenaries was intercepted in Zimbabwe while allegedly on the way to overthrow President Obiang.

Facts

  • Full name: The Republic of Equatorial Guinea
  • Population: 676,000 (UN, 2009)
  • Capital: Malabo
  • Area: 28,051 sq km (10,830 sq miles)
  • Major languages: Spanish, French
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 49 years (men), 51 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 CFA (Communaute Financiere Africaine) franc = 100 centimes
  • Main exports: Petroleum, timber, cocoa
  • GNI per capita: US $14,980 (World Bank, 2008)
  • Internet domain: .gq
  • International dialling code: +240

Leaders

President: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

Mr Obiang Nguema is currently Africa’s second-longest serving leader – after Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi – and has been in power for three decades.

Equatorial Guinea's President Obiang

President Obiang is Africa’s second longest serving leader

In 1979 he seized power from President Francisco Macias Nguema, who was the leader at independence and whose rule prompted a mass exodus and thousands of deaths. The former leader was tried and executed.

The new president relaxed some of the restrictions of his predecessor – such as a ban on the Catholic Church – but kept the absolute control he inherited.

Officials said Mr Obiang won more than 97% of the vote in presidential elections in December 2002. Opposition candidates had withdrawn from the poll, citing fraud and irregularities. Officials reported similar results following the November 2009 presidential elections.

A French judge announced in May 2009 that he would launch a landmark investigation into whether President Obiang and two other African leaders plundered state coffers to buy luxury homes and cars in France. It became known as the case of “ill-gotten gains”.

A complaint filed by Transparency International France, accused the leaders, who denied any wrongdoing, of acquiring millions of dollars of real estate in Paris and on the French Riviera and buying luxury cars with embezzled public money.

However, a French appeal court threw out the case saying the activists couldn’t act against foreign heads of state.

Media

Equatorial Guinea’s media outlets are closely controlled by the government. There are few private publications.

The nation ranked 158th out of 175 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. The organisation has included President Obiang in its list of “Predators of Press Freedom”. It says the information ministry, which serves as the media regulator, is staffed by ruling party members.

Radio France Internationale and Gabon-based Africa No. 1 are available on FM in Malabo.

There were 12,000 internet users by June 2009 (Internetworldstats).

The press

  • Ebano – state-owned
  • La Opinion – private, weekly
  • La Nacion – private
  • La Gaceta – monthly

Television

  • Television Nacional – state-run

Radio

  • Radio Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial – state-run
  • Radio Asonga – private, owned by president’s son

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