New Internationalist

Country Profile

Issue 265

Country profile: Equatorial Guinea

Where is Equatorial Guinea? A sign hangs bleakly by the road from the airport to the capital which used to read ‘Welcome to Equa-torial Guinea’. Time and neglect have caused the bottom part of the sign to fall off and the top part to rust. So now it’s no longer ‘Welcome’, just ‘Wel…’

Not much is ever written about Equatorial Guinea, one of the smallest countries in Africa. But what has been written about this, the only Spanish-speaking nation on the continent, tells its own story.

There’s one book called Tropical Gangsters, another The African Tragedy and a third Small Is Not Always Beautiful. Equatorial Guinea has quietly suffered a brutal and bizarre dictatorship which ranks alongside Idi Amin’s Uganda or that of the Emperor of Central Africa, Jean-Bedel Bokassa.

Propped up by a neo-colonialist struggle for influence between Spain and France as ludicrous as it is futile, one family has used violence, repression and fear to rule Equatorial Guinea as its personal fiefdom for a generation.   

Inheriting the dubious colonial legacy of General Franco’s fascist dictatorship, court translator turned self-proclaimed ‘Unique Miracle’ Francisco Macias Nguema led the country to independence in 1968. In the decade which followed he closed schools, hospitals and churches. A third of the population was killed or fled into exile. Opponents, real or imagined, were eliminated.

He was overthrown and executed by his own nephew, Brig-adier-General Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, in 1979. Obiang reopened the country to the West and promised an end to the endemic abuse of human rights. But in practice all power remains concentrated in the hands of the President and a few trusted members of his family and clan. As one old man put it, ‘the same dog now wears a different collar’.

Years of misrule and misappropriation of funds have left the economy – once the pride of Africa – in a state of collapse, dependent on aid hand-outs and, says informed speculation, the dividends from sanctions-busting and money-laundering.

Under pressure from Western donors, multi-party politics was technically legalized in 1991. But opposition parties frequently complain about harassment and arbitrary arrest of their members. Access to the media – all state-controlled – is permitted only to the Government and its apologists. There are few checks on the activities of the security forces and hardly anyone leaves prison without a beating.

Yet President Obiang appears to have found a new patron in the form of multinational oil companies: Equatorial Guinea has potentially hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of oil reserves. But commercial considerations mean such companies are even less interested in issues of human rights and corruption than foreign governments. All the signs are that much of the considerable wealth about to descend on Equatorial Guinea will be diverted away from the needs of the people and towards the pockets of the President and his clique.

George Clinton

AT A GLANCE

Equatorial Guinea kids.
BENOIT GYSEMBERGH /
CAMERA PRESS

LEADER: President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

ECONOMY: GNP per capita $330 (US $22,240)
Monetary unit: African franc
Main exports: Cocoa, coffee, timber
Main imports: Foodstuffs, transport equipment, petroleum products
External debt: $282 million (1992)
Agriculture makes up 60 per cent of GDP and almost all exports.The main domestic food crops are cassava, sweet potato and banana. Industry is limited to small-scale food and timber processing. The only mineral exploited is panned alluvial gold. But the oil reserves recently found on- and offshore should meet domestic needs.

PEOPLE: 369,000

HEALTH: Infant mortality 118 per 1,000 live births (US 9 per 1,000). One doctor for every 5,440 inhabitants (1986).

CULTURE: Most people are Bantu-speaking but there are Ibo and Efik people on the islands who have migrated from Nigeria. On the mainland most people are Fang or Ndowe.
Religion: Catholicism and local animist faiths
Languages: The official language is Spanish, but people’s first language would be based on the ethnic breakdown above.

Sources: Third World Guide 93/94; State of the World’s Children 1994; Africa Review 1993/94; Microsoft Encarta ‘95.

Previously profiled December 1985


STAR RATINGS

[image, unknown] INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown]
A corrupt élite lords it over the grindingly poor.
[image, unknown] LITERACY [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
At 50% is poor, though official figures suggest high primary enrolment.
[image, unknown] SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
A big trade deficit and a heavy reliance on aid.
[image, unknown] FREEDOM [image, unknown]
Rampant abuses repeatedly condemned by the UN, the EC and Amnesty.
[image, unknown] POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown]
One of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.
[image, unknown] LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown]
48 years. Compares with a regional average of 52 and the US's 76.


POLITICS

[image, unknown] NI ASSESSMENT [image, unknown]
Brigadier-General Obiang's regime is one of the worst in the world. All power rests in the presidency; and the President has no political vision beyond self-enrichment, self-aggrandisement and ruthless repression.


NI star rating

EXCELLENT
GOOD
FAIR
POOR
APPALLING
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Contents page
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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995


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