New Internationalist

Equatorial Guinea

December 1985

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Equatorial Guinea

Map of Equatorial Guinea

Leader: Colonel Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo (President)

Economy: Recent realistic GNP figures not available, but a substantial drop in GNP since the early 1970s is indicated

Main exports: cocoa, coffee and wood.

People: 250.000 - 350,000

Health: Infant mortality 148 per 1,000 live births

Life expectancy: 47 years (1980)

Culture: Bioko residents are descended from Nigerian Ibo and Efik migrants; local population is Bubi. In Rio Muni the population is mostly Fang

Language: official language is Spanish, others are Fang, Bubi, Ibo and English

Religion: Majority are Christian on Bioko island. African tribal religions in Rio Muni

Sources: Third World Guide 1984 - 1985, Africa Guide 1984.

THESE days, the airport at Malabo in Equatorial Guinea is filled with the comings and goings of United Nations experts, Spanish and French aid officials, nuns, missionaries and returning Equatorial Guineans. Life in this small West African country is slowly reviving after the reign of terror of President Macias Ngueme who was overthrown and executed in 1979.

Geographically split between the mainland enclave of Rio Muni and the island of Bioko, Equatorial Guinea became independent from Spain in 1968. The population was wholly inexperienced in self-government and over 11 years a fairly prosperous country was transformed into one of extreme poverty. President Macias not only paralysed the political opposition but also the schools, health care and plantation production so that the country ground to a halt.

The bush reclaimed the cocoa and coffee plantations. There was no electricity. Water was turned on for one hour each day. The Post Office was padlocked and the National Bank was closed.

Teachers, doctors, engineers, other professionals and intellectuals fled the country in fear of their lives. To stop people escaping by sea the President imposed a ban on the ownership of fishing boats. By doing this he effectively deprived his people of a major source of food, for the seas are rich with fish.

People’s welfare took a severe knock during Macias’ rule. Before independence Equatorial Guinea had reasonable health care and one of the best school systems in Africa. But there was a serious cholera outbreak in 1984: typhoid is rampant. And, sadly, so is the killer disease cerebral malaria which had been wiped out before independence.

The economy also suffered. Coffee and timber exports fell. On Bioko island’s fertile volcanic soil many plantations had been growing high-grade cocoa, the country’s principal income-earner. But exports dropped from 45,000 tons in 1967 to 5,000 tons in 1978 - the year before Macias was toppled.

He was replaced by his nephew Lt. Col. Teodror Nguema Mbasogo. The international community swung into action to help rehabilitate the country. Aid, personnel and food poured in. Petrol was imported and the generators repaired so that Malabo could have electricity again. The population almost entirely barefoot, was sent a boatload of shoes by the Chinese. People who had fled came back.

With the emergency phase over, Equatorial Guinea has to get to grips with serious development. A new constitution guaranteeing human rights was drawn up in 1982 and grants for economic reconstruction have been forthcoming.

Ruth Massey, Gemini.

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No information available. Little income to be distributed.

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Debts to Spain and international funders. Could be self-sufficient in food.

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On Bioko women exposed to Western/Catholic influence. Mainland women follow tribal (Fang) tradition.

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Officially democratic but virtually one-party state.

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20% Very low. Less than half the children attend primary school

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Number of political prisoners unknown. Political parties are banned.

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Poor at 47 years.

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This feature was published in the December 1985 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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