Equatorial Guinea -- Geography --
Official name: Republic of Equatorial Guinea
Population: 676 000
Territory: 28 000 km2
Equatorial Guinea is located in west central Africa. The country consists of a mainland territory, Rio Muni, which is bordered by Cameroon to the north and Gabon to the east and south. Five small islands, Bioko, Corisco, Annabon, Small Elobey and Great Elobey are also part of the country. Bioko Island lies about 40 kilometers (24.9 mi) from Cameroon. Annobon Island lies about 595 kilometers (370 mi) between Cameroon and Gabon on the mainland. The rest of the islands are located near the continental region, and as adjacent islets to the main island.
Despite its name, no part of Equatorial Guinea's territory lies on the equator. The whole country lies within the Atlantic Equatorial coastal forests ecoregion except for patches of Central African mangroves on the coast, especially in the Muni River estuary.
Equatorial Guinea is divided into seven provinces (capitals appear in parentheses):
Annobon Province (San Antonio de Pale),
Bioko Norte Province (Malabo),
Bioko Sur Province (Luba),
Centro Sur Province (Evinayong),
Kie-Ntem Province (Ebebiyin),
Litoral Province (Bata),
Wele-Nzas Province (Mongomo).
Equatorial Guinea --
In the continental region that is now Equatorial Guinea there 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 emigrated to Bioko from Cameroon and Rio Muni in several waves and succeeded former Neolithic populations. The Bubi were the very first human inhabitants of Bioko Island. The Annobon population, native to Angola, was introduced by the Portuguese via Sao Tome Island (Sao Tome and Principe).
The Portuguese explorer Fernao do Po, seeking a path to India, is credited as being the first European to discover the island of Bioko in 1472. He called it Formosa ("Beautiful"), but it quickly took on the name of its European discoverer. The islands of Fernando Po and Annobon were colonized by Portugal in 1474.
In 1778, 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 the American continent (Treaty of El Pardo, between Queen Maria I of Portugal and King Charles III of Spain). Between 1778 and 1810, the territory of Equatorial Guinea depended administratively on the viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata, with seat in Buenos Aires.
From 1827 to 1843, the United Kingdom established a base on the island to combat the slave trade, which was then moved to Sierra Leone upon agreement with Spain in 1843. In 1844, on restoration of Spanish sovereignty, it became known as the Territorios Espanoles del Golfo de Guinea Ecuatorial. The mainland portion, Rio Muni, became a protectorate in 1885 and a colony in 1900. Conflicting claims to the mainland were settled by the Treaty of Paris (1900), and periodically, the mainland territories were united administratively under Spanish rule. Between 1926 and 1959 they were united as the colony of Spanish Guinea.
In September 1968, Francisco Macias Nguema was elected first president of Equatorial Guinea, and independence was recognised on October 12, 1968. In July 1970, Nguema created a single-party state. Nguema’s reign of terror led to the death or exile of up to 1/3 of the country's population. Out of a population of 300,000, an estimated 80,000 had been killed. The economy collapsed, and skilled citizens and foreigners left. Teodoro Obiang deposed Francisco Macias on August 3, 1979 in a bloody coup d'etat.
Equatorial Guinea -- Economy --
Pre-independence Equatorial Guinea counted on cocoa production for hard currency earnings. It had the highest per capita income of Africa in 1959. On January 1, 1985, the country became the first non-Francophone African member of the franc zone, adopting the CFA as its currency. The national currency, the ekwele, was previously linked to the Spanish peseta.
The discovery of large oil reserves in 1996 and its subsequent exploitation have contributed to a dramatic increase in government revenue. As of 2004, Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its oil production has risen to 360,000 barrels/day, up from 220,000 only two years earlier.
Forestry, farming, and fishing are also major components of GDP. Subsistence farming predominates. The deterioration of the rural economy under successive brutal regimes has diminished any potential for agriculture-led growth.
In July 2004, the United States Senate published an investigation into Riggs Bank, a Washington-based bank into which most of Equatorial Guinea's oil revenues were paid until recently, and which also banked for Chile's Augusto Pinochet. The Senate report, as to Equatorial Guinea, showed that at least $35 million were siphoned off by Obiang, his family and senior officials of his regime. The president has denied any wrongdoing. While Riggs Bank in February 2005 paid $9 million as restitution for its banking for Chile's Augusto Pinochet, no restitution was made with regard to Equatorial Guinea, as reported in detail in an Anti-Money Laundering Report from Inner City Press.
Equatorial Guinea is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).
Oil and gas exports have increased substantially (in 2003 Equatorial Guinea was ranked third among Sub-Sahara African producers behind Nigeria and Angola) and will drive the economy for years to come. The GDP increased by 105.2% in 1997, and real GDP growth reached 23% in 1999, and initial estimates suggested growth of about 15% in 2001, according to IMF 2001 forecast. Per capita income grew from about $1,000 in 1998 to about $2,000 in 2000. The energy export sector is responsible for this rapid growth. Oil production has increased from 81,000 to 210,000 barrel/day (13,000 to 33,000 m?/day) between 1998 and early 2001. There is ongoing additional development of existing commercially viable oil and gas deposits as well as new exploration in other offshore concessions.
Equatorial Guinea has other largely unexploited human and natural resources, including a tropical climate, fertile soils, rich expanses of water, deepwater ports, and an untapped, if unskilled, source of labor. Following independence in 1968, the country suffered under a repressive dictatorship for 11 years, which devastated the economy. The agricultural sector, which historically was known for cocoa of the highest quality, has never fully recovered. In 1969 Equatorial Guinea produced 36,161 tons of highly bid cocoa, but production dropped to 4,800 tons in 2000. Coffee production also dropped sharply during this period to bounce back to 100,000 metric tons in 2000. Timber is the main source of foreign exchange after oil, accounting for about 12.4% of total export earnings in 1996-99. Timber production increased steadily during the 1990s; wood exports reached a record 789,000 cubic meters in 1999 as demand in Asia (mainly China) gathered pace after the 1998 economic crisis. Most of the production (mainly Okoume) goes to exports, and only 3% is processed locally. Environmentalists fear that exploitation at this level is unsustainable and point out to the permanent damage already inflicted on the forestry reserves on Bioko.
Consumer price inflation has declined from the 38.8% experienced in 1994 following the CFA franc devaluation, to 7.8% in 1998, and 1.0% in 1999, according to BEAC data. Consumer prices rose about 6% in 2000, according to initial estimates, and there was anecdotal evidence that price inflation was accelerating in 2001.
Equatorial Guinea's policies, as defined by law, comprise an open investment regime. Qualitative restrictions on imports, non-tariff protection, and many import licensing requirements were lifted when in 1992 the government adopted a public investment program endorsed by the World Bank. The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea has sold some state enterprises. It is attempting to create a more favourable investment climate, and its investment code contains numerous incentives for job creation, training, promotion of non-traditional exports, support of development projects and indigenous capital participation, freedom for repatriation of profits, exemption from certain taxes and capital, and other benefits. Trade regulations have been further liberalized since implementation in 1994 of the ICN turnover tax, in conformity with Central African tax and custom reform codes. The reform included elimination of quota restrictions and reductions in the range and amounts of tariffs. The CEMAC countries agreed to replace the ICN with a value added tax (VAT) in 1999.
While business laws promote a liberalized economy, the business climate remains difficult. Application of the laws remains selective. Corruption among officials is widespread, and many business deals are concluded under non-transparent circumstances.
There is little industry in the country, and the local market for industrial products is small. The government seeks to expand the role of free enterprise and to promote foreign investment but has had little success in creating an atmosphere conducive to investor interest.
The Equato-Guinean budget has grown enormously in the past 3 years as royalties and taxes on foreign company oil and gas production have provided new resources to a once poor government. The 2001 budget foresaw revenues of about 154 billion CFA francs (154 GCFAF) (about U.S.$200 million), up about 50% from 2000 levels. Oil revenues account for about two-thirds of government revenue, and VAT and trade taxes are the other large revenue sources.
Year 2001 government expenditures were planned to reach 158 billion CFA francs, up about 50% from 2000 levels. New investment projects represented about 40% of the budget, and personnel and internal and external debt payments represented about one-third of planned expenditures.
The Equato-Guinean Government has undertaken a number of reforms since 1991 to reduce its predominant role in the economy and promote private sector development. Its role is a diminishing one, although many government interactions with the private sector are at times capricious. Beginning in early 1997, the government initiated efforts to attract significant private sector involvement through a Corporate Council on Africa visit and numerous ministerial efforts. In 1998, the government privatized distribution of petroleum products. There are now Total and Mobil stations in the country. The government has expressed interest in privatizing the outmoded electricity utility. A French company operates cellular telephone service in cooperation with a state enterprise. The government is anxious for greater U.S. investment, and President Obiang visited the U.S. three times between 1999 and 2001 to encourage greater U.S. corporate interest. Investment in agriculture, fishing, livestock, and tourism are among sectors the government would like targeted.
Equatorial Guinea's balance-of-payments situation has improved substantially since the mid-1990s because of new oil and gas production and favorable world energy prices. Exports totaled about francs CFA 915 billion in 2000 (1.25 B$US), up from CFA 437 billion (700 M$US) in 1999. Crude oil exports accounted for more than 90% of export earnings in 2000. Timber exports, by contrast, represented only about 5% of export revenues in 2000. Additional oil production coming on line in 2001, combined with methanol gas exports from the new CMS-Nomeco plant, should increase export earnings substantially.
Imports into Equatorial Guinea also are growing very quickly. Imports totaled francs CFA 380 billion (530 M$US), up from franc CFA 261 million (420 M$US) in 1999. Imports of equipment used for the oil and gas sector accounted for about three-quarters of imports in 2000. Imports of capital equipment for public investment projects reached francs CFA 30 billion in 2000, up 40% from 1999 levels.
Equatorial Guinea's foreign debt stock was approximately francs CFA 69 billion (100 M$US) in 2000, slightly less than the debt stock in 1999, according to BEAC data. Equatorial Guinea's debt service ratio fell from 20% of GDP in 1994 to only 1% in 2000. Foreign exchange reserves were increasing slightly, although they were relatively low in terms of import coverage. According to the terms of the franc CFA zone, some of these reserves are kept in an account with the French Ministry of Finance.
Equatorial Guinea in the 1980s and 1990s received foreign assistance from numerous bilateral and multilateral donors, including European countries, the United States, and the World Bank. Many of these aid programs have ceased altogether or have diminished. Spain, France, and the European Union continue to provide some project assistance, as do China and Cuba. The government also has discussed working with World Bank assistance to develop government administrative capacity.
Equatorial Guinea operated under an IMF-negotiated Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) until 1996. Since then, there have been no formal agreements or arrangements. The International monetary Fund held Article IV consultations (periodic country evaluations) in 1996, 1997, and in August 1999. After the 1999 consultations, IMF directors stressed the need for Equatorial Guinea to establish greater fiscal discipline, accountability, and more transparent management of public sector resources, especially energy sector revenue. IMF officials also have emphasized the need for economic data. In 1999, the Equato-Guinean Government began attempting to meet IMF-imposed requirements, maintaining contact with IMF and the World Bank representatives. However, the new found oil wealth allowed the government to avoid improving fiscal discipline, transparency and accountability. Infrastructure is generally old and in poor condition. Surface transport is extremely limited at present, with little more than 700 kilometres of paved roads. The African Development Bank is helping to improve the paved roads from Malabo to Luba and Riaba; the Chinese are undertaking a project to link Mongomo to Bata on the mainland, and the European Union is financing an inter-states road network linking Equatorial Guinea to Cameroon and Gabon. Road maintenance is often inadequate.
Electricity is available in Equatorial Guinea's larger towns thanks to three small overworked hydropower facilities and a number of aged generators. In 1999, national production was about 13 MWh. In Malabo, the American company, CMS-Nomeco, built a 10 megawatt electricity plant financed by the government, which came in line in mid-2000, and plans to double capacity are advancing. This plant provides improved service to the capital, although there are still occasional outages. On the mainland the largest city, Bata, still has regular blackouts.
Water is only available in the major towns and is not always reliable because of poor maintenance and mismanagement. Some villages and rural areas are equipped with generators and water pumps, usually owned by private individuals.
Parastatal Getesa, a joint venture with a minority ownership stake held by a French subsidiary of France Telecom, provides telephone service in the major cities. The regular system is overextended, but France Telecom has introduced a popular GSM system, which is generally reliable in Malabo and Bata.
Equatorial Guinea has two of the deepest Atlantic seaports of the region, including the main business and commercial port city of Bata. The ports of both Malabo and Bata are severely overextended and require extensive rehabilitation and reconditioning. The British company, Incat, has an ongoing project with the government to renovate and expand Luba, the country's third-largest port which is located on Bioko Island. The government hopes Luba will become a major transportation hub for offshore oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf of Guinea. Luba is located some 50 kilometres from Malabo and had been virtually inactive except for minor fishing activities and occasional use to ease congestion in Malabo. A new jetty is also being built at km 5 on the way from Malabo to the airport. It is a project mainly supposed to service the oil industry, but can also relieve the congested Malabo Port due to its closeness. The Oil Jetty at km 5 was supposed to open the end of March 2003. Riaba is the other port of any scale on Bioko but is less active. The continental ports of Mbini and Cogo have deteriorated as well and are now used primarily for timber activities.
There are both air and sea connections between the two cities of Malabo and Bata. A few aging Soviet-built aircraft operated by several small carriers, one state-owned, and the others private, constitute the national aircraft fleet. The runway at Malabo (3,200 m) is equipped with lights and can service equipment similar to DC 10s and Cl3Os. The one at Bata (2,400 m) does not operate at night but can accommodate aircraft as large as B737s. Their primary users are the national airline (EGA) and a private company (GEASA). Two minor airstrips (800 m) are located at Mongomo and Annobon. There are international connections out of Malabo to Madrid and Zurich in Europe and to Cotonou, Douala and Libreville in West Africa.
Despite a per capita GDP (PPP) of more than US$30,000, Equatorial Guinea ranks 121st out of 177 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index.
Equatorial Guinea -- Culture --
In June 1984, the First Hispanic-African Cultural Congress was convened to explore the cultural identity of Equatorial Guinea. The congress constituted the center of integration and the marriage of the Hispanic culture with African cultures.
The principal religion in Equatorial Guinea is Christianity which is the faith of 93% of the population. These are predominately Catholic (87%) while a minority are Protestants (5%). Another 5% of the population follow indigenous beliefs and the final 2% comprises Muslims, followers of Baha'i and other beliefs.
Equatorial Guinea -- Political system, law and government --
The president of Equatorial Guinea is Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. The 1982 constitution of Equatorial Guinea, written with help from the UN, gives Obiang extensive powers, including naming and dismissing members of the cabinet, making laws by decree, dissolving the Chamber of Representatives, negotiating and ratifying treaties and calling legislative elections. Obiang, a former brigadier general, retains his role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and minister of defence. The Prime Minister, Ignacio Milam Tang, is appointed by the President and operates under powers designated by the President. The Prime Minister coordinates government activities in areas other than foreign affairs, national defense and security.
Under President Obiang, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, in April 2006, to establish a Social Development Fund in the country, implementing projects in the areas of health, education, women's affairs and the environment. President Obiang also initiated projects with MPRI to improve the country’s human rights practices.
The incumbent president has never equalled the bloodthirsty reputation of former dictator Francisco Macias Nguema, whom he overthrew. On Christmas of 1975, Macias had 150 alleged coup plotters executed to the sound of a band playing Mary Hopkin's tune Those Were the Days in a national stadium.
According to a March 2004 BBC profile, politics within the country are currently dominated by tensions between Obiang's son, Teodorin, and other close relatives with powerful positions in the security forces. The tension may be rooted in power shift arising from the dramatic increase in oil production which has occurred since 1997.
A November 2004 report named Mark Thatcher as a financial backer of a 2004 Equatorial Guinea coup d'etat attempt to topple Obiang, organized by Simon Mann. Various accounts also name the United Kingdom's MI6, the United States' CIA, and Spain as having been tacit supporters of the coup attempt. Nevertheless, the Amnesty International report released in June 2005 on the ensuing trial of those allegedly involved highlighted the prosecution's failure to produce conclusive evidence that a coup attempt had actually taken place.
Simon Mann was pardoned and released from prison on November 3, 2009.
On February 29, 2008, President Obiang dissolved parliament and announced that municipal and parliamentary elections would be held on May 4. His decree also called for a presidential election in 2010.