For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Location: Western Africa, bordering the Bay of Biafra. Bordering nations--Cameroon, Gabon.
Area: 28,050 sq. km; slightly smaller than Maryland.
Cities: Capital--Malabo. Other cities--Bata (also capital of Littoral province on the mainland).
Terrain: Varies. Bioko Island is volcanic, with three major peaks of 9,876 feet, 7,416 feet, and 6,885 feet. Behind the coastal plain, the mainland provinces are hilly at a level of approximately 2,000 feet, with some 4,000-foot peaks. Annobon Island is volcanic.
Climate: Tropical; always warm, humid. The weather alternates between wet and dry seasons over the course of a year.
Nationality: Noun--Equatorial Guinean(s), Equatoguinean(s) Adjective--Equatorial Guinean, Equatoguinean.
Population (July 2009 est.): 633,441.
Annual growth rate (2009 est.): 2.703%; (1975-2002): 2.8%.
Ethnic groups: The Fang ethnic group of the mainland constitutes the great majority of the population and dominates political life and business. The Bubi group comprises about 50,000 people living mainly in Bioko Island. The Annobonese on the island of Annobon are estimated at about 3,000 in number. The other three ethnic groups are found on the coast of Rio Muni and include the Ndowe and Kombe (about 3,000 each) and the Bujebas (about 2,000). The pygmy populations have long been integrated into the dominant Bantu-speaking cultures. Europeans number around 2,000, primarily Spanish and French. There is a thriving Lebanese community, other Arabs (primarily Egyptians and Moroccans), a large number of Filipinos, and a rapidly expanding Chinese presence. Many guest workers from other African countries are drawn to service industry jobs boosted by the country’s oil boom.
Languages: Official--Spanish, French; other--pidgin English, Fang, Bubi, Ibo.
Religion: Nominally Christian and predominantly Roman Catholic; pagan practices.
Education: Primary school compulsory for ages 6-12. Attendance (2007 est.)--90%. Adult literacy (2008 est.)--87%.
Health (2009 est.): Life expectancy--61.61 years. Infant mortality rate--81.58/1,000.
Type: Nominally multi-party Republic with strong domination by the executive branch.
Independence: October 12, 1968 (from Spain).
Constitution: Approved by national referendum November 17, 1991; amended January 1995.
Branches: Executive--President (Chief of State), Prime Minister, and a Council of Ministers appointed by the president. Legislative--100-member Chamber of People's Representatives (members directly elected by universal suffrage to serve five-year terms). Judicial--Supreme Tribunal; appointed and removed by the president.
Administrative subdivisions: Seven provinces--Annobon, Bioko Norte, Bioko Sur, Centro Sur, Kie-Ntem, Littoral, Wele-Nzas.
Political parties: The ruling party is the Partido Democratico de Guinea Ecuatorial (PDGE), formed July 30, 1987. There are 12 other recognized parties that formed in the early 1990s.
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal adult.
GDP (2009 est.): $22.86 billion.
Real GDP growth rate (2009 est.) -1.8%.
Inflation rate (2009 est.): 4.5%.
Unemployment rate: (2009 est.) 22.3%.
Natural resources: Petroleum, natural gas, timber, small, unexploited deposits of gold, manganese, and uranium.
Agriculture (2008 est.): 2.7% of GDP. Products--coffee, cocoa, rice, yams, cassava (tapioca), bananas, palm oil nuts, manioc, livestock, and timber.
Industry (2008 est.): 92.6% of GDP. Types--petroleum, natural gas, fishing, lumber.
Services (2008): 4.6% of GDP.
Trade (2008 est.): Exports--$15.82 billion: hydrocarbons (97%), timber (2%), others (1%). Imports--$3.211 billion. Major trading partners--United States, Spain, China, Canada, France, United Kingdom, Cameroon, and Norway.
Currency: Communaute Financiere Africaine (CFA) franc.
The Republic of Equatorial Guinea is located in west central Africa. Bioko Island lies about 40 kilometers (25 mi.) from Cameroon. Annobon Island lies about 595 kilometers (370 mi.) southwest of Bioko Island. The larger continental region of Rio Muni lies between Cameroon and Gabon on the mainland; Equatorial Guinea includes the islands of Corisco, Elobey Grande, Elobey Chico, and adjacent islets.
Bioko Island, called Fernando Po until the 1970s, is the largest island in the Gulf of Guinea--2,017 square kilometers (780 sq. mi.). It is shaped like a boot, with two large volcanic formations separated by a valley that bisects the island at its narrowest point. The 195-kilometer (120-mi.) coastline is steep and rugged in the south but lower and more accessible in the north, with excellent harbors at Malabo and Luba, and several scenic beaches between those towns.
On the continent, Rio Muni covers 26,003 square kilometers (10,040 sq. mi.). The coastal plain gives way to a succession of valleys separated by low hills and spurs of the Crystal Mountains. The Rio Benito (Mbini), which divides Rio Muni in half, is not navigable except for a 20-kilometer stretch at its estuary. Temperatures and humidity in Rio Muni are slightly lower than on Bioko Island.
Annobon Island, named for its discovery on New Year's Day 1472, is a small volcanic island covering 18 square kilometers (7 sq. mi.). The coastline is abrupt except in the north; the principal volcanic cone contains a small lake. Most of the estimated 1,900 inhabitants are fisherman specializing in traditional, small-scale tuna fishing and whaling. The climate is tropical--heavy rainfall, high humidity, and frequent seasonal changes with violent windstorms.
The majority of the Equatoguinean people are of Bantu origin. The largest tribe, the Fang, is indigenous to the mainland, but substantial migration to Bioko Island has resulted in Fang dominance over the earlier Bantu inhabitants. The Fang constitute 80% of the population and are themselves divided into 67 clans. Those in the northern part of Rio Muni speak Fang-Ntumu, while those in the south speak Fang-Okah; the two dialects are mutually unintelligible. The Bubi, who constitute 15% of the population, are indigenous to Bioko Island. In addition, there are coastal tribes, sometimes referred to as "Playeros," consisting of Ndowes, Bujebas, Balengues, and Bengas on the mainland and small islands, and "Fernandinos," a Creole community, on Bioko. Together, these groups comprise 5% of the population. There are also foreigners from neighboring Cameroon, Nigeria, and Gabon.
Spanish and French are both official languages, though use of Spanish predominates. The Roman Catholic Church has greatly influenced both religion and education.
Equatoguineans tend to have both a Spanish first name and an African first and last name. When written, the Spanish and African first names are followed by the father's first name (which becomes the principal surname) and the mother's first name. Thus people may have up to four names, with a different surname for each generation.
The first inhabitants of the region that is now Equatorial Guinea 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 immigrated to Bioko from Cameroon and Rio Muni in several waves and succeeded former Neolithic populations. The Annobon population, native to Angola, was introduced by the Portuguese via Sao Tome.
The Portuguese explorer, Fernando Po (Fernao do Poo), seeking a route to India, is credited with having discovered the island of Bioko in 1471. He called it Formosa ("pretty flower"), but it quickly took on the name of its European discoverer. The Portuguese retained control until 1778, when 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 South America (Treaty of El Pardo). From 1827 to 1843, Britain established a base on the island to combat the slave trade. The Treaty of Paris settled conflicting claims to the mainland in 1900, and the mainland territories were united administratively under Spanish rule.
Spain lacked the wealth and the interest to develop an extensive economic infrastructure in what was commonly known as Spanish Guinea during the first half of this century. However, through a paternalistic system, particularly on Bioko Island, Spain developed large cacao plantations for internal consumption for which thousands of Nigerian workers were imported as laborers. At independence in 1968, largely as a result of this artificial system, Equatorial Guinea had one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa. The Spanish also helped Equatorial Guinea achieve one of the continent's highest literacy rates and developed a good network of health care facilities.
In 1959, the Spanish territory of the Gulf of Guinea was established with status similar to the provinces of metropolitan Spain. As the Spanish Equatorial Region, a governor general ruled it exercising military and civilian powers. The first local elections were held in 1959, and the first Equatoguinean representatives were seated in the Spanish parliament. Under the Basic Law of December 1963, limited autonomy was authorized under a joint legislative body for the territory's two provinces. The name of the country was changed to Equatorial Guinea. Although Spain's commissioner general had extensive powers, the Equatorial Guinean General Assembly had considerable initiative in formulating laws and regulations.
In March 1968, under pressure from Equatoguinean nationalists and the United Nations, Spain announced that it would grant independence to Equatorial Guinea. A constitutional convention produced an electoral law and draft constitution. In the presence of a UN observer team, a referendum was held on August 11, 1968, and 63% of the electorate voted in favor of the constitution, which provided for a government with a General Assembly and a Supreme Court with judges appointed by the president.
In September 1968, Francisco Macias Nguema was elected first president of Equatorial Guinea, and independence was granted in October. In July 1970, Macias created a single-party state and by May 1971, key portions of the constitution were abrogated. In 1972 Macias took complete control of the government and assumed the title of President-for-Life. The Macias regime was characterized by abandonment of all government functions except internal security, which was accomplished by terror; this led to the death or exile of up to one-third of the country's population. Due to pilferage, ignorance, and neglect, the country's infrastructure--electrical, water, road, transportation, and health--fell into ruin. Religion was repressed, and education ceased. The private and public sectors of the economy were devastated. Nigerian contract laborers on Bioko, estimated to have been 60,000, left en masse in early 1976. The economy collapsed, and skilled citizens and foreigners left.
On August 3, 1979 a lieutenant colonel in charge of military police, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, led a successful coup d'etat; Macias was arrested, tried, and executed. Obiang assumed the Presidency in October 1979. Obiang initially ruled Equatorial Guinea with the assistance of a Supreme Military Council. A new constitution, drafted in 1982 with the help of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, came into effect after a popular vote on August 15, 1982; the Council was abolished, and Obiang remained in the presidency for a 7-year term. He was reelected in 1989. In February 1996, he again won reelection with 98% of the vote; several opponents withdrew from the race, however, and international observers criticized the election. Subsequently, Obiang named a new cabinet, which included some opposition figures in minor portfolios.
Despite the formal ending of one-party rule in 1991, President Obiang and a circle of advisors (drawn largely from his own family and ethnic group) maintain real authority. The president names and dismisses cabinet members and judges, ratifies treaties, leads the armed forces, and has considerable authority in other areas. He appoints the governors of Equatorial Guinea's seven provinces. The opposition had few electoral successes in the 1990s. By early 2000, President Obiang's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) party fully dominated government at all levels. In December 2002, President Obiang won a new seven-year mandate with 97% of the vote. Reportedly, 95% of eligible voters voted in this election, although many observers noted numerous irregularities and opposition parties boycotted. In November 2009, President Obiang won a new seven-year mandate with 95.4% of the vote in an election that was not boycotted by the opposition. The main opposition leader won 3.6% of the vote. He stated that he viewed the elections as neither fair nor free, but with the approval of the executive committee of his party, did not formally object to the election results.
The 1982 constitution gives the president 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. The president retains his role as commander in chief of the armed forces and maintains close supervision of military activity. In June 2004, President Obiang reorganized the cabinet and created two new positions: Minister of National Security and Director of National Forces. The prime minister is appointed by the president and operates under powers designated by the president. The prime minister coordinates government activities.
The Chamber of Representatives is comprised of 100 members elected by direct suffrage for 5-year terms. In practice, the Chamber has not demonstrated independence, and it rarely acts without presidential approval or direction. National assembly elections were held in May 2008; 99 of the 100 seats went to the PDGE. In July 2008, the government appointed a new cabinet, including a new Prime Minister. Following the 2009 presidential election results additional, though minor, changes to the cabinet were made in February 2010.
The president appoints the governors of the seven provinces. Each province is divided administratively into districts and municipalities. The internal administrative system falls under the Ministry of Interior and Territorial Administration; several other ministries are represented at the provincial and district levels.
The judicial system follows similar administrative levels. At the top are the president and his judicial advisors (the Supreme Court). In descending rank are the appeals courts, chief judges for the divisions, and local magistrates. Tribal laws and customs are honored in the formal court system when not in conflict with national law. The current court system, which often uses customary law, is a combination of traditional, civil, and military justice, and it operates in an ad hoc manner for lack of established procedures and experienced judicial personnel.
The other official branch of the government is the State Council. The State Council's main function is to serve as caretaker in case of death or physical incapacity of the president. It comprises the following ex officio members: the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, the President of the national assembly, and the Chairman of the Social and Economic Council.
Although the many abuses and atrocities that characterized the Macias years have been eliminated, the government continues to be dominated by the presidency. Religious freedom is tolerated.
Principal Government Officials
President--Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Brig. Gen. (ret.)
Prime Minister--Ignacio Milam Tang
Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation--Pastor Micha Ondo Bile
Ambassador to the United States--Purification Angue Ondo
Equatorial Guinea maintains an embassy at 2020 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009 (Tel. (202) 518-5700, Fax. (202) 518-5252). Its mission to the United Nations is at 801 Second Avenue, Suite 1403, New York, N.W. 10017 (Tel. 212-599-1523). It opened a Consulate in Houston, Texas in 2009 at 6401 Southwest Freeway, Houston, 77074-2205 (Tel. 713-776-9900).
In the period following Spain's grant of local autonomy to Equatorial Guinea in 1963, there was a great deal of political party activity. Bubi and Fernandino parties on the island preferred separation from Rio Muni or a loose federation. Ethnically based parties in Rio Muni favored independence for a united country comprising Bioko and Rio Muni, an approach that ultimately won out. (The Movimiento para la Auto-determinacion de la Isla de Bioko (MAIB), which advocates independence for the island under Bubi control, is one of the offshoots of the era immediately preceding independence). After the accession of Macias to power, political activity largely ceased in Equatorial Guinea. Opposition figures who lived among the exile communities in Spain and elsewhere agitated for reforms; some of them had been employed in the Macias and Obiang governments. After political activities in Equatorial Guinea were legalized in the early 1990s, some opposition leaders returned, but repressive actions continued sporadically.
The country's first freely contested municipal elections were held in September 1995. Most observers agree that the elections themselves were relatively free and transparent and that the opposition parties garnered between two-thirds and three-quarters of the total vote. The government, however, delayed announcement of the results and then claimed a highly dubious 52% victory overall and the capture of 19 of 27 municipal councils. In early January 1996 Obiang called for presidential elections. International observers agreed that the campaign was marred by fraud, and most of the opposition candidates withdrew in the final week. Obiang claimed re-election with 98% of the vote. In an attempt to mollify his critics, Obiang gave minor portfolios in his cabinet to people identified as opposition figures. In the legislative election in March 1999, the party increased its majority in the 80-seat parliament from 68 to 75. The main opposition parties refused the seats they had allegedly won. In May 2000, the ruling PDGE overwhelmed its rivals in local elections. Opposition parties rejected the next election, the December 2002 presidential election, as invalid. During this election, President Obiang was re-elected with 97% of the vote. Following his re-election Obiang formed a government based on national unity encompassing all opposition parties, except for the CPDS, which declined to join after Obiang refused to release one of their jailed leaders.
In April 2004, parliamentary and municipal elections took place. President Obiang's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) and allied parties won 98 of 100 seats in parliament and all but seven of 244 municipal posts. International observers criticized both the election and its results.
While President Obiang's rule--in which schools reopened, education and health care expanded, religious activity respected, and public utilities and roads were restored--compares favorably with Macias' tyranny and terror, it has been criticized for not implementing genuine democratic reforms. Corruption and a dysfunctional judicial system disrupt the development of Equatorial Guinea's economy and society. In 2004, President Obiang appointed a new Prime Minister, Miguel Abia Biteo, and replaced several ministers; however, the government budget still did not include all revenues and expenditures. The United Nations Development Program proposed a broad governance reform program, but the Equatoguinean Government was not moving rapidly to implement it. In August 2006 a new Prime Minister, Ricardo Mangue, was named and the pace of reform accelerated.
On May 4, 2008, legislative elections resulted in an overwhelming victory for the PDGE. Ninety-nine of the 100 seats in the assembly went to the PDGE while the opposition party, the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS), only received one. (This is one less seat than the 2004 elections that granted the CPDS two seats.) Results were similar in the municipal elections held the same day, granting PDGE 319 councilor seats while CPDS only gained 13. Some international elections observers reported that the elections were generally conducted in a free and fair manner. Nevertheless, irregularities were reported, which included the barring of certain members of the international press.
In May 2002 a special tribunal convicted 68 prisoners and their relatives and sentenced them to 6 to 20 years in prison for an alleged attempted coup d'etat. Among the prisoners were leaders of the three main opposition parties that had remained independent from President Obiang's ruling party. There were numerous irregularities associated with the trial, including evidence of torture and a lack of substantive proof. In August 2003, 31 of these convicted prisoners were granted a presidential amnesty.
In March 2004, Zimbabwean police in Harare impounded a plane from South Africa with 64--mercenaries on board. The group said they were providing security for a mine in Democratic Republic of the Congo, but a couple of days later an Equatorial Guinean minister said they had detained 15 more men who he claimed were the advance party for the group captured in Zimbabwe. Nick du Toit, the leader of the group of South Africans, Armenians, and one German in Equatorial Guinea, said at his trial in Equatorial Guinea that he was playing a limited role in a coup bid organized by Simon Mann, the leader of the group held in Zimbabwe, to remove Obiang from power and install an exiled opposition politician, Severo Moto.
In September 2004, Mann was sentenced to seven years in jail in Zimbabwe after being convicted of illegally trying to buy weapons. In subsequent legal proceedings, three Equatoguineans and three South Africans were acquitted. In June 2005, President Obiang granted amnesty to the six Armenian pilots. In Harare, Mann obtained a reduced sentence based on good behavior in late 2007. Zimbabwe consented to Equatorial Guinea's extradition request and flew Mann to Malabo in early 2008. His trial began in June 2008. During the trial he reportedly confessed to the attempted coup, implicating Severo Moto, Sir Mark Thatcher, and Ely Calil, a nationalized British citizen of Lebanese ancestry with connections to Nigeria. Mann was sentenced in July 2008; he was allowed visits by western media and family members. Mann was pardoned in November 2009, and he returned to the United Kingdom.
On February 17, 2009, gunmen in boats attacked the Presidential Palace in Malabo. Equatorial Guinean security forces successfully repelled the attack, and President Obiang was on the mainland in Bata during this unsuccessful attack. The government accused the Nigerian rebel group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), of carrying out the attack.
Although Equatorial Guinea lacks a well-established democratic tradition, it has broken with the anarchic, chaotic, brutal, and repressive pattern of the Macias years and is slowly improving its human rights and political performance. On June 5, 2008 President Obiang granted amnesty to 37 political prisoners, and the government has indicated a willingness to grant amnesty to other political prisoners. In addition, the country is undertaking an ambitious, multi-billion dollar development program that is slowly improving the quality of life and providing greater opportunities for employment for its citizens. Equatorial Guinea was a candidate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which aims to strengthen governance by improving transparency and accountability in the oil, gas, and minerals sector. Unfortunately Equatorial Guinea was the only country in the world not granted an extension to complete its Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) candidacy in April. It was “de-listed” because the country did not demonstrate “sufficient commitment to the goals and spirit of the initiative,” according to an EITI board member. Subsequent to the de-listing, President Obiang has twice publicly stated his intention to have the country re-apply for EITI candidacy at an appropriate time.
Oil and gas exports will drive the economy for years to come. Real GDP growth was estimated at 7.4% for 2008, although it fell to 1.8% for 2009. Per capita income rose from about $590 in 1998 to $2,000 in 2000, $5,300 in 2004, and approximately $10,000 in 2007. Equatorial Guinea has other resources, including its tropical climate, fertile soils, rich expanses of water, deepwater ports, and reserves of unskilled labor. However, its hydrocarbon riches dwarf all other economic activity. The government is seeking to diversify the economy by encouraging agriculture and financial services. The ongoing construction boom is also enhancing related skills. The once-significant economic mainstays of the colonial era--cocoa, coffee, and timber--are also receiving attention, though they remain miniscule in comparison to the energy sector.
Equatorial Guinea's economic policies comprise an open investment regime. Qualitative restrictions on imports, non-tariff protection, and many import licensing requirements were lifted in 1992 when the government adopted a public investment program endorsed by the World Bank. The Government of Equatorial Guinea has sold some state enterprises. It is attempting to create a more favorable investment climate, and its investment code contains numerous incentives for job creation, training, promotion of nontraditional 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 Central African Economic and Monetary Union (CEMAC) reform codes in 1994. This included elimination of quota restrictions and reductions in the range and amounts of tariffs. The CEMAC countries agreed to the introduction of 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 nontransparent circumstances. A wage law now regulates separate wage levels for the petroleum, private, and government sector.
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 Equatoguinean budget has grown enormously in the past 5 years as royalties and taxes on foreign company oil and gas production have provided new resources to a once poor government. The 2008 government revenue was about $7.056 billion. Oil revenues account for more than 81% of government revenue. Value added tax and trade taxes are other large revenue sources for the government.
The Equatoguinean 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 cooperative efforts with the Corporate Council on Africa visit and numerous ministerial efforts. In 1998, the government privatized distribution of petroleum products. There are now Total stations in the country. The maritime border with Nigeria was settled in 2000, allowing Equatorial Guinea to continue exploitation of its oil fields. In October 2002, the government launched operations of a national oil company, GEPetrol, under the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons. The government is anxious for greater U.S. investment, and a new Marathon Oil liquefied natural gas (LNG) production refinery was the biggest new step in that direction to date. Much more is on the way, as U.S. hydrocarbon producers announced $7 billion in new investments, starting in 2008. In addition, China recently won exploration and drilling rights in a new offshore block, and began drilling in 2009.
The government has expressed interest in privatizing the outmoded electricity utility. Several ports and a new terminal were built to accommodate the needs of the oil industry. Considerable funds have been invested in improving transportation, including paving most roads in the country, and new airfields in Annobon, Corisco and Mongomo and a new port on Annobon. A French company operates cellular telephone service in cooperation with a state enterprise, though the sector was opened to competition in 2007.
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 $15.82 billion in 2008. Crude oil exports now annually accounts for more than 94% of export earnings. Timber exports, by contrast, now represent only about 2% of export revenues. Imports into Equatorial Guinea also are growing very quickly. Imports totaled $3.211 billion in 2008.
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 (EU) continue to provide some project assistance, as do China, Brazil and Cuba. The government also has discussed working with World Bank assistance to develop government administrative capacity.
Equatorial Guinea operated under an International Monetary Fund (IMF) Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) until 1996; since then the IMF has held regular Article IV consultations (periodic country evaluations). In 2008, IMF executive directors praised Equatorial Guinea’s strong economic performance and macroeconomic policies that they felt had strengthened fiscal stability. However, the directors also noted that the country needed to strengthen governance and transparency in order to create a business environment more conducive to sustain growth, generate employment, and reduce poverty, which remains widespread.
In 2007, the government undertook a $336 million dollar Social Development Fund project, which engaged U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) expertise and regulation, to improve the quality of life and raise standards in education and health care. The contract between the Government of Equatorial Guinea and USAID will expire in December 2010 and Equatorial Guinea will assume full responsibility for the management of the fund.
Trade and Investment
With investments estimated at over $12 billion, the United States is the largest cumulative bilateral foreign investor in Equatorial Guinea. Exports to the U.S. totaled over $2.39 billion in 2009 and consisted overwhelmingly of petroleum products. In the same year, U.S. exports to Equatorial Guinea totaled $304 million (making the country the seventh largest export market for U.S. products in Sub-Saharan Africa) and consisted mainly of machinery, articles of iron or steel, measuring instruments, and chemical products.
Infrastructure has improved dramatically in the last few years. Numerous, large-scale infrastructure investments have recently been completed or are underway. Surface transport options are increasing as the government has invested heavily in road pavement projects. In 2002, the African Development Bank and the European Union co-financed two projects to improve the paved roads from Malabo to Luba and Riaba; and to build an interstate road network to link Equatorial Guinea to Cameroon and Gabon. A Chinese construction company is completing a project to link Mongomo to Bata on the mainland. In November 2003, the government announced an ambitious ten-project program to upgrade the country's road network and improve the airport facilities at Bata, the country's second city. These projects have since been completed and additional airport expansion and new-city corridors are now under construction.
Equatorial Guinea's electricity sector is owned and operated by the state-run monopoly, SEGESA. Equatorial Guinea's electricity generating capacity is now more than adequate to meet demand on both the continent and the island of Bioko, although the power supply is unreliable. The country's distribution network remains incapable of delivering reliable electricity to end users, due to aging equipment and poor management, as demonstrated by regular blackouts in Malabo. As a result, small diesel generators are widely used as a back-up power source. A project to modernize the grid is underway, with scheduled completion by 2010. Equatorial Guinea is estimated to have 2,600 megawatts (MW) of hydropower potential.
Potable water is available in the major towns but is not always reliable because of poor maintenance and aging infrastructure; consequently, supply interruptions are frequent and prolonged in some neighborhoods. A major project to upgrade the public water system in the cities of Malabo and Bata was expected to be completed in 2010. Some villages and rural areas are equipped with generators and water pumps, usually owned by private individuals.
Telecommunications have improved dramatically in recent years. Parastatal GETESA, a joint venture with a 40% ownership stake held by France Telecom, provides telephone service in the major cities through an efficient, digital fixed network and good mobile coverage. GETESA's fixed-line service has 20,000 subscribers and the mobile service is used by over 200,000. Internet access is widely available and is increasing, providing improved access to information.
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 have been severely overextended. A half-billion dollar renovation project for the Port of Malabo is nearing completion, and a renovation of the Bata port was scheduled to begin soon. In partnership with the U.S. petroleum company Amerada Hess, the British company Incat made significant progress in a project to renovate and expand Luba, the country's third-largest port, located on Bioko Island. Luba has become a major transportation hub for offshore oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf of Guinea. Luba is located some 50 kilometers from Malabo and was previously virtually inactive except for minor fishing activities and occasional use to ease congestion in Malabo.
The influx of oil workers has increased international air activity. Major international carriers now connect Malabo directly to Paris, Madrid, Frankfurt, and Casablanca. A major American airline announced that it is interested in beginning service to the airport in the capital, Malabo. The runway at Malabo's international airport (3,200 meters) is equipped with lights and can service Boeing 747s. The runway at Bata (2,400 meters) does not currently operate at night but can accommodate aircraft as large as B737s. Bata is undergoing an upgrade with runway extension and expansion. Two minor airstrips (800 meters) located at Mongomo and on the island of Annobon have been extended and can now accommodate B737s . Air service between the island and continental territories is restricted to 5 small airlines. In March 2006 the European Union blacklisted airlines based in Equatorial Guinea from flying into the EU. A project to gain International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) accreditation for various parts of the airline industry is underway and a contract has been signed to bring both Bata and Malabo up to ICAO and TSA standards.
Equatorial Guinea is now the fourth-largest producer of crude oil in sub-Saharan Africa, after Nigeria, Angola, and Sudan. Equatorial Guinea's oil reserves are located mainly in the hydrocarbon-rich Gulf of Guinea. Large amounts of foreign investment primarily by U.S. companies have poured into the country's oil sector in recent years. Equatorial Guinea's total proven oil reserves are estimated at 1.1 billion barrels.
In October 2004, the government capped oil production at 350,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) to extend the life of the country's petroleum reserves, but lifted the cap the next year to allow expansion. With the addition of LNG production that came on line in 2007, total hydrocarbon production peaked in 2008. It is now in decline. Three fields--Zafiro, Ceiba, and Alba--currently account for the majority of the country's oil output.
In 2001, GEPetrol was established as Equatorial Guinea's national oil company. It was originally to be the primary state-run institution responsible for the country's downstream oil sector activities. However, since 2001 its primary focus has become managing the government's stakes in various Production Sharing Contracts (PSCs) with foreign oil companies. GEPetrol also partners with foreign firms to undertake exploration projects and has a say in the country's environmental policy implementation. In its recent block-licensing negotiations, Equatorial Guinea has pursued increases in the government's stake in new PSCs. In early 2008 it announced a $2.2 billion purchase of U.S.-based Devon Energy's stake in the country's oil fields, increasing its participation to 20% in the Zafiro field operation.
The Zafiro field is Equatorial Guinea's largest oil producer, with output rising from an initial level of 7,000 bbl/d in August 1996 to approximately 280,000 bbl/d by 2004. Ceiba, Equatorial Guinea's second major producing oil field, is located just offshore of Rio Muni and is estimated to contain 300 million barrels of oil. Production at Ceiba rose dramatically during the 2-3 year period following improvements and upgrades to the facility. Alba, Equatorial Guinea's third significant field was discovered in 1991. Original estimates of reserves at Alba were around 68 million barrels of oil equivalent (BOE), but recent exploration has increased estimates significantly to almost 1 billion BOE. Unlike the Zafiro or Ceiba fields, exploration and production at Alba has focused on natural gas, including condensates.
Ceiba's discovery has significantly increased interest in petroleum exploration of surrounding areas, with many new companies acquiring licenses in exploration blocks further offshore in the Rio Muni basin. International companies with interests in one or more exploration blocks include Chevron (U.S.), Vanco Energy (U.S.), Atlas Petroleum International (U.S.), Roc Oil (Australia), Petronas (Malaysia), Sasol Petroleum (South Africa), and Glencore (Switzerland). In October 2004, Noble Energy Equatorial Guinea, an Equatoguinean subsidiary of American Noble Energy, Inc. signed a contract to exploit a new oil field off the island of Bioko. Recently, Equatorial Guinea gave the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) the rights to its newest oil field but Chinese exploration has to date been unsuccessful.
Equatorial Guinea's natural gas reserves are located offshore Bioko Island, primarily in the Alba and Zafiro oil and gas fields. Natural gas and condensate production in Equatorial Guinea expanded rapidly in the 5-year period following new investments by major stakeholders in the Alba natural gas field. Alba, the country's largest natural gas field, contains 1.3 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven reserves, with probable reserves estimated at 4.4 Tcf or more.
Marathon Oil, other investors, and the state-owned gas company, SONOGAS, joined together in a $1.5 billion deal to construct a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility on Bioko Island. The world-class facility shipped its first product in May 2007. In early 2008 Marathon and the government announced tentative plans to construct and operate LNG trains 2 and 3, pending confirmation of feedstock gas from national and neighboring gas fields.
The Equatoguinean military consists of approximately 2,500 service members. The largest contingent is the Army with 1,400 soldiers; the police have 400 para-military policemen, the Navy has 200 members, and the Air Force has approximately 120. The Gendarmerie numbers approximately 300. In 2006, the government disbursed $210 million in military expenditures, an estimated 9% of the 2006 GDP. It continues to acquire equipment and has one of the strongest navies in the region. In 2010, Equatorial Guinea agreed to purchase a new Barroso-class corvette from Brazil. In 2005, the American consulting firm MPRI, Inc. was licensed to contract with the government to begin extensive training of the military and police forces. The primary purpose has been to professionalize security personnel, and a strong human rights and anti-trafficking provision was included in the curriculum. The program has been effective and continues to expand. Another division of MPRI won a new government contract in December 2009 to enhance maritime security.
Between 1984 and 1992, service members went regularly to the United States on the International Military Education and Training program, after which funding for this program for Equatorial Guinea ceased. U.S. military-to-military engagement has been dormant since 1997 (the year of the last Joint Combined Exchange Training Exercise), although representatives from Equatorial Guinea attended a military-hosted conference on Gulf of Guinea Security Cooperation in November 2006, and participate in other multilateral events with the U.S. military. Several U.S. ships have also visited Equatorial Guinea ports.
A transitional agreement, signed in October 1968, implemented a Spanish pre-independence decision to assist Equatorial Guinea and provided for the temporary maintenance of Spanish forces there. A dispute with President Macias in 1969 led to a request that all Spanish troops immediately depart, and a large number of civilians left at the same time. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were never broken but were suspended by Spain in March 1977 in the wake of renewed disputes. After Macias' fall in 1979, President Obiang asked for Spanish assistance, and since then, Spain has regained its place of influence in Equatorial Guinea. The two countries signed permanent agreements for economic and technical cooperation, private concessions, and trade relations. Spain maintained a bilateral assistance program in Equatorial Guinea. Most Equatoguinean opposition elements (including a purported government-in-exile) are based in Spain, to the annoyance of the Equatoguinean Government. Relations between the two countries grew difficult after the March 2004 coup attempt due to Spain's hosting opposition figure Severo Moto and the Equatoguinean Government's belief that Spain had foreknowledge of the coup. However, the Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, visited Equatorial Guinea in March 2005, and President Obiang visited Spain in 2007.
Equatorial Guinea has had generally cordial relations with its neighbors. It is a member of the Central African Economic and Monetary Union (CEMAC), which includes Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo/Brazzaville, and Gabon, and of the larger Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS, also known by CEEAC, its French acronym). Equatorial Guinea is part of the central Africa CFA franc zone, and the Cameroon-based Bank of Central African States (BEAC) coordinates monetary policy. At the 10th CEMAC heads of state summit in Bangui in January 2010, Equatoguinean-born Lucas Abaga Nchama was appointed as BEAC governor, following a policy adopted by member states of rotating bank governors in alphabetical order. The Bank of France guarantees the CFA franc, and French technical advisers work in the finance and planning ministries. France, Spain, Cuba, and China have participated in infrastructure and technical development projects.
Relations with the Nigerian Government became cordial as the two countries delineated their offshore borders to facilitate development of nearby gas fields. Equatorial Guinea had a minor border dispute with Cameroon that was resolved by the International Court of Justice in 2002. The Corisco border dispute with Gabon was resolved by an agreement signed with the help of UN mediation in January 2004, but the small island of Mbane and potentially oil-rich waters surrounding it remain contested, and the case was submitted to the International Court of Justice in 2006. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon opened up mediation efforts on June 10, 2008 to facilitate a settlement between the two countries over the disputed island.
The majority Fang ethnic group of mainland Equatorial Guinea extends both north and south into the forests of Cameroon and Gabon. Cameroon exports many food products to Equatorial Guinea and imports oil from Equatorial Guinea for its refinery at nearby Limbe. The development of the oil industry by U.S.-based companies and the lack of a well-trained work force have provided motivation for an influx of English-speaking workers (legal and illegal) from Cameroon, Nigeria, and Ghana. Roundups and expulsion of foreigners following the March 2004 coup attempt caused tensions between these neighbors. A brazen daylight attack on two banks in Bata by two boatloads of armed bandits in December 2007 was presumed to originate in the Niger Delta or neighboring Cameroon, temporarily leading to heightened tensions.
The country is using its oil wealth to expand its overseas presence, establishing diplomatic missions in over 30 countries around the world. It has also become more active in the CEMAC, building the CEMAC regional parliament in Malabo and using the leverage of its growing reserves to gain reforms.
U.S.-EQUATORIAL GUINEA RELATIONS
Following the reopening of the United States Embassy in Malabo, the first resident U.S. Ambassador in 12 years arrived in November 2006. The second resident Ambassador, Alberto M. Fernandez, arrived in February 2010. The Equatoguinean Government views the U.S. Government and American companies favorably. The United States is the largest single foreign investor in Equatorial Guinea. U.S. companies have the largest and most visible foreign presence in the country, though the Chinese presence is growing rapidly. In an effort to attract increased U.S. investment, American passport-holders are entitled to visa-free entry for short visits. The United States is the only country with this privilege. With the increased U.S. investment presence, relations between the U.S. and the Government of Equatorial Guinea have been characterized as positive and constructive.
Equatorial Guinea maintains an embassy in Washington, DC, and recently opened a consulate in Houston, Texas. President Obiang has worked to cultivate the Equatorial Guinea-U.S. relationship with regular visits to the U.S. for meetings with senior government and business leaders, as well as to the opening sessions of the United Nations.
Despite improvements in its record, the 2009 U.S. State Department Human Rights report on Equatorial Guinea cited shortcomings in basic human rights, political freedom, and labor rights. U.S. Government policy involves constructive engagement with Equatorial Guinea to encourage an improvement in the human rights situation and positive use of petroleum funds directed toward the development of a working civil society. Equatoguineans visit the U.S. under programs sponsored by the U.S. Government, American oil companies, and educational institutions. The Ambassador's Self-Help Fund annually finances a number of small grassroots projects.
In view of growing ties between U.S. companies and Equatorial Guinea, the U.S. Government's overseas investment promotion agency, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), has concluded the largest agreement in Sub-Saharan Africa for a major U.S. project in Equatorial Guinea. The U.S. Agency for International Development has no U.S.-funded projects ongoing, but USAID has provided technical assistance for the Social Needs Fund financed by the Equatorial Guinean Government. The Peace Corps has had no presence in the country since the mid-1990s. American-based non-governmental organizations and other donor groups have very little involvement in the country.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Alberto M. Fernandez
Deputy Chief of Mission--Frances Chisholm
Management Officer--Marinda Harpole
General Services Officer--Scott McDow
Consular/Public Affairs Officer--Nadia Sbeih
Defense Attache-LTC Scott H. Morgan
The U.S. Embassy website is at http://malabo.usembassy.gov/. Inquiries should be directed to: Tel: +240 333 09 88 95. The street/mailing address is: Carretera de Aeropuerto KM-3 (El Paraiso), Apt. 95, Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. The U.S. mailing address is American Embassy-Malabo, Department of State, Washington, DC 20521-2320. Business hours are Monday to Thursday: 08:00 to 17:30; Friday: 08:00 to 12:00.