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: 28,051 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 2011 est.): 668,225.
Annual population growth rate (2011 est.): 2.641%.
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 have been drawn to service industry jobs boosted by the country’s oil boom.
Languages: Official--Spanish (predominant), French, Portuguese; 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 (2011 est.): Life expectancy--62.37 years. Infant mortality rate--77.3/1,000.
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 5-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 (2010 est.): $24.66 billion.
Real GDP growth rate (2010 est.) 0.9%.
Inflation rate (2010 est.): 8.2%.
Natural resources: Petroleum, natural gas, timber, small, unexploited deposits of gold, manganese, and uranium.
Agriculture (2010 est.): 2.2% of GDP. Products--coffee, cocoa, rice, yams, cassava (tapioca), bananas, palm oil nuts, manioc, livestock, and timber.
Industry (2010 est.): 93.9% of GDP. Types--petroleum, natural gas, fishing, lumber.
Services (2010): 3.8% of GDP.
Trade: Exports (2010 est.)--$10.24 billion: hydrocarbons (97%), timber (2%), others (1%). Imports (2010 est.)--$5.743 billion. Major trading partners--United States, Spain, China, France, and Italy.
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.). Two large volcanic formations are 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 Bubi 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 a growing number of foreigners from neighboring Cameroon, Nigeria, and Gabon.
Spanish, French, and Portuguese are the official languages, though use of Spanish predominates. The Roman Catholic Church has greatly influenced both religion and education.
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) 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 did not develop an extensive economic infrastructure but did develop large cacao plantations for internal consumption for which thousands of Nigerian workers were imported as laborers. At independence in 1968 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. 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 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.
A new constitution was approved in 1991 and amended in 1995. One-party rule formally ended in 1991 and political activities in Equatorial Guinea were legalized, but the opposition had few electoral successes in the 1990s. In September 1995, the country had its first freely contested municipal elections. 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. By early 2000, the President's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) party fully dominated government at all levels. In May 2000, the ruling PDGE overwhelmed its rivals in local elections.
Opposition parties rejected as invalid the December 2002 presidential election, which they boycotted. President Obiang was re-elected with 97% of the vote. Reportedly, 95% of eligible voters voted in this election, although many observers noted numerous irregularities. Following his re-election Obiang formed a government based on national unity encompassing all opposition parties, except for the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS), which declined to join after Obiang refused to release one of their jailed leaders. In the April 2004 parliamentary and municipal elections President Obiang's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea 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.
The 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 Convergence for Social Democracy only received one. Results were similar in the municipal elections held the same day, granting PDGE 319 councilor seats while CPDS only gained 13. Some international election 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 November 2009, President Obiang won a new 7-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.
Equatorial Guinea's 1991 constitution was amended in 1995. The president has extensive powers, including naming and dismissing cabinet members and judges, making laws by decree, dissolving the Chamber of People's Representatives, negotiating and ratifying treaties, and calling legislative elections. The president is commander in chief of the armed forces and maintains close supervision of military activity. The prime minister is appointed by the president and operates under powers designated by the president. The prime minister coordinates government activities.
In June 2004, President Obiang reorganized the cabinet and created two new positions: Minister of National Security and Director of National Forces. In July 2008, the government appointed a new cabinet, including a new Prime Minister. Additional, though minor, changes to the cabinet were made in February 2010 following the 2009 presidential election results.
The Chamber of People's 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.
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 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.
Principal Government Officials
President--Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
Prime Minister--Ignacio Milam Tang
Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation--Pastor Micha Ondo Bile
Ambassador to the United States--Purificacion 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). The Consulate in Houston, Texas is located at 6401 Southwest Freeway, Houston, 77074-2205 (Tel. 713-776-9900).
While the many abuses and atrocities that characterized the Macias years have been eliminated, the government continues to be dominated by the presidency. President Obiang and a circle of advisors (drawn largely from his own family and ethnic group) maintained real authority despite the formal ending of one-party rule in 1991. Obiang was subsequently re-elected president in 1996, 2002, and 2009. The next presidential election is scheduled for 2016.
President Obiang's rule has seen schools reopened, education and health care expanded, religious activity respected and religious freedom tolerated, and public utilities and roads restored, comparing favorably with the anarchic, chaotic, brutal, and repressive pattern of the Macias years. But the country’s human rights record and democratic performance remain poor. Endemic corruption and a dysfunctional judicial system disrupt the development of Equatorial Guinea's economy and society.
Since the beginning of 2011, the Government of Equatorial Guinea has taken a series of measures that could lead to some form of slightly greater political pluralism, offer more space to the opposition and civil society, and place greater emphasis on social development and good governance. These include amongst others an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to perform prison inspections and the initiation of a constitutional reform process. One of the intentions of the latter is limiting presidential office-holders to two 5-year terms. It also includes a reform commission through which the regime engages in dialogue with all of the political opposition. On June 4, 2011, 22 prisoners serving long jail terms for plotting against the regime were pardoned, including 5 from the banned Party for Progress of Equatorial Guinea (PPGE). These 22 were in addition to 13 released in October 2010.
Equatorial Guinea's hydrocarbon riches dwarf all other economic activity, and oil and gas exports will drive the economy for years to come. The government is seeking to diversify the economy by encouraging agriculture, financial services, and tourism. Equatorial Guinea has other resources, including its fertile soils, deepwater ports, and reserves of unskilled labor. The once-significant economic mainstays of the colonial era--cocoa, coffee, and timber--have received attention, though they remain miniscule in comparison to the energy sector.
Per capita income rose from about $590 in 1998 to approximately $18,209 in 2010. The Equatoguinean budget grew enormously as royalties and taxes on foreign company oil and gas production provided new resources to a once-poor government. Government revenue for 2010 was about $6.739 billion. Oil accounts for more than 81% of government revenue. Value added tax and trade taxes are other large revenue sources for the government. Real GDP growth was estimated at 0.9% for 2010, a drop from 5.3% for 2009.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has held regular Article IV consultations, or periodic country evaluations, with Equatorial Guinea since the 1996 end of the country's Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF). In 2011, the IMF noted that “Equatorial Guinea’s largely oil-driven economy was hit hard by falling oil prices in the wake of the global crisis. While oil prices have bounced back, the absence of large discoveries make it likely that oil production will decline over the medium term. Without strong domestic engines of growth, economic activity will slow jeopardizing development goals and hopes of more inclusive growth, while sustained spending of oil wealth will run down government deposits. Even if more oil is discovered, the economy’s oil dependence would leave it highly vulnerable to external shocks. Economic diversification is vital to future welfare.”
Investment and Business Climate
The government has undertaken a number of reforms since 1991 to reduce its predominant role in the economy and promote private sector development. Since 1991, the government has lifted qualitative restrictions on imports, non-tariff protections, and many import licensing requirements, liberalized trade regulations, eliminated quota restrictions, reduced tariffs, and privatized distribution of petroleum products. Its role is a diminishing one, although government interactions with the private sector are at times capricious. The government has sold some state enterprises, and the country's economic policies include an open investment regime. Equatorial Guinea 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.
With investments estimated at over $12 billion, the United States is the largest cumulative bilateral foreign investor in Equatorial Guinea, although the Chinese presence is growing.
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 regulates separate wage levels for the petroleum, private, and government sector. Outside of the oil sector, there is little industry in the country, and the local market for industrial products is small. Although the government seeks to expand the role of free enterprise and to promote foreign investment, it has had little success in creating an atmosphere conducive to investor interest.
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. But in April 2010 Equatorial Guinea 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. President Obiang has stated his intention to have the country re-apply for EITI candidacy.
Aid and Trade
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 has discussed working with World Bank assistance to develop government administrative capacity.
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. The country's exports totaled $10.24 billion in 2010. Crude oil exports now annually account for more than 94% of export earnings. Timber exports, by contrast, now represent only about 2% of export revenues. Imports into Equatorial Guinea are growing quickly. Imports totaled $5.743 billion in 2010.
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 been completed or are underway. Several ports and a new terminal were built to accommodate the needs of the oil industry. Surface transport options are increasing as the government has invested heavily in road pavement projects. Considerable funds have been invested in improving transportation, including paving most roads in the country; new airfields in Annobon, Corisco, and Mongomo; and a new port on Annobon.
Equatorial Guinea's electricity sector is owned and operated by the state-run monopoly, SEGESA. The government has expressed interest in privatizing the outmoded electricity utility. Equatorial Guinea's electricity generating capacity is more than adequate to meet demand on both the continent and the island of Bioko, although the power supply has been unreliable. The country's distribution network has been incapable of delivering reliable electricity to end users, due to aging equipment and poor management, as demonstrated by regular blackouts. 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. 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 with 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. Recently, a Tanzanian company, HITS, has begun operations. As a startup company its coverage is not as widespread and has fewer users. 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 is scheduled to begin. The country's third-largest port, located on Bioko Island is Luba, which 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, Addis Ababa, and Casablanca. A major American airline announced that it is interested in beginning service to the airport in the capital, Malabo; however, upgrades to the Malabo airport must be put into place before this can occur. 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 operate at night but can accommodate aircraft as large as B737s. Bata is undergoing an upgrade with runway extension and expansion. Three minor airstrips (800 meters) located at Mongomo and on the islands of Annobon and Corisco 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 Transportation Security Administration (TSA) standards.
Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest producer of crude oil in Sub-Saharan Africa, after Nigeria and Angola. The country's oil reserves are located mainly in the hydrocarbon-rich Gulf of Guinea. Equatorial Guinea's total proven oil reserves are estimated at 1.1 billion barrels.
The maritime border with Nigeria was settled in 2000, allowing Equatorial Guinea to continue exploitation of its oil fields. In 2001, GEPetrol was established as Equatorial Guinea's national oil company, and in 2002 it launched operations under the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons. 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 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.
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--account for the majority of the country's oil output.
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 later exploration 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 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 a new 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, SONAGAS, 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 paramilitary policemen, the Navy has 200 members, and the Air Force has approximately 120. The Gendarmerie numbers approximately 300. In 2009, military expenditures were estimated at 0.1% of GDP.
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 occasionally attend military-hosted multilateral conferences on Gulf of Guinea security matters.
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 was recently extended for another 5-year period.
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 a 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, with high-level visits from both sides in recent years, relations are back to normal.
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, Republic of the Congo, 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. Equatorial Guinea is also a member of the African Union and was elected Chairman of the regional body in January 2011.
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.
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 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
Relations between the U.S. and the Government of Equatorial Guinea have been characterized as positive and constructive. After being closed for 12 years, the United States Embassy in Malabo reopened in November 2006. The Equatoguinean Government views the U.S. Government and American companies favorably. The United States is the largest single foreign investor in Equatorial Guinea. Although the Chinese presence is growing rapidly, U.S. companies still are the largest and most visible foreign presence in the country. 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.
Equatorial Guinea maintains an embassy in Washington, DC, and 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 U.S. State Department Human Rights report on Equatorial Guinea for 2010 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 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 several small regional projects ongoing, but does not have a presence within the country. 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--Rafael Foley
Management Officer--Baylor M. Duncan
Political Officer--Denise Taylor
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 del 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.