|República de Guinea Ecuatorial (Spanish)
République de Guinée équatoriale (French)
República da Guiné Equatorial (Portuguese)
Republic of Equatorial Guinea
|Motto: Unidad, Paz, Justicia (Spanish)
Unité, Paix, Justice (French)
Unidade, Paz, Justiça (Portuguese)
Unity, Peace, Justice
|Anthem: Caminemos pisando las sendas de nuestra inmensa felicidad
Let us walk the path of our Immense Happiness
|Recognized regional languages||Fang, Bube, Annobonese|
|Ethnic groups||85.7% Fang
1.4% other (Spanish)
|Demonym||Equatoguinean, Equatorial Guinean|
|Government||Unitary presidential republic|
|-||Prime Minister||Ignacio Milam|
|-||Declared||11 August 1968|
|-||Recognized||12 October 1968|
|-||Total||28,050 km² (144th)
10,830 sq mi
|-||2009 estimate||676,000 (166th)|
|GDP (PPP)||2010 estimate|
|-||Per capita||$34,824 (22nd)|
|GDP (nominal)||2010 estimate|
|Currency||Central African CFA franc (
|Time zone||WAT (UTC+1)|
|-||Summer (DST)||not observed (UTC+1)|
Equatorial Guinea, officially the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, is the smallest country, in terms of population, in continental Africa, though Seychelles and São Tomé and Príncipe are smaller in terms of area. Formerly the Spanish colony of Spanish Guinea, its post-independence name is suggestive of its location near both the equator and the Gulf of Guinea. It is the only country in mainland Africa where Spanish is an official language (excluding the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and the UN-recognized but Moroccan-occupied Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, otherwise known as Western Sahara).
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has ruled the country since 1979 when he seized power in a coup from an even more bloodthirsty dictator. Although nominally a constitutional democracy since 1991, the 1996 and 2002 presidential elections—as well as the 1999 and 2004 legislative elections—were widely seen as flawed. The president exerts almost total control over the political system and has discouraged political opposition.
Equatorial Guinea has experienced rapid economic growth due to the discovery of large offshore petroleum reserves, and in the last decade has become sub-Saharan Africa's third largest oil exporter. Despite the country's economic windfall from oil production, resulting in a massive increase in government revenue in recent years, there have been few improvements in the population's living standards.
Equatorial Guinea is comprised of a mainland territory known as Río Muni (including several offshore islands); the island of Bioko (formerly Fernando Pó), where the capital, Malabo (formerly Santa Isabel) is located; and the island of Annobón in the South Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Cameroon on the north, Gabon on the south and east, and the Gulf of Guinea on the west, where the island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe is located.
Bioko and Annobón are volcanic islands that are part of the chain starting with the Cameroon Highlands and outcropping into the Atlantic as far as St. Helena. Río Muni is a fluvial mainland plateau, except for the sandy shore and the ridges of the Sierra Cristal range that separate the coast from the interior plateau.
The Muni and Ntem rivers, on the south and north boundaries of Río Muni, are estuaries navigable for about 12 miles (20 km); the Mbini River, midway between them, is typical of the cascading streams that drain all of Río Muni. Bioko has short cascading streams; Annobón has only storm arroyos.
Most of the country, including the islands, is tropical rainforest, home to giant frogs. On Annobón, volcanic deposits restrict agriculture, and the Muni estuarial islands are sandy, but the rest of the country has tropical humus conducive to agriculture.
Equatorial Guinea has a tropical climate with distinct wet and dry seasons. From June to August, Río Muni is dry and Bioko wet; from December to February, the reverse is true. In between there is a gradual transition. Rain or mist occurs daily on Annobón, where a cloudless day has never been registered.
The temperature at Malabo, Bioko, ranges from 61°F to 91°F (16°C to 33°C). In Río Muni, the average temperature is about 80°F (27°C). Annual rainfall varies from 76 in (193 cm) at Malabo to 430 in (1,092 cm) at Ureka, Bioko, but Río Muni is somewhat drier.
Dense tropical rainforest vegetation prevails throughout Equatorial Guinea. There are 140 species of trees, especially palms and hardwoods. Yams and bananas were introduced by the early inhabitants and became staples. Monkeys, chimpanzees, elephants, and gray doves are common. Gorillas, leopards, and crocodiles can also be found. However, the wildlife population has suffered greatly as a result of hunting.
The first inhabitants of the continental region that is now Equatorial Guinea are believed to have been Pygmies, of whom only isolated pockets remain in northern Río Muni. Bantu migrations between the seventeenth and nineteenth 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 first human inhabitants of Bioko Island. The Annobon population, native to Angola, was introduced by the Portuguese via São Tomé Island (São Tomé and Príncipe).
The Portuguese explorer Fernão do Pó, seeking a route to India, is credited with being the first European to discover the island now known as Bioko in 1472. The islands of Fernando Pó and Annobón were colonized by Portugal in 1474. 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 the Americas (Treaty of El Pardo, between Queen Maria I of Portugal and King Charles III of Spain).
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the slave trade by the British, French, and Dutch pushed the Fang inland, away from the coast. From 1827 to 1843, Britain established a base on the island of Bioko to combat the slave trade.
Conflicting claims to the mainland were settled in 1900 by the Treaty of Paris. Between 1926 and 1959 the area was united as the colony of Spanish Guinea. Spanish rule of the mainland did not begin officially until 1926, despite that nation's long-standing claim to the area. It was only at this time that they began to expand into the interior of Río Muni, territory previously unexplored by Europeans. When the Spanish Civil War ended in 1939, the Spanish began to invest more in the development of Equatorial Guinea. The country experienced increasing prosperity with the aid of the Spanish government and the Catholic Church. Industry grew, and cocoa and timber contributed to a strong economy. Self-government was granted in 1963 and independence in 1968.
The mainland Fang candidate, Francisco Macías Nguema, was elected the first president and proceeded to turn the country into what one observer described as a concentration camp. He is believed to have murdered fifty thousand of his countrymen, especially the educated. One-third of the population fled as refugees, mostly to neighboring Cameroon and Gabon. A militant atheist, Macías Nguema also targeted Christians and closed all mission schools, effectively ending all education. In the heavily Roman Catholic country, Catholic services were banned.
In 1979 Macias Nguema was overthrown by his nephew, one of the architects of his reign of terror. Although multiparty elections were instituted in 1993, fraud and intimidation remain the instruments by which Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo remains in power.
The current president is Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. The 1982 constitution 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 retains his role as commander in chief of the armed forces and minister of defense, and he 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 areas other than foreign affairs, national defense, and security.
On December 15, 2002, Equatorial Guinea's four main opposition parties withdrew from the country's presidential election. Obiang won an election widely considered fraudulent by members of the Western press. There is no limit on the number of terms he may serve.
The legal system is based on a combination of Spanish law and the tribal system. Violent crime (and even petty theft) is rare compared to rates in other African nations. The government greatly restricts the rights of its citizens. The judicial system does not ensure due process, and prisoners are often tortured. The government has a record of arbitrary arrest, interference with privacy and family, restriction of movement, and lack of freedom of speech, press, and religion, among other abuses.
A huge proportion of the country's revenue is confiscated by the president, while most of the 500,000 subjects subsist on less than a dollar a day, sewage runs through the streets of the capital Malabo, and there is no public transport and little running water or electricity.
Equatorial Guinea is divided into seven provinces (capitals appear in parentheses):
Though pre-independence Equatorial Guinea counted on cocoa and coffee production for hard currency earnings, the discovery of large offshore petroleum reserves in 1996 and its subsequent exploitation have contributed to a dramatic increase in government revenue. Equatorial Guinea has become the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, with oil production at 360,000 barrels/day. The cocoa and coffee plantations were nationalized and destroyed during Macias Nguema's years in power.
Timber exploitation, 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 U.S. Senate published an investigation into Riggs Bank, a Washington-based bank into which most of Equatorial Guinea's oil revenues were paid until recently. The Senate report showed that at least $35 million was siphoned off by Obiang, his family, and senior officials of his regime. The president denied any wrongdoing.
Despite a per capita GDP (PPP) of more than $50,200 (2005 est.), Equatorial Guinea ranks 121st out of 177 countries on the UN Human Development Index. Few improvements have been made to the living conditions of the people, and most people live in poverty. Good-paying jobs in the oil industry are reserved for the ruling party's faithful.
While there is a legal working age of eighteen, this is not enforced, and many children are engaged in farm work and street vending. A significant amount of work is performed by prisoners, who are forced to labor both inside and outside the prisons.
It is rare to see women employed outside the home in typically male jobs. They are responsible for domestic labor and child care, although rural women also work in agriculture. The lack of women in professional jobs is perpetuated by inequalities in education.
The majority of the people of Equatorial Guinea 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 percent of the population and are themselves divided into sixty-seven clans. Those in the northern part of Rio Muni speak Fang-Ntumu, while those in the south speak Fang-Okah; the two dialects have differences but are mutually intelligible. Dialects of Fang are also spoken in parts of neighboring Cameroon (Bulu) and Gabon. These dialects, while still intelligible, are more distinct. The Bulu Fang of Cameroon were traditional rivals of Fang in Rio Muni. (The Bubi, who constitute 15 percent of the population, are indigenous to Bioko Island.
The Bubis had migrated to Bioko from the West African mainland some three thousand to five thousand years before Portuguese explorer Fernao do Po discovered the island in 1472. They had formed their own society, distinct and unique among Bantu tribes.
The Bubis still live on Bioko, oppressed as a minority tribe under the president from the larger Fang tribe. Their numbers were seriously depleted under previous dictator Francisco Macias Nguema's systematic slaughter, which began shortly after the country's independence from Spain in 1968. Tens of thousands of Bubi, an estimated two-thirds of the population, were tortured, executed, beaten to death in labor camps, or managed to escape the island.
Many Bubi today who fled Macias Nguema's murderous regime live in exile in Spain. Returning home to Bioko to the abject poverty and unstable politics still wrought by President Obiang's corrupt regime is an unattractive option.
In addition, there are coastal tribes, sometimes referred to as "Playeros" (Beach People in Spanish): Ndowes, Bujebas, Balengues, Kombis, and Bengas on the mainland and small islands, and "Fernandinos," a Creole community, on Bioko. Together, these groups compose five percent of the population. Some Europeans (largely of Spanish or Portuguese descent)—among them those mixed with African ethnicity—also live in the nation. Most Spaniards left after independence.
There is a growing number of foreigners from neighboring Cameroon, Nigeria, and Gabon. Equatorial Guinea received Asians and black Africans from other countries as workers on the cocoa and coffee plantations. Other black Africans came from Liberia, Angola, and Mozambique, and Asians are mostly Chinese. Equatorial Guinea also allowed many fortune-seeking European settlers of other nationalities, including British, French and Germans. After independence, thousands of Equatorial Guineans went to Spain. Another 100,000 Equatorial Guineans went to Cameroon, Gabon, and Nigeria because of the dictatorship of Macías Nguema. Some of its communities also live in Brazil, Spanish-speaking Latin American nations, the United States, Portugal, and France.
Oil extraction has contributed to a doubling of the population in Malabo.
Total adult literacy is 85.7 percent (males 93.3 percent and females 78.4 percent).
The official languages are Spanish and French, though the aboriginal languages, such as Fang and Bubi, are recognized as "integral parts of the national culture." The great majority of Equatorial Guineans speak Spanish, especially those living in the capital, Malabo. Spanish has been an official language since 1844.
In July 2007, President Teodoro Obiang Ngumema announced his government's decision that Portuguese would become Equatorial Guinea's third official language, in order to apply for full membership of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). An upgrade from its current associate observer condition would result in Equatorial Guinea being able to access several professional and academic exchange programs and the facilitation of cross-border circulation of citizens. Its application is currently being assessed by other CPLP members.
The literary tradition in Equatorial Guinea is oral rather than written. There is a wide range of myths and legends that are passed on from one generation to the next, some meant to preserve the history of the tribes, others to explain natural phenomena. Sorcerers and witches often figure prominently.
Music and dance are central elements of Equatorial Guinean culture, both Fang and Bubi. Many of the songs and dances have religious significance. Drums are a common instrument, as are wooden xylophones; bow harps; zithers; and the sanza, a small thumb piano fashioned from bamboo. The accompaniment to a dance usually consists of three or four musicians. The balélé dance is usually performed on Christmas and other holidays. The ibanga, the Fang national dance, is popular along the coast. Its movements are highly sexual. The men and women who perform it cover their bodies in white powder.
Several cultural dispersion and literacy organizations are located in the country, founded chiefly with the financial support of the Spanish government. The country has one university, the Universidad Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial (UNGE) with a campus in Malabo and a Faculty of Medicine located in Bata on the mainland. The Bata Medical School is supported principally by the government of Cuba and staffed by Cuban medical educators and physicians.
Polygyny is common among the Fang. Traditionally, upon marriage the husband gives a dowry to the family of the bride. Women generally become part of their husband's family upon marriage. Men often beat their wives, and while public beating is illegal, abuse in the home is not, and there is no mechanism for prosecuting domestic violence. According to the custom of most tribes, if the marriage breaks up, the wife is obligated to return the dowry. Additionally, the husband receives custody of all children born in wedlock. Extended families often live together. When a couple marries, it is traditional for them to move in with the husband's family.
The most dominant form of mass media in the country is the three state-operated FM radio stations. There are also five shortwave radio stations.
There are no daily newspapers. Most of the media companies practice heavy self-censorship and are banned by law from criticizing public figures. The state-owned media and the main private radio station are run by Teodorin Nguema Obiang, the president's son.
The main foods are cassava root, bananas, rice, and yams. People supplement their primarily plant-based diet through hunting and fishing. Palm wine and malamba (an alcoholic drink made from sugarcane) are both popular. Chicken and duck are usually served at special occasions.
Fernando Po (now Bioko) is featured prominently in the 1975 science fiction work The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. In the story, the island (and, in turn, the country) experience a series of coups that lead the world to the verge of nuclear war.
Most of the action in Robin Cook's book Chromosome 6 takes place in Equatorial Guinea, where an international biochemical corporation, "GenSys," has established a primate research facility due to the permissive laws of the country. The book indicates something of the geography, history, and people of Equatorial Guinea.
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