Equatorial Guinea

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Combining continental and insular territories, Equatorial Guinea’s small population and extensive oil reserves give it the highest per capita GDP in Africa. It also has massive inequalities and an appalling human rights record. The Obiang regime, in power since 1979, is infamous for attacks on press freedom, suppression of opposition movements, rampant corruption and unwillingness to act on key issues such as human trafficking.


Equatorial Guinea is an located in central West Africa. In addition to a continental territory called Rio Muni and bordered by Cameroon and Gabon, Equatorial Guinea also covers five islands in the Gulf of Guinea. The largest of these, Bioko, is also the site of the countries capital Malabo. The other, much smaller, islands are Corisco, an important location for Equatorial Guinea’s oil production, the two uninhabited Elobey islands of Grande and Chico and the island of Annobon, some distance further south and west out into the Atlantic ocean. Despite the name, no part of Equatorial Guinea actually lies upon the equator - the entire country is in the northern hemisphere except for Annobon, which is in the southern.

Population and Language

The size of the population of Equatorial Guinea is difficult to determine. In 2001, for example, a national census put it as over one million.[1]. World Bank data for 2010, by contrast, put the number at closer to 700,000 [2] while the UNDP puts the current figure at around 740,500. Due to a lack of reliable data, these figures are largely based on projections.

The largest ethnic group in Equatorial Guinea are the Fang, a people of Bantu origin, who make up 80% of the population. Rio Muni is the historic centre of the Fang population and they still make up the majority of its inhabitants. The second largest group is the Bubi, who make up about 15% of the population. The indigenous inhabitants of Bioko island, the Bubi have endured a long history of persecution, displacement and even outright genocide at the hands of both the European colonial powers and the other ethnic groups in the region. Greatly reduced in numbers, they now make up a minority even in Bioko. In addition to these, there are other smaller ethnic groups around the country, mostly on the coasts and the smaller islands from which they derive the sometimes used collective name of palyeros (“beach people” in Spanish). The majority of the population are Christian - predominantly Roman Catholic - with small groups of Muslims, Baha'i and members of indigenous faiths.

The official languages of Equatorial Guinea are Spanish, French and Portuguese. In addition, many of the people also speak indigenous languages, a number of which are derived from Bantu. Fang, named for the ethnic group who make up the majority of its speakers, is the most prevalent of these.

History and Politics

Controlled intermittently by Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom, the islands and territories that today make up Equatorial Guinea were a major entry point for European powers into the African interior. Historically a key site of the slave trade, the islands also represented an important site for a naval base, commanding the Bay of Guinea and central West coast of Africa. After spending the first half of the twentieth century under Spanish rule, the islands and the mainland territory petitioned for independence during the 1960s. This was granted in 1968 and the country's first (and so far only) election resulted in the presidency of Francisco Macías Nguema, a former mayor and parliament member who had served as deputy Prime minister during the interim post-independence government. By 1972, he had repealed the vast majority of the controls on executive power contained within the constitution, declared himself president for life and brought in a raft of new laws to crush political opposition. His rule would be one of the bloodiest in all post-independence Africa, leading to the deaths or flight of tens of thousands. Targeting particularly intellectuals and priests, Nguema’s rule saw little economic development and no accounting for public funds - Nguema in fact killed the head of the central bank and any remaining funds into his own keeping.[3].

By 1979, Nguema had turned on his own inner circle, executing several including members of his own family. His nephew and vice-minister of the armed forces, Teodoro Obiang, took the lead in the military coup that finally overthrew Nguema. Defeated, Nguema was placed on trial for, amongst many other things, genocide and was executed shortly afterwards. Obiang himself took control of the country shortly afterwards. Despite promising to end the dictatorial system of his predecessor and removing some of the formal blocks on opposition, Obiang’s subsequent election victories been characterised by rampant fraud and intimidation. Though condemned internationally and the subject of at least one recent coup attempt by outside forces, the enormous oil wealth discovered in Equatorial Guinea at the end of the twentieth century has insulted Obiang from the consequences of his regimes conduct.

Obiang now rules Equatorial Guinea as a presidential republic. The pretense of democracy is maintained, with elections at five year intervals and a hundred seat house of representatives, soon to be reformed into chamber of deputies and, smaller, senate. In reality, however, these institutions have very little power and are overwhelmingly filled with the President's supporters, while the elections regularly return more than 95% support for Obiang amid an atmosphere of fraud and corruption.. The country is effectively a one party state - though others do exist, Obiang’s PDGE have a monopoly on power and public influence ahd membership is a prerequisite for almost all public employment or positions of powers. Opposition political parties, on the other hand, are subject to surveillance, frequent arrest, harassment and violence by state security forces.[4]


Equatorial Guinea’s economy is dominated by the oil sector, building on the reserves discovered in the mid 1990s and making it one of the largest oil producers in sub-Saharan Africa. While export of crude petroleum and liquid natural gas form the major part of economic activity, agriculture, lumber and fishing also still play an important role. While Equatorial Guinea’s GDP per capita was around $18,868 in 2007 - the highest of any sub-Saharan African country - this prosperity is very unevenly spread, with a small elite living in luxury while much of the rest of the country endures poverty and underdevelopment.[5] Equatorial Guinea ranks 136 worldwide on the United Nations Human Development Index - while scoring above average for the region, this rating rests disprortionately on income rather than on adaquate provision of health or education.[6]

Media and Civil Society

Equatorial Guinea’s record on political rights, civil liberties and freedom of the press are frequently described as being among the very worst in the world. Journalists and human rights campaigners face surveillance, arbitrary arrest, violence and imprisonment. Persistent opponents of the president also have a habit of dying under mysterious circumstances. Freedom House gives Equatorial Guinea the worst score possible in both Political Rights and Civil Liberties..[7] Corruption is also reckoned to be amongst the worst in the world, ranking 163rd on Transparency Internationals index.[8].

Despite this abysmal situation, some possibilities for change and improvement of do exist. This is encouraged by a community of campaigners and activists who normally, for their own safety, have to operate from outside the country. While not always going through with its stated commitments, Equatorial Guinea does not usually contest the recommendations it receives during international reviews, such as the UPR. The government has also shown a greater desire to engage with international institutions, which can be used as leverage to encourage them to abide by better standards in the future. Equatorial Guinea was, for example, delisted in 2010 from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, creating an opportunity to demand much needed reforms as a condition of re-admittance.[9]

Human Rights and Children's Rights

Human rights are frequently abused in Equatorial Guinea. Abuses by government and security forces are widespread, including the use of torture and arbitrary arrest. Death penalties are handed out by the courts and, in some cases, are carried out within the hour offering no chance of appeal. Political opponents have been kidnapped from other countries and brought back to Guinea where to be imprisoned or face torture.

Discrimination and persecution of minority ethnic groups is a persistent problem in Equatorial Guinea. The Bubi people were victims of genocide under Nguema. While not as actively persecuted under Obiang, they are still marginalised by Fang dominated institutions and have been largely displaced from their traditional home of Bioko.

Childrens rights in Equatorial Guinea have several areas that are a major cause for concern. In addition to suffering from the same or greater effects of restricted civil rights and widespread poverty as adults, children are frequently exposed to the worst forms of labour, including forced labour and sex work, and frequently experience separation from one of both parents. Trafficking of women and children, particularly girls, is a major issue in Equatorial Guinea,, as well as corporal punishment and sexual abuse. Finally, despite the relative wealth of the country, maternal and infant mortality rates remain very high.[10]



Quick Facts

  • Population:740,500 (approx) (UNDP, 2012)
  • Population under 18: 327,000 (UNICEF, 2011)
  • Number of internet users: 42,024 (6.1% of population) (Internet World Stats, 2011)
  • Human Development Index ranking: 136 (UNDP, 2012)
  • Happy Planet Ranking:N/A