Equatorial Guinea gained independence in 1968 after 190 years of Spanish rule. This tiny country, composed of a mainland portion plus five inhabited islands, is one of the smallest on the African continent. President Teodoro OBIANG NGUEMA MBASOGO has ruled the country since 1979 when he seized power in a coup. 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 oil 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.
MALABO 3 75 N, 8 76 E, 183 feet (56 meters) above sea level.
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 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 periodically, 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 which thousands of Nigerian workers were imported as laborers. At independence in 1968, largely as a result of this 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 the former director of the infamous Black Beach prison, 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 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. The next presidential election is scheduled for 2009.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
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 maintains close supervision of military activity. In June 2004, the President 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 in areas other than foreign affairs, national defense, and security.
The Chamber of Representatives is comprised of 100 members elected by direct suffrage for 5-year terms. In practice, the Chamber is not independent and rarely acts without presidential approval or direction. A new National Assembly was directly elected in April 2004. There are 100 members in this body, of which 14 are from the loyal opposition and 2 from opposition parties (the CPDS: Convergencia Para la Democracia Social). The next legislative election is scheduled for 2008.
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 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 abuses and atrocities that characterized the Macias years have been eliminated, effective rule of law does not exist and the government is ultimately run by the Presidency. Religious freedom is tolerated.
Principal Government Officials
President--Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Brig. Gen. (ret.)
Prime Minister--Ricardo Mangue
Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation--Pastor Micha Ondo Bile
Oil and gas exports have increased substantially and will drive the economy for years to come. Real GDP growth reached 18% in 2000, 66% in 2001, 20% in 2002, 10% in 2003 and 25.7% in 2004 (est.). Per capita income rose from about $590 in 1998 to $2,000 in 2000 and $5,300 in 2004. The energy export sector is responsible for this rapid growth. Oil production increased from 81,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) in 1998 to more than 300,000 bbl/d by 2004. In 2005 production was estimated to be 420,000 bbl/d. Exploration efforts continue in search of further potential offshore concessions.
Equatorial Guinea has other unexploited human and natural resources, including a tropical climate, fertile soils, rich expanses of water, deepwater ports, and an untapped, if unskilled, source of labor. Following independence in 1968, the country suffered under a repressive dictatorship for 11 years, which devastated the economy. The agricultural sector, historically known for cocoa of the highest quality, never fully recovered. In 1969, Equatorial Guinea produced 36,161 tons of highly bid cocoa, but production dropped to 4,800 tons in 2000 and 3,430 tons in 2002. It increased slightly from 2003 levels to 2,906 tons by 2004. Coffee production was 126,000 metric tons in 2002, up from 67000 tons 5 years earlier. Timber is the main source of foreign exchange after oil, though it now only accounts for 2% of total export earnings. Timber production increased steadily during the 1990s; wood exports reached a record 789,000 cubic meters in 1999 as demand in Asia (mainly China) gathered pace after the 1998 economic crisis. Since 1998, production of timber has fallen closer to a sustainable level. 530,500 cubic meters were sold in 2002. Most of the production (mainly Okoume) goes to exports, and only 3% is processed locally. Bioko Island has already suffered permanent damage due to earlier exploitation. Consumer price inflation has declined from the 38.8% experienced in 1994 following the CFA franc devaluation, to 7.8% in 1998, and 4.0% in 2000, according to BEAC data. Consumer prices inflation has remained steady at around 6% since 2002.
Equatorial Guinea's economic policies, as defined by law, 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 2005 government revenue was about $1.97 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. The government is anxious for greater U.S. investment. 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 and Mobil 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 a national oil company, GEPetrol, under the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons.
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. A French company operates cellular telephone service in cooperation with a state enterprise. Most of the new infrastructure has not reached the average Equatoguinean living on the mainland. Agriculture, fishing, livestock, and tourism are among sectors the government would like targeted.
Equatorial Guinea's balance-of-payments situation has improved substantially since the mid-1990s because of new oil and gas production and favorable world energy prices. Exports totaled $6.72 billion in 2005. Crude oil exports now annually accounts for more than 97% 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 $1.86 billion in 2005.
Equatorial Guinea in the 1980s and 1990s received foreign assistance from numerous bilateral and multilateral donors, including European countries, the United States, and the World Bank. Many of these aid programs have ceased altogether or have diminished. Spain, France, and the European Union continue to provide some project assistance, as do China and Cuba. The government also has discussed working with World Bank assistance to develop government administrative capacity.
Equatorial Guinea operated under an International Monetary Fund-negotiated Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) until 1996. Since then, there have been no formal agreements or arrangements. However, since 1996, the IMF has held regular held Article IV consultations (periodic country evaluations). After the 2003 consultations, IMF directors stressed the need for further improvements in governance and transparency, the attainment of a sustainable fiscal position, the implementation of structural reforms to bolster the non-oil sector, the development of a transparent framework for saving and managing part of the country?s oil wealth and a comprehensive effort to reduce poverty.
Trade and Investment
With investments estimated at $11 billion, the United States is the largest cumulative bilateral foreign investor in Equatorial Guinea. In 2003, 74% of U.S. exports to Equatorial Guinea consisted of energy sector-related transportation and machinery equipment. The United States' main import from Equatorial Guinea is petroleum (99% of imports in 2003). In 1999, the European Union (EU) imported $281.7 million in goods from Equatorial Guinea, 89% of which was petroleum and 7% timber. The European Union exported $104 million to Equatorial Guinea. Approximately 20% of these exports were oil and gas-related, and the remaining 80% ranged from agricultural products to clothing to used cars.
Infrastructure is generally old and in poor condition. 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. The Chinese are undertaking a project to link Mongomo to Bata, both cities 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 (on the mainland). A new road links Malabo with the airport and there have been improvements in the city. The program is estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but there are doubts over the capacity of the government to manage such a huge scheme.
Estimates of Equatorial Guinea's electricity generating capacity vary, with 15.4 megawatts (MW) of certain installed capacity, and 5-30 MW of estimated additional capacity. About 5.0 MW are located on the mainland, including 4 MW of oil-fired thermal capacity and 1 MW of hydroelectric capacity. Bioko Island receives electricity from two thermal plants and one hydroelectric plant. The expansion of natural gas production at the Alba field in recent years has provided a convenient fuel source for new power generation in the country. The 10.4-MW, natural gas-fired Punta Europa plant began operation in 1999, supplying gas-fired electricity to Bioko Island. Another 4-6 MW of generation capacity is currently under construction at the AMPCO complex on the island. Equatorial Guinea is estimated to have 2,600 MW of hydropower potential.
Equatorial Guinea's electricity sector is owned and operated by the state-run monopoly, SEGESA. The power supply is unreliable, 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 source of power supply. In Malabo, the American company, Marathon Oil, built a 30 mega-watt electric power plant financed by the government, which came on line in mid-2000.
Potable water is available in the major towns but is not always reliable because of poor maintenance and mismanagement; consequently, supply interruptions are often 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 through an efficient, digital fixed network and good mobile coverage. Getesa?s fixed-line service has 9,000 subscribers and the mobile service has 28,000. Internet access is limited and has yet to make an impact on the dissemination of 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 are severely overextended and require extensive rehabilitation and reconditioning. In partnership with a U.S. petroleum company, Amerada Hess, a British company, Incat, has made significant progress in a project to renovate and expand Luba, the country's third-largest port, located on Bioko Island. The government hopes Luba will become a major transportation hub for offshore oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf of Guinea. Luba is located some 50 kilometers from Malabo and was previously virtually inactive except for minor fishing activities and occasional use to ease congestion in Malabo. Riaba, the only other port of any scale on Bioko, is less active. The continental ports of Mbini and Cogo have deteriorated as well and are now used primarily for timber.
Five small airlines now offer regular daily services between the two cities of Malabo and Bata and nearby neighboring countries. A few aging Soviet-built aircraft operated by several small carriers (one state-owned, the others private,) constitute this national aircraft fleet. In March of 2006 the European Union fully banned most airlines based in Equatorial Guinea from flying into the EU. The influx of oil workers has increased international air activity. Major international carriers now connect Malabo to the European cities of Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, and Zurich. A weekly business-class charter flight was providing service to Houston, Texas. The runway at Malabo?s international airport (3,200 meters) is equipped with lights and can service equipment similar to DC-10s and C130s. The runway at Bata (2,400 meters) does not operate at night but can accommodate aircraft as large as B737s. Two minor airstrips (800 meters) are located at Mongomo and on the island of Annobon.
Oil is Equatorial Guinea's most valuable asset. Since the discovery of the Zafiro field in 1995, production has increased more than tenfold, and oil has quickly become the country's most important export commodity, accounting for nearly 90% of the value of total exports in 2003. Equatorial Guinea is now the third largest producer of crude oil in sub-Saharan Africa, after Nigeria and Angola. Equatorial Guinea's oil reserves are located mainly in the hydrocarbon-rich Gulf of Guinea, containing estimated probable reserves as high as 10% of the world total. As a result, 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.
Oil production from Equatorial Guinea is expanding rapidly, averaging 237,500 bbl/d in 2003, of which 206,000 was crude. This represents a tremendous increase from the 1996 oil output of 17,000 bbl/d. Production improvements and expansion projects undertaken in 2003 pushed petroleum output even higher, resulting in average production of 350,000 bbl/d for the first half of 2004. In October 2004, the government capped production levels at 350,000 bbl/d to extend the life of the country's petroleum reserves. Three fields--Zafiro, Ceiba, and Alba--currently account for the majority of the country's oil output.
Equatorial Guinea's oil profits have expanded since 1998, when the country introduced more liberal regulatory and profit sharing arrangements for hydrocarbon exploration and production activities, including revised and updated Production Sharing Contracts (PSCs). As a result, government oil revenues increased from 13% to 20% of total oil export earnings. Although significant, the government's share is still relatively small by international standards.
In 2001, GEPetrol became Equatorial Guinea's national oil company. It was established as 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 interest stakes in various 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. Plans to increase the government's stake in new and existing PSCs have been discussed, but not formally pursued.
The majority of the reserves are found in the Zafiro field, located northwest of Bioko Island and south of Nigeria's offshore oil fields. In recent years, Exxon Mobil has focused on increasing production from Zafiro, expanding drilling capacity to accommodate this plan. Zafiro 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 has risen dramatically during the past 2-3 years, 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 new 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 (US), Devon Energy (US), 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 Guineau gave the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) the rights to its newest oil field. While China?s capacity for deep-water drilling remains thus far unproven, CNOOC expects to complete two new oil rigs by 2009.
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 has expanded rapidly in the last five years in response to 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 and GE Petrol have joined together in a $1.4 billion deal to construct a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility on Bioko Island. In May 2003, the government gave final approval for the plan to construct an LNG plant, once Marathon and GE Petrol had secured a 17-year purchase agreement with British Gas (BG) of the United Kingdom. Under the contract, the LNG facility will supply 3.4 million tons of LNG to BG, beginning in 2007. In June 2005, Marathon and GE Petrol restructured the deal to include two Japanese companies, Mitsui and Marubeni, as minority shareholders. Natural gas consumption in Equatorial Guinea has increased in recent years, along with higher production. Natural gas consumption jumped to 45 Bcf in 2002, from approximately 1 Bcf during each of the four previous years.
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