Equatorial Guinea - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Republic of Equatorial Guinea
Formation 1968 / 1968
Population 700,000 / 65 people per sq mile (25 people per sq km)
Total area 10,830 sq. miles (28,051 sq. km)
Languages Spanish*, Fang, Bubi, French*
Religions Roman Catholic 90%, Other 10%
Ethnic mix Fang 85%, Other 11%, Bubi 4%
Government Presidential system
Currency CFA franc = 100 centimes
Literacy rate 93%
Calorie consumption Not available
It is thought that the Pygmies, hunter-gatherers of the equatorial rain forests, were the first inhabitants of the area now occupied by Equitorial Guinea. In the 17th century C.E. the Bantu tribes migrated into the region from the southern parts of Africa, and tribal warfare began between the indigenous Pygmies and the Bantu-speaking tribes. The Pygmies were unable to stand up to the might of the Bantus and were forced into the northern parts of the region. Today only a small number of Pygmies live in the forest regions of Equatorial Guinea.
The Bantu migrations brought the coastal tribes, sometimes called playeros, who came from the northeast and the Fang to the region. The Fang, in turn, may have produced the Bubi, who emigrated to Bioko from Cameroon and the Río Muni region of Equitorial Guinea in several waves and supplanted former neolithic populations.
Fernando Pó (fl. 15th c.), a Portuguese explorer, was the first European to set foot in the region, and he paved the way for European domination. He landed on what is now Bioko Island in 1472, while seeking new routes to India. Enchanted by its beauty he named the island Floro Formosa, which means “pretty flower.” The island was later renamed for its discoverer and came to be known as Fernando Pó Island.
By 1474 the island of Fernando Pó and neighboring Annobon island were controlled by the Portuguese, who established a colony in the region. In 1778 the Portuguese entered into the Treaty of Pardo with Spain, which required Portugal to hand over the administration of Fernando Pó Island, its adjacent islets, and commercial rights to the mainland between the Niger and Ogooué Rivers to Spain in exchange for certain South American territories. Thus began an era of Spanish domination in the region.
Spain’s control remained intact until 1827, when the British, seeking to combat the slave trade, began to establish bases here between 1827 and 1843. Río Muni was declared a British Protectorate in 1843. This led to frequent skirmishes between the Spanish and the British armies over ownership of the mainland. In 1900 the Treaty of Paris resolved these disagreements, and Río Muni became a British colony while Spain was granted administrative control over the mainland territories.
Between 1926 and 1959 all the Spanish territories in the region were united, and the colony was collectively called Spanish Guinea. During their colonial reign the Spanish employed a large number of Nigerian laborers to work on the cocoa plantations, which formed the basis of the economy. They also built schools and encouraged education, so that, at one time Spanish Guinea had the highest literacy rate in this part of Africa.
In 1959 the Gulf of Guinea became part of Spain, and its name was changed to the Spanish Equatorial Region. A governor-general with both civilian and military authority was appointed. Local elections in the Spanish Equatorial Region took place that year, and the Equatoguinean representatives won seats in the Spanish Parliament. The two provinces into which the region was divided were granted limited autonomy under the Basic Law of December 1963. The region was renamed Equatorial Guinea, and, although the country was still ruled by the governor-general, the Equatorial Guinean General Assembly had the right to formulate laws and regulations.
The people of the region wanted complete independence, however, and protested against Spain’s reluctance to grant the country autonomy.
After mounting pressure from the UN and widespread anti-Spanish protests in the region, Spain relented and announced its decision to grant full independent status to Equatorial Guinea. Under the watchful eyes of UN observers, a public referendum was held in Equatorial Guinea on August 11, 1968, and its citizens voted unanimously in favor of a constitution that would establish a government led by a president who, in turn, would appoint the judges of the Supreme Court. Francisco Macías Nguema (1924–79) was sworn in as the first president of Equatorial Guinea in September 1968.
Complete independent status was granted by Spain on October 12, 1968.
In July 1970 Macías declared the country a oneparty state and abrogated key portions of the constitution in 1971. In 1972 he went a step further and declared himself president for life, establishing total control over the government. The Macías regime unleashed an era of terror in Equatorial Guinea, and more than one-third of the country’s population was either killed or exiled. Education suffered as Macías ordered the closure of all schools in 1975. Religion was suppressed, and all of Equatorial Guinea’s churches were closed by 1978. Obsessed by his theory of “authenticity,” which involved replacing colonial names with native names, Macías began by changing his own name from Francisco Macías Nguema to Masie Ngueme Biyogo.
His name itself underwent subsequent transformations; by the end of his rule, he was called Masie Nguema Biyogo Ñegue Ndong. Under his rule the island of Fernando Pó was renamed Macías Nguema Biyogo, Annabolo Island was renamed Pagalu, and the capital of Santa Isabel became Malabo. He ordered the entire population to follow his example and drop their European names in favor of native ones.
Growing discontent among the people, however, began to manifest itself in protests and demonstrations.
Finally in August 1979 Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (b. 1942), Macías’s nephew, led a coup against him, and Macías was tried and then executed for his crimes. Obiang assumed presidency of Equatorial Guinea in October 1979. The original names of the islands of Bioko (also Bioco) and Annobolo were restored.
Although Obiang continued as president in the early years of the 21st century as the result of successive electoral victories, outside observers see these elections as flawed. Locally, there have been occasional boycotts by opposition parties such as the Union Popular (UP) and the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS).
In March 2004 the government discovered a plot to overthrow the Obiang administration.
Mark Thatcher (b.
1953), the only son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (b. 1925), was arrested in South Africa for his alleged role in the plot. Obiang, who may be suffering from prostate cancer, has no obvious successor, a situation that has started a political struggle within the Equatoguinean elite.
In 2004 in the course of its investigation into Riggs Bank, based in Washington, D.C., where most of Equatorial Guinea’s oil revenues were paid, the U.S. Senate.
found that at least $35 million of those revenues had been siphoned off by Obiang, his family, and several senior officials in his regime. Obiang has denied any wrongdoing. In 2005 Riggs Bank paid $9 million to Chile as restitution for helping Augusto Pinochet conceal government funds; but no restitution has been made to Equatorial Guinea.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Located in Western Africa, Equatorial Guinea is made up of two provinces: Bioko Island is located in the Bight of Biafra (the eastern bay of the Gulf of Guinea) and lies off the coast of Cameroon in North Africa, while the mainland area of Río Muni is flanked by Gabon in the south and east and Cameroon in the north.
Bioko Island has three extinct volcanoes and rich fertile volcanic soil, providing the perfect environment for the growth of vines and a wide variety of trees. Farmers spend most of their time trying to prevent the vines from encroaching on their cocoa plantations. The mainland region of Río Muni, also has thick vegetation, and its forested region is home to walnut and African mahogany trees. Equatorial Guinea is home to a wide variety of wild animals such as elephants, lions, and gazelle (antelope).
The three main rivers in the region are: the Rio Campo (which forms the northern boundary), the Mbini River (which flows through the central parts), and Río Muni (a part of the southern boundary).
The coastal plains of Río Muni have a number of valleys, which are separated by the scattered hills of the Crystal Mountains. The Mbini River (formerly Río Benito) divides the region into two roughly equal parts.
Equatorial Guinea has a tropical climate characterized by extremely hot temperatures and humidity.
While it rains heavily on Bioko Island, mainland Río Muni is somewhat drier. The annual mean temperature is 81°F.
When Equatorial Guinea became independent, its citizens were among the most prosperous and welleducated in Africa. When the Spanish were in power they imported Nigerian labor to develop large cocoa plantations, and used the trade revenue to build an impressive system of schools and hospitals. However the repressive Macías regime decimated the country’s infrastructure through pilferage, ignorance, and neglect. Approximately 60,000 Nigerian laborers left en masse in 1976, along with most other foreigners and skilled citizens, so that the country’s economy collapsed.
Compounding the workforce problems is the fact that Equatorial Guinea is a transit and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation, involuntary domestic servitude, and other forced labor. Women and children are brought into the country from West and Central Africa, principally neighboring Cameroon, Nigeria, and Benin. Women are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation in Malabo, where demand is high due to the booming oil sector.
Currently agriculture is still the primary occupation, employing more than half the population, in spite of the fact that the neglect of the rural economy under successive oppressive regimes has diminished the possibility of agricultural growth. Fishing is also carried out extensively in the coastal areas.
The recent discovery and exploitation of large oil reserves in the equatorial region, however, may provide a much-needed boost to the economy, but government and military officials and their families own most of the country’s businesses. Financial aid and concessions provided by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank were discontinued in 1993, after reports of financial mismanagement and corruption emerged. The 2004 Riggs Bank Scandal, which involved the bank’s conspiracy in an embezzlement by Obiang, has not improved the prospects for Equatorial Guinea’s economic future.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
In Equatorial Guinea the Bantu-speaking Fang are the dominant ethnic group. Among the Fang sorcerers are important members of the community, and the power of black magic is both feared and respected. Special ceremonies take place within the community to ward off the evil eye. One of the prominent ceremonies is the abira, which is performed to purge evil from the community.
The coastal areas are inhabited by the playeros, or “beach dwellers,” peoples with a long history of intermarriage with Europeans.
The Bubi are the native inhabitants of Bioko Island; after the arrival of the Europeans their population dwindled considerably. The region is also home to the Fernandos, descendants of slaves freed by the British in the 19th century. Although Spanish is an official language of Equatorial Guinea the Fang and the Bubi prefer speaking their own languages.
Almost 85 percent of the country’s population is Roman Catholic, while 15 percent adhere to traditional animist beliefs.
Polygamy is the norm and in the case of divorce, the laws of inheritance favor men. Limited educational opportunities are provided for women, and they are not encouraged to pursue higher education at all.
Equatorial Guinea has a rich cultural heritage, and song and dance are especially important. The balele (a passionate dance) and ibanga (a suggestive dance) are popular and are usually performed during cultural feasts and on special holidays. Dancing is accompanied by an orchestra of three musicians, who typically play the xylophone, drums, sanzas (a small thumb piano made from bamboo), and bow harps.
The traditional folklore of the Fang is called mvet, which is named after the guitarlike instrument of the same name played by Fang balladeers as they recite the legends of their people. Wooden trumpets, xylophones, and drums also feature in the mvet (a name given to both the folklore and the musical instrument).
Traditional Fang cuisine features gari (flour made from cassava, or manioc), which is cooked into a thick porridge and served with a spicy sauce made out of insects (such as caterpillars), leaves, and crushed gourd seeds. Mushrooms, snails, yams, and plantains are also familiar culinary ingredients. Skewered and cooked beef and chicken are commonly served with rice and a spicy sauce.
Palm wine, beer, and sugarcane juice are the favorite beverages, and many Equatorial Guineans brew their own palm wine and millet beer.
Among the Bubi when people are on their deathbed, their friends and relatives surround them in silence.
After the person dies the women leave the house and mourn outside. A group of relatives wash the body and prepare the deceased for burial. Another group proceeds to the cemetery to dig the grave. The Bubi believe in burying the dead as quickly as possible.