Politics and Economy
The current president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, has held power since 1979 and maintains a highly repressive regime. Civil society and journalists are censored. The vast majority of the country’s political power is concentrated in the president’s family. Elections occur, but they are neither free nor fair. The country is deeply plagued by corruption and serves as an example of a country that suffers from the resource curse.
Oil supports the endeavors of the president and his highly wasteful spending. U.S. companies dominate the country’s oil business and most of Equatorial Guinea’s exports end up in the United States. Prior to oil discovery in the 1990s, cacao, coffee, and timber exports were the primary commodities of the economy. Today, the oil revenues have caused Equatorial Guinea to have the highest gross national income (GNI) per capita of all of Africa. However, this measurement is misleading as the wealth is highly concentrated with the president’s family. The country has one of the highest rates of inequality in the world as measured by the Gini coefficient.
Tourism plays little role in the country’s economy as it is one of the least visited countries in the world (North Korea doesn’t even make it onto the list; that’s how few visitors we’re talking). The country has undergone international isolationism as part of the rise of the dictatorial family. Citizens of the U.S. are notably exempt from the expensive, prearranged visa requirement primarily due to the country’s relationship with U.S. oil companies.
Equatorial Guinea was colonized by several European countries. First European contact came from the Portuguese in 1472. Early efforts to develop sugarcane plantations largely failed given the extreme humidity, rainfall, and temperature fluctuations. Centuries later, the Portuguese and Spain signed a treaty that transferred the colony to Spanish control. For several decades in the 19th century, Spain leased the territory to the British. Independence finally came in 1968 after centuries of exploitation, disease, and the alienation of some native groups while privileging others. The stage was set for a weak democratic transition into repressive authoritarianism later compounded by oil and imperialism. As a result of Spanish colonialism, Equatorial Guinea is the only Spanish speaking country in Africa.
Geography and Ecology
The country is composed of a relatively small territory on mainland Africa and several islands. The largest island, Bioko, is home to the capital Malabo and the largest share of the country’s population. Bioko is actually much closer to Cameroon than mainland Equatorial Guinea, referred to as Río Muni. Bioko also contains Pico Basilé (one of the tallest volcanos in Africa) and Ureka (the wettest place in Africa).
Given the wide range of climates for such a tiny country, it is very ecologically diverse. Everything from chimpanzees to the highly coveted pangolin can be found here. The beach at Ureka is also one of the only places on earth where leatherback sea turtles lay their eggs. The rarities of Equatorial Guinea wildlife and the political and economic corruption make it vulnerable to poaching and the exotic animal trade.