Equatorial Guinea (11/03)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Republic of Equatorial Guinea

Location: Western Africa, bordering the Bay of Biafra. Bordering nations--Cameroon, Gabon.
Area: 28,050 sq. km; slightly smaller than Maryland.
Cities: Capital--Malabo. Other cities--Bata (also capital of Littoral province on the mainland).
Terrain: Varies. Bioko Island is volcanic, with three major peaks of 9,876 feet, 7,416 feet and 6,885 feet. Behind the coastal plain, the mainland provinces are hilly at a level of approximately 2,000 feet, with some 4,000 foot peaks. Annobon Island is volcanic.
Climate: Tropical; always hot, humid. Bata on the mainland is somewhat drier and cooler.

Nationality: Noun--Equatorial Guinean(s), Equatoguinean(s) Adjective--Equatorial Guinean, Equatoguinean.
Population (mid-2002 UN est.): 510,000.
Annual growth rate (2002 est.): 2.8%.
Ethnic groups: The Fang ethnic group of the mainland constitutes the great majority of the population and dominates political life and business. The Bubi group comprises about 50,000 people living mainly in Bioko Island. The Annobonese on the island of Annobon are estimated at about 3,000 in number. The other three ethnic groups are found on the coast of Rio Muni and include the Ndowe and Kombe (about 3,000 each) and the Bujebas (about 2,000). The pygmy populations have long been integrated into the dominant Bantu-speaking cultures. Europeans less than 1,000, mostly Spanish.
Languages: Official--Spanish, French; other--pidgin English, Fang, Bubi, Ibo.
Religion: Nominally Christian and predominantly Roman Catholic; pagan practices.
Education: Primary school compulsory for ages 6-14. Attendance--unknown. Literacy (2000 est.)--83% (UN Development Programme's Human Development Report, 2002). Health (2000 est.): Life expectancy--50 years. Infant mortality rate--105/1,000.

Type: Nominally multi-party Republic with strong domination by the executive branch.
Independence: October 12, 1968 (from Spain).
Constitution: Approved by national referendum November 17, 1991; amended January 1995.
Branches: Executive--President (Chief of State) and a Council of Ministers appointed by the president. Legislative--80 member House of People's Representatives (members directly elected by universal suffrage to serve five-year terms). Judicial--Supreme Tribunal.
Administrative subdivisions: Seven provinces--Annobon, Bioko Norte, Bioko Sur, Centro Sur, Kie-Ntem, Litoral, Wele-Nzas.
Political parties: The ruling party is the Partido Democratico de Guinea Ecuatorial (PDGE), formed July 30, 1987. Numerous other parties were allowed to form in the early 1990s.
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal adult.

Flag: Equatorial Guinea flag

GDP (2002 est.): $2.5 billion.
GDP growth rate: 23.8% (IMF 2001 est.).
GDP per capita (2002 est.): $4,900.
Inflation rate (2002 est.): 9%.
Unemployment rate: N/A.
Natural resources: Petroleum, timber, small, unexploited deposits of gold, manganese, and uranium.
Agriculture (1999 est.): 16% of GDP. Products--coffee, cocoa, rice, yams, cassava (tapioca), bananas, palm oil nuts, manioc (tapioca), livestock, and timber.
Industry (1999 est.): 75.3% of GDP. Types--petroleum, fishing, saw milling, natural gas.
Services (2001): 5.4% of GDP.
Trade (2000 est.): Exports--$1,363 million: hydrocarbons (95%), timber (2%-3%), others (3%-2%). Imports--$542 million. Major trading partners--United States, China, France, Spain, Cameroon, Great Britain, and Gabon. The United States is the largest cumulative bilateral foreign investor in Equatorial Guinea. The majority of U.S. exports to Equatorial Guinea consist of energy sector-related transportation and machinery equipment. The United States main import from Equatorial Guinea is petroleum. 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. Currency: Communaute Financiere Africaine (CFA) franc (XAF). Fiscal year: April 1-March 31.

The Republic of Equatorial Guinea is located in west central Africa. Bioko Island lies about 40 kilometers (25 mi.) from Cameroon. Annobon Island lies about 595 kilometers (370 mi.) southwest of Bioko Island. The larger continental region of Rio Muni lies between Cameroon and Gabon on the mainland; it includes the islands of Corisco, Elobey Grande, Elobey Chico, and adjacent islets.

Bioko Island, called Fernando Po until the 1970s, is the largest island in the Gulf of Guinea--2,017 square kilometers (780 sq. mi.). It is shaped like a boot, with two large volcanic formations separated by a valley that bisects the island at its narrowest point. The 195-kilometer (120-mi.) coastline is steep and rugged in the south but lower and more accessible in the north, with excellent harbors at Malabo and Luba, and several scenic beaches between those towns.

On the continent, Rio Muni covers 26,003 square kilometers (10,040 sq. mi.). The coastal plain gives way to a succession of valleys separated by low hills and spurs of the Crystal Mountains. The Rio Benito (Mbini), which divides Rio Muni in half, is unnavigable except for a 20-kilometer stretch at its estuary. Temperatures and humidity in Rio Muni are generally lower than on Bioko Island.

Annobon Island, named for its discovery on New Year's Day 1472, is a small volcanic island covering 18 square kilometers (7 sq. mi.). The coastline is abrupt except in the north; the principal volcanic cone contains a small lake. Most of the estimated 1,900 inhabitants are fisherman specializing in traditional, small scale tuna fishing and whaling. The climate is tropical--heavy rainfall, high humidity, and frequent seasonal changes with violent windstorms.

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": 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 a growing number of foreigners from neighboring Cameroon, Nigeria, and Gabon. In 2001, there were about 280 Americans residing in Equatorial Guinea.

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. Conflicting claims to the mainland were settled in 1900 by the Treaty of Paris, 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, it was ruled by a governor general 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.

In August 1979, Macias' nephew from Mongomo and 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 the election was criticized by international observers. 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 six provinces. The opposition had few electoral successes in the 1990s. By the early 21th century, President Obiang's PDGE party fully dominated government at all levels.

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 and minister of defense, and he maintains close supervision of the 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.

The Chamber of Representatives is comprised of 15 members appointed by the President and 45 members chosen by indirect elections; the term is 5 years. Adult citizens elect officials by secret ballot in their towns and villages. These officials then become electors who choose the 45 representatives from their own number, one per district, to serve in the national legislature. In practice, the Chamber is not independent and is unable to act without presidential approval or direction.

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--Candido Muatetema Rivas
Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation--Pastor Micha Ondo Bile
Ambassador to the United States--Teodoro Biyogo Nsue

Equatorial Guinea maintains an embassy in Washington, D.C. at 1712 I Street NW, Suite 410, Washington, DC 20005 (Tel. (202) 393-0525, Fax. (202) 393-0348). Its mission to the United Nations is at 801 Second Avenue, Suite 1403, New York, N.W. 10017 (Tel. 212-599-1523).

In the period following Spain's grant of local autonomy to Equatorial Guinea in 1963, there was a great deal of political party activity. Bubi and Fernandino parties on the island preferred separation from Rio Muni or a loose federation. Ethnically based parties in Rio Muni favored independence for a united country comprising Bioko and Rio Muni, an approach that ultimately won out. (The Movimiento para la Auto-determinacion de la Isla de Bioko (MAIB) which advocates independence for the island under Bubi control, is one of the offshoots of the era immediately preceding independence). After the accession of Macias to power, political activity largely ceased in Equatorial Guinea. Opposition figures who lived among the exile communities in Spain and elsewhere agitated for reforms; some of them had been employed in the Macias and Obiang governments. After political activities in Equatorial Guinea were legalized in the early 1990s, some opposition leaders returned to test the waters, but repressive actions have continued sporadically.

With the prodding of the United Nations, the United States, Spain, and other donor countries, the government undertook an electoral census in 1995. Freely contested municipal elections, the country's first, were held in September. Most observers agree that the elections themselves were relatively free and transparent and that the opposition parties garnered between two-thirds and three-quarters of the total vote. The government, however, delayed announcement of the results and then claimed a highly dubious 52% victory overall and the capture of 19 of 27 municipal councils. Ironically, Malabo's council went to the opposition. In early January 1996 Obiang called presidential elections to be held in 6 weeks. The campaign was marred by allegations of fraud, and most of the other candidates withdrew in the final week. Obiang claimed re-election with 98% of the vote. International observers agreed the election was not free or fair. In an attempt to ameliorate his critics, Obiang announced his new cabinet, giving minor portfolios to some people identified by the government as being opposition figures.

In the legislative election in March 1999, the party increased its majority in the 80-seat parliament from 68 to 75. The main opposition parties, the Convergencia para la democracia Social (CPDS) and the Union Popular (UP) supposedly won four seats and one seat, respectively, in Parliament; they refused to accept them. Local elections in May 2000 saw the PDGE overwhelm its rivals once again, winning a clean sweep of all major municipalities. However, the main opposition parties rejected the elections as invalid and boycotted them in December 2002.

The December 2002 presidential was marred by problems similar to those of the elections of the 1990s. Capitalizing on opposition disorganization, Obiang re-scheduled the elections from 2003 to the end of 2002. Obiang was re-elected as president with an overwhelming 97 percent of the vote in a poll characterized by mismanagement, irregularities and severe limits on opposition campaign activities. Following his re-election Obiang formed a government of national unity encompassing all opposition parties, except for the CPDS, which declined to join after Obiang refused to release one of their jailed leaders.

Since independence, the two Presidents (Macias and his nephew Obiang) have been the dominant political forces. Since 1979, President Obiang has been constrained only by a need to maintain a consensus among his advisers and political supporters, most of whom are drawn from the Nguema family in Mongomo, in the eastern part of Rio Muni. The Nguema family is part of the Esangui subclan of the Fang. Alleged coup attempts in 1981 and 1983 raised little sympathy among the populace.

President Obiang's rule, in which schools were permitted to reopen and primary education expanded, and public utilities and roads restored, compares favorably with Macias' tyranny and terror. It has been criticized for not implementing genuine democratic reforms. Corruption and a dysfunctional judicial system disrupt the development of Equatorial Guinea's economy and society. In March 2001 the President appointed a new Prime Minister, Candido Muatetema Rivas, and replaced several ministers perceived to be especially corrupt. However, the government budget still does not include all revenues and expenditures. The United Nations Development Program has proposed a broad governance reform program, but the Equato Guinean Government was not moving rapidly to implement it.

Equatorial Guinea suffered a severe human rights setback in May 2002 when a special tribunal convicted 68 prisoners and their relatives and sentenced them from 6 to 20 years in prison for a purported coup d'etat plot attempt against President Obiang. Those sentenced included leaders of the three main opposition parties that remained independent from President Obiang's ruling party. There were numerous irregularities associated with the trial, including evidence of torture and a lack of substantive proof. In August 2003, 31 of these convicted prisoners were granted a presidential amnesty on the anniversary of Obiang's 1979 overthrow of his uncle, President Macias.

Although Equatorial Guinea lacks a well-established democratic tradition comparable to the developed democracies of the West, it should be noted that, out of the anarchic, chaotic, and repressive conditions of the Macias years the country has made small, haphazard steps toward the development of participatory political system.

Oil and gas exports have increased substantially and will drive the economy for years to come. Real GDP growth reached 23% in 1999, 18% in 2000, 66% in 2001 and 24% in 2002. Per capita income doubled from about $1,000 in 1998 to $2,000 in 2000 and $4,900 today. The energy export sector is responsible for this rapid growth. Oil production has increased from 81,000 barrels per day in 1998 to more that 350,000 bpd by 2003. Production of 500,000 bpd is projected by 2005. This is based on existing commercially viable oil and gas deposits. 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, which historically was known for cocoa of the highest quality, has 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 2,700 tons in 2001. Coffee production also dropped to 100,000 metric tons in 2000. Timber is the main source of foreign exchange after oil, though it now only accounts for 3% 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. Most of the production (mainly Okoume) goes to exports, and only 3% is processed locally. Environmentalists fear that exploitation at this level is unsustainable and point out to the permanent damage already inflicted on the forestry reserves on Bioko.

Consumer price inflation has declined from the 38.8% experienced in 1994 following the CFA franc devaluation, to 7.8% in 1998, and 1.0% in 1999, according to BEAC data. Consumer prices inflation has remained steady at 6% since 2002.

Equatorial Guinea's policies, as defined by law, comprise an open investment regime. Qualitative restrictions on imports, nontariff protection, and many import licensing requirements were lifted when in 1992 the government adopted a public investment program endorsed by the World Bank. The Government of the Republic 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 newly introduced 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 2001 budget foresaw revenues of about 154 billion CFA francs (about U.S.$200 million), up about 50% from 2000 levels. Oil revenues account for more than two-thirds of government revenue, and VAT and trade taxes are the other large revenue sources.

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 government has expressed interest in privatizing the outmoded electricity utility. A French company operates cellular telephone service in cooperation with a state enterprise. 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 $2.45 billion in 2002. Crude oil exports now annually accounted for more than 90% of export earnings. Timber exports, by contrast, now represent only about 3% of export revenues. Imports into Equatorial Guinea also are growing very quickly. Imports totaled U.S. $260 million.

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. Since 1996, the IMF has held regular held Article IV consultations (periodic country evaluations) . After the 1999 consultations, IMF directors stressed the need for Equatorial Guinea to establish greater fiscal discipline, accountability, and more transparent management of public sector resources, especially energy sector revenue. IMF officials also have emphasized the need for economic data. Since 1999, the EquatoguineanGovernment has attempted to meet IMFrequests for transparency and openness in its treasury accounts.

Infrastructure is generally old and in poor condition. Surface transport options are increasing as the government has invested heavily in road pavement projects. The African Development Bank is helping to improve the paved roads from Malabo to Luba and Riaba; the Chinese are undertaking a project to link Mongomo to Bata on the mainland, and the European Union is financing an inter-states road network linking Equatorial Guinea to Cameroon and Gabon. Road maintenance is often inadequate.

Electricity is available in Equatorial Guinea's larger towns thanks to three small overworked hydropower facilities and a number of aged generators. In 1999, national production was about 13,000 KwH. In Malabo, the American company, Marathon Oil, built a 10 mega-watts electricity plant financed by the government, which came in line in mid-2000, and plans to double capacity are advancing. This plant provides improved service to the capital, although there are still occasional outages. On the mainland the largest city, Bata, still has regular blackouts.

Water is only available in the major towns and is not always reliable because of poor maintenance and mismanagement. Some villages and rural areas are equipped with generators and water pumps, usually owned by private individuals.

Parastatal Getesa, a joint venture with a minority ownership stake held by a French subsidiary of France Telecom, provides telephone service in the major cities. The land-based system is overextended, but Getesa has introduced a popular GSM system, which is generally reliable in Malabo and Bata.

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 U.S. petroleum company Amerada Hess, 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 is the other port of any scale on Bioko but is less active. The continental ports of Mbini and Cogo have deteriorated as well and are now used primarily for timber activities.

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. The influx of oil workers have increased international air activity. Major international carriers now connect Malabo to Amsterdam, Madrid and Zurich in Europe. A weekly business-class charter flight provides 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 Cl3Os. The one 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.

Energy Developments
After a slow start, Equatorial Guinea has recently emerged as Africa's third largest major oil producer with its location in one of the most promising hydrocarbon regions in the world. The main oil fields, Zafiro and Alba, are both located offshore of Bioko island. Daily production now exceeds 350,000 bpd.

In 1995 Mobil (now ExxonMobil) discovered the large Zafiro field, with estimated reserves of 400m barrels. Production began in 1996. The company announced a 3-year U.S.$1bn rapid development program to boost output to 130,000 b/d by early 2001. Progress was delayed due to a contractual dispute with the government and by unexpectedly difficult geology. The difference with the government was eventually resolved.

In 1998 a more liberal regulatory and profit-sharing arrangement for hydrocarbon exploration and production activities was introduced. It revised and updated the production-sharing contract, which, until then, had favored Western operators heavily. As a result domestic oil receipt rose from 13% to 20% of oil export revenue. However, the government's share remains relatively poor by international standards.

In 1997 CMS Nomeco (now Marathon Oil) moved to expand its operation with a U.S.$300m methanol plant. The plant entered production in 2000 and help boost condensate output from Alba field.

In August 1999 the government closed bidding on a new petroleum-licensing round for 53 unexplored deepwater blocks and seven shallow water blocks. The response was small due to a combination of factors, including falling oil prices, restructuring within the oil industry, and uncertainty over and undemarcated maritime border with Nigeria (resolved by 2000).

In late 1999 Triton Energy, (now part of Amerada Hess), discovered La Ceiba in block G in an entirely new area offshore the mainland of the country. Triton expects a U.S.$200m development program to enable La Ceiba and associated fields to produce 100,000 b/d by late 2001, despite disappointments and technical problems at the beginning of the year.

With an upturn in oil prices, exploration intensified in 2000. In April 2000 U.S.-based Vanco Energy signed a production-sharing contract for the offshore block of Corisco Deep. In May 2000, Chevron was granted block L, offshore Rio Muni, and a further three production-sharing contracts (for blocks J, I, and H) were signed with Atlas petroleum, a Nigerian company.

In early 2001 the government announced plans to establish a national oil company, GEPetrol, to allow Equatorial Guinea to take a greater stake in the sector and to facilitate the more rapid transfer of skills. However, critics fear that such a company may become a vehicle for opaque accounting and inertia of the sort that has hindered development in neighboring countries including Angola, Cameroon, and Nigeria.

Further explorations in the Corisco Bay area (bordering Gabon) and near the maritime boundary with Cameroon could be complicated by minor border disputes between Equatorial Guinea and its two neighbors. Though these disputes remain unresolved, all three countries have proved willing to settle their differences via diplomatic means, including the execution of agreements on joint exploratory efforts.

The military of Equatorial Guinea was reorganized in 1979. It consists of approximately 2,500 service members. The army has 1,400 soldiers, the police 400 paramilitary men, the navy 200 service members, and the air force about 120 members. There is a Gendarmerie, but the number of members is unknown. Overall the military is poorly trained and equipped, but acquisitions and training have increased. It has mostly small arms, rocket launched grenades, and mortars. Few of its soviet-style light-armored vehicles or trucks are operational.

U.S. military-to-military engagement has been dormant since 1997 (the year of the last Joint Combined Exchange Training Exercise). Between 1984 and 1992, service members went regularly to the United States on the International Military Education Training program, after which funding for this program for Equatorial Guinea ceased. The government spent 6.5% of its annual budget on defense in 2000 and 4.5% of its budget on defense in 2001. It recently acquired some Chinese artillery pieces, some Ukrainian patrol boats, and some Ukrainian Helicopter Gunships. The Equatoguineans rely on foreigners to operate and maintain this equipment as they are not sufficiently trained to do so.

A transitional agreement, signed in October 1968, implemented a Spanish pre-independence decision to assist Equatorial Guinea and provided for the temporary maintenance of Spanish forces there. A dispute with President Macias in 1969 led to a request that all Spanish troops immediately depart, and a large number of civilians left at the same time. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were never broken but were suspended by Spain in March 1977 in the wake of renewed disputes. After Macias' fall in 1979, President Obiang asked for Spanish assistance, and since then, Spain has regained as place of influence in Equatorial Guinea. The two countries signed permanent agreements for economic and technical cooperation, private concessions, and trade relations. President Obiang made an official visit to Madrid in March 2001, and senior Spanish Foreign Ministry officials visited Malabo during 2001 as well. Spain maintained a bilateral assistance program in Equatorial Guinea. Most Equatoguineanopposition elements (including a purported government-in-exile) are based in Spain to the annoyance of the government of Malabo.

Equatorial Guinea has had generally cordial relations with its neighbors. It is member of the Central African Economic and Monetary Union (CEMAC), which includes Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo/Brazzaville, and Gabon. Equatorial Guinea is also part of the central Africa CFA franc zone and the Cameroon-based Bank of Central African States coordinates monetary policy. The CFA franc is guaranteed by the Bank of France and French technical advisers work in the finance and planning ministries. France, Spain, Cuba, China have participated in infrastructure and technical development projects.

Equatorial Guinea has minor border disputes with Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea involving coastal areas which define off-shore territorial and affect ownership of potential future oil concession in the Gulf of Guinea. The majority Fang ethnic group of mainland Equatorial Guinea extends both north and south into the forests of Cameroon and Gabon. Cameroon exports some food products to Equatorial Guinea and imports oil from Equatorial Guinea for its refinery at nearby Limbe.

The development of the oil industry by U.S.-based companies and the lack of a well-trained work force have provided motivation for an influx of English-speaking workers (legal and illegal) from Cameroon, Nigeria and Ghana. Cameroon has criticized Equatorial Guinea about perceived mistreatment of Cameroonians working in Equatorial Guinea. Nigerian workers in Equatorial Guinea have also made similar complaints. However, relations with the Nigerian government have lately been cordial as the two countries delineated their offshore borders to facilitate development of nearby gas fields.

The government's official policy is one of nonalignment and it has been reluctant to fully integrate itself into CEMAC. In its search for assistance to meet the goal of national reconstruction, the Government of Equatorial Guinea has established diplomatic relations with numerous European and Third World Countries.

The Equatoguinean government favorably views the U.S. government and American companies. The United States is the largest-single foreign investor in Equatorial Guinea, which is the fourth-largest destination in Sub-Saharan Africa for American Investment. U.S. companies have the largest and most visible foreign presence in the country. In an effort to attract increased U.S. investment, American passport-holders are entitled to visa-free entry for short visits. The United States is the only country with this privilege.

With the increased U.S. investment presence, relations between the U.S. and the Government of Equatorial Guinea have been characterized by a positive, constructive relationship. In 2003, the Department of State re-opened a limited Embassy in Malabo after an eight-year absence. In the interim, diplomatic functions were handled by the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde, Cameroon. Under the current arrangement, the U.S. Ambassador in Yaounde remains concurrently accredited to Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. Consular responsibilities will remain with the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde for the foreseeable future, though the Embassy maintains a Bata-based consular agent.

Equatorial Guinea maintains an embassy in Washington. President Obiang has strived to cultivate the Equatorial Guinea-U.S. relationship with regular visits to the U.S. for meetings with senior government and business leaders.

The 2002 U.S. State Department Human Rights report on Equatorial Guinea cited shortcomings in basic human rights, political freedom, and labor rights. Equatorial Guinea attributes deficiencies to excessive zeal on the part of local authorities and promises better control and sensitization. U.S. government policy involves constructive engagement with Equatorial Guinea to encourage an improvement in the human rights situation and positive use of petroleum funds directed toward the development of a working civil society. Equatoguineans visit the U.S. under programs sponsored by the U.S. Government, American oil companies and educational institutions. The Ambassador's Self-Help Fund and the Democracy and Human Rights Funds together annually finance a number of small grassroots projects.

In view of growing ties between U.S. companies and Equatorial Guinea, the U.S. Government's overseas investment promotion agency, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), has concluded the largest agreement in Sub-Saharan Africa for a major U.S. project in Equatorial Guinea. The U.S. Agency for International Development has no Equatorial Guinea-related programs or initiatives nor is the Peace Corps present. American-based non-governmental organizations and other donor groups have very little involvement in the country.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
George M. Staples (resident in Yaounde, Cameroon)
Charg´┐Ż d'Affaires--A. James Panos

The United States has re-opened a limited-function Embassy in Malabo (http://usembassy.state.gov/malabo/). However, inquiries should continue to be directed to the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde, Cameroon, Rue Nachtigal P.O. Box 817, Yaounde, Phone (237) 223-05-12 (237) 222-25-89 (237) 222-17-94 (237) 223-40-14, Fax (237) 223-07-53, business hours Monday to Thursday: 07:30 to 17:00 Friday : 07:30 to 12:30.

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.