Equatorial Guinea, formerly Spanish Guinea, consists of Río Muni (10,045 sq mi; 26,117 sq km), on the western coast of Africa, and several islands in the Gulf of Guinea, the largest of which is Bioko (formerly Fernando Po) (785 sq mi; 2,033 sq km). The other islands are Annobón, Corisco, Elobey Grande, and Elobey Chico. The total area is twice that of Connecticut.
The mainland was originally inhabited by Pygmies. The Fang and Bubi migrated there in the 17th century and to the main island of Fernando Po (now called Bioko) in the 19th century. In the 18th century, the Portuguese ceded land to the Spanish that included Equatorial Guinea. From 1827 to 1844, Britain administered Fernando Po, but it was then reclaimed by Spain. Río Muni, the mainland, was not occupied by the Spanish until 1926. Spanish Guinea, as it was then called, gained independence from Spain on Oct. 12, 1968. It is Africa's only Spanish-speaking country.
Equatorial Guineans Suffer Under Dictatorship
From the outset, President Francisco Macías Nguema, considered the father of independence, began a brutal reign, destroying the economy of the fledgling country and abusing human rights. Calling himself the “Unique Miracle,” Nguema is considered one of the worst despots in African history. In 1971, the U.S. State Department reported that his 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 population.” In 1979, Nguema was overthrown and executed by his nephew, Lieut. Col. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. Obiang has been gradually modernizing the country but has retained many of his uncle's dictatorial practices, including the amassing of personal wealth by siphoning it from the public coffers. In 2003, state radio compared him to God.
New Economic Prosperity Benefits Only President Mbasogo
A recent offshore oil boom resulted in the economy's growth by 71.2% in 1997, the first year of the petroleum bonanza, and it has sustained this phenomenal rate of growth. Between 2002 and 2005, the GDP skyrocketed from $1.27 billion to $25.69 billion. It is unlikely, however, that the country's new wealth will benefit the average citizen—the president's family and cronies control the industry.
In 2004, about 70 mercenaries, including Eton-educated, former member of Britain's Special Air Services Simon Mann, attempted to overthrow the authoritarian president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. The coup attempt failed, and those involved were arrested and jailed. Mann was convicted in July 2008 and sentenced to 34 years in prison. He was pardoned and released in November 2009.
Amid accusations of corruption and mismanagement, the entire government of Prime Minister Ricardo Mangue Obama Nfubea resigned in July 2008. President Obiang named Ignacio Milam Tang as prime minister. President Obiang was reelected in November 2009.
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