JOHANNESBURG - In 1968 Equatorial Guinea claimed independence from Spain, making it the youngest Spanish colony in Africa and the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa, apart from the tiny Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which sit on the northern shores of Morocco’s Mediterranean coast.
Its capital, Malabo, is the only capital city in the world by a non-island nation not to be located on its mainland, but on a tiny Bioko island.
With a population of 1.3 million, Equatorial Guinea is a high-income country in the West African territory, comprised of Río Muni (also known as Continental Equatorial Guinea), and five islands (collectively known as insular Equatorial Guinea).
Just a few years before its independence the country’s exports per capita were the highest in Africa.
It was also the fifth largest producer of cocoa on the continent, despite its size, and compared to its neighbouring rivals: Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest producer of oil in Sub-Saharan Africa, after Nigeria and Angola. The country is also rich in mineral resources like gold, oil, uranium, diamonds, columbite/tantalite and petroleum, which were discovered in the 1990s.
The first president of Equatorial Guinea Francisco Macias Nguema, who after winning the election in 1971, pushed through a constitution that named him the president for life.
But eight years later, his nephewLieutenant-General Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who was the minister of defence, led a military coup that overthrew him in 1979.
Forty years later, Teodoro Obiang Nguema is still the president of Equatorial Guinea, making him the longest serving non-royal president in Africa, perhaps living the dream of his uncle.
In 2009, he won the elections with over 95 percent of the vote.
In 2016, he appointed his son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue vice-president.
The economy is heavily dependent on hydrocarbons, which in 2017 accounted for 56 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), 95 percent of exports, and 80 percent of fiscal revenue.
But in 2018, the economy contracted by 5.8 percent due to the reduction in hydrocarbons exports.
Its banking sector’s non-performing loans stood at about 32 percent of total loans in 2018, and the government’s domestic arrears at 17 percent of GDP in 2018. (World Bank, 2019). These have affected economic activity and the government’s ability to use debt finance to support its growth.
The GDP as of 2018 was $13.32 billion (R199.2bn), with industry contributing 56.4 percent; followed by the service sector at 40.5 percent; manufacturing at 25.39 percent; and agriculture 2.34 percent.
On the Neil Economic scale, the price of a can of Coca-Cola costs 875 CFA (R21.97) and the price of a litre of petrol is 648 CFA (R16.26). Inflation is standing at 0.7 percent, and the unemployment rate at 7.6 percent.
Equatorial Guinea was one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies and the first to graduate from the Least Developed Country category, but it has been experiencing a recession for four consecutive years, with a decline of -5.6 percent in five years’ annual growth.
Like the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, Equatorial Guinea suffers from the “curse of natural wealth”.
Despite it being a mineral-rich country and one of the few countries in Africa to have a balance of payment surplus, and a handsome per capita income, most of its wealth goes to private pockets of the few ruling elites while the majority of its citizens survive on less than a dollar a day, making the country one of the living Goliath paradoxes of Africa.
Neil de Beer is president of the IFA and advises numerous African states on economic development; www.ifa.africa or [email protected]