This year again, the country’s economy should reach an exceptional growth rate (10.6%) due to the exploitation of its oil. But the democratic and the human right process are very low.
Workers in the oil sector are very well paid compared to most people’s standard of living. The migration from the agriculture sector takes place in spite of the authorities’ efforts to develop agriculture and to work for food self-sufficiency.
While the oil boom is contributing to the nations’ development, it’s also causing increasing inactivity in other sectors, such as agriculture. The newspaper, Ebano, puts it this way : “In former times, Equatorial Guinea’s economy depended mostly on coffee, cocoa and timber. But the way things are going, the country’s traditional money-raisers are on the way out. People only think “oil”, now, and place all their bets here. Coffee, cassava, yams, etc are all imported from Douala, Cameroon”.
Equatorial Guinea’s immediate neighbours are Gabon and Cameroon. Ever since 1992, Equatorial Guinea has experienced a sudden oil boom. The country still has a territorial disagreement with Gabon, over the tiny Mbanié Island, whose waters are reputed to be covering rich oil deposits. Both assert their rights by referring back to the borders inherited from their former colonizers, Spain (Equatorial Guinea) and France (Gabon). Negotiations about Equatorial Guinea’s territorial waters have been taking place with Nigeria and Sao Tome e Principe, because both countries have their eyes on sea areas which are reported to be covering rich oil deposits.
Equatorial Guinea’s oil is almost exclusively exploited by at least ten American companies, among which, ExxonMobil. US citizens are the only foreigners who don’t need a visa to enter the country. Other foreigners, apart from businessmen, frequently have great difficulty in obtaining visas. The United States’ former ambassador to Equatorial Guinea, John Bennett, was declared persona non grata by the authorities and was recalled by Washington. However, diplomatic relations between the two countries were never broken off. Since 1995, US affairs in Equatorial Guinea were managed by the US embassy in Cameroon.
The government has inaugurated a large number of social infrastructures which were lacking. Their installation is part of the programme for opening up various sectors of the economy to outside influences. From the practical point of view, logging companies (mainly Spanish, North Korean and Chinese-run) will be asked to build schools and houses for teachers ; health centres and leisure centres.
The United States Embassy has been closed since 1995. In October 2003 it re-opened in Malabo in the presence of Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. The US Embassy had been closed in 1995, officially because of budgetary restrictions. But the Equatorial Guinean Opposition said it was because of the constant human rights violations practised in this country since 1979 by General Obiang Nguema.
In October 2003, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had received US $432,000 from the government of Equatorial Guinea to buy vaccines and equipment for a broad spectrum vaccination campaign in the small oil-rich country.
UNICEF said in a statement that the campaign to vaccinate all pregnant women and all children under five against polio, measles, tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough have been conducted with its support.
This initiative continued in 2009, the first of its kind in Central Africa, has taken countries and organisations assisting Equatorial Guinea in its development programme, by surprise. It proves the government has been prepared to listen to UNICEF‘s pleas to the government on behalf of the nation’s children. President Obiang Nguema promised he would do his utmost to improve children’s and women’s living conditions.
The renovation of major cities of the country has continued, with its procession of forced evictions. Dozens of families have been evicted from their homes to allow the construction of roads and luxury residences, particularly in Malabo and Bata. Hundreds more were still living under the threat of deportation. Those who had been driven from their homes during the previous years had not been compensated or resettled.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, 66, was reelected in 2009 for seven years, with 95.1% of votes. He is in power since 1979. Coming to power through a coup, after which he shot Francisco Macias Nguema, his uncle and first president of this former Spanish colony, Obiang Nguema won the presidency in 2002 with 97.1% of votes .
Despite the production of oil, poverty remains endemic, 60% of the population lived in 2009 with the equivalent of one U.S. dollar per day, while the economy of Equatorial Guinea was characterized by rapid growth, abundant oil production and income per capita among the highest in the world.
According to the United Nations Fund for Children (UNICEF), more than half the population had no access to drinking water and 20% of all children died before reaching their fifth birthday. In February, the Parliament approved the National Development Plan, which aims to overcome poverty in twelve years. Equatorial Guinea is a former Spanish colony with a population of one million.
Equatorial Guinea gained independence in 1968 after 190 years of Spanish rule with Macias the first president. He was overthrown in a coup led by his nephew Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in 1979. Obiang Nguema has ruled the tiny country ever since. Although nominally a constitutional democracy since 1991, the 1996 and 2002 presidential elections - as well as the 1999 legislative elections - were widely seen as being flawed. 2004 saw another coup attempt in this oil rich country, involving the bumbling ex-UK Prime Minister Thatcher’s son.
The Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE, in power) has won the last election in May 2009, winning all the municipalities and 99 out of 100 seats in Parliament. The opposition Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) won 1 seat.
Recently, NGOs have called on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to deny "money" from the President of Equatorial Guinea, which finances a prize of three million US dollars (created in 2008) to his name to be awarded for the first time in June.
NGOs including Human Rights Watch (HRW) also denounced the "iron grip" of President Obiang Nguema on media in his country. They also explain that the local correspondents for international media are harassed, and state media journalists silenced by the authorities "if they show a shred of objectivity”.
"We believe that the implementation of this award will cause serious harm to the credibility of UNESCO as an organization for defending freedom of expression (...)”, the NGOs added.
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