Thursday, 18 September 2008
The Trials and Tribulations of Tiny Yet Immensely Rich African Country
Before 1996, Equatorial Guinea, a tiny ex-Spanish colony of just over one million people, wedged between Gabon and Cameroon, was in complete and utter shambles. Until that was, oil was found. It has since quietly become sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest oil exporter, after Nigeria and Angola.
BP reported in 2007 that Equatorial Guinea's output was estimated at 363,000 barrels a day - five times more than a decade ago. The BP report also states that Equatorial Guinea's proven oil reserves amount to just 0.1 percent of the global total only due to the lack of geological studies, because if such studies were to confirm what is suspected, the country's reserves could represent 10 percent of the total, due to the vast off-shore reserves in the Gulf of Guinea. Already there are comparisons with Kuwait.
As such oil companies the world over are at a scramble for a share of the dense gloopy pie. The United States is the biggest foreign investor in Equatorial Guinea's oil industry, having invested seven billion dollars this year alone.
But while the economy is enjoying fast economic growth driven by oil and gas sales, which represent 90 percent of the country's exports, the country is the victim of immense corruption, with President Obiang Nguema's family as the chief culprit - with alleged involvement of foreign companies and banks - All whilst the overwhelming majority of the population lives on less than a dollar a day.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, has ruled the country with an iron fist for nearly 30 years. Amnesty International and other human rights groups, including the UN, cite brutal human rights violations, torture of political prisoners, unfair trials as well as deplorable prison conditions. His opposition also maintains that the series of failed coup d'états have been staged in order to empower the President to engage in campaigns of retribution. His control over the media is said to be absolute.
Rotting away in the ubiquitous Black Beach Prison sits ex-Eton boy Simon Mann, imprisoned until pardoned, after his failed coup in 2004. He claims there were many interested forces behind the failed coup.
In July 2003 the state radio station announced that Obiang was "the God of Equatorial Guinea" and that he now enjoyed the right to "decide to kill without having to give anyone an account and without going to hell". Despite his reputation as a brutal leader that rules with an iron hand, he is very soft-spoken and not prone to public displays of anger; he is extremely in control of his person and patient. His mode of dress is typical very businesslike and professional for official matter, and in public rallies he is relaxed and comfortable, wearing party colours and baseball caps. He does not really seem to be concerned about his image outside the country.