Annobón is the southernmost island of Equatorial Guinea and is situated just north of the equator. Bioko island is the northernmost point of Equatorial Guinea. Between the two islands and to the east is the mainland region. Equatorial Guinea is bordered by Cameroon on the north, Gabon on the south and east, and the Gulf of Guinea on the west, where the island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe is located between Bioko and Annobón. Formerly the colony of Spanish Guinea, its post-independence name is suggestive of its location near both the equator and the Gulf of Guinea. It is one of the few territories in mainland Africa where Spanish is an official language, besides the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
Equatorial Guinea is the second smallest country in continental Africa in terms of population. (Seychelles, The Gambia, Rwanda, and São Tomé and Príncipe are smaller in terms of area, and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic has a smaller population but is disputed.) It is also the smallest United Nations member from continental Africa. The discovery of sizeable petroleum reserves in recent years is altering the economic and political status of the country.
Despite its name, no part of Equatorial Guinea's territory lies on the equator.
The Portuguese explorer Fernão do Pó, seeking a path to India, is credited as being the first European to discover the island of Bioko in 1472. He called it Formosa ("Beautiful"), but it quickly took on the name of its European discoverer. The islands of Fernando Pó and Annobón were colonized by Portugal in 1474. In 1778, 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 the American continent (Treaty of El Pardo, between Queen Maria I of Portugal and King Charles III of Spain). Between 1778 and 1810, the territory of Equatorial Guinea depended administratively on the viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata, with seat in Buenos Aires. From 1827 to 1843, the United Kingdom established a base on the island to combat the slave trade, which was then moved to Sierra Leone upon agreement with Spain in 1843. In 1844, on restoration of Spanish sovereignty, it became known as the Territorios Españoles del Golfo de Guinea Ecuatorial. The mainland portion, Rio Muni, became a protectorate in 1885 and a colony in 1900. Conflicting claims to the mainland were settled by the Treaty of Paris (1900), and periodically, the mainland territories were united administratively under Spanish rule. Between 1926 and 1959 they were united as the colony of Spanish Guinea.
The current president of Equatorial Guinea is Retired Brig. Gen. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. The 1982 constitution of Equatorial Guinea gives Obiang 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. Obiang retains his role as commander in chief of the armed forces and minister of defence, 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.
On December 15, 2002, Equatorial Guinea's four main opposition parties withdrew from the country's presidential election. Obiang won an election widely considered fraudulent by members of the Western press.
Diplomats and even ministers have been caught smuggling drugs, sometimes using diplomatic bags and even the president's baggage on state trips. The incumbent president has never equalled the bloodthirsty reputation of former dictator Francisco Macías Nguema, whom he overthrew. On Christmas of 1975, Macías had 150 alleged coup plotters executed to the sound of a band playing Mary Hopkin's tune Those Were the Days in a national stadium.
A huge proportion of the £370 million revenue is confiscated by the president while most of the 500,000 subjects subsist on less than a dollar a day, sewage runs through the streets of the capital Malabo, and there is no public transport and little drinking water or electricity.
According to a March 2004 BBC profile, politics within the country are currently dominated by tensions between Obiang's son, Teodorin, and other close relatives with powerful positions in the security forces. The tension may be rooted in power shift arising from the dramatic increase in oil production which has occurred since 1997.
A November 2004 report named Mark Thatcher as a financial backer of a March 2004 attempt to topple Obiang, organized by Simon Mann. Various accounts also name the United Kingdom's MI6, the United States' CIA, and Spain as having been tacit supporters of the coup attempt. Nevertheless, the Amnesty International report released in June 2005 on the ensuing trial of those allegedly involved highlighted the prosecution's failure to produce conclusive evidence that a coup attempt had actually taken place.
On February 29, 2008, President Obiang dissolved parliament and announced that municipal and parliamentary elections would be held on May 4. His decree also called for a presidential election in 2010.
Equatorial Guinea is divided into seven provinces (capitals appear in parentheses):
The provinces are further divided into districts.
The discovery of large oil reserves in 1996 and its subsequent exploitation have contributed to a dramatic increase in government revenue. As of 2004, Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its oil production has risen to 360,000 barrels/day, up from 220,000 only two years earlier.
Forestry, farming, and fishing are also major components of GDP. Subsistence farming predominates. The deterioration of the rural economy under successive brutal regimes has diminished any potential for agriculture-led growth.
Despite a per capita GDP (PPP) of more than US$30,000 (CIA Factbook $12,900) which is as of 2008 the ninth highest in the world, Equatorial Guinea ranks 121st out of 177 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index.
In July 2004, the United States Senate published an investigation into Riggs Bank, a Washington-based bank into which most of Equatorial Guinea's oil revenues were paid until recently, and which also banked for Chile's Augusto Pinochet. The Senate report, as to Equatorial Guinea, showed that at least $35 million were siphoned off by Obiang, his family and senior officials of his regime. The president has denied any wrongdoing. While Riggs Bank in February 2005 paid $9 million as restitution for its banking for Chile's Augusto Pinochet, no restitution was made with regard to Equatorial Guinea, as reported in detail in an Anti-Money Laundering Report from Inner City Press.
While Equatorial Guinea is currently one of the largest producers of oil in Africa, few improvements have been made to the living conditions of the people and most live in poverty.
The majority of the people of Equatorial Guinea 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 comprise 67 clans. Those in the northern part of Rio Muni speak Fang-Ntumu, while those in the south speak Fang-Okah; the two dialects have differences but are mutually intelligible. Dialects of Fang are also spoken in parts of neighboring Cameroon (Bulu) and Gabon. These dialects, while still intelligible, are more distinct. The Bulu Fang of Cameroon were traditional rivals of Fang in Rio Muni. (The Bubi, who constitute 15% of the population, are indigenous to Bioko Island. The traditional demarcation line between Fang and beach tribes was the village of Niefang (limit of the fang) inland from Bata.
In addition, there are coastal tribes, sometimes referred to as "Playeros" (Beach People in Spanish): Ndowes, Bujebas, Balengues, Kombis, and Bengas on the mainland and small islands, and "Fernandinos", a Creole community, on Bioko. Together, these groups compose 5% of the population. Some Europeans (largely of Spanish or Portuguese descent) – among them mixed with African ethnicity – also live in the nation. Most Spaniards left after independence. There is a growing number of foreigners from neighboring Cameroon, Nigeria, and Gabon. Equatorial Guinea received Asians and black Africans from other countries as workers on cocoa and coffee plantations. Other black Africans came from Liberia, Angola, and Mozambique. Most of the Asian population is Chinese, with small numbers of Indians. Equatorial Guinea also allowed many fortune-seeking European settlers of other nationalities, including British, French and Germans. After independence, thousands of Equatorial Guineans went to Spain. Another 100,000 Equatorial Guineans went to Cameroon, Gabon, and Nigeria because of the dictatorship of Francisco Macías Nguema. Some of its communities also live in Latin America, the United States, Portugal, and France.
Oil extraction has contributed to a doubling of the population in Malabo.
The principal means of communication within the country are three state-operated FM radio stations. There are also five shortwave radio stations. There are also two newspapers and two magazines. Television Nacional, the television network, is state operated.
Most of the media companies practice heavy self-censorship, and are banned by law from criticising public figures. The state-owned media and the main private radio station are under the directorship of Teodorin Nguema Obiang, the president's son.
Landline telephone penetration is low, with only two lines available for every 100 persons. There is one GSM mobile telephone operator, with coverage of Malabo, Bata, and several mainland cities. As of 2005, approximately twenty percent of the population subscribed to mobile telephone services. The only telephone provider in Equatorial Guinea Is Orange.
Equatorial Guinea has one Internet service provider, which serves about 8,000 users.
Equatorial Guinea is also famous for the National Swimming Champion Eric Moussambani, nicknamed "Eric the Eel".
Fernando Po (now Bioko) is featured prominently in the 1975 science fiction work The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. The island (and, in turn, the country) experience a series of coups in the story which lead the world to the verge of nuclear war. The story also hypothesizes that Fernando Po is the last remaining piece of the sunken continent of Atlantis.
Most of the action in Robin Cook's book, Chromosome 6, takes place at a primate research facility based in Equatorial Guinea due to the country's permissive laws. The book also discusses some of the geography, history, and peoples of the country.