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natural resources in equatorial guineaEquatorial Guinea, which lies on the central west coast of Africa, has seemingly abundant resources. Natural resources in Equatorial Guinea range from its tropical climate and arable land to its minerals and labor. However, widespread socioeconomic development spurred by its discovery of petroleum in the 1990s hindered the country’s progress. It has led to issues including political corruption, resource misuse and human rights abuses. As such, natural resources in Equatorial Guinea affect poverty in the country.

The History of Natural Resources in Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial Guinea declared independence from Spain in October 1968. However, the regime of post-independence president Francisco Macias Nguema saw declines in quality, maintenance and labor. As a result, previously booming industries of cocoa and coffee exports almost completely disappeared. After Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo overthrew Nguema in 1979, Equatorial Guinea seemed to be moving toward economic revitalization. In the 1980s, the country joined the Customs and Economic Union of Central Africa and replaced its currency with one linked to the French franc. However, it was not until the discovery of offshore petroleum and natural gas reserves in 1996 that its GDP skyrocketed.

The IMF estimated that oil production increased from 17,000 barrels per day (b/d) in 1996 to its peak at 280,000 b/d in 2004 before beginning to steadily decline. Real GDP grew by 150% in 1997. Equatorial Guinea remains the third-largest oil producer in Sub-Saharan Africa. Along with GDP growth, Equatorial Guinea became a trading partner with China, Portugal, India, the U.S. and Spain. This accounted for an increase in government revenue, and the country’s per capita income became the highest in Africa. Natural resources in Equatorial Guinea created this economic transformation. However, today about two-thirds of the population still lives in extreme poverty.

Why the Poverty Level Hasn’t Decreased

Despite the wealth of natural resources in Equatorial Guinea, poverty remains an issue. Human rights abuses and corruption during the Obiang’s regime have raised criticism internationally. As of 2015, only half of citizens in Equatorial Guinea have access to clean water. Newborn immunization rates for polio and measles are among the lowest in the world. Also, government expenditures on health and education are merely 2% to 3% of the total budget. In 2018, the United Nations designated the country 144 out of 189 on its Human Development Index. This measures dimensions including life expectancy, education access and standard of living.

Corruption contributes to poverty in the country. Although Equatorial Guinea has held multi-party elections since 1993, Obiang won his fifth presidential term in 2016 with 94% of the vote. His party also occupies every parliamentary seat. Furthermore, about 80% of the government’s revenue from oil went toward spending sprees on public infrastructure. Construction contracts, however, went to companies partially owned by government officials, including Obiang. Obiang’s son further compounded evidence suggesting government corruption by provoking money-laundering investigations with overseas spending. Thus, the wealth resulting from natural resources in Equatorial Guinea goes not to the people but to the government.

An Unsustainable Future

Many natural resources in Equatorial Guinea also face misuse and exploitation. For example, timber is one of Equatorial Guinea’s most abundant agricultural resources and its main export after oil. The IMF, however, indicated an unsustainable level of timber production in 2001. This resource composed most of the non-oil GDP that grew by 21% in 1999. Environmental damage in the Bioko region, where most of the timber grows, also supports claims of unsustainable exploitation. Despite this boom in timber, the country has mineral deposits that remain untouched due to a lack of extraction and refining equipment. This gold, titanium, manganese, iron ore and uranium could provide balance to the country’s resource exports with the right material.

Furthermore, the 2014 international drop in oil prices reversed GDP growth and caused a recession in Equatorial Guinea. Experts predict that its oil will also run out by 2035. This emphasizes the need for reform and sustainable sources of revenue from natural resources in Equatorial Guinea.

Partnering with the IMF

Recently, Equatorial Guinea partnered with the IMF to recover its economy by promoting sustainable, inclusive growth. The  $283 million program focuses on anti-corruption efforts and economic diversification. This will help monitor public finances, increase social spending and improve governance.

While this partnership with the IMF indicates progress, reform needs to be more widespread and supported internationally. The State Department names U.S. corporations ExxonMobile, Marathon Oil and Noble Energy as among the largest investors in Equatorial Guinea. These corporations and other international entities can use their influential positions to support economic reforms to sustain the country’s resources. They can also support political and social reforms to improve living conditions.

By investing more oil revenue into social programs, legitimate infrastructure projects and the agricultural sector, Equatorial Guinea could build a stable economic future and better living conditions for its citizens. Policy reform like this would also decrease poverty and preserve natural resources in Equatorial Guinea. This way, the country’s natural wealth will exist for generations to come.

Isabel Serrano
Photo: Flickr

10 facts about living conditions in equatorial guinea
Equatorial Guinea is a small nation on the west coast of Africa. While Equatorial Guinea is one of Africa’s largest oil producers it also faces many challenges associated with living conditions. Living conditions are poor, due to problems ranging from corrupt politics to low education rates. These 10 facts about living conditions in Equatorial Guinea shed light on the major issues the country faces.

10 Facts about Living Conditions in Equatorial Guinea

  1. The same president since 1979: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been in power for over 37 years and is currently the worlds longest running non-Royal head of state. Opposition to his office has cited the governments use of intimidation and irregular procedures to remain in power. When his son Teodorin was accused of laundering money by the French government, Mbasogo appointed Teodorin as Vice President and accused the French of violating draconian government laws. Some rights organizations have accused Mbasogo and his predecessors as some of the worst abusers of human rights in Africa.
  2. Highest per capita growth rate in Africa, one of the lowest Human Development Indexes: Equatorial Guinea makes most of its income through oil and is one of the highest oil producers in Sub- Saharan Africa. However, it ranks 141 out of 188 countries in the Human Development Index, its HDI currently is 0.591. The country’s per capita gross national income was $21,056 in 2014, giving Equatorial Guinea the biggest difference between per capita wealth and human development score in the world.
  3. Few basic services and malnutrition: In 2011 it was found that about half of Equatorial Guinea’s population had access to clean water. Twenty-Six percent of children suffered from malnutrition, and their growth was considered stunted. The country also has some of the lowest vaccinations in the world, with 25 percent of children unvaccinated.
  4. Low Education rates: Equatorial Guinea has some of the lowest education rates in the world, and even those in school do not remain for long. According to UNICEF, as of 2016, A staggering 42 percent of children do not attend primary school, making the country’s rates the seventh lowest in the world. To compound the issue, only half of the students in these primary schools finish or graduate.
  5. Agricultural Economy: Even though Equatorial Guinea makes most of its revenue through Petroleum, 71 percent of the population is agricultural. Some are subsistence farmers, who clear land by burning away other plant life in order to grow the crops that sustain them. Cocoa still remains a significant export, as it has been since before the country became an independent country in 1968.
  6. Large Youth Population: About 60 percent of the population of Equatorial Guinea is under the age of 25. Because of the pervasiveness of the oil-industry, job creation in other sectors of the economy is very limited.  Many young people are having trouble entering the market as they do not have the skills needed because of the low education rates in the country.
  7. Roads and Infrastructure: In the early 2000s,  less than a sixth of the roads in the country were paved. In some islands like Bioko, the systems are of a higher standard. Using tar as pavement, the city can better accommodate traffic. The country also does not benefit from a single railway or track. In the 1980s, multiple ports were modernized to accommodate the country’s increasing commerce.
  8. No Private Media: One of the most pressing of the 10 facts about living conditions in Equatorial Guinea is that all media outlets there are closely controlled by the government. There are no privately owned or independent papers or websites. As such, it is impossible to criticize the president or the security forces in the country. This, of course, makes it hard for word of Equatorial Guinea’s issues to reach other countries. However, it has been found the internet is being used for people to speak out against the government. The country had about 181,000 internet users out of its 1.2 million population.
  9. Plans to move forward: The World Bank’s presence in Equatorial Guinea has helped it move forward. The country’s economic plan, Horizon 2020, which will develop the country’s economic, national, and social standing, is being partly overseen by The World Bank. The Bank is providing technical services to strengthen the government’s public investment management systems. The first phase of Equatorial Guinea’s improvement plan was completed in 2012 and dubbed a success by the World Bank.
  10. No longer a “Least Developed Country”: In June of 2017, Guinea graduated from its status as an LDC or Least Developed country. Its national income is growing rapidly, and in recent years the infant mortality rate of the country has fallen by 43 percent.

Overall, there is hope on the horizon for Equatorial Guinea. Despite years of problems and issues, many which still remain, the country has seen improvement from many of its sectors. Most importantly, the country is now getting attention from multiple aid groups, who are doing what they can to improve conditions there. With support and attention, perhaps the worse of these 10 facts about living conditions in Equatorial Guinea can be nothing but history.

Owen Zinkweg
Photo: Flickr