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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Equatorial Guinea : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Equatorial Guinea : Overview, 20 May 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4954ce2a2.html [accessed 12 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Updated on 20 May 2008


Environment

Named for its location near the equator, continental Equatorial Guinea, called Río Muni, lies on the Atlantic coast, bordering Gabon in the south and east and Cameroon in the north. The country also has several islands in the Gulf of Guinea, the largest of which is Bioko, where the capital is located. It lies about 40km off the coast of Cameroon. In the 1990s large oil and gas reserves were discovered Equatorial Guinea's territorial waters off Bioko.


Peoples

Main languages: Fang, Bubi, Ibo, Pidgin English, Spanish (official), French (official)

Main religions: syncretic Christianity

Main minority groups: Bubi 40,000 (est., 3.5-7.4%), Annobon Islanders 2,500 (est., 0.2-0.5%);

The figures here are based on Bubi, Ethnologue, 1995, and Annobon Islanders, Ethnologue 1999. There is no reliable estimate for population in Equatorial Guinea. The total population is thought to be anything between 540,000 (CIA factbook) and 1,138,000. (Government census)

The Fang ethnic group (see Cameroon, Gabon) make up 80 to 90 per cent of the population of Equatorial Guinea, chiefly in the mainland province of Río Muni (Mbini). The group divides itself into over 60 clans. Important minorities include: Fang not belonging to the privileged clan; Ndowe, a small group based on the mainland coast where contact with foreign traders goes back a century or more; Africans, holdovers from the tens of thousands (mainly Nigerian labourers) forced out in the 1970s; Fernandinos and land-owning and better-educated Creole people found mainly on the island of Bioko and targets of Nguema repression; and Bubi and Annobon peoples.

The approximately 2,500 people of the small island of Annobon, 670 kilometres south of Bioko, exist in great isolation, having no link with the outside world besides the twice-yearly visit of a supply vessel. Medical care is poor and schooling nonexistent. In 1993, security force violence against civilians, and the banning of aid flights, created extreme distress. An early 1994 report by a UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights singled out Annobon Islanders, together with the Bubi, as victims of ethnic discrimination.


History

Marked by 190 years of Spanish colonial rule, slave-trading and forced labour, since formal independence in 1968 Equatorial Guinea has seen no significant departures from an oppressive past. Power has been in the hands of two dictators since the end of the colonial period. Francisco Macías Nguema, who at independence was president in a shaky coalition government, consolidated his power in 1969 through fiery anti-Spanish rhetoric. Almost the entire remaining Spanish population of 7,000 fled the country. Macías's sheer brutality against his opponents within the government instilled a climate of terror. Ten of 12 ministers in the country's post-independence government were executed, all replaced by members of his small Esangui clan. All officers in the military were eventually linked by kinship. Macías declared himself 'president for life' in 1972. A reign of terror saw thousands die, including two-thirds of the National Assembly. A string of civil servants, the former lovers of Macías's many mistresses, any kind of intellectual, or anybody whom he disliked for any reason-all faced murder at his whim. In the mid-1970s, after a period of forcing priests to give sermons about his divinity, he banned Christianity, and all foreign priests were expelled. Then he ordered all schools to close. Governance did not exist beyond his crude edicts and erratic decisions, and the economy crumbled. By 1977 50,000 people-one-sixth of the population-had been killed, and almost half had fled abroad along with tens of thousands of foreign workers.

Fearing that Macías might take down the entire family with him in a spiral of insanity, his own relatives turned on him. In August1979 his nephew Teodoro Obiang Nguema seized power, and Macías was subsequently tried and executed. The less volatile Obiang invited refugees to return, released thousands of his uncle's political prisoners, and allowed schools to re-open, but very little else changed in Equatorial Guinea until the early 1990s when foreign donors pressed Obiang to open up the political system.


Governance

Obiang became president through a referendum in 1982 that also confirmed his dictatorial powers. By the mid-1990s, opposition groups were active abroad and on home ground in Equatorial Guinea, though within extremely narrow and life-threatening bounds. Their purposes are much broader than minority interests, being concerned with ending a dictatorship. But in 1993 Bubi radicals established the Movimiento de Autodeterminacion de la Isla de Bioko (MAIB) to protest against the total marginalisation of the Bubi people in government and the economy – a political movement which was later to be brutally harassed by the security forces. Despite gathering opposition both at home and abroad (Spain and France – after two decades of tacit complicity – withdrew support from the regime), Obiang won 1996 presidential elections with 99 per cent of the vote.

One month after this piece of theatre, as Obiang was in danger of facing renewed international pressure for reform, Mobil Oil announced that it had begun tapping offshore oil and gas reserves that had been discovered in 1995, including the Zafiro oil field-the single largest and most profitable oil field in all of Africa. The new source of wealth rendered the regime immune to pressure through development aid. In 2002 elections no sop to modesty or plausibility was required, and Obiang was re-elected with 100 per cent of the vote.

In 2001 opposition leaders in Spain formed a coalition and in 2003 proclaimed themselves a government-in-exile. Dominated by a Fang opposition leader, Severo Moto, it has attracted some financing from hopeful businessmen but enjoys little credibility back in Equatorial Guinea.

In March 2004 the government announced it had arrested a number of alleged mercenaries linked to another group of alleged mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe. All were said to have been plotting a coup, but while the leader of the Zimbabwe group was charged with illegal weapons purchases, the rest of the group was only charged with illegal entry into the country. Trials in both countries convicted alleged plotters on various charges, but the case against the Zimbabwe group, most of whom had been returned to South Africa, fell apart. Following convictions of the alleged plotters in Equatorial Guinea, Amnesty International and the International Bar Association criticized the trial as flawed. In March 2008, Equatorial Guinea alleged that one of the plotters in its custody had named Mark Thatcher, son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as a financier of the plot. The following month, Spain arrested Moto on charges connected to an alleged plan to ship weapons and ammunition to Equatorial Guinea.

Eligibility for top positions in Obiang's regime depends on status in the Esangui clan of the ruling Nguema family. With the exceptions of timber and oil concessions, most businesses are in the hands of senior government officials and their families, as are most opportunities to benefit from bribery and to allocate state revenues and aid funds. For the rest of the population, especially minority Bubi people, arbitrary detention and torture remain routine.


Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples

By 2006 Equatorial Guinea had become one of Africa's leading oil and gas producers. It had the second highest GDP per capita in the world, following Luxembourg, but ranked 121 out of 177 on the UN Human Development Index and 400,000 of its population suffered from malnutrition. In April 2006 Obiang received red-carpet treatment in Washington for a meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. In October 2006 Obiang announced that the country's oil revenue was set to double.

In its 2006 Human Rights Report on Equatorial Guinea, the US State Department reported that, as in previous years, Bubi face continued intense harassment from the military. Bubi who refused to hand over harvests, money, or land, were prone to beatings and shootings. The Bubi continue to lack freedom of movement on their island homeland. In 2006, for the first time since independence, a new prime minister was appointed who was not a Bubi, ending the last symbolic (but empty) gesture against the otherwise total exclusion of Bubi in government.

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