Equatorial Guinea

Map of Africa locating Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial Guinea is a West African nation bordering the Bight of Biafra, between Cameroon and Gabon.

The earliest indigenous population of this country were the pygmies and Ndowe societies. Around the 12 th and 13 th century a wave of Bantu migration settled in the area. The prominent Bantu societies were the Fang people who developed a centralised society with a strong army able to prevent colonisation by early Portuguese explorers. However, the Fang were not able to prevent the Portuguese from settling on the island of Biko, which was inhabited by the Bubi society. In 1778 Portugal traded the islands to the Spanish government. Because of the slave trade, the island became a major centre of slave trade. The development of an extensive slave trade weakened the Fang society and finally the Spanish were able to colonise the rest of Equatorial Guinea.

From the 1778 until 1959, Equatorial Guinea remained an underdeveloped African colony. In 1959, it became a Spanish province and this change of status led to the growth of Spanish investment. As a result, Equatorial Guineans became one Africa's most educated population. In the 1950s a move towards independence had already developed and in 1963 the colony was granted self-governance leading to full independence in 1968.

Independence did not however introduce democratic rule. The first President of Equatorial Guinea, Macias Nguema, banned all political opposition and ruled the country autocratically and with cruelty. An example of this was that being a journalist became a capital offence. For years, Equatorial Guinea was effectively closed off from the world. In 1979, Macias was overthrown by his nephew Teodoro Obiang Nguema. By the time Macias' rule ended, two-thirds of the population had either fled Equatorial Guinea or been killed by his army and police.

Teodoro Obiang Nguema's take over brought hopes that the country would finally move towards democratisation. Teodoro Nguema relaxed the country's harsh laws, encouraged limited free speech and introduced elections. Unfortunately they were rigged and declared not free and fair by the world. Moreover, the government now routinely intimidates opposition parties. However, the discovery of oil in the country's shores rekindled hope in democracy for the country.

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Last updated : 14-Aug-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 21-Mar-2011