Equatorial Guinea Today

Equatorial Guinea exports an annual US$12 billion worth of goods, mostly crude oil, petroleum gas and timber. The World Bank puts per-capita income at US$12,820 (2015). While this is high in comparison with most of the rest of Africa, it has dropped significantly in recent years as the price of oil diminishes (it was US$18,530 in 2013). Profits do not trickle down to most of the population, who linger in appalling poverty while the government generates an oil revenue of about US$8 billion a year. The reduction in the oil price has also meant fewer jobs in the oil industry, tourism and construction. According to the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, Equatorial Guinea is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The group accuses President Obiang of using public money on fancy cars, sleek jets and luxury homes around the world. Obiang, Africa's longest-serving leader, shows no sign of releasing his grip: in 2016 he was voted in for another presidential term, in an election that banned EU monitors and some foreign media. Obiang won, as he predicted he would, gaining 93.5% of the vote.

In November 2011 the government held a referendum proposing changes to the constitution, which it claimed would facilitate democratic reform. However, critics of the changes say that the reforms, which were endorsed by voters, will in fact cement Obiang's position. Presidents are now limited to two terms of seven years in office, of which Obiang has started his second. A vice-presidency was created, the post awarded to Obiang's son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, known as Teodorin. He is expected to take his father's place. But Teodorin's expensive tastes – ranging from Paris apartments to Bugattis, Lamborghinis and Ferraris as well as Michael Jackson's sequinned glove – have raised suspicions of money-laundering and accusations of squandering the country's assets: in 2016 the International Criminal Court instigated proceedings against him while France and Switzerland seized assets.

While the official government line is that today's regime offers a much better deal than the horrors of the Macías Nguema years, there is opposition both at home and abroad. In 2014 opposition leaders were granted amnesty and invited by the president to a 'national dialogue'. Participants, including political parties and some independent activists, agreed to several changes relating to elections and political pluralism.

As the price of oil continues to drop and reserves threaten to run dry, Equatorial Guinea will eventually have to diversify, forgo its rigid bureaucracy and allow tourism to flourish as recommended by the government's Horizon 2020 policy. A US$1 billion investment fund was established by the government in 2014 to encourage growth in sectors other than energy.

Culture

Although the Bubi tribe is thought to have settled on Bioko Island about 10,000 years ago, they are outnumbered by the Fang who migrated from the north between the 13th and 19th centuries. There are a small number of other tribes such as the Ndowe on the coast, and a few Pygmy groups in the northern forests. Over time, other groups have infiltrated the population such as Nigerian workers and slaves from other parts of Africa and even from Cuba.

People

On the mainland 80% of the population is Fang, while on Bioko Island the Bubis are the most numerous group, making up about 15% of the total population. Smaller groups, including the Benga, inhabit the other islands.

The majority of the population is Roman Catholic, thanks to 400 years of Spanish occupation, but traditional animist beliefs are strong and are often practiced concurrently.

Traditional rituals and arts including dance are still performed and there's a strong oral tradition, with stories passed down through the generations, often involving the same cast of famous characters such as the grumpy tortoise and the wily monkey.

Arts & Crafts

Equatorial Guinea shares a similar background in the arts to its neighbours Cameroon and Gabon. Wooden mask-making and traditional sculpture are at the forefront of local crafts, particularly among the Fang ethnic group. Masks are used in celebrations, religious events and funerals. Artisanal jewellery and woven baskets can also be found.

Music and dance play an important part in cultural life. The balélé is a Bubi dance usually performed on holidays. The Fang national dance is the ibanga, where performers cover themselves in a white powder, while Ndowe ivanga dancers paint their faces. Musical accompaniment for these dances comprises drums, xylophones and the mbira or sanza. The Fang are known for their singing tradition, accompanied by the mvet, a harp-zither made from a gourd, with up to 15 strings. Most villages have a chorus and drum group where members sing in a call-and-response style. However, there are few places to perform in public, and many artists have left the country to pursue their careers in Spain.

The modern scene is dominated by music from Cameroon, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which you'll hear blasting out from shared taxis. Equatorial Guinea has produced a number of well-known artists such as hip-hop and rapper Jota Mayúscula and the female duo Hijas Del Sol.

Environment

Both Bioko Island and the mainland hide a wealth of wildlife, most of which is endangered. Rio Muni is home to a hefty wedge of Central African rainforest with gorillas, chimpanzees and forest elephants. It is unknown exactly how many large mammals remain. Large sections of the interior have been set aside as protected areas, including Monte Alen National Park, which covers much of the centre of Rio Muni and offers some amazing hikes. Corrupt logging procedures, deforestation, poaching and the bushmeat trade are still big problems.

Since 1998 conservation staff at the Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program have recorded the number of animals – from monkeys and duikers to wild rats, squirrels and pythons – in meat markets. These tend to be hunted for sale to wealthy locals rather than for subsistence consumption.