Since the 1990s, Equatorial Guinea has become one of the largest oil producing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and it is now the richest country per capita in Africa. It ranks 43rd in the world for gross domestic product per capita.
However, the oil revenue is distributed very unequally and most people see no benefit from the high GDP. the country ranks 144th on the UN’s 2014 Human Development Index.
What this means is that Equatorial Guinea fails to convert a relatively high income into high life expectancy and formal education for its people.
Equatorial Guinea – Why High Income but Low Human Development?
For starters – Equatorial Guinea has been ‘blessed’ with a natural supply of oil and gas.
Most of the country’s income comes from oil and gas exports, as the export tree-map below shows (2012 figures)
However, the income doesn’t trickle down because of an autocratic government which controls the oil industry and uses the revenue to enrich itself and keep itself in power.
The current president of Equatorial Guinea is Teodoro Obiang, he has been quite literally running the country for three decades. He has extensive powers, including naming and dismissing members of the cabinet, making laws by decree, negotiating and ratifying treaties and serving as commander in chief of the armed forces.The anti-corruption lobby Transparency International describes Obiang as one of the world’s “most kleptocratic” living autocrats and has put Equatorial Guinea in the top 12 of its list of most corrupt states.
The advocacy group Global Witness has been lobbying the United States to act against Obiang’s son, Teodorin, who is vice-president and a government minister. It says there is credible evidence that he spent millions buying a Malibu mansion and private jet using corruptly acquired funds.
During the three decades of his rule, Obiang has shown little tolerance for opposition. While the country is nominally a democracy, elections have generally been considered a sham. According to Human Rights Watch, the dictatorship of President Obiang has used an oil boom to entrench and enrich itself further at the expense of the country’s people.
There’s also the fact that The U.S. Government and U.S. Corporations Support Obiang
Without the help of international oil corporations, it’s unlikely that Equatorial Guinea would have been able to drill for oil – think about it, drilling for oil requires heavy industry and lots of investment.
Exon Mobile, the USA’s biggest oil company, has been operating in Equatorial Guinea since the mid 1990s and controls a 75% stake in Equatorial Guinea’s most productive oil field, which produces 270 000 barrels of oil a day (the market value of oil is currently $50 a day, which means this one field returns a revenue of around $1.4 million a day, or around $400 million a year).
NB the government (which basically means Obiang’s family) only controls a 5% stake of this particular field, but this tiny stake from this one oil field returns them something in the region of $300 000 a day, and there are many more oil fields.
Despite his dismal human rights and corruption record, Obiang was recently invited (in 2014) to a U.S. African summit – along with a whole load of other human rights abusers on the continent. The general gist of the article is that the U.S. is tolerant of corrupt governments in Africa because if they don’t do business with them, then the Chinese will, there’s also the fact that they might be useful in combating Islamic extremism.
Related Posts (forthcoming)
This country case-study is also useful for illustrating how TNCs are not interested in promoting social development in other parts of the world.
(1) You’ll notice from the graph above that Cuba is a good example of a country which has a relatively high human development compared to its GNI per capita, more on that later.