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History of Equatorial Guinea

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The first inhabitants of the region that is now Equatorial Guinea are believed to have been Pygmies, of whom only isolated pockets remain in northern Rio Muni[?]. Bantu migrations between the 17th and 19th centuries brought the coastal tribes and later the Fang. Elements of the latter may have generated the Bubi, who emigrated to Bioko from Cameroon and Rio Muni in several waves and succeeded former neolithic populations. The Annobon population, native to Angola, was introduced by the Portuguese via Sao Tome.

The Portuguese explorer, Fernando Po (Fernao do Poo), seeking a route to India, is credited with having discovered the island of Bioko in 1471. He called it Formosa ("pretty flower"), but it quickly took on the name of its European discoverer. The islands of Fernando Póo[?] and Annobón[?] were colonized by the Portuguese in 1474, and passed to Spain in 1778. The Portuguese retained control until 1778, when the island, adjacent islets, and commercial rights to the mainland between the Niger and Ogoue Rivers were ceded to Spain in exchange for territory in South America (Treaty of Pardo). From 1827 to 1843, Britain established a base on the island to combat the slave trade. The mainland portion, Rio Muni[?], became a protectorate in 1885 and a colony in 1900. Conflicting claims to the mainland were settled in 1900 by the Treaty of Paris, and periodically, the mainland territories were united administratively under Spanish rule. Between 1926 and 1959 they were united as the colony of Spanish Guinea[?].

Spain lacked the wealth and the interest to develop an extensive economic infrastructure in what was commonly known as Spanish Guinea during the first half of this century. However, through a paternalistic system, particularly on Bioko Island, Spain developed large cacao plantations for which thousands of Nigerian workers were imported as laborers. At independence in 1968, largely as a result of this system, Equatorial Guinea had one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa. The Spanish also helped Equatorial Guinea achieve one of the continent's highest literacy rates and developed a good network of health care facilities.

In 1959, the Spanish territory of the Gulf of Guinea was established with status similar to the provinces of metropolitan Spain. As the Spanish Equatorial Region, it was ruled by a governor general exercising military and civilian powers. The first local elections were held in 1959, and the first Equatoguinean representatives were seated in the Spanish parliament. Under the Basic Law of December 1963, limited autonomy was authorized under a joint legislative body for the territory's two provinces. The name of the country was changed to Equatorial Guinea. Although Spain's commissioner general had extensive powers, the Equatorial Guinean General Assembly had considerable initiative in formulating laws and regulations.

In March 1968, under pressure from Equatoguinean nationalists and the United Nations, Spain announced that it would grant independence to Equatorial Guinea. A constitutional convention produced an electoral law and draft constitution. In the presence of a UN observer team, a referendum was held on August 11, 1968, and 63% of the electorate voted in favor of the constitution, which provided for a government with a General Assembly and a Supreme Court with judges appointed by the president.

In September 1968, Francisco Macias Nguema[?] was elected first president of Equatorial Guinea, and independence was granted in October. In July 1970, Macias created a single-party state and by May 1971, key portions of the constitution were abrogated. In 1972 Macias took complete control of the government and assumed the title of President for Life. The Macias regime was characterized by abandonment of all government functions except internal security, which was accomplished by terror; this led to the death or exile of up to one-third of the country's population. Due to pilferage, ignorance, and neglect, the country's infrastructure--electrical, water, road, transportation, and health--fell into ruin. Religion was repressed, and education ceased. The private and public sectors of the economy were devastated. Nigerian contract laborers on Bioko, estimated to have been 60,000, left en masse in early 1976. The economy collapsed, and skilled citizens and foreigners left.

All schools were ordered closed in 1975, and the country's churches were closed in 1978. Nguema introduced a campaign of 'authenticity,' replacing colonial names with native ones: the capital Santa Isabel became Malabo, the main island of Fernando Póo[?] was renamed Masie Nguema Biyogo after himself, and Annobón[?] became Pigalu.. As part of the same process, Nguema also ordered the entire population to drop their European names and adopt African ones. His own name underwent several transformations, so that by the end of his rule he was known as Masie Nguema Biyogo Ñegue Ndong.

In August 1979, Macias' nephew from Mongomo and former director of the infamous Black Beach prison, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo[?], led a successful coup d'etat; Macias was arrested, tried, and executed. Obiang assumed the Presidency in October 1979. The islands were renamed Bioko and Annobón. The new ruler faced the challenge of restoring order in a country that was in shambles--by the end of Masie Nguema's dictatorship, the state coffers were empty and the population had dropped to only one-third of what it was at independence.

Obiang initially ruled Equatorial Guinea with the assistance of a Supreme Military Council. A new constitution, drafted in 1982 with the help of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, came into effect after a popular vote on August 15, 1982; the Council was abolished, and Obiang remained in the presidency for a 7-year term. He was reelected in 1989. In February 1996, he again won reelection with 98% of the vote; several opponents withdrew from the race, however, and the election was criticized by international observers. Subsequently, Obiang named a new cabinet, which included some opposition figures in minor portfolios.

While the economy remained primarily agricultural throughout the 1980s, with coffee and cocoa being the chief products, there was some room for hope with the exploitation of oil and natural gas in the late 1990s.

Despite the formal ending of one-party rule in 1991, Mr. Obiang's PDGE remains the dominant political party. In the legislative election in March 1999, the party increased its majority in the 80-seat parliament from 68 to 75. The main opposition parties, the Convergencia para la democracia Social[?] (CPDS) and the Union Popular[?] (UP) supposedly won four seats and one seat, respectively, in Parliament; they refused to accept them. Local elections in May 2000 saw the PDGE overwhelm its rivals once again, winning a clean sweep of all major municipalities. However, the main opposition parties rejected the elections as invalid and boycotted them.

See also : Equatorial Guinea



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