Shedding the Veil: Poverty and Hunger in Equatorial Guinea

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SEATTLE — Equatorial Guinea, one of the smallest nations in Africa with a population of roughly 900,000 people, has the highest GDP per capita income on the continent. According to the World Bank, the country’s GDP reached its peak in 2012 at $22.39 billion. Oil reserves made up over 90 percent of the GDP but have since declined rapidly. Despite being known as one of the strongest sub-Saharan economies, a higher percentage of people live in poverty in Equatorial Guinea than its two neighboring countries of Cameroon and Gabon. It can only be assumed that hunger in Equatorial Guinea will be, if it is not already, a pressing issue capturing the country.

The most recent information collected on poverty dates back to 2006, when an estimated 76.8 percent of the population lived in poverty. Comparatively, in 2007 neighboring Cameroon had an estimated 37.5 percent of the population living in poverty, and in 2005 Gabon had 32.7 percent. Since then, both countries have seen declining poverty rates. Both countries are host to smaller economies, much larger populations, and Hunger Index ratings that suggest hunger problems.

Equatorial Guinea sits in a bubble between these countries with a declining but still powerful economy with the resources to sustain the small population. And yet, money never seems to leave the hands of the political elite and, with this, the population is left in poverty with limited access to clean water and food.

Indeed, Equatorial Guinea isn’t included in the most recent Corruption Perceptions Index or Global Hunger Index, leaving a void of data and its citizens invisible to the global community, and leaving people on the outside trying to pull back the veil. Despite the sparse data available, it’s known that Equatorial Guinea’s GDP continues to decrease — by 8.2 percent in 2016 and an estimated 5.9 percent in 2017 — due to plummeting oil prices.

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the president of Equatorial Guinea, holds the title of longest acting president in the world and has constantly been surrounded by allegations of corruption and human rights abuses. Furthermore, Daniel Bekele of Human Rights Watch has reported, that between 2009 and 2013, Equatorial Guinea received about $4 billion annually in oil revenue, and spent $4.2 billion on infrastructure.

Equatorial Guinea stands on a precipice with most of the country living a subsistence lifestyle, well-versed in the practice of small farming. Indeed, the agricultural sector has the potential to fill the void plummeting oil prices have left in the economy. Only about 10 percent of the arable land is being utilized and agriculture, forestry, and fishing only make up about 1.2 percent of the country’s GDP as of 2014.

Furthermore, the Food and Agricultural Organization is, at the moment, pushing for a sustainable and diversified agricultural sector which could balance the nation’s economy. This will reduce poverty and create the agricultural production necessary to fight, if not end, hunger in Equatorial Guinea.

Despite the rampant corruption, the vast overspending on infrastructure, the woefully low spending on public health and education, and the mass poverty that captures the country, Equatorial Guinea has the potential to reduce poverty and fight hunger. To do this the veil hiding the country’s affairs must be removed.

Data is severely limited, research is sorely needed, and global support is a must. International pressure is beginning to lift the veil, fighting the corruption and pushing the country to diversify its economy which may lead it back to its previous highs and make it a model for countries across the globe, ending hunger in Equatorial Guinea and reducing rampant poverty.

Joseph Dover

Photo: Flickr

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