Understanding Poverty: Why is Equatorial Guinea Poor?

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MALABO — Equatorial Guinea has the highest level of per capita income in Sub-Saharan Africa at $22,300 per year. In 2005, Equatorial Guinea was the third largest producer of oil in Sub-Saharan Africa at 376,000 barrels per day. Profiting roughly $5 billion per year, the country has dumped massive funds into infrastructure, rebuilding airports and roads while improving water and electricity services.

As a nation, it has extraordinarily low debt, extremely fertile soil, and a small population of roughly 900,000. It has recently raised a one billion dollar fund to invest alongside foreign countries to develop the fishing, mining, petrochemical, financial services, and tourism industries. So, why is Equatorial Guinea poor?

On the surface, it would seem that Equatorial Guinea is a booming country, rich in resources and high in potential. However, the particularities are far bleaker. According to the World Bank, 76.8 percent of the population lives in poverty.

As of 2014, 90 percent of the country’s GDP was dependent on oil revenue. Plummeting oil prices have hit the country hard, and the GDP decreased by 8.2 percent in 2016. It is estimated to drop another 5.9 percent in 2017. Worse yet, the clear majority of revenue procured never leaves the hands of the political elite.

Corruption Runs Amuck 

Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, vice president of the country and son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasago, currently stands trial in France on charges of corruption, money-laundering and embezzlement. He is reported to have bought a $196 million mansion, a $24 million art collection, and 18 luxury sports cars.

At the time he was Minister of Agriculture, and made an annual salary of $100,000. What’s more, just prior to France charging him, he settled a case with the U.S. State Department for $30 million. He reportedly bought a $38 million private jet and $30 million mansion in Malibu, California.

Not only are public funds being held in the hands of the political elite, the country also has an abysmal human rights record and virtually no protection for speaking out against the government. On the surface, freedom of press and expression are legally guaranteed, yet when examining the particularities, they are far from guaranteed rights.

Very few people have access to official information and, following the passing of the 1992 Law on the Press, Publishing and Audiovisual Media, the government has virtually full control over the country’s media. International and national news are highly policed and censored by President Mbasago’s government.

Why is Equatorial Guinea Poor 

So, why is Equatorial Guinea poor? The Oxford Dictionary defines poor as: “lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society.” In the abstract, Equatorial Guinea is far from poor, being one of the wealthiest nations in Sub-Saharan Africa with political elites spending millions of dollars on luxury items all over the world.

Yet, the particulars illuminate something far more dubious. They highlight a poor country struggling under the reign of the longest standing president in the world and one of the most ruthlessly sly dictators today. So the answer to Equatorial Guinea’s poverty? An entangled mess of political corruption and repression that pulls the country back from its potential success.

Joseph Thomas Dover

Photo: Flickr

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