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  • Writer's pictureNicky, Digital Researcher, Africa Analyst

Equatorial Guinea (A brief history)

History of Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial Guinea, officially called the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, is a country located on the west coast of Central Africa. The name Equatorial Guinea is indicative of the country's proximity to the Equator and the Gulf of Guinea. Malabo, the oldest city in the country, is the capital of Equatorial Guinea.

Geographically, the country comprises two regions; an insular region and the mainland region. The Bioko Island (formerly called Fernando Pó), located in the Gulf of Guinea, and the Island of Annobon, which is a small island south of the Equator, make up the insular region. The mainland region, known as Rio Muni, is bordered by Cameroon and Gabon, and also have several smaller offshore islands.

Ethnic groups

Several languages are spoken in Equatorial Guinea; and the languages include French, Portuguese, Hindi, Arabic, Spanish, English, Fulani, Mandinka, Susu, Myene, Fang, Igbo, Annobonese, etc.

The major recognizable ethnic groups of the country are Fang, Bubi, Ndowe, Annobon, Bujeba, Igbo and others.

Pre-colonial history

The earliest inhabitants of the territory known today as Equatorial Guinea are believed to be Pygmies. Some remnants of their descendants can still be found in some parts of northern Rio Muni. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, groups of Bantu-speaking people including the Fang group migrated into the territory and dwelt by the coastal areas. Slave traders from the Igbo people of Nigeria also arrived Guinea, and established settlements in Bioko Island and Rio Muni. Between the 18th and 19th centuries the Igbos expanded and spread out within the areas. The tribes dwelling in Annobón were mainly people brought in from Angola by the Portuguese.

European infiltration and Spanish colonization

Fernāo do Pó, the renowned Portuguese explorer, while seeking a route to India discovered the Island of Bioko in 1472. He named the island Formosa which means beautiful, but the Island will later take up his name Fernando Pó. Two years later, in 1474, Portugal established its colonies in the Island of Fernando Pó and Annobón. In 1778, Portugal and Spain signed the Treaty of El Pardo, and with that Portugal handed over the island of Fernando Pó together with all the smaller islands to Spain. Also, the Spanish received commercial rights to the Bight of Biafra, from where it intended to easily gain access into the African slave market.

From 1778 to 1810 Spanish authorities administered Equatorial Guinea from the Spanish base in Buenos Aires. In 1827 the United Kingdom established a base on Bioko Island to help it combat the slave trade. The British base was later moved to Sierra Leone in 1843, following an agreement between Spain and the UK. At the restoration of its sovereignty over the Bioko Island Spain pronounced the area as the Territory of Spain. The Bight of Biafra, to which Spain had Treaty claims, was completely neglected by the Spanish, leaving room for the French to encroach into the Bight and occupy it. By the time the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1900, Spain was left with only Rio Muni which was less than 10% of the expanse of the territory to which they had originally laid claims to.

The Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea

By the beginning of the 20th century the plantations of Fernando Po was largely under the control of black creole elite known as the Fernandinos. The Island was populated by Sierra Leoneans, and some freed slaves whom the British had settled in the region during their brief stay in the 19th century. Migrants from Western Africa, West Indies, Cuba, Spain and the Philippines also formed a good percentage of the population.

Meanwhile, due to the neutrality of Spain to the World War 1, German troops and large number of refugees from Cameroon found a safe haven in Rio Muni and the Island of Bioko. In the early 1900s a new set of Spanish migrants arrived the territory, and the Spanish colonialists in 1905 made certain land regulations that were unfavorable to the Fernandinos. The Spanish, Portugues established large cocoa plantations in the territory. As at the mid-twentieth century shortage of labour was a chronic setback to the territory's economic development. The planters had to smuggle in workers from the Eastern provinces of Nigeria; and the population of Nigerian workers in the area increased to almost 100, 000 by 1968.

The native indigenes of Bioko besieged by social challenges and diseases boycotted working on Spanish-owned plantations and instead sustained themselves on their own small cocoa farms. They were further protected from forced labor by Spanish Catholic Missionaries who had lgreat influence over the Colony.

Between 1926 and 1959, Bioko Island and Rio Muni were united as the Colony of Spanish Guinea; and the colony's economy was largely based on cocoa and coffee farming. As at the 1920s the native Fang people had been subdued and colonial guards mounted garrisons throughout the territory. By 1929 the whole colony of Equatorial Guinea was considered pacified. The Spanish civil war of 1936-1939 saw a group of armed Spanish rebels arriving Equatorial Guinea in 1936 and forcefully hijacking control of the Colony.

In 1959 the Spanish colony was upgraded to a province and the first local elections were held the same here with Equatorguinean representatives making it to the Spanish Parliament for the very first time. In this period, nationalist began to strive for the liberation of Equatorial Guinea; forming two bodies - Movimiento Nacional de Liberación de La Guinea (MONALIGE) and Idea Popular de Guinea Equatorial (IPGE). The weak effort of these groups didn't yield much tangible results. However, following the strong pressure from the United Nations Spain caved in and the Colony was granted independence to become the Republic of Equatorial Guinea on 12 October 1968 with Francisco Macias Nguema as its first president.


Between 1970 and 1972, President Nguema had abrogated some key parts of the country's constitution, established a single party and declared himself president for life. His regime was marred with so much injustice, torture, witch-hunting, human rights abuse and brutality. His nephew, Teodoro Obiang Nguema led a coup d'etat against him and the president was arrested and subsequently executed. Obiang didn't do better than his uncle, and at the end of his dictatorship Equatorial Guinea was in a worse state.

Economic Development

As at independence the country was still doing well economically and the standard of living was better, but due to neglect and mismanagement the economy deteriorated terribly. The foreign investors and planters departed to their countries.

Prior to its independence Equatorial Guinea exported cocoa, coffee and timber to countries such as Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom. In 1996 large oil reserves were discovered in the country and this catapulted the revenue available to its government. The high Gross National Income is not in any way reflected in the present status of the country, and majority of the citizens are wallowing in abject poverty and suppression.

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