Located on the western coast of Central Africa lies the small country of Equatorial Guinea, officially the Republic of Equatorial Guinea. One of Africa’s most closed and least visited countries, the oil-rich nation is home to pristine rainforests buzzing with rare wildlife, idyllic beaches, and fascinating colonial architecture frozen in time. Here are some interesting facts about Equatorial Guinea.
Facts about Equatorial Guinea
1. Equatorial Guinea consists of an insular and a mainland region.
Equatorial Guinea consists of two separate regions—an insular and a mainland region. Continental Equatorial Guinea is also known as Río Muni and five islands located in the easternmost part of the Gulf of Guinea make up insular Equatorial Guinea.
The islands of Equatorial Guinea are Bioko (formerly Fernando Pó), Corisco, Great Elobey (Elobey Grande), Small Elobey (Elobey Chico), and Annobón (Pagalu). The island of Annobón is the only part of the country that lies south of the equator.
2. Equatorial Guinea is one of the smaller African nations by area.
Equatorial Guinea has a total area of 28,050 km² (10,830 sq mi) making it the 141st-largest nation in the world. Comparatively, it is slightly smaller than Belgium or marginally larger than the US state of Massachusetts.
3. Equatorial Guinea shares a land border with two countries.
Through its mainland territory, Equatorial Guinea is bordered by Cameroon (183 km/114 mi) to the north and Gabon (345 km/214 mi) to the south and east.
4. Equatorial Guinea has a total coastline length of 296 km (184 mi).
Along much of Equatorial Guinea’s 296 km (184 mi) long coastline lie some of the most beautiful and deserted stretches of sand on the African continent.
5. The tallest mountain in Equatorial Guinea is Pico Basilé.
Located on the island of Bioko, Pico Basilé is the highest peak in Equatorial Guinea and rises to an elevation of 3,011 m (9,879 ft). It is an active stratovolcano whose last eruption occurred in 1923.
6. A person from Equatorial Guinea is called an “Equatoguinean.”
An interesting piece of trivia is that the correct demonym for Equatorial Guinea is “Equatoguinean.”
7. Equatorial Guinea is named for the Guinea region of West Africa.
Equatorial Guinea’s name derives from the Guinea region of West Africa that lies along the Gulf of Guinea and stretches north to the Sahel. Despite its name, no part of Equatorial Guinea actually lies on the equator. “Equatorial” refers to the fact that the country lies just north of the Equator.
8. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to set foot in Equatorial Guinea.
One of the lesser-known facts about Equatorial Guinea is that the Portuguese were the first known Europeans to set foot in the country. In 1471, the Portuguese navigator Fernão do Pó, seeking a path to India, is credited as being the first European to discover the island of Bioko.
Under the Portuguese, the islands of Bioko, Annobón, and Corisco became “factories” or posts for the slave trade.
9. Equatorial Guinea is a former Spanish colony and was formerly known as Spanish Guinea.
In the late-18th century, Bioko, Annobón, and parts of Equatorial Guinea’s mainland were traded to Spain in exchange for regions in what is now Brazil. This was done in order to give Spain its own source of slaves in Africa for transport to Spanish America.
In the early years of their possession of Equatorial Guinea, the Spanish were skeptical of investing in the island due to the fear of contracting diseases like yellow fever. They just continued to use the islands as a slave trading post.
From 1827 to 1843, the British actually administered the island of Fernando Po (Bioko) and even offered to purchase Equatorial Guinea from the Spanish. In 1844, the Spanish made a second effort at the occupation of Fernando Po.
However, Spain lacked the wealth and the strong desire to develop an extensive economic infrastructure in Spanish Guinea. Spanish colonial interest was mostly focused on the healthy and fertile Fernando Po (with its cocoa and coffee plantations).
After decades of neglect, the mainland also began to receive some attention in the late 1930s. In the last few decades of Spanish colonial rule, Equatorial Guinea flourished. By the time the world prevailed upon Spain to decolonize, the country had the best medical services, the lowest death rate, and the second-highest per capita income of any sub-Saharan African country.
10. Equatorial Guinea achieved independence in 1968.
Equatorial Guinea attained full independence from Spain on 12 October 1968.
11. Equatorial Guinea is ethnically diverse.
The largest ethnic group of Equatorial Guinea, the Fang, is indigenous to the continental mainland, and constitute around four-fifths of the population. The Bubi are the country’s second-largest ethnic group and make up the majority of the population on Bioko.
The Bubi are the descendants of the indigenous African Bantu-speaking population that fled from the Central African mainland in the 13th century. Coastal tribes in Equatorial Guinea sometimes referred to as “Playeros”, consist of Combes, Bujebas, Balengues, and Bengas.
Equatorial Guinea is also home to smaller ethnic groups such as the Fernandinos—descendants of former slaves liberated by the British and the crioulos—people of mixed Portuguese and African origin.
12. Equatorial Guinea is the only African country where Spanish is an official language.
Perhaps not surprising, since Equatorial Guinea was under Spanish administration for over 150 years. Mostly spoken as a second language, it serves as a lingua franca among the country’s various ethnic groups.
Spanish is used in print, in the media, in higher education, in the judicial system, and in public services. In addition, an English-based creole (Pichinglis) is used extensively in informal settings and commerce and forms the lingua franca on Bioko.
13. In addition to Spanish, French, and Portuguese are also the official languages of Equatorial Guinea.
One of the more surprising facts about Equatorial Guinea is that both French and Portuguese are the official languages of the country. French was adopted as an official language in Equatorial Guinea in 1998, although in practice its use is very minimal. French was adopted as an official language in order to join the Francophonie (OIF).
Portuguese was made an official language in Equatorial Guinea in 2010. However, similar to French, its use is also practically non-existent in the country (except on the island of Annobón, where Fa d’Ambô, a Portuguese creole is spoken). It was only made an official language in order to join the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP).
14. Christianity is the predominant religion in Equatorial Guinea.
Over 85% of Equatorial Guinea’s population adheres to Christianity, the vast majority of whom are Catholics. However, traditional animist beliefs are strong and are often practiced concurrently.
15. An assortment of regional languages is spoken in Equatorial Guinea.
The indigenous languages of Equatorial Guinea include Fang, Bube, Benga, Ndowe, Balengue, Bujeba, Bissio, Gumu, and Igbo.
16. Equatorial Guinea is sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil exporter.
Since oil was first discovered in Equatorial Guinea in the mid-1990s, oil production in the country has increased to the point where the country has become the third-largest oil exporter in sub-Saharan Africa, behind Nigeria and Angola.
Equatorial Guinea’s oil reserves dwarf all other economic activity and oil accounts for about 80% of the country’s GDP. However, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), oil reserves in Equatorial Guinea are expected to run dry by 2035 unless new ones are found.
17. From 1968 to 1979, Equatorial Guinea endured one of the most brutal regimes Africa has ever experienced.
Post-colonial Africa has been bedeviled with tyrants and oppressive dictators and Equatorial Guinea’s Francisco Macias Nguema deserves a spot at the very top of the list. Between 1968 and 1979, Equatorial Guinea was governed by Macías, whose brutality in the post-Hitler era has been matched only by Pol Pot of Cambodia.
Macías’ behavior became increasingly erratic as his despotic rule progressed. He had fishing boats burned and roads mined to prevent escape. He abolished religion, closed churches to use as weapons caches, and jailed or expelled priests. Equatorial Guinea’s economy ground to a halt and 90% of public services—including electric, power, mail, and transport—came to a standstill.
Macías, who had failed the entrance exams to the colonial civil service three times, was notably uneasy around educated people. Before long, he closed all libraries, prohibited the use of the word “intellectual,” and had killed everyone who wore spectacles. By the end of his reign, only two doctors and fewer than a dozen technical school graduates remained in the whole country!
Banning Western medicine, Macías closed down hospitals and used his knowledge of traditional witchcraft to terrify the population into submission. Thousands of people (especially ethnic Bubis) were tortured and publicly executed or beaten to death in the forced labor camps. By 1978, the depravity had reached such an alarming level that Swedish anthropologist Robert af Klinteberg labeled Equatorial Guinea the “concentration camp of Africa—a cottage industry Dachau.”
The total number of deaths attributed to the Macías regime during its eleven-year reign ranges from 20,000 to 100,000—approximately one-third of Equatorial Guinea’s population at the time. Another 100,000 people are believed to have fled the country during this time. In August 1979, Macías was overthrown by his nephew Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who subsequently ordered his uncle’s execution.
18. Although Equatorial Guinea’s GDP per capita is among Africa’s highest, wealth is extremely concentrated.
Due to the discovery of oil and gas in the mid-1990s, Equatorial Guinea has transformed itself from an African backwater into one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. With a relatively low population of a little under 1.5 million, Equatorial Guinea has one of the highest per capita GDPs in Africa.
Sadly, Equatorial Guinea’s newfound wealth has so far had little impact on the lives of its people. Most of the country’s oil revenue goes to the private pockets of the few ruling elites. More than 70% of Equatoguineans still live in abject poverty.
19. The capital of Equatorial Guinea is Malabo.
Located on the island of Bioko, Malabo is famous for its wide boulevards, modern buildings, and interesting colonial architecture. However, the capital of Equatorial Guinea is soon expected to shift to the new city of Ciudad de la Paz (formerly Oyala) on the continental mainland.
20. The world’s largest frog can be found in Equatorial Guinea.
One of the unique facts about Equatorial Guinea is that it is home to the world’s largest frog. The suitably named Goliath Frog can grow to a size of 34 cm (13 in) in length. It weighs up to 3.3 kg (7.3 lbs) and is known for building its own ponds using heavy rocks.
21. Equatorial Guinea has been ruled by one man since 1979.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema seized power in Equatorial Guinea ousting his uncle in a bloody coup in 1979. Despite more than a dozen attempts to topple him, Obiang has clung to power for more than 40 years and earned the title of Africa’s and the world’s longest-serving president.
After coming to power in 1979, Obiang quickly dispelled any illusions that anyone might have had that he would open Equatorial Guinea to freedom and democracy. Although his rule hasn’t been as brutal as his uncle’s, Obiang has nonetheless proved himself a more efficient tyrant where arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, and torture are all common.
Like his uncle before him, Obiang has concentrated power and wealth within his own family. His regime has been labeled an “oil kleptocracy” where he and his cronies continue to amass huge personal profits from the country’s oil windfall.
Despite the vast majority of Equatoguineans mired in abject poverty, Obiang’s wealth is reported to be around $600 million USD, making him one of the world’s wealthiest heads of state.
22. The currency of Equatorial Guinea is the Central African CFA franc (XAF).
The currency of Equatorial Guinea is the Central African franc (CFA), which is pegged to both the West African franc and the Euro. The CFA franc was introduced in Equatorial Guinea in 1985, replacing the Equatorial Guinean ekwele.
22. Equatorial Guinea doesn’t observe daylight saving.
Daylight saving has never been observed in Equatorial Guinea.
23. Equatorial Guinea boasts one of the top three adult literacy rates in Africa.
According to the CIA World Factbook, more than 95% of Equatorial Guinea’s adult population can read and write.
24. Equatorial Guinea is one of the least free countries in the world.
One of the shocking facts about Equatorial Guinea is the country’s track record when it comes to the political rights and civil liberties of its people. Although the nation’s law guarantees freedom of expression, assembly, and association, those freedoms have not been respected.
Equatorial Guinea’s ruling party has almost complete control over the media, judiciary, police, and military. Local and international broadcasters have been prohibited from covering certain subjects deemed damaging to the image of the country or those close to the president.
Websites of foreign news outlets and the political opposition are among those regularly blocked and the government reportedly monitors internet communications. State media do not cover international news unless the president or senior officials go abroad.
There are no effective human rights organizations in the country, and the few international non-governmental organizations are prohibited from defending human rights. All citizens are also required to obtain exit visas to travel abroad.
25. Football is the most popular sport in Equatorial Guinea.
Like in most of Africa, football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in Equatorial Guinea. Unfortunately, the country’s men’s national football team has tasted very little success at the international level and has never even qualified for the FIFA World Cup.
26. There are no UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Equatorial Guinea.
In addition to having to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, there are no sites on UNESCO’s tentative list either.
27. Equatorial Guinea has never won a medal at the Olympics.
Despite having participated in the Summer Olympics since 1984, Equatorial Guinea has never won a medal. The nation has never participated in the Winter Olympic Games.
28. The silk-cotton tree is the national symbol of Equatorial Guinea.
The silk-cotton tree (or the so-called “God Tree”) represents the place where the first treaty between the local rulers and Portuguese was signed. It even features on the national coat of arms.
29. Bata is the largest city in Equatorial Guinea.
Lying on the Gulf of Guinea in northwestern Equatorial Guinea, Bata is the economic and logistical hub in the nation’s mainland region of Rio Muni. It is home to nearly one-fourth of the nation’s population.