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The oil sector is preventing agriculture’s development
Equatorial Guinea is a former Spanish colony with a population of one million. This year, the country’s economy should reach a growth rate of 10%, thanks to the exploitation of its oil. From now on, Equatorial Guinea comes third in the list of African sub-Saharan producer countries — behind Nigeria and Angola. At the end of October, Marcelino Owono Edu, Minister of Finance and chairman of the National Monetary Committee envisaged this growth rate, because of the rapid development in Equatorial Guinea’s oil sector and the rise in the price of crude oil.
At the same time, the government has recently inaugurated a large number of social infrastructures which were lacking. Their installation is part of the programme for opening up various sectors of the economy to outside influences. From the practical point of view, logging companies (mainly Spanish, North Korean and Chinese-run) will be asked to build schools and houses for teachers; health centres and leisure centres.
Guarantees of stability
The United States Embassy has been closed since 1995. In October 2003 it re-opened in Malabo in the presence of Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema; the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Walter Kansteiner; George Staples, the current American ambassador accredited to Equatorial Guinea but residing in Yaounde, Cameroon. The US Embassy had been closed in 1995, officially because of budgetary restrictions. But the Equatorial Guinean Opposition said it was because of the constant human rights violations practised in this country since 1979 by General Obiang Nguema.
Equatorial Guinea’s immediate neighbours are Gabon and Cameroon. Ever since 1992, Equatorial Guinea has experienced a sudden oil boom. The country still has a territorial disagreement with Gabon, over the tiny Mbanié Island, whose waters are reputed to be covering rich oil deposits. Both assert their rights by referring back to the borders inherited from their former colonizers, Spain (Equatorial Guinea) and France (Gabon). Negotiations about Equatorial Guinea’s territorial waters have been taking place with Nigeria and Sao Tome e Principe, because both countries have their eyes on sea areas which are reported to be covering rich oil deposits.
Equatorial Guinea’s oil is almost exclusively exploited by ten American companies, among which, ExxonMobil. US citizens are the only foreigners who don’t need a visa to enter the country. Other foreigners, apart from businessmen, frequently have great difficulty in obtaining visas. The United States’ last ambassador to Equatorial Guinea, John Bennett, was declared persona non grata by the authorities and was recalled by Washington. However, diplomatic relations between the two countries were never broken off. Since 1995, US affairs in Equatorial Guinea were managed by the US embassy in Cameroon.
Social and health affairs
US $432,000 of UNICEF-allocated funds have just been released by the government for the purchase of office equipment, medical supplies and vaccine to be used in vaccination campaigns nationwide. This initiative, the first of its kind in Central Africa, has taken countries and organisations assisting Equatorial Guinea in its development programme, by surprise. It proves the government has been prepared to listen to UNICEF‘s pleas to the government on behalf of the nation’s children. During his investiture in January 2003, the President promised he would do his utmost to improve children’s and women’s living conditions.
Now the necessary funds have been allocated, the vaccination programme can start again as a matter of routine, thus enabling all children from 0 to 5 years to be vaccinate against various epidemics. So, the national vaccination campaign was launched on 24 October and will be carried out in three phases from October to December. The aim is to vaccinate 38,500 children in the 0 to 23 month age range, and 24,600 pregnant women. For two years, UNICEF had been begging the government to launch such a campaign but it has taken the oil boom and the growth in the economy to get things going. Hopefully these are signs that the government will continue to give priority to the social sectors, especially health.
Since the start of the oil boom in 1992, many people have practically given up agriculture, in order to seek employment in the oil sector. Workers in this sector are very well paid compared to most people’s standard of living. The migration from the agriculture sector takes place in spite of the authorities’ efforts to develop agriculture and to work for food self-sufficiency.
While the oil boom is contributing to the nations’ development, it’s also causing increasing inactivity in other sectors, such as agriculture. The newspaper, Ebano, puts it this way: «In former times, Equatorial Guinea’s economy depended mostly on coffee, cocoa and timber. But the way things are going, the country’s traditional money-raisers are on the way out. People only think “oil”, now, and place all their bets here. Coffee, cassava, yams, etc are all imported from Douala, Cameroon.
- Antoine Lawson, Eq. Guinea, November 2003 — © Reproduction authorised, with usual acknowledgment
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