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Extraction offshore, politics inshore, and the role of the state in Equatorial Guinea.


Recent economic and socio-political dynamics in the territories that form Equatorial Guinea are related, in different ways, to the extraction of hydrocarbons from its Exclusive Economic Zone since the mid-1990s. These transformations are strongly mediated by specific social groups, especially the family that has held power since 1968 and transnational oil companies, whose relationships are central to the exclusive political configuration in the country. The article analyses this particular form of extraversion of power as part of a broader history of the region, in which the role of the state's sovereignty as articulated during decolonization is shown to be instrumental in the allocation of rights and the political economy of oil today. The article also discusses the spaces that the new political economy of oil has opened for alternative transnational connections around the country.


Les dynamiques economique et sociopolitique recentes dans les territoires qui forment la Guinee equatoriale sont liees, de manieres diverses, a l'extraction des hydrocarbures dans sa zone economique exclusive depuis le milieu des annees 1990. Ces transformations passent surtout par des groupes sociaux specifiques, notamment la famille qui est au pouvoir depuis 1968 et les compagnies petrolieres transnationales, dont les rapports jouent un role central dans la configuration politique exclusive du pays. L'article analyse cette forme particuliere d'extraversion du pouvoir dans un cadre historique plus large de la region, dans lequel le role de la souverainete de l'Etat telle qu'elle s'est exprimee lors de la decolonisation apparait instrumental dans l'affectation de droits et l'economie politique du petrole aujourd'hui. Il traite egalement des espaces qu'a ouverts la nouvelle economie politique du petrole en faveur d'autres connexions transnationales dans le pays.


Since the mid-1990s people in the various territories that constitute the state of Equatorial Guinea have been experiencing transformations in their lives related, in one sense or another, to the extraction of oil and gas from the sea. The country has become the destination for hundreds of companies and thousands of immigrants from near and far. The construction of roads, other large infrastructures, or urban quarters has created new social geographies, while cities have grown enormously at the expense of the abandonment of rural habitats. However, other things continue: the maintenance of President Obiang Nguema in government, the military and police presence at checkpoints all along the roads, or the strikingly low levels of public services such as health and education.

In recent academic literature, two different approaches attempt to shed light on the relationship between the extraction of mineral and other natural resources, and the economic and political configuration of producer countries. The first one is developed around concepts such as 'rentier state' and 'resource curse' (Mahdavi 1970; Auty 1993; Karl 1997; Ross 2001) and insists on the trend of enduring authoritarian political systems and economic stagnation in countries dependent on the production and export of natural resources via rentier and neo-patrimonial mechanisms. (1) The second approach, stemming from neo-colonialism and dependency schools, uses ideas such as 'new scramble for Africa' (Bond 2006; Southall and Melber 2009) and highlights the role of international political economy and the interests of foreign companies and governments in the shaping of countries rich in natural resources. (2) What they seem to share is the idea that, in these dynamics, there is a distortion of the allegedly normal 'national economy' and of the functioning of a sovereign state.

My analysis considers Equatorial Guinea not as a political entity whose autonomy is weakened by local misbehaviour or foreign exploitation, but as a space configured precisely by certain transnational connections that cross its territories, and especially the recent association between local government and transnational economic groups. The rentier and the 'scramble' perspectives tend to stress one of the two sides of this relationship, reinforcing outside-insider, local-foreign analytical dichotomies. But only by reconsidering those dichotomies, and attending to the specific interactions of actors coming from distant places, is it possible to conceptualize more clearly the nature of the Nguema family's predatory despotism. Such an approach does not dissolve the institution of the state: indeed, the international principle of sovereignty will prove to be central in the political economy of oil extraction.

Guided by some residents of the country, in the first main section below I shall sketch some of the major social changes that are taking place in the era of oil. The text situates those processes in the broad historical trajectory of these territories, marked by intense transregional and transoceanic connections. The logics of extraversion prompted by these connections have been strongly mediated, since decolonization in 1968, by the family who managed to occupy the government at that early stage (see my second main section). After the discovery of oil, transnational companies and numerous governments have become fundamental partners of the Nguema clan. These interactions have intensified the main logics of political domination since colonial times, such as repression and selective inclusion, which in turn are shaping the specific forms in which socialization of natural resources is occurring (see the third main section below). However, relationships between government and economic groups are not the only ones that cross Equatorial Guinea: other actors have also looked to create their own networks and extraverted dynamics, in spite of serious barriers (see the fourth section).

This article is based on various sources, such as the extensive consultation of press and websites, the data offered by international governmental and nongovernmental organizations on Equatorial Guinea, and the writing up of approximately fifty interviews in Equatorial Guinea and Madrid from June 2009 to July 2010 by a team of four researchers, including the author. (3)


In his analysis of Angola and other extractive areas, Ferguson (2006) has pointed to the existence of extractive enclaves strongly connected to global networks in Africa, surrounded by large and very isolated areas, where globalization is hardly felt by the populations. The situation in Equatorial Guinea fits the economic geography depicted in his 'Angolan model', as oil extraction is developed entirely at sea, with limited use of a local workforce and other local resources (Abaga 1999). However, recent social and political transformations in its territories, produced far from the offshore platforms, cannot be explained without reference to the political economy generated around them.

The small amount of data available for social indicators in Equatorial Guinea does indeed show a substantial continuity, as if the oil boom had only affected macroeconomic indicators but not people's current standard of living (CESR 2009). (4) What aggregated data cannot show is the differentiated ways in which individuals suffer the scarcity and degraded public services or enjoy the profits generated by the oil industry. If we attend to the US Senate report on the Riggs Bank in 2004, (5) or the more recent cases against the President's son for ill-gotten gains in France and the USA, (6) many of the benefits of the extractive industry are being accumulated far from the country, not only by the foreign companies but also by the individuals who occupy the government (Frynas 2004; Harel 2006; McSherry 2006; Ghazvinian 2007; Shaxson 2007).

However, in recent years, some of the rents are being invested in the territory: one of the first impressions any visitor gains when arriving is that of a country under construction. Public works such as roads, airports, sport complexes-and even a luxury resort and a cathedral (7)--are being developed along with privately owned oil infrastructure and compounds, growing informal settlements, and entire new neighbourhoods such as the so-called 'Malabo II' (Ghazvinian 2007: 177-8; Williams 2011: 630). At the same time, some transnational NGOs have denounced this building fever as justifying forced expropriations and evictions without fair compensation, as well as fostering the accumulation of land by a small minority (Amnesty International 2009b; CPDS 2003-11). (8)

The new precarious salary sector

Fieldwork in Equatorial Guinea is never easy when the researcher is covering political dynamics: this is the reason why our interviews mostly focused on the personal economic changes that individuals had experienced in recent times. This allowed us to realize that one of the most direct implications of the new economic activities in the country is the increase in the number of salaried workers. A young informant was one of the small but increasing number of locals employed by oil companies, (9) who work on the platforms in a 28-day rotation system: yet for most of his workmates, coming from countries as distant as the Philippines, six-month shifts are the norm. He obtained his job through one of the intermediary employment agencies that belong to some relative of the President; like the other local oil workers we interviewed, he accused them of retaining the greater part of what companies are said to pay, though he considered that 'the only solution is resign oneself. (10) Only one of these salaried workers, an engineer trained in Spain, mentioned that the American oil company had employed him directly, in what seems to be a growing trend for highly skilled workers. He noted that 'the norms that the company applies to local workers in terms of salary or promotion are less beneficial than those for the rest of employees'. He also complained about the difference between his salary and those of engineers working at the Ministry of Mines, Industry and Energy, whose numbers have increased enormously in recent times. (11)

We also met people in services related to the oil sector. A local and well-known lawyer stated that his revenue had increased exponentially since he had become the attorney of choice for several oil companies in their growing engagement with the local judicial system. He was not however too sanguine about the judiciary and the general situation; as a lawyer who frequently represents political opponents of the government, he considered that 'being fair in Equatorial Guinea is a bit problematic'. There are also numerous security guards working for the company that monopolizes security in most oil compounds, Sociedad Nacional de Vigilancia (SONAVI), owned by the President's brother, (12) but we did not manage to interview any.

Finding workers in the growing construction sector was much easier. A 33-year-old man who had arrived in Malabo from the mainland part of the country some years ago worked in an Middle Eastern-owned building company (most of the companies that employ locals seem to be from Middle Eastern countries and Cameroon, as Chinese companies usually bring their own workers). Salary and treatment discrimination in favour of foreign, mostly African or Middle Eastern, workers worried him as much as the absence of unemployment, sickness or accident benefits. 'But if you dare to claim better working conditions' from the company or any official body 'you risk getting kicked out'. Ina more traditional salaried sector, education, two teachers in Malabo who had studied at the national university (UNGE) explained that despite the increase in salaries during the last decade and in spite of having wives who were also employed, they were forced to work in more than one school in order to obtain a full salary.

Our fieldwork also involved discussions about whether there currently is a nascent middle class in Equatorial Guinea. Some interviewees described the emergence of a new social group of individuals in their thirties and forties, who have studied abroad (mainly Spain) and have well-paid jobs in the foreign companies that support new patterns of consumption and residence. A 42-year-old woman, with whom one of us shared a Barcelona-Malabo flight and who happened to work in the social-responsibility unit of a big oil company, emphasized the efforts of this native middle class to maintain a low political profile. Such a comfortable political stance, however, is a luxury that those in managerial jobs could not afford. For them, as she bluntly put it, 'either you use the party card, or you are fired'. (13) She was referring to the President's Partido Democratico de Guinea Ecuatorial (PDGE).

Others, like a lawyer in Malabo involved with a political party, argued this 'connivance' and lack of minimal autonomy on the government's part militates against the very idea of a native middle class. And for an unemployed woman in her thirties, 'it is unthinkable that in Guinea there is any rich person outside the President's family'. The need for personal contacts with those in government circles does not seem to be mandatory only in regard to the most rewarding jobs. A worker in a foreign building company admitted that he was hired after the last legislative elections in 2008, when he not only carried out the PDGE's instructions for taxi drivers to distribute the party's leaflets, but also took a subordinate part in organized 'dirty tricks' at polling stations (controlling the ballots of voters and throwing away those of supposed opposition sympathizers).

As we came to appreciate, most salaried jobs in the administration, the hydrocarbons, or the construction sector typically have a precarious character, with periods of unemployment combined with more informal and deregulated activities. Another common pattern was the spending of most of the salaries on basic goods and services such as food, housing and transportation, as prices have multiplied fivefold or even tenfold in the last ten years. (14) Expenditure on health or education was justified by many of our interviewees who stressed the need to avoid the low quality of state-sponsored services. (15) This is promoting a growing privatization: numerous private schools and hospitals have been created; there is a general use of small electric generators; the number of cars has expanded enormously; and the mobile company Hits Telecom has grown, notoriously exceeding the reach of the public landline company Getesa. (16) According to a taxi driver in the capital, many people use taxis more often now than some years ago, although their use drastically decreases during the second part of the month, proving that most people have difficulty making ends meet. A general feeling about recent developments was the view expressed by another worker in a Moroccan building company: 'If builders are hungry that means that things have not essentially changed.'

Women, foreigners and political dissidents: opportunities and exclusions

Women seem to be almost excluded from construction, oil or transport jobs, except as cleaning, administrative and, in some exceptional cases, management personnel. They find more work opportunities in hostelry and bayamsel (retail trade), a sector they share with shops run by Lebanese, Chinese, Malian or Spanish diasporans. We found, among various restaurants and bars set up by women, one lady in Bata who had come back from Spain with a son and some savings, after years of training. She seemed surprised by the quick success of her business thanks to 'the new affluent people', though she also complained about periodic power cuts that badly affected her big freezers ('there is no point in talking about electricity in Bata'), erratic market supplies, excessive tax payments and difficulties in finding well-trained staff. In the same sector, but in a more subordinate position, there was a young woman, also in Bata, who supported two children and some of her siblings. She worked ten hours a day in a restaurant run by Chinese citizens 'with good relations with important people in the government', where she lacked any job security and had to comply with sexual demands from clients.

We also found women in the markets, who continue to dominate the traditional small trade in food or cloths. From informal conversations with them, we learnt that these activities have grown in recent times, in a context of greater autonomy from men. The origin of their merchandise was another recent change, as most of the goods they sell now come from neighbouring countries. In fact, cross-border trade and smuggling at the frontiers with Gabon and especially Cameroon has boomed, and food has recently exceeded textiles and small machinery in importance (Roitman and Roso 2001: 125-6; Frynas 2004: 540). Meanwhile, feminized subsistence agriculture (Campos and Mico 2006: 66-8), which persists as a supplementary activity for the families, is not enough to satisfy urban demands, and down-trending cocoa production in Bioko Island has halved since the beginning of the 1990s (Urrea et al. 1999; Roitman and Roso 2001: 125; BEAC 2010).

In the food sector we met a couple in their fifties, living in a Malabo neighbourhood near the beach. He went fishing in a rented motorboat with three other fishermen, whereas she sold the fish, fresh or frozen, in the market town or the restaurants. From them we learnt of the existence of police and military barreras (patrols) at sea that perform a similar function to road checkpoints, blocking access to certain security arcas, and extorting from fishermen a share of their catch. Increased patrolling as a response to some armed incursions from the Niger Delta in recent times has meant, according to this couple, that fewer artisanal fishermen dare to go to sea. He himself would change this activity 'for a job in a company ... because I do not like to live always afraid'.

As we have already noted, new business and job opportunities, both formal and informal, are stimulating the movement of more and more people to urban centres, especially Malabo and Bata. Some of the new city dwellers come from the rural areas; others are returning former emigrants to Spain, Cameroon or Gabon: one of the members of our research team, who had lived in Madrid for ten years, falls within this category. Many others are from nearby regions (especially Cameroon) and West African countries, in addition to China, the United States, Arab countries and Latin America. (17) The country is also attracting criminal networks that traffic children and women for domestic and sexual exploitation (US Department of State 2011).

A 37-year-old Cameroonian, who made a living as a self-employed bricklayer in Bata, claimed to have numerous local friends, and to live with a Guinean woman, but was aware of the 'suspicions and rejection' they provoke among the rest of the population. In spite of suffering the worst stereotypes ('Cameroonians are always into bad things,' as one of our national interviewees put it), they are amongst the best integrated in local society. West Africans constitute closer-knit groups; this emerged clearly in our conversation with a Malian trader who sold clothing and electronics from a shop he owned with some relatives. He underscored the importance of finding a Malian spouse, and told us of Malian plans to build a mosque next to Malabo's central market, which also proves the growing stabilization of these immigrants in the country.

All the immigrants interviewed deplored the assaults, detentions, ill-treatment and theft that they suffer periodically at the hands of the police. Human rights reports also denounce periodic round-ups of African immigrants, the confiscation of their savings, and periodic expulsions from the country over the Cameroonian border (OHCHR 2007). Harassment and expulsions have been especially ferocious after the military incursions from abroad, such as the 2004 mercenary plot and the attacks from the Niger Delta in 2007 and 2009, but also on the eve of the AU Summit celebrated in Malabo in June 2011. (18)

However, the differentiated effects of the new political economy also apply to newcomers. (19) Americans and other oil workers on the offshore platforms and gated compounds at the outskirts of Malabo and Bata are protected from the repressive methods of local security forces. Instead, they are subject to company regulations and international oil rules. In her work based on fieldwork in the compounds, Appel has described company efforts 'to disentangle the production of profit from the place in which it happens' through the maintenance of comfortable 'Houston-like' quarters, separated by walls and control gates from the local population (Appel 2012: 4). The Chinese, on the contrary, tend to live in the local quarters around their shops or the construction companies for which they work, but they maintain quite a limited interaction with the rest of the population (Esteban 2010). (20)

Apart from African immigrants, another group especially vulnerable to harassment is made up of individuals affiliated with political parties opposed to the government. Employment has increased its value as an instrument against dissidence, as opposition leaders and even their families are excluded from the salaried sector through mechanisms such as the requirement of PDGE membership by employment agencies (Frynas 2004: 541; Campos and Mico 2006: 34, 59, 63). These people have little choice but to try to run their own enterprises and to gain a modicum of economic autonomy from the government: a transport company, a brick factory, a pharmacy, a clinic, a school, or a bar were some of the businesses run by activists of Convergencia Para la Democracia Social (CPDS) interviewed. As numerous examples show, this autonomy is always under threat. The owner of the pharmacy in Malabo, a former CPDS candidate for President, agreed to join the government ranks in January 2011. One of our interviewees, a gynaecologist and CPDS executive commission member, was imprisoned for four months in February 2012: since then, his clinic has been closed.

The extraction of offshore hydrocarbon reserves has therefore meant changes in the economy and daily life of Equatorial Guinea. The different ways in which people are experiencing all these transformations greatly depend on the direct or indirect personal relations they maintain with those who have occupied the government since the end of colonialism. Thus how this particular political economy of oil has been constructed can only be understood in the broader historical context of the insertion of the country in the world economy.


The Gulf of Guinea has been crisscrossed throughout its history by trans-boundary and transoceanic connections, intensely various in character. The recent integration of Equatorial Guinea into the worldwide oil market is but one episode in the broader history of this African region.

When the British established a small town at the northern end of Bioko Island, Clarence City, as a key location in their fight against the slave trade, several waves of people from neighbouring regions had arrived and peopled the island over a long period of time (Vansina 1990; Molino 1993). Since the sixteenth century, ships from Europe en route to Asia or America had passed nearby and anchored to stock up. During the time of 'legitimate' commerce, palm oil became the main commercial staple. Timber and palm oil were collected by freed slaves and native Bubi inhabitants, and marketed by British companies established at Clarence City. With the end of British rule in 1843, the Creole elite of West African origin, known as Fernandinos (after Fernando Po, the older name of the island), inherited the control of the trade (Sundiata 1996).

Cocoa plantations blossomed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, during the expansion of Spanish colonial occupation of the island that started in 1858, and were dominated by medium landowners, Fernandinos and Spaniards (Sundiata 1996). Fierce military resistance at first, and colonial arrangements after total conquest of the island, limited the use of natives as cheap labour. The shortage of manpower in the cocoa plantations would become endemic, and was partially met by the importation of people from West Africa. There, gradual abolition of the slave trade had created a certain social class with an undefined personal status, readily available to work as low-paid farm workers in various degrees of 'temporary paid servitude' (Clavero 2006: 439; Garcia Cantus 2006).

The European colonial partitioning of Africa at the end of the nineteenth century led to the demarcation of the British, French, German and Spanish colonies, adding the small mainland territory of Rio Muni to Spanish Bioko and other small islands. (21) It was only in the first decades of the twentieth century that military control was imposed over the entire main island (1900s), as well as the mainland part (1920s). Until the end of Spanish rule, the export of cocoa from Bioko, as well as coffee and timber from Rio Muni, to the protected markets in the metropolis were the main economic connections between the territories and the world economy. The old local elite gathered in the city councils and agrarian chambers of Santa Isabel (old Clarence City) and Bata in Rio Muni, shared their role as economic intermediaries with the Spanish companies that increasingly established a local presence (Sant Gisbert 2009).

The Spanish colonial order underwent numerous transformations, from a narrow presence in the capital and cocoa plantations to a wider integration of the whole population in the economic and governmental structure of the colony (Castro and Ndongo 1998; Diaz Matarranz 2005; Nerin 2010). The specific forms that this integration assumed went from initial compulsory labour of Africans in plantations and public works, to their participation in the growing of commercial crops as small-scale farmers (Sanz Casas 1983). Colonial law reacted to this unplanned social and economic process by transforming the colonized into 'indigenous people', in order to control and to limit their participation in the economic and public spaces of the colony: the strong juridical dichotomy between indigenas and europeos was only tempered by the category of emancipados (Mamdani 1996; Campos 2005). (22)

Independence from Spain in 1968 meant the formal end of these colonial differentiations and the emergence of new ones based on the principles of sovereignty and nationality (Campos 2003). The new institutional situation justified the removal of advantageous conditions for Guinean products by the Spanish government, which converted them into aid programmes, and the production of cocoa and coffee almost disappeared (Abaga 1997). People also moved under the impetus of the new situation: Spanish colonists and Nigerian workers left the country, and emigration for economic or political reasons to neighbouring countries and Spain became a common strategy.

After independence, relations with world politics and the global economy of the former Spanish territories and the people who stayed on there were mainly based on the flow of aid to the state government from Spain and the Eastern Bloc, and from Western governments since Obiang's coup in 1979. Along with public administration, aid became the principal source of salaried jobs in Equatorial Guinea (Ridao 2000). During the 1980s, some transnational commercial transactions blossomed, turning high-ranking officials into fundamental intermediaries. Tropical timber was extracted by Asian companies well connected to the President's son at the Ministry of Forestry; and cocaine was carried from Latin America to Africa, Europe or the United States in diplomatic bags (Fegley 1989; ODG 1994; Wood 2004). This justified the description of the country as a 'criminal state' by some authors (Bayart et al. 1999: 26; see also Klitgaard 1991).

From palm oil to timber, the island of Bioko and the nearby mainland territories have been the location for the production or extraction (and sometimes only the passage) of products that were transformed, used and consumed in faraway places. People and their labour have also moved, forcibly or voluntarily, through this area, covering varying distances to work in plantations or timber yards, and also to flee political persecution. These cross-border connections that link distant lands have, over time, contributed to configure the various social and political local orders, which have often been marked by exclusion and despotism. The initial colonial presence in Bioko in the nineteenth century was followed by the heavier and more intrusive colonialism under Franco; the terror regime of the first government following independence was transmuted into the dictatorship of Teodoro Obiang Nguema (Ndongo 1977; Garcia Dominguez 1977; Fegley 1989; Liniger Goumaz 1988, 1996; Sundiata 1990). The material and symbolic resources from abroad have helped an elite minority to overcome the difficulties of accumulation of power in the African tropical forest, and to maintain their supremacy over the rest of the inhabitants, in a dynamic designated as extraversion of power by Bayart (2000).

But the international arena has also played a role in moments of change and liberation. This was the case during the end of colonial order, which was obtained thanks to a skilful use by Guinean nationalists of international dynamics and institutions, such as the Afro-Asian movement and the Special Committee of 24 of the United Nations. By 1960, colonialism was considered contrary to international law by the UN General Assembly (Resolution 1514), and the maintenance of pressure from abroad forced a negotiated transfer of power and a unified independence between the two main parts of the territory, resulting in the single state of Equatorial Guinea in 1968 (Ela 1983; Campos 2003). After independence, though, international institutions provided more support to those in government than to dissidents, as the principle of sovereignty and its corollary of non-intervention as articulated in the UN and the Organization of African Union were usually brandished to see off any menace to their rule. Until the 1990s, such threats mostly carne from the military, which led periodic uprisings and therefore suffered the worst repression.

The end of the Cold War facilitated, once more, a moment of political openness. The new dynamics in Africa, and elsewhere, and the conditions attached to aid by Western donors were quite influential in the constitutional reforms and the articulation and recognition of political parties in the country. In 1991, a new constitution established a multi-party system with periodic elections for the legislative assembly, the presidency and the town councils. Up to thirteen political parties, besides the PDGE, were recognized.

The Nguemas in government soon learned how to manipulate elections and their results, how to crack down on the newly legalized opposition, and how to intimidate citizens into refraining from participating in political activities. International donors, especially Spanish and American governments, replied by halting support of the political transition, and this encouraged the organization and celebration of 'freer and fairer' local elections in September 1995. The opposition proposed a joint list, the Plataforma de Oposicion Conjunta (POC), which won 19 out of 27 town councils, though ultimately the government only recognized nine of them (Abaga 1997; Escribano 1999).

These new dynamics, however, did not continue in subsequent elections: legislative in 1999, 2004 and 2008; local in 2000, 2004 and 2008; and presidential in 1996, 2002 and 2009. The fraud that allows the President's party always to claim more than 95 per cent of the votes only received mild condemnation from donors and international organizations. As we shall see, the discovery of oil in the mid-1990s contributed to a new closure of the political possibilities.


The maintenance of the Nguema clan in government since independence, and the authoritarian forms they preside over, represents, therefore, a major continuity in the political trajectory of the country. In present times, political and social predominance of those in government has deepened. Our interviews have already shown how personal relations with officials or some of their relatives are crucial for anyone looking to take advantage of opportunities brought by foreign investments. Now we will see how this 'internal' predominance is based on the exclusive relations that the government maintains with transnational companies and other faraway actors. Only by considering Equatorial Guinea as a political space coordinated by the cross-border activities of different groups, and their specific connections and 'frictions' (Tsing 2004), will it be possible to understand the specific forms that political domination adopts.

In 2008, production within Equatorial Guinea's offshore Exclusive Economic Zone reached 488,000 barrels of oil per day, though it has slightly decreased since then (IMF 2010a; EIA 2012). US-based Marathon, Exxon-Mobil and Hess Corporation lead the oil and gas companies of different origins who extract the crude (Asodegue 1996; OilWatch 2003; Frynas 2004: 529; Harel 2006: 163; EIA 2012). (23) The activities of these transnational groups are characterized by their connections, legal as well as personal and informal, with the family that occupies the government (Wood 2004; Soares de Oliveira 2007; Shaxson 2007). President Obiang Nguema and his relatives constitute, as they did before the discovery of oil, the main local intermediaries between foreign economic groups and the territory of the state.

Payments due to the state by oil and gas companies, according to the sharing contracts they sign, have substituted and multiplied, by and large, rents previously obtained from cocoa and wood commercialization, foreign aid, or drug trafficking. (24) Part of these rents ends up deposited in foreign bank accounts in the names of high-ranking officials, with the necessary cooperation of the companies, as evidenced in 2004 during the Riggs Bank scandal in the US (US Senate 2004; Global Witness 2004). Since then, more oil rents are accounted for in the national budget, and are deposited officially in the Bank of Central African States (BEAC). (25) But accumulation by the political elite in the context of resource extraction also takes place in other forms such as the control of national corporations, such as GEPetrol and Sonagas, that increasingly participate in joint ventures with oil and gas companies, (26) or the foundation of companies that work as local partners of foreign investors in the construction or wood sector, (27) receiving 'a percentage of the total cost of the contract'. (28) We have seen how members of the government also provide the local services and assets that oil companies need, such as local labour, security services or soil (Frynas 2004; Shaxson 2007).

One of the questions that arises here is why a mineral, under the sea, out of the reach and control of any government in the region, is extracted by foreign companies and at the same time becomes the main sustenance of the Nguema family. The answer must be found in part in the regulative dimension of many export-oriented industries. If the rules of open trade support the activities of private companies in the Gulf of Guinea, the importance of the Nguema clan for the industry is based on the conventions regarding sovereignty, as they developed especially during decolonization processes. Because of these conventions, in most countries the state is the formal owner of the underground natural resources (29) and the top echelons of government, as the state's legal representatives, hold the capacity to negotiate on them. In the case of oil, only direct and legal relationships between companies and internationally recognized governments can guarantee the huge investment needed in line with the rules and standards of international trade and the legislation of the company's country (Reno 2001: 198-9; Soares de Oliveira 2007: 57-60). (30)

The legal character of oil extraction, and the exponential growth of the benefits generated by it, has converted Equatorial Guinea into a more respectable and attractive state in the eyes of other governments. (31) Relations between the US Administration and President Obiang have been facilitated by lobbies in Washington connected to the oil industry, (32) and have resulted in the reopening of the American Embassy in Malabo in 2004, closed since 1996 (Ghazvinian 2007; Maas 2009; Williams 2011). (33) Europeans have lost part ofthe influence they used to enjoy, although French presence is still strong in the telecom and petrol distribution sectors, and the Spanish government continues to be the major bilateral donor in a context in which aid is no longer the main resource of the state (Ruiz Miguel 2004; Burke 2008; Government of Spain 2009). At the same time, President Obiang has sought to diversify his international counterparts, especially after the US Senate report and an attempted coup d'etat from abroad (both in 2004); and many governments, such as the Chinese, have been happy to reinforce their standing and economic options in the country. (34) The Moroccan monarchy is still a good ally of President Obiang, who frequently visits the country for medical and security reasons. (35) And the increasing investments of Arab, Asian, European or Brazilian companies in sectors such as construction or wood extraction was preceded and accompanied by growing bilateral relations with other governments.

In the neighbouring region, Malabo has been able to increase its leverage among its peers. The withdrawal of the UN Human Rights Special Representative for Equatorial Guinea in 2002 was the product of the African lobby at the international organization, and in 2011 President Obiang Nguema was appointed as the new President of the African Union. As the most important contributor to its regional organizations, it has imposed certain changes in the Economic Community of Central African States (CEMAC) and the BEAC (36) (Nso 2009). On the other hand, tensions are also evident with adjacent countries, especially around borders (Dzurek 1999; Roitman and Roso 2001:138-42; Soares de Oliveira 2007:216-17). (37) In spite of integration rhetoric, the oil economy can be seen to have strengthened the sovereignty principle as the main basis for regional politics.

The privileged position of the government in these various transnational scenarios is constitutive of the political order in the country. It is precisely the 'gatekeeper' role played by the state between international for a or markets and the territory (Cooper 2002:156 90) that explains the domination the incumbents maintain over the population, and the particular form that this domination assumes. On the one hand, the specific participation of the territory in the world economy so far described, procuring direct rents to the authorities, renders local taxpayers redundant in the maintenance of the state. In their strategy of extraversion, those occupying power have few incentives to use oil revenues for the benefit of the majority, or to permit the rise of autonomous economic groups. In this sense, the non-investment in social services is, in a way, a policy intended to avoid the emergence of economic or political rivals.

On the other hand, exclusion is not the only mechanism of political domination available to the Equatorial Guinean gatekeeper. Cooptation of regional or ethnic agents and potential dissidents has always had a place in the political history of the territory. New economic opportunities like those observed in the first section have facilitated certain inclusive political strategies through economic clientelism that reach more people than before. In fact, the new construction fever responds in great part to this patronage politics. As Hibou (2006) points out in the case of Tunisia, these 'pacts of security' between government and population are quite unequal and do not embrace all the population, but they help to explain the continuity of the regime. In the case of Equatorial Guinea, this pact is increasingly channelled through labour relations. The capacity to determine those who have access to the new wealth has reinforced the network of supporters and clients that, beginning with President Obiang himself, traverse the country.

Officials in the administration of the state, all (mostly male) members of the PDGE, play an important part in this network, functioning as a virtual second circle around the President's clan. Their designation gives effect to a certain criterion of territorial representation, making them personally responsible for the distribution of the profit they obtain from their access to the state--and therefore for the poverty of their district of origin (Nzang Okenve 2009). These dynamics in such a tiny territory allow for a very personalized, almost 'familial', political control of the population, and for the development of a strategy for discharging political control and responsibility (Diouf 1999; Hibou 2000).

Clientelist inclusion is not incompatible with repression and the fear it provokes. We have already noticed the numerous checkpoints all along the country roads, where police and army control the permanent traffic of persons and goods. Security and para-security groups regularly act in violation of human rights (US Department of State 2003-2010; CPDS 2003-2011; OHCHR 2008; HRW 2009; Williams 2011). And accusations of participating in real or imaginary coups d'etat justify periodical harassment and military trials to suppress political dissidents, in which torture, death in custody, and executions are common. (38) Avoiding consolidation of any alternative group capable of usurping the gatekeeper position becomes the paramount aim of those in power.

In this context, the uninterrupted celebration of elections, despite their uselessness as a means to change government, or the tolerance of certain activities by powerless opposition parties (Sant Gisbert 2008), can be explained in part by the theatrical role they play in augrnenting the presentability of the country in international fora. Elections and referendums also serve the government internally, as moments of dramatizing its power vis-a-vis the weaknesses of opposition. (39) The recent constitutional reforms, passed after a referendum on 13 November 2011, (40) are part of the same logic, having been promoted by the President in the context of the Arab Spring. Far from opening the political arena, he has taken advantage of the situation to reinforce his clan's power, (41) and to neutralize and fragment even more the political parties (UP 2011a; CPDS 2011b).

Many of these dynamics stop short of the oil platforms and compounds. Here, social control is carried out not only through disciplining devices designed for efficient productivity, but also through the disentanglement of non-local workers from the local environment, and the denial of political responsibility on the part of the companies (Appel 2012). (42) Oil extraction is thus generating two political spaces. One is centred on arbitrariness and unequal inclusion, in which bureaucratic capabilities are weak against the strength of patronage networks (Reno 2011); the other is centred on productivity, in which oil companies preside over a disciplined work force. The two spaces are interdependently articulated, however, permitting oil companies to get rid of trade unions and social tasks, and the government to obtain easy rents discharging responsibility through oil managers.

Thus the political and social process associated with the discovery of oil by American companies has reinforced the extraversion of power in Equatorial Guinea and the old dynamics of political domination associated with it. It has also prompted new forms of discharge, as in oil platforms and compounds, where transnational companies preside over a separated social order directed toward productive processes. Whereas these spaces must be understood as articulated to the power logics in the rest of the territory, other processes to which we now turn may expose and even question them.


In his work on the Niger Delta Obi (2001) shows how the alliance between the government and transnational companies is mirrored by alternative connections that link other actors, inside and outside the country. In Equatorial Guinea, in spite of strong hindrances, dissident groups have historically created linkages with other social or political movements in distant spaces. Oil has brought as many limitations as new opportunities for alternative connections; if local groups and organizations have been undermined by the dynamics of coercion and cooptation, the new relevance of the territory as an energy producer has stimulated the interest of media and advocacy groups in places other than Spain, especially the United States.

Equatorial Guinean parties that emerged during the constitutional reforms of the early 1990s sought support from other political and social groups. The origins of CPDS in a group of young students in Europe, and the adoption of a social democratic ideology, immediately facilitated their personal and institutional connections in Spain and other countries, and its membership of the Socialist International. The Movimiento Para la Autodeterminacion de la Isla de Bioko (MAIB) found supporters thanks to the use of the language of self-determination for indigenous people on behalf of the Bubi population. Its main counterpart, until its banishment after an attempted armed rising in 1998 and the subsequent repression, was the nationalist Partido Nacionalista Vasco in Spain.

The group with older transnational relations is probably the Partido del Progreso de Guinea Ecuatorial (PPGE). A member of the International Centre Democratic Party, it maintained intense relations with the Spanish conservative party, Partido Popular, until the latter came to power in 1996. The longstanding PPGE leader, Severo Moto, has participated in other kinds of networks, such as the one that organized a coup d'etat from Cabinda in 1997, leading to the outlawing of PPGE, or the mercenary plot in March 2004 (Ghazvinian 2007: 185-93; Shaxson 2007: 133-42). Moto currently presides over a self-proclaimed Government in Exile, based in Spain. The different branches of Union Popular (UP) and Alianza Popular de Guinea Ecuatorial (APGE) have sought less successfully to establish relations with conservative parties. For its part, the origin of Frente Democrata Republicano (FDR) in Mongomo District, real fief of the Nguema family, together with the ambiguity of its ideology, have made this party's relationships with external actors more difficult.

Oil has affected and diminished the possibilities of foreign support for the political parties in Equatorial Guinea. Its traditional partners now show less determination to confront President Obiang. This was evidenced during the Arab Spring (2011), when CPDS and UP tried to mobilize the population, without much echo in international forums. (43) On the other hand, Obiang has augmented his capacity for harassment against political dissidents beyond Equatorial Guinea's borders; in recent years, some exiles have been murdered or kidnapped and brought to Guinean jails before being judged and in some cases even executed (Amnesty International 2009a, 2010; HRW 2009: 70-2). (44)

On the other hand, some people in the country have taken advantage of the law on Non-Governmental Organizations of 1999 and the European Union programmes of 'civil society capacity building' to create local NGOs (EU 2008). Their autonomy from the patronage networks of the Nguema clan, however, is as compromised as that of most of the political parties, and few of these associations can claim strong transnational relations: the law itself limits the assistance of international organizations to local groups (Wendorff 2008; Kraus 2011). On the other hand, more informal and personal forms of transnational communication have also emerged. During the 2000s decade, numerous internet websites, forums and blogs, usually in Spanish, have facilitated encounters between many Equatorial-Guineans and other people in Africa, Europe and other places, and have made more people all over the world aware of the situation in the country. (45)

Despite the barriers to the creation of strong alternative transnational relations, the new oil country has attracted more attention from places other than Spain, and the agreements between government and oil companies have been under scrutiny by international NGOs, media and legislative bodies. After a report by a journalist from Los Angeles Times,(46) and a detailed investigation by the British NGO Global Witness (2004), the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations published the report mentioned above, confirming the involvement of American oil companies in the diversion of large amounts of money into the personal assets of the local political elite (US Senate 2004). (47)

Since then, transnational organizations such as Global Witness, Human Rights Watch, Centre for Economic and Social Rights, Revenue Watch Institute, or the French CCFD-Terre Solidaire have joined Amnesty International or the Spanish Asociacion para la Solidaridad Democratica con Guinea Ecuatorial (ASODEGUE) in the denunciation of the regime, either individually or in sporadic coalitions or campaigns.(48) The country has been worthy of an annual seminar organized by the Royal Institute of International Relations in UK, with the presence of academics, NGOs and oil companies. The growing social movements around the extraction of minerals, such as Publish What You Pay (PWYP), that have strongly resonated in Africa since the mid-2000s, have offered new spaces where some individuals from political parties and NGOs in Equatorial Guinea periodically expose their denunciations. (49) In part as a result of these pressures, in 2010 Equatorial Guinea was discarded as a 'candidate member' in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), in spite of the efforts of American oil companies to support the government's permanence in this organization (EITI 29 April 2010).

A campaign led by the NGO EG Justice tried to avoid the creation of a UNESCO Prize funded by and named after Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (EG Justice 2012; HRW 2010). In 2010, a similar convergence of critics successfully denounced the intended incorporation of Equatorial Guinea into the Comunidade dos Paises de Lingua Portuguesa (CPLP).(50) And, at the same time, tribunais in places as distant as Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain), Paris (France) and Los Angeles (United States) have admitted, during the last three years, charges against high officials of Equatorial Guinea for diversion of oil rents in those countries. (51)

Not all the alternative cross-border relationships are so civic. The failed plot or coup d'etat that involved a group of South African and Armenian mercenaries detained in Malabo and Harare in March 2004 made visible a network that seems to have linked private security companies, the exiled Severo Moro in Madrid, and businessmen such as Lebanese Ely Calil and the former British Prime Minister's son Mark Thatcher (Ghazvinian 2007: 185-93; Shaxson 2007: 133-42). The country has also attracted other armed groups, presumably from the conflict in the Niger Delta, with no clear aims, economic or political. In December 2007, various motorboats with armed men assaulted a bank in Bata, and on 17 February 2009 another group attacked the Presidential Palace in Malabo, and was quickly repelled (Guell 2009). According to opposition sources, the attacks were carried out by groups seeking economic compensation for their services when kidnapping dissidents in Nigeria for Obiang.(52) The repressive and exclusive character of Equatorial-Guinean government, along with the general greed for oil, makes it especially vulnerable to the generation of alliances that mirror those that maintain the political order.

In some cases, these alternative transnational connections have provided personal autonomy and political leverage to the local participants; but, until now, the networks around the government have proved to be much more powerful. More civic alternative networks are also limited, to a certain extent, by the sovereignty fiction, as their demands are too restricted to the right of 'the people' of Equatorial Guinea to enjoy 'their' resources. But in addressing their claims and demands not only to the Nguema clan, but also to transnational companies, banks and international organizations, they also question the way sovereignty limits political responsibility.


This article has shown how political order in Equatorial Guinea is currently shaped by the confluence of activities and interests of different groups that traverse their lands and the surrounding sea, especially of those who occupy the government and the transnational (mainly American) oil companies. In spite of its novelty, this process has considerable historical depth, as oil extraction has reinforced the dynamics of extraversion in place since colonial times and the autocratic power of the ruling family who succeeded the Spaniards. The affluence of new resources has simply provided new opportunities for selective inclusion and general depoliticization. At the same time, the shift to an offshore oil economy has affected local people's lives and livelihoods in very differentiated and unequal ways, while new transnational movements around the country have arisen as a result.

The historical integration of Equatorial Guinean territories and its people in regional and world dynamics has promoted extraverted political economies that have brought about different authoritarian forms of power. Transnational processes and scenarios have also prompted moments of openness, as those during decolonization or the African 'second liberation'. But the wave of political reform and negotiation opened at the beginning of the nineties was halted again, once oil drillers started to extract crude from the seabed. If oil contributed to a new closure of the political arena, it is due to its nature as a capital-intensive industry and its institutional configuration, based on the legal agreement between private oil companies and governments. The historical trajectory of the territory, along with the establishment of state sovereignty during the decolonization era, explain why a resource under the adjacent seabed may be dealt with as a private property owned by a kind of familial criminal syndicate that happens to control a government.

The benefits obtained from contract agreements with oil companies make the population almost redundant in fiscal terms for the government; they are not significant participants in such a low labour-intensive activity as oil extraction. This explains in great part why power relations are based on the exclusion and repression of real or potential dissidents and alternative elites, who might usurp the Nguema clan's hold on such a rewarding site as the state. But, at the same time, political domination takes the form of cooptation and differentiated integration of the population in the patronage network that unevenly crosses the country. Labour and economic relations have become privileged means of remaking selective inclusion and exclusion of individuals at all levels of society. Undoubtedly, if 'All states function via a mixture of personal ties and formal structures' (Cooper 2002: 159), the historical specificity here is the centrality of the family clan who have occupied the government since independence for most of the political and economic dynamics that traverse the country.

We have also seen how off-shore oil extraction has brought a number of social transformations to the mainland. New economic activities, of a more or less formal character, have blossomed, which have attracted new inhabitants to the towns. The social space has also suffered a fragmentation, with the appearance of new neighbourhoods and walled oil compounds, side by side with old and growing quarters and shantytowns. This has created new forms and spaces in which relations of power are enacted. In oil platforms and compounds, transnational companies preside over a separated social order directed towards productive processes. But in spite of its extreme enclave character and the differentiated social spaces the oil companies have positioned in the country, platforms and compounds are not structurally alienated from the surrounding territories (as Ferguson's 'Angolan model' may suggest). Rather, they are constitutive of the political order and economic dynamics there. Only the fiction of sovereignty permits companies to disclaim responsibility and stand apart from political or social demands.

In spite of the roles of the Nguemas and the oil companies as inevitable mediators between people, resources and international markets and institutions, we have also verified the existence of some space for economic autonomy; and shown how transnational movements, of more or less civil character, are paying more and more attention to this new oil country. Whether the social changes that oil is bringing about will promote new political demands in the near or remote

future, or international pressures or incursions will contribute to transforming or ending Obiang Nguema's regime, remains to be seen. Gas and oil depletion will probably affect the political configurations. What is certain is that any political change in the future will entail a combination of transnational processes and internal events and social reactions.

doi: 10.1017/S0001972013000065


The author wishes to thank Marcial Abaga, Anselmo Obama and Jordi Sants for their help with the interviews in Equatorial Guinea and Spain. Special thanks are due to Christopher Clapham, Artur Colom, Fred Cooper, Adolfo Femandez Marugan, Juan Carlos Gimeno, Wenceslao Mansogo, Placido Mico, Pilar Monreal, Jose Maria Mufioz, Gladys Nieto, Kathryn Nwajiaku-Dahou, Cyril Obi, Jose Antonio Rodriguez Esteban, Ramon Sarro and Remei Sipi, and the anonymous reviewers, for their comments and inspiration. Research has been funded through the Ramon y Cajal programme, Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovacion, and Fundacion Carolina, Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores y Cooperacion, Spain.


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US Senate, Minority Staff of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (2004) 'Money laundering and foreign corruption: enforcement and effectiveness of the Patriot Act, case study involving Riggs Bank', Washington, 15 July.

--(2010) 'Keeping foreign corruption out of the United States: four case histories', Washington, 4 February.

World Rainforest Movement (WRM) (2001) 'Equatorial Guinea: transnational loggers in the forest', WRM Bulletin 49, Montevideo.

(1) McSherry (2006) makes the clearest effort to use the resource curse paradigm in order to analyse Equatorial Guinea's current economic and political dynamics; and Wood (2004) highlights the rent-seeking dynamic among the political elite.

(2) As for Equatorial Guinea, Harel (2006) and Ghazvinian (2007) emphasize the role of transnational companies and other governments in the current situation of the country, though neither writer denies the agency of those who occupy the government.

(3) The team carried out 31 interviews in Malabo, 9 in Bata and 10 in Madrid, and purposefully met with people of different ages, gender, and geographical or social origins, working in different sectors such as oil extraction, government, retail trade, education, health, construction, hostelry, agriculture and fisheries. Political conditions in the country made many people reluctant to speak with researchers, foreign or local, and their willingness to talk was one important factor in the (self-) selection of our interviewees: all of them were punctually informed about the aim and nature of our work. Conversations took the form of semi-structured interviews with one or two persons, for one to two hours, and after adopting all precautions to assure a climate that was judged secure by our informants. We normally met in closed spaces and did not record our conversations. They were conducted behind closed doors under the condition of anonymity. The two resident members of the team and the one who was visiting the country also provided descriptions and analysis of social processes useful for the research, such as new urban developments or specific social and political events. Additional testimonies were obtained during certain events in which the author participated: the International Conference on Equatorial Guinea (Hofstra University, New York, April 2009), two seminars for socialist political leaders from Equatorial Guinea (Fundacion Alternativas, Madrid, June 2009 and July 2011), two private roundtable workshops on Equatorial Guinea (Chatham House, London, February 2010 and September 20 11), and an Equatorial Guinea Policy Forum (EG Justice, Madrid, March 2010).

(4) According to the UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) that measures dimensions such as life expectancy and educational attainment, Equatorial Guinea is the country with the biggest gap between its per capita GDP ranking, hiked by oil rents to 45th position, and its HDI ranking (136th) (UNDP 2011).

(5) According to this report, American oil companies deposited millions of dollars in bank accounts held at Riggs Bank in Washington, in the name not only of the government of Equatorial Guinea, but also of President Obiang Nguema and some of his closest relatives. '(T)he EG accounts represented the largest relationship ar Riggs Bank, with aggregate deposits ranging from $400 to $700 million at a time' (US Senate 2004: 3).

(6) 'Biens mal acquis: la justice saisit des vehicules appartenant a la famille Obiang', Le Monde, 28 September 2011. See also Silverstein 2012; Global Witness 2009.

(7) 'Equatorial Guinea builds luxury resort for week-long summit', The Guardian, 11 June 2011.

(8) See also, 'Guinee Equatoriale: quand les invertisseurs jettent l'eponge', Les Afriques 87 (3 August 2009).

(9) The last census of 2002 showed that almost 2 per cent of population worked in the oil industry. These data are not, however, very accurate, as the census offered a total population of 1,014,999, which is almost double that offered by other sources, such as the World Development Indicators of the World Bank, that calculate the population as 560,402 in 2002, and 676,273 in 2009.

(10) According to the seven local oil workers interviewed, whereas oil companies claim to pay between 1,200 and 2,500 dollars, they receive between 200,000 and 400,000 CFA francs (400 and 800 dollars approximately).

(11) Also according to our informants, a state worker in education, health or security receives 120,000 to 250,000 CFA francs (185 to 380 euros), whereas engineers in the Ministry of Mines or national hydrocarbon companies receive between 1,200,000 and 2,400.000 CFA francs (1,8317-3,660 euros).

(12) Armengol Ondo Nguema, responsible for National Security and notorious for torture allegations against him (US Senate 2004: 49, 100-1).

(13) 'O te pones el chip del partido o te echan'.

(14) Inflation stood at 7.1 per cent in 2009 (IMF 2010b), and was estimated at 8.2 per cent for 2010 and at 9 per cent for 2011 by the Economist Intelligence Unit (cited in FAO 2011). Some of our interviewees told us of increases in housing and food prices between fivefold and tenfold in a decade. See also Frynas 2004: 542-3.

(15) This is so despite the dramatic growth of social expenditure in the state budget since 2007, due to the establishment of a Development Social Fund (Republic of Equatorial Guinea 2006; IMF 2010a): the execution of the state budget very often differs from the targets established, and the government considers many items with few social implications as 'social expenditure', including houses for the political elite. Telephone interview with Placido Mico, sole CPDS representative in Parliament, 30 June 2011.

(16) This process was deplored by one local NGO activist in Bata: 'Many people no longer trust the state: if electricity does not work, they just buy a generator.'

(17) The actual numbers of immigrants is difficult to calculate, but the best estimates straddle 150,000 (IRIN, 'Equatorial Guinea: Oil money draws sub-Subsaharan Africans', 22 October 2008;, 'Migrant workers outnumber Equatorial Guineans', 23 October 2008; Agenzia Fides, 'Le boom petrolier attire des immigres dautres pays d'Afrique occidentale', 23 October 2008).

(18) Amnesty International 2009a; 'Guinee Equatoriale: Les Equatos d'abord-le petrole ne se partage pas', Le Messager, 10 December 2007; E. Sumelong, 'How Obiang Nguema ordered attack on Cameroonians', The, 13 December 2007; O. Guell, 'Asaltado el palacio de Obiang en Malabo', EI Pais, Madrid, 18 February 2009; U. Soares, 'Polemique sur le traitement des immigres en Guinee equatoriale a l'approche du sommet de I'UA', Radio France International, 1 June 2011.

(19) American and Chinese are free to enter the country without visas, whereas Africans tend to enter and stay more irregularly, since the cost of residence permission (we learned) is around 500,000 CFA francs (762 euros).

(20) Chinese workers have also experienced government harassment: eleven of them were killed and 120 wounded in a salary-related conflict with their companies, which was repressed by the army (Esteban 2010: 240).

(21) In 1900, the Treaty of Paris between France and Spain established the limits between French Gabon and Spanish Guinea.

(22) These juridical categories, 'European', 'Native' and 'Black Assimilated', were fixed with the regulation in 1928 of the institution of Patronato de Indigenas, previously created in 1904 (Real Decreto 11 July 1904, art. 34 and Real Orden 17 July 1928).

(23) The predominance of US corporations started in 1992, when Walter International, run by a former American ambassador inthe country, discovered the Alba field in front of Bioko Island.

(24) Even if 'other "illicit" modes of elite rent generation' may 'persist', according to Wood (2004: 547), 'legal' products today are significantly more lucrative.

(25) Revenues of the state budgets have increased fivefold from a base of 600,000 million CFA francs in 2004, when rents from oil and gas were considered for the first time (Republic of Equatorial Guinea 2004-2011). The oil and gas sector accounted for more than 85 per cent of this revenue, in addition to more than 90 per cent of GDP and 99 per cent of exports (BEAC 2010; IMF 2010b).

(26) These companies were created in 2001 and 2005 respectively, and their participation in joint ventures is regulated by the Hydrocarbons Law No. 8/2006, 3 November, <>, accessed 3 June 2012.

(27) The most important and comprehensive of all the local companies is President Obiang's Abayac complex, involved in many activities with foreign corporations; while Kalunga Company SA functions as a channel for investing part of oil revenues abroad, in foreign banks or luxurious residences in Spain or the United States (US Senate 2004). The President's son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang, owns the companies Grupo Sofana and Somagui Forestal that work in joint ventures with Asian forestry companies (Greenpeace 2000; Roitman and R oso 2001:126-8; WRM 2001; Ghazvinian 2007; Global Witness 2009; HRW 2010).

(28) Statement by the President's son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang, 'Officials may have slice of state deals', Cape Times, 9 November 2006.

(29) As part of it, the state's rights over the natural resources in the near sea zone have been expanding since the end of the Second World War, and now extend for the 200 nautical miles recognized by the so-called Exclusive Economic Zone (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982).

(30) In Reno's words (2001: 198-9), '(f)irms operating in Africa still require guarantees of protection of fixed assets, enforcement of contracts, access to credit, the capacity to indemnify operations, and certifications of credibility sufficient to satisfy regulators in headquarter countries, rating services, and investors'.

(31) During the last decade, the World Bank and the IMF have promoted programmes of technical assistance in the country and, since 2003, the government has agreed to participate in the IMF evaluation called 'Article IV consultations' (Frynas 2004: 538; IMF 2010a).

(32) K. Kurlantzick, 'The new diplomacy: how rogue states hire PR firms to win audiences with American leaders', Mother Jones, 7 May 2007; K. Bogardus, 'Ex-Clinton aide to lobby for oil-rich African country', The Hill, 5 April 2010.

(33) Both governments signed an Investment Incentive Agreement in 1998, and the Guinean government awarded a $250 million maritime security enhancement programme to the American security company MPRI in 2010.

(34) In September 2005, Obiang's son and Deputy Minister of Mines, Gabriel Obiang Lima, visited Beijing to promote Chinese investments. The following year, oil companies CNOOC and CNCP signed a sharing contract with GEPetrol and both governments signed a cooperation agreement by which Chinese companies assumed the construction of numerous infrastructures and official buildings (Esteban 2009).

(35) The Israeli government has recently joined Morocco in the provision of security, as companies of this nationality sell weapons and train the presidential guard in Equatorial Guinea. Y. Melman, 'Israelis to train Equatorial Guinea presidential guard', Haaretz, 3 June 2005.

(36) In the 2007 CEMAC Summit in Ndjamena, reforms that allowed a broader representation of Equatorial Guinea were adopted: as a consequence, the Equato-Guinean Lucas Nchama Abaga was appointed governor of BEAC in January 2010.

(37) This is the case of the Mbane Island controversy with the Gabon government. There are also periodic conflicts around the border between the towns of Ebebiyin (Equatorial Guinea) and Kye-Ossi (Cameroon), which is used by Malabo to expel Africans from the country and has been unilaterally closed on several occasions, the last in 2009.

(38) Among these cases, it is worth mentioning the 1998 trial of MAIB members for an upheaval in Bioko Island; the 2002 trial of FDR members and CPDS Secretary General Placido Mico; the trial of UP leader Fabian Nsue the same year; three trials in 2004 (of alleged mercenaries involved in an armed plot in March 2004 with international connections; another of 80 soldiers and ex-soldiers; and one of five people accused of an attack on Corisco Island from Gabon); the 2009 trial of members of PPGE; the several trials from 2009 to 2011 against a group of Nigerians, and some members of UP, accused of participating in an armed attack from the Niger Delta; or the one in August 2010 that ended with the execution of four former army officers, previously kidnapped in Benin (see Amnesty International website on 'Human rights in Republic of Equatorial Guinea: news and publications', <>, accessed 29 November 2011).

(39) As part of this strategy, the President periodically releases political or common prisoners during special days such as 5 June, 3 August or 12 October, before the trial or the end of their sentence.

(40) The referendum itself, conducted under strong repressive measures by the military and regarded by international NGOs and the CPDS and UP political parties as fraudulent, provided the official result of 97 per cent in favour of the reforms. Abstention seems to have been very generalized (HRW and EG Justice 2011; UP 2011 a; CPDS 2011 b).

(41) The new constitution extends the age of the presidency candidate to 85 years, and establishes a Senate, an Ombudsman, a Court of Auditors, a State Council and a Council for Economic and Social Development, as well as the figure of a Vice-President. Some argue that this formula will assure the automatic succession of Obiang's eldest son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang, to the presidency (EG Justice 2011).

(42) The biggest companies, such as Marathon or Exxon-Mobil, try to nuance this social estrangement with limited health, education or environmental programmes under the rubric of 'corporate social responsibility'. See for example the Malaria Control Project on Bioko Island, financed since 2003 by Marathon and Medical Care Development: <>, accessed 27 October 2011.

(43) The authorities responded by forbidding demonstrations ser for International Women's Day and those organized by the CPDS and UP for 20 and 23 March respectively: <>, accessed 6 July 2012.

(44) One of our interviewees was an old military chief who left the country in 1997 to live in exile in Cameroon, and narrated to us how be was detained by the Nigerian police and extradited to Equatorial Guinea in 2005.

(45) See for example Bisila Guinea Ecuatorial; the Forum on Equatorial Guinea; the Facebook group Guinea Ecuatorial y Africa en diaspora; the website Guinea; the writer Juan Tomas Avila Laurel's blog. There are also sites with periodic news on the country: <http://www.afrol.corrdes/paises/guinea_ecuatorial>; <>; <> ; <>.

(46) Silverstein, K. 'U.S. oil politics in the "Kuwait of Africa"', The Nation, 22 April 2002. Silverstein, K. 'Oil boom enriches African ruler', Los Angeles Times, 10 January 2003.

(47) See note 5. More recently, the same subcommittee launched a new report documenting the use of US lawyers, bankers, real estate agents and escrow agents by Obiang's eldest son to move over $110 million in suspect funds into the US between 2004 and 2008 (US Senate 2010; Global Witness 2009).

(48) One occasion for the gathering of some of them was the Universal Periodic Review, established at the new UN Human Rights Council, celebrated in March 2010: < >, accessed 29 January 2012.

(49) This is the case of Marcial Abaga Barril, CPDS member and secretary of the local NGO SeJOF (and part of our research team), who has participated in almost all the PWYP regional meetings in Africa, in Limbe (2007), Abuja (2008) and Kinshasa (2011).

(50) 'La comunidad lusa rechaza a Guinea Ecuatorial como pais miembro', Afrolnews, 26 June 2010.

(51) 'Biens mal acquis: feu vert pour la poursuite de l'enquete', Le Nouvel Observateur, 9 November 2010. P. Guerra, 'Las cuentas secretas de Obiang', (Diario de Las Palmas), 14 February 2010. See also note 6.

(52) 'El principal encausado por e117-F asegura que los autores del asalto habian trabajado para Obiang', EuropaPress, 24 March 2010.

ALICIA CAMPOS-SERRANO is Lecturer in African studies, Department of Social Anthropology, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid. Email:
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Date:May 1, 2013
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