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From Cocoa Fields to Oil Fields in Equatorial Guinea

Until very recently, the West African country of Equatorial Guinea had always been an exporter of agricultural, timber, and mineral products. In the 1990s oil started flowing from offshore fields, and nowadays oil comprises 90% of the country’s exports. As a result there have been enormous increases of the gross national product, 76% in 1997 and 20% in 1998 and 1999. In other words, in a few years this impoverished country rapidly joined the medium income states.

However, behind this seeming economic miracle there is another story of mass corruption, a brutal regime, and the usual exploitative American oil companies. It is not the first time that American companies make the discovery of rich resources seem like a curse instead of great hope to improve the lives of the majority of the local population.

In a nutshell

A good description of the situation in Equatorial Guinea is found in the September 2003 issue of United States Department of Energy Information:

” despite rapid growth in real GDP, there is strong evidence of government misappropriation of oil revenues, in particular, for lavish personal expenditures. Furthermore, the failure of the government to inject oil revenues into the country’s economy, especially to fund much-needed improvements in the country’s infrastructure, has meant little improvement in the economic and social welfare of most Equatoguineans. While real per capita GDP has doubled in the last five years, there has been little positive change in social indicators.”

Not much else needs to be said to describe accurately the current situation of the country concerning the rapid and extraordinary increase of the national product, and its unequal sharing between the ruling elite and the rest of the population. One almost does not need to check data from human rights NGOs to verify that the activities of powerful companies like Marathon, ExxonMobil, Triton and Atlantic Methanol are not benefiting most of the inhabitants of this country. However, most people are unaware of what is really happening here.

Some income disparities

It is a useful exercise to compare an Equatorial Guinean national working for any of the oil giants with an expatriate executive. The oil executives–usually Americans- work for 28 days in Equatorial Guinea and go away intermittently on leave for a month. Skilled expatriates–most originating from the Philippines — work for nine weeks and are away on leave for four. In contrast, the Equatoguinean workers are on the job for eleven months.

The income differences offer a starker contrast. The oil executives receive between USD 10,000 and 12,000 p/month plus a week-end bonus of about USD 350. The white-collar workers receive between USD 7,000 and 8,000 plus the bonus of 230. The “Philippinos” receive between USD 1,800 and 2,000 plus a bonus of USD 50. Air tickets home, accommodation, meals, and medical treatment are also part of the package for these employees.
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