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  • Writer's pictureThe Red Line

Episode 99. Equatorial Guinea: The North Korea of Africa

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Equatorial Guinea is one of the most puzzling countries in the world, with everything from coups involving Margaret Thatcher's son, to firing squads in Santa outfits operating in the country. However, far more worrying than that is the economic cliff the country seems to be barreling toward, with the industry, worth 90% of their income, announcing their departure from the country in 2026. Will Equatorial Guinea be able to steer the country away from the cliff? Will the Instagram star VP successfully transition into his father's role? And why is this country the strangest one we have ever covered? We ask our panel of experts.

 

Episode Overview:


Part 1: Rich Dad, Poor Country (2:07)

  • Perri Grace commences this episode by laying out the myriad of problems facing Equatorial Guinea and its people, as well as offering some context to its unique, if not odd, position compared to many of its African neighbours.

  • Grace takes us through the presidency of the first leader of post-colonial Equatorial Guinea, Francisco Macías Nguema, who aligned closely with Communist bloc nations and oversaw a brutal dictatorship that repressed political opponents, systemised persecution, and eccentric cult of personality policies.

  • The 1979 coup d'état by his nephew Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the current leader of Equatorial Guinea, has continued authoritarian governance over his forty plus year rule, albeit with more subtlety than his predecessor.

  • Obiang did survive a major coup d'état attempt in 2004, led by South African mercenaries and financed by Sir Mark Thatcher, the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, for which he was convicted and fined in South Africa.

Part 2: All for Me and None for Thee (15:29)

  • Max Lawson notes that Equatorial Guinea qualifies as a high income country with a higher GDP per capita than many European nations, making it ineligible for many international aid programs.

  • However, he points out that the vast majority of that money goes to a very small number of ruling elites, while the nation suffers from high poverty and infant mortality rates on par with the poorest countries in West Africa.

  • The country's fortunes changed dramatically in 1995 with the discovery of oil reserves, dwarfing the previous economic activity in the nation to date. Today the resource industry makes up around 90 per cent of the nation's income.

  • Notably, Equatorial Guinea has the second highest literacy rate in Africa, which Lawson notes showcases the impact a relatively small amount of money towards education can have on a developing nation.

Part 3: A Rusting Resource (25:15)

  • Florent Geel notes the impact of oil majors arrival in the mid 1990s, mainly through deepwater offshore operations, with the lion's share of revenues flowing back to the oil producers and the ruling elite, and only five per cent going back to state coffers directly.

  • Geel notes that these kinds of deals and distributions are actually quite common between African nations and oil and gas companies.

  • Geel notes that oil production is collapsing in Equatorial Guinea, with declining production over the last twenty years ago, and ExxonMobil planning to sell off its assets to a smaller extractor in 2026.

  • We conclude Part 3 with an overview of the Presidential family's interspersal throughout Equatorial Guinea's government and try to predict who would be the likely successor to Obiang's reign.

Part 4: The End Times (33:46)

  • Emilia Columbo commences our final chapter by identifying President Obiang's son and current Vice President, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue (or Teodorín), as the most likely successor.

  • Columbo notes the difficulties of simplifying the foreign relations of Equatorial Guinea, with a cast of strange bedfellows serving as its closest relationships.

  • Equatorial Guinea has participated in regional military exercises involving the United States, European nations, and African nations, as well as participants with many regional and multilateral organisations and initiatives, though to a questionable level of activity and follow through in its proclamations.

  • Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visited Equatorial Guinea during his time in office to announce the purchase of Brazilian naval vessels by the African nation. We discuss the lack of progress on this front.

  • We discuss the status of the relationship between Equatorial Guinea and its former colonial occupier Spain, as well as the French, noting that Equatorial Guinea uses the Central African Franc.

  • We pivot to China, noting a long-standing relation during the Cold War, and the rumour of Chinese ambitions to build a 'Djibouti of the Atlantic' with the development of a naval port and military assets in the nation.

  • We conclude with the questions around how much things could change, including potential political upheaval, in the face of ExxonMobil's exit in 2026.

 

Episode Guests:


Perri Grace

  • Geopolitical Analyst and Government Advisor

  • The Red Line's Senior Researcher and Analyst

  • She has a strong focus in the political and economic development within energy-expert driven states.

  • Leading expert on the intricacies of the implementation of disinformation within authoritarian states

Max Lawson

  • Head of Inequality Policy for Oxfam International

  • Previous Head of Policy and Campaigns for Oxfam Great Britain

  • Has worked as an Oxfam governance advisor for over 25 years, specialising in sub-Saharan African states

Florent Geel

  • Senior Conflict Analyst and Consultant, specialising in Francophone Africa

  • Former Deputy Director of Operations and Director for Africa Office for the International Federation for Human Rights

Emilia Columbo

  • Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Africa Program

  • Vice President of Voxcroft Analytics, specialising in the analysis and comprehension of African State politics

  • Previously served as a Senior Analyist for the CIA, specialising in Latin American and African security issues

 

The Red Line's Equatorial Guinea Reading List:

We’ve compiled a list of further reading to better understand the geopolitics of Equatorial Guinea.

Books:

Silence, Resistance: Women, Dictatorships, and Genderwashing in Western Sahara and Equatorial Guinea Joanna Allen


The Scramble for African Oil: Oppression, Corruption, and the War for Control of Africa's Natural Resources

Douglas A. Yates


The Looting Machine

Tom Burgis

 

For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/theredlinepodcast


This episode is dedicated to our Patreon member Thomas Lipping, Lyall, and Simon.

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