African Geography: What's Up With Equatorial Guinea?

So I’m memorizing the map of Africa to help me with trivia gaming. And one thing is bugging me about Africa … well, several things … but the worst is Equatorial Guinea. It’s a tiny postage stamp of a country sandwiched between Cameroon and War Torn Angola, just south of where West Africa starts heading south after bulging out to the West. My first problem is, "why haven’t the two larger countries neighboring it eaten it up? It’s not as if it’s in a nice neighborhood. And the second question is, what’s it doing so far from the other two Guinea’s in Africa, which are right next to each other, Guinea and Guinea-Bissou, and which are out there where Africa starts heading east after sticking its big butt out in the Atlantic Ocean? Hell, between Guinea-Bissou and Equitorial Guinea we got Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria and the aforementioned Cameroon! How did Equitorial Guinea get stuck way the hell out there all on its own? And why is it in existence at all? It looks like it’s no bigger than Delaware! Fucking Delaware!

I’m sure there’s a rational explanation. But I’ll get no sleep until I know the answer! (OK, I may be exaggerating there. But each time I look at the map … I wonder.)

Actually, you have Gabon and Congo (Brazzaville) between Equitorial Guinea and the Cabinda exclave of Angola, then Congo (Kinshasa) separating that from the rest of Angola.

To answer the question, the coast from about Dakar on around to somewhere north of the mouth of the Congo was the Guinea Coast, most of it being along the shore of the Gulf of Guinea. And the three nations that included ‘Guinea’ in their post-independence name were former colonies named French Guinea (Guinea), Portuguese Guinea (Guinea-Bissau), and Spanish Guinea (Equatorial Guinea). The Portuguese and Spanish colonies were called by those names because they were the Portuguese and Spanish holdings on the Guinea Coast; I’m not clear why French Guinea in particular got that name, as opposed to the several other French colonies along the coast.

Add: Note that Equatorial Guinea is not just that small piece on the mainland but also a large island offshore. Not that it is overly impressive either, but it’s fairly populous and prosperous.

Originally it was claimed by Portugal, who had rights in Africa due to the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1424. Due to Portugal’s incursions into Spanish territory in South America in violation of that treaty, Spain got it in compensation from Portugal in the late 1700s. Originally it was administered from Buenos Aires.

As to why it hasn’t been taken over by neighboring countries, by and large African countries have avoided wars of territorial conquest versus their neighbors. Because the boundaries drawn by the colonial powers were so arbitrary, most countries have ethnic groups that also live in neighboring countries. So they are almost all vulnerable to ethnically based claims from their neighbors. They have a vested interest in the status quo.

In any event, its two neighbors, Cameroon and Gabon, would have little interest in taking it over. Cameroon represents a merger of sectors that were originally parts of French and British colonies (and was originally a German colony before WW I), and has had enough problems with that so that it probably wouldn’t want to take on yet another chunk with a different historical background. Gabon is well off due to oil, and has no particular reason to seek more territory.

has there been any case at all of a sub-saharan African nation being annexed by another one in the 20th century?

I agree that it is “not a nice neighborhood” but chances are that they all operate according to unwritten rules promulgated by the folks who really run the show (from Paris and Washington). One of such rules might be “thou shall not change the official national borders”. “And if thou darest to disobey the lords thine foreign powers, all the plagues of Biafra revolt and other such catastrophes shall be given unto you”.

I can’t recall any forcible annexations post independence. When colonial powers granted independence, some territories from different powers were federated, for example Eritrea with Ethiopia, and the British and Italian Somalilands to form Somalia. Tanganyika voluntarily merged with Zanzibar to form Tanzania. There were some territory swaps between Cameroon and Nigeria. Of course, pre-independence there was a lot of swapping between colonial powers, plus the takeover of German colonies after WW I and Italian colonies after WW II.

As I said above, these days I think it is much more a case that the African governments themselves maintain the status quo out of their own self interests. In fact, European governments originally forced some mergers that later ended up breaking up, as in the case of Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the Somalilands, in which the former British Somaliland is now de facto independent from the rest of Somalia.

Thanks for the responses. I suspected it was something along the lines of all the area there being called Guinea in Colonial days, Polycarp’s response fills that our nicely. As for getting the countries wrong, I told you I was WORKING on memorizing the map of Africa, I didn’t say I had it down cold yet.

I did read that Equatorial Guinea has a lot of oil wealth, but that most of it is concentrated in a very few people at the top, while the rest live on less than $2 a day. Gabon and Cameroon both apparently have oil of their own, still, greed knows no bounds.

The EQ (as I like to call it :)) exists because it is so small. Spain wanted colonies and these were small unimportant outposts. So why not let Spain have them. It kept he Spanish happy and there wasn’t much there (at the time at least). If there had been mineral wealth or a really great harbour, you can bet it would’ve been annexed by Great Britian or France.

The Organization of African Unity and also the African Union have always stressed no changes to colonial boundaries. Eritrea is the only successful change that is recongnized, though Morocco has a defacto change. Katanga and Biafra were unsuccessful attempts to change colonial boundaries

Also, I recall attending a lecture by a prominent professor of international affairs. He made the point that one of the founding concepts of the United Nations was that borders were sacrosanct. The whole mess of WWII was as much as anything a result of trying to unite an ethnic group (Germans) splashed across a varied landscape of many intermixed ethnic groups. (And conquer the world while he was at it…) The UN members recognized that redrawing borders was a huge can of worms and so the number one rule of the UN was that borders are sacred. It was the main reason why most countries, and the UN, backed the elder George Bush in the first Gulf War. It’s not whose side you’re on, it’s a matter of principle. Don’t start any forced boundary changes.

Why didn’t Eq Guinea get annexed before WWII? Back then, Africa was Europe’s sandbox and (like the Falklands war much later) you politely left the other guy’s turf alone, or else you would start a major (European) war.

Exception to the “no forced takeover” rule would be Western Sahara, formerly Spanish Sahara, most of which was invaded and taken over by Morocco.

Populous, yes, prosperous, well, to quote the BBC

"However, few people have benefited from the oil riches and the country ranks near the bottom of the UN human development index. The UN says that less than half the population has access to clean drinking water and that 20 percent of children die before reaching five.

The country has exasperated a variety of rights organisations who have described the two post-independence leaders as among the worst abusers of human rights in Africa."

Its Wikipedia entry is strangely positive…

Interestingly, Spanish is apparently still widely used in Equatorial Guinea. I worked on a bird surveying project in French-speaking Gabon, which attracts immigrants from the surrounding countries because it is relatively more prosperous. We had a few Equatorial Guineans working with us, and it was much easier for me to talk with them than the other workers since my Spanish is much better than my French. Our bus driver was one of them; he was habitually late leaving in the morning, which was screwing up our studies since we needed to be on site at dawn, when birds do most of their singing. One morning I finally got exasperated, and chewed him out in Spanish, much to his surprise. He wasn’t late again.:slight_smile:

Here’s an interesting fact – speaking of trivia night – to bat around with regards to the Spanish and Africa. For all that Spain was one of the more marginal colonizers of Africa, it is today the only European nation that still has possessions on the African continent: the cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan coast.

Just to expand a bit on what some others have said: The borders of Equatorial Guinea are no more or less arbitrary and illogical than the borders of virtually every single other African nation, with the arguable exception of Ethiopia. These borders were drawn in places like Berlin and Paris and London for a whole host of reasons, but what made sense locally was always ignored.

During the colonial era, the colonizing powers abrogated, invaded, fought over, horse-traded and occasionally even defended these borders back and forth among themselves, further confusing the situation. To the extent territorial integrity was respected at all, it was because of distant European power politics, not because of any inherent respect for the boundaries or the people that lived there or local geography.

After WWII, most of the European colonies in Africa either seized or were given their independence. The costs and amount of conflict involved in this process varied greatly, but implicit in the initial independence was the recognition that the colonial boundaries would define the new nation. Whether the distant power granted independence or the local population had to fight for it or something in between, de-colonization inevitably involved the colonial power structures, and hence colonial boundaries.

After de-colonization, the resulting new governments recognized that any revanchist claims were a two-way street, and more trouble than they were worth. Since then, there have been other factors as well, among them that trying to develop these new nations was usually a higher priority than territorial addition and that the leaders have preferred to fight over internal power than international territory. Even Charles Taylor limited his attempts at cross-border greed to funding “local” insurgencies and internal corruption.

An even smaller and more extreme example of locally-wacky borders is Gambia, which exists solely because the British wanted control of the Gambia River as a source of slaves for the triangular trade route.

And how the Gambia-Senegal border was drawn was wacky indeed. Gambia is surrounded on three sides by Senegal. The western parts of that border are straight lines, but the eastern part sort of resembles a worm. The reason for this worm is that the upriver area owned by Gambia was defined as everything within shooting distance of a certain ship in the British navy. It turns out that the range of that ship was about 10 miles, so the border is ten miles from the navigible section of the river. I don’t think that they had the ship in question actually go up the river launching boundary markers from its guns, but now that I think about it, that would actually be easier than sending out surveying crews…
BTW, this is only one of two places I know of where a boundary is defined as an offset from a river.

Equatorial Guinea (EG) comprises of a small square of mainland with an island called Bioko where most of the people live in the capital of Malabo.

EG was a Spanish province until the mid 20th Century and is the only nation in Africa where the official language is Spanish. It became independent in 1968, only to be ruled by a cruel, insane bloodthirsty dictator named Francisco Macias Nguema. During his reign of terror one third of the population left the country. He literally went to the National Bank stole the treasury of the country. Fortunately, he was overthrown and shot.

His successor isn’t much better, but there has not been the cruelties of the previous regime. Teodoro Obiang is the “Presidente for Life” and opposition against him means a slow death. But he more or less leaves the people be as long as they don’t offend him. He has turned a little crazy, giving edicts that he is in touch with God and that he can do what he wants because he is a god, and is God’s favorite and all that.

Anyway, there is a lot of oil there. Enough to lift the people of this country out of poverty. Not happening and will never happen.

Looking at the borders of the mainland part of Equatorial Guinea, it’s almost as if they just gave up. The first few miles heading inland from the coast follow rivers, and then you can imagine they just said “You know what, this surveying lark isn’t much fun. Pass me that ruler, Pedro…”

What I don’t get is what’s with its islands. There is a chain of four islands, of which the first and last (Bioko and Annobon) belong to Equatorial Guinea, but the middle two (Sao Tome and Principe) are a different country. What caused that?

Treaty of El Pardo. At one time they were all Portuguese possessions, but they were shuffled around to compensate for Portuguese gains in South America.

I just wonder why they ceded the outer two islands and kept the central two ones.