Equatorial Guinea seeks to shake off 'oil curse' image

Mon Mar 10, 2014 8:46am EDT
 
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By Pascal Fletcher

MALABO (Reuters) - On land cleared of tropical forest, gleaming new office towers, apartment blocks, homes and highways dazzle the eye in Equatorial Guinea, Sub-Saharan Africa's No. 3 energy producer where oil and gas revenues have fed a frenzy of construction.

But cutting away the jungle is proving easier for President Teodoro Obiang Nguema than shedding his central African nation's dark image as a reclusive, repressive and graft-ridden poster child of the "resource curse".

Obiang, in power since 1979 and Africa's longest-serving head of state, is fronting a bid by Equatorial Guinea to break out of negative media coverage he says is one of its biggest obstacles to progress and international acceptance.

"The country is not being shown for what it is," Obiang, 72, complained in a rare recent interview with reporters just outside Malabo, capital of the small Gulf of Guinea state.

In an outreach campaign since the start of the year, Obiang has declared his country open for more business outside of oil and gas, widened its alliances by joining a global community of Portuguese-speaking states, and offered a political dialogue to domestic and exiled opponents.

Sub-Saharan Africa's only Spanish-speaking territory became independent from Madrid in 1968. Its history of colonial exploitation, dictatorship and coup bids by foreign mercenaries has provided exotic fodder for novelists and filmmakers.

Thanks to a hydrocarbons boom, Equatorial Guinea boasts the highest GDP per capita in Africa, one not far from that of Saudi Arabia and above Chile and Greece. But there is a huge gulf between this and its human development ranking of 136 out of 187 states on the U.N.'s 2013 Human Development Index.

It also has an outsize reputation for corruption. A 2004 U.S. Senate probe revealed millions of dollars channeled by Obiang and relatives into the disgraced Riggs Bank.   Continued...

 
Women and children sit by the roadside in Musola February 8, 2014. REUTERS/Pascal Fletcher