Spanish Colonization of an African Nation: Equatorial Guinea
When you think of Spanish colonization, Latin America probably comes to mind. Yet, the Spanish Empire also encompassed the Philippines and parts of Africa.
Equatorial Guinea is arguably the least-known Spanish-speaking country in the world. Yet, the last Spanish colony to claim independence from Spain in 1968 was this petite West African territory. Spanish remains the official language in Equatorial Guinea.
The country’s post-independence name refers to its location near the equator and the Gulf of Guinea.
Let’s explore the tumultuous history and impact of Spanish colonization in Equatorial Guinea, including its continuing ramifications today.
A Summary of Spanish Colonization in Africa
Today, Equatorial Guinea consists of a small mainland parcel on the west coast of central Africa, as well as five small islands in the Gulf of Guinea. Its neighbors are Cameroon and Gabon.
Thousands of years ago, the Pygmy tribe first populated the region. The Fang people eventually made up the majority of the population (and still do to this day). Here’s a simple timeline of how Spanish colonization developed (and ended) over the course of the past six centuries.
How did the Spanish colonization begin in this area? In the 1470s, the Portuguese began navigating around Africa as they sought trading routes with China. In 1471, Portuguese navigator Fernao do Po sighted the island of Bioko (then called Fernando Po after this navigator).
It soon became a hub for trading people who had been captured as slaves. From there, the Portuguese sent them to France, Spain, or England.
According to EuropeNow, “Spanish and Portuguese explorers quickly realized that several islands that they encountered on the way provided an ideal ground for planting highly lucrative sugar cane or for accessing timber. Slave labor was key to this master plan—with most of the captives being brought from the West African mainland.”
Both Spain and Portugal were colonizing South America. Portugal laid claims to the vast lands of Brazil, but Spain was also interested in the land mass.
In 1777, through the Treaty of San Ildefonso, the Queen of Portugal ceded the region to Spain in exchange for Spain recognizing Portugal’s claims in Brazil. Spain wanted the spot for slave exportation to the Americas (and to Cuba, specifically).
In 1827, the British began patrolling to stop the slave trade. Once the British Crown authorized the colonization of the island, the English and Spanish fought for the control of the area.
In 1861, to regain control of and colonize the island, Spain sent 260 emancipated Cubans to Bioko and forced them to join another group of political prisoners. The island was finally an official Spanish colony named Spanish Guinea. Spain established coffee and cacao plantations there.
In the late-19th century, Spain put energy into its African colonies in the Western Sahara and the Gulf of Guinea. Losing its colonies in Cuba and the Philippines in 1898 led to a growing Spanish interest in Africa. The Spanish brought Black Cubans to populate the colony, and missionaries began to establish outposts.
Spanish colonization of Africa finally became effective in the first three decades of the 20th century. It encompassed North Morocco, Ifni, the Tarfaya region, Western Sahara—and Equatorial Guinea.
According to the Journal of African Studies, “For almost all its modern history, Equatorial Guinea was ruled by Spain, and the Spaniards remain the most powerful external influence in the political, economic, and cultural life of its former colony.”
Spain started to exploit the colony’s natural resources, especially its forests. At the same time, they created a Guardia Colonial (colonial police) to protect the colonists.
By the 1960s, Spanish Guinea’s exports per capita were the highest on the entire African continent. In fact, this tiny Spanish colony became the fifth largest producer of cocoa in Africa. In 1963, Spain granted the colony self-governance, leading to its full independence on October 12, 1968.
Spain, as well as neighboring Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, have all influenced Equatorial Guinea.
21st Century Equatorial Guinea
What was the most significant result of Spanish colonization in Equatorial Guinea? On a positive note, the widespread use of Spanish language in the country was one of the most important effects.
Sadly, independence also meant losing privileged access to Spanish markets, and thus the export economy of Equatorial Guinea collapsed in the late 1960s once the country was independent.
Its first president was the dictator Francisco Macías Nguema. He executed thousands of his political opponents and forced a third of the population to flee from his reign of terror.
Mobile Oil’s 1991 discovery of oil deposits fueled the country’s rapid economic development. Unfortunately, Equatorial Guinea’s second president is almost as bad as its first. Nguema’s nephew, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, took over in a coup d’etat in 1979. He has the notorious distinction of being the world’s longest serving head of state.
The corrupt administration funnels most of the oil revenue into large infrastructure projects overseen by its cronies. Meanwhile, just 2-3% of the budget goes toward education and health. The people of Equatorial Guinea are destitute as a result of the leadership’s greed, in that more than 75% of the country’s inhabitants live below the poverty line. Moreover, 50% do not have access to clean drinking water, and 20% of children die before their fifth birthday.
Tourism in Equatorial Guinea
Despite its decades of corrupt government, Equatorial Guinea’s pristine natural beauty lures the adventurer. For intrepid (and experienced) travelers, it’s an ideal destination with idyllic beaches, lush rainforest, and colonial architecture.
Its incredible biodiversity includes western lowland gorillas, forest elephants, and exceptional marine wildlife. There’s even a Lonely Planet guidebook for Equatorial Guinea!
Speak the Language of Equatorial Guinea
Learning about the history of Spanish colonization in Equatorial Guinea is all the more reason to visit this fascinating corner of the world! By practicing your Spanish conversation skills today, you empower yourself to connect with native Spanish speakers everywhere—including in Africa! Being able to speak Spanish makes travel to Spanish-speaking countries both easier and more meaningful. Additionally, becoming bilingual improves your cognition and decision-making abilities?
Sign up for a free trial class to practice your conversational skills in preparation for your trip to Equatorial Guinea, Spain, or Latin America! Our friendly, certified teachers at Homeschool Spanish Academy are ready to help you improve your Spanish skills!
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