An Analysis of the Key Factors Affecting Economic
Development in Equatorial Guinea
by Hugh M. Lewis
Though many interrelated factors affect economic development in Equatorial Guinea and though most, if not all of the factors are important and must somehow be 'solved' in order for economic development to take place, I will list several that I believe to be most central to the problem, and most intractable of resolution. These are:-
The problem of bureaucratic graft and corruption which leads to the abuse of power, administrative ineptitude and inefficiency, and the siphoning off and wastage of foreign aid allocated for economic development.
The lack of political-economic competence, training experience or understanding in dealing adequately with the tremendous logistical and administrative problems posed by the sudden and rapid development of a highly underdeveloped nation.
The lack of a genuine sense of 'Equatoguinean' national pride, solidarity, loyalty or consensus of shared national values, aims, interests or goals, coupled with intense and deeply rooted, tradition bound tribalisms which cross-cut national unity of purpose or action.
The increasing indebtedness and economic dependency of this nation, and many nations like it, upon the nations and organizations of the First World as the basis for support and survival in an international arena.
Economic underdevelopment which depends primarily upon the production of a few agricultural export products like cocoa the market value of which are clearly beyond the control of the primary producers.
Each of these points will be dealt with in turn, but it is important before doing so to define in precise terms which is implied by 'Economic Development'. For the purposes of this paper at least, Economic Development will be defined according to the following broad paradigm:-
A nation and its people are pursuing a general, more or less, coordinated strategy, including technological research and development, aimed at increasing utilization and exploitation of basic resources, at building basic industries, agriculture and expanding economic frontiers, creating markets, etc. and the kinds of infrastructure--i.e. lines of transportation and communication.
A nation and its people pursues a more or less consistent policy of Human Development which aims at improving and increasing the access to basic health, housing, sanitation, education and economic security for those people within its borders who are defined as its citizenry.
A nation and its people are involved in establishing and promoting institutions of government and administration which are responsive to the implementation of the policies of development and to addressing the problems of poverty and human needs of development.
A nation and its people are able to establish themselves and to compete independently and with some measure of success within an international marketplace and is free from economic dependency or domination by any other nation.
In light of this, I wish to eschew the progressive 'modernization' ideology implied by the pejorative 'undeveloped' and to stress how many Third World nations are today trapped within a vicious, neocolonial cycle of political-economic dependency and the 'development of underdevelopment' that makes the Third World the 'hinterland' of the First World 'core'. I think that it is a correct assessment of the general problematics of development to conclude that the potentials of any nations development, no matter how economically 'underdeveloped' is directly proportional to its capacity to free itself from dependency and dominion upon the developed First World and to consistently pursue, over the long term, strategies which fosters its own nation's economic independence and self sufficiency.
This being the case, economic assistance for the purposes of promoting development in nations like Equatorial Guinea are liable to be given, and received, in a way which basically undermines the ideological aims of 'development' and which leads to promotion of patterns of underdevelopment which actually frustrate and prevent genuine economic development--because such assistance is liable to basically accentuate the very political economic asymmetries of power and wealth which fostered the underdevelopment in the first place.
Another way of looking at this is to claim that development that supports the core at the expense of the periphery has the net consequence of demoting development in those nations like Equatorial Guinea that can be considered, in relation to the Developed Core of the First World, the Third World periphery.
1. Graft and Corruption. Graft and corruption should be regarded the world over as the most common source of problems preventing development. Graft and corruption, in which public officials or agents regularly expect and receive bribes and kickbacks and who regularly siphon off their 'share' of any money which passes through their hands, especially when this practice is widespread and epidemic, leads to the undermining of any kind of economic aid or development program. Billions of dollars can be simply wasted and irretrievably lost through petty corruption, but it can become much worse when Presidents, Cabinet members and major administrators are also thoroughly corrupt. Money that is thus lost is generally unaccounted for in terms of development. Both forms of corruption can be said to character Equatorial Guinea at all levels.
2. Human Underdevelopment. The general lack of public education, high rates of illiteracy, high rates of infant mortality due to fatal diseases like cholera and malaria, the lack of family planning, the lack of accessible medical facilities, the lack of well developed media for the dissemination of information, all of these characterize well nations like Equatorial Guinea. These are basic services and institutions the availability of which we of the developed West take so much for granted but upon which their relative presence or absence our quality of life so much depends. It is not difficult to emphasize the importance and the problematics of investment in human development--children cannot be taught if there are neither trained school teachers nor classrooms and children cannot then become teachers or builders if they are not taught how to read or write or to do even rudimentary math.
This lack of human development translates directly into the lack of the necessary technical skills, competencies and abilities to solve technical problems in a practical way and into the lack of understanding of the relationship between things which makes them 'work' as a coherent and orderly system. Efficient organization and coordinated 'action' thus becomes undermined, or rather lack any substantial basis in society--little gets done, and that little is mostly ineffective and impractical.
3. Nationalism and Tribalism. Tribal affiliations and loyalties frequently cross-cut national interests, boundaries and loyalties. In this regard, Equatorial Guinea is not very different from much of Black Africa, or for that matter, much of the world that is today beset by ethnic cleavages. Tribal identities and identification which precludes national consolidation begets familial amoralism--the pursuit of familial interests at the expense of public interests--nepotism--the bringing into positions of power one's family, friends and members of one's own group, to the exclusion of others--tribalistic totemism, communalism and inter-ethnic competition and strife which can result in violence and violation of human rights and the promotion of social injustice in which one group benefits at the expense of another. It is believed by many that Equatorial Guinea is controlled by a single tribal minority, the elders of which are actually calling the shots and making the decisions influencing national policy and development--if this is the case, it can be expected that they will make those decisions which best protect their own groups own interests, even at the expense of national development.
Historically, the promotion of nationalism and national solidarity which lies at the basis of a nations political-economic development can only be achieved by the symbolic displacement, nihilation and appropriation of those alternative symbol systems, such as those associated with tribalism, which threaten the legitimacy and provide an alternative means of authority to the national government. Where such alternative symbol systems are competing for the same general kinds of loyalties among the same people, then something must give way, or else both must be compromised. The backgrounding of tribal loyalties behind the façade of national solidarity leads to the kind of effrontery and hypocrisy--to the shallowness of national symbolisms--which is so characteristic of countries like Equatorial Guinea where conspiratorial coups among insiders and shabby Presidential parades in which pomposity is the common substitute for practical solutions.
4. International Dependency. Third World nations like Equatorial New Guinea are characterized by a gross dependency upon foreign aid--running up huge, disproportionate debts to foreign creditors that it could never hope to repay, even if actually intended to. Besides fostering and maintaining the corruptions and promoting patterns and lifestyles of bureaucratic inefficiency and incompetency which is hooked on transfusions of foreign money, such economic dependency actually discourages the acquisition of the skills or abilities which accompany self reliance.
I think that such extreme foreign dependency undercuts the credibility of the nation as an effective and viable force for economic development or social policy and leads to a kind of national malaise undervaluing national 'self image' as inherently poor, 'lazy' and underachieving. It is typical of a great amount of such foreign assistance money that it gets simply 'thrown' at a problem in massive amounts, in the hope that money in large enough doses can effect the necessary cure no matter what the essential problem. Initiative and motivation become stifled, and the incentive to develop new ideas or economic markets no longer exists.
5. Export Commoditization. The few sources of revenue available to countries like Equatorial Guinea, such as cocoa, are in general either under exploited or over exploited and are quite susceptible to the unpredictable fluctuation of prices on the international marketplace. Underdeveloped countries are essentially at the mercy of more developed countries both in terms of the technological capacity to exploit basic resources and in terms of the marketization of these resources. Such countries dependent upon only a few such basic products or resources, lack the means for either developing alternative resources, for industrialization or development of its secondary sector of the economy or for the prerequisite infra-structural development which might lead to agricultural self sufficiency. Small independent growers cannot compete, either with larger monopolies, government corruption or fluctuations on the international market, and therefore are discouraged or prevented from prospering or organizing themselves in a way which would be more economically effective.
These problems are of course interdependent in both their historical and social roots and in their solutions. The consequences of these problems upon 'underdevelopment' or the 'development of underdevelopment' in Equatorial Guinea follow the previous points illustrating the paradigm of economic development:-
Equatorial Guinea as a nation and a people lacks the necessary organization, competency, consensus or solidarity by which to effective implement policies promoting development, whether in the utilization of basic resources, in the promotion of basic research and development, or in the building of basic industries.
Equatorial Guinea as a nation and a people lack the necessary social institutions and a common stock of knowledge which would lead to greater human development.
Equatorial Guinea lacks the necessary, efficient and effective governmental or administrative institutions which would be able to implement policies or mobilize its people toward common goals or national interests.
As a result, Equatorial Guinea is consistently unable to compete against foreign interests in the international arena, thus becoming the helpless victim of foreign dependency and exploitation, and is unable to stand upon its own feet in any kind of economically self sufficient except the most peasant and subsistence of ways.
Given the current structure of Global Capitalism of its cultural hegemony, neocolonial economic imperialism and its increasing asymmetries between the core and the periphery and the haves and have-nots, it is unlikely that this general political economic predicament will soon change for Equatorial Guinea.
The etymology of 'economy' refers to domestic management and organization of a house or 'oikos' or to the Greek 'oikomomia'--'the management of a household or state'. There is a very real sense in which the economic development of Equatorial Guinea depends greatly upon its ability to get its own household, its own 'home' or homeland or nation state in 'order' in a more productive and efficient manner.
But we must look deeper into the African Heart and its rich traditional heritage to find the spirit of survival and strength to subsist and persevere against all odds and a cunning and savvy to outwit the smartest of Havardian elites, which will eventually overcome every obstacle that has been placed in its pathway to success.
Klitgaard, Robert Tropical Gangsters USA; Basic Books Inc. 1982
Wallerstein, Immanuel The Capitalist World Economy Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press 1979
Websters New Twentieth Century Dictionary: Unabridged 2nd Edition 1979
Blanket Copyright, Hugh M. Lewis, © 2005. Use of this text governed by fair use policy--permission to make copies of this text is granted for purposes of research and non-profit instruction only.
Last Updated: 03/07/05