-Arvind Ganesan is the Director of the Business and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. The opinions expressed are his own.-
Equatorial Guinea is a tiny country of about half a million people on the west coast of Africa, but is the fourth-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.
Most of the investment in the country’s multi-billion dollar oil industry comes from the United States. ExxonMobil, Hess and Marathon are all there. Right now, the U.S. imports up to 100,000 barrels of oil a day from Equatorial Guinea, or about a quarter of the country’s oil production.
Oil money gives the country the means to be a model for development and human rights. The economy is nearly 130 times as big as it was when oil was discovered in 1995. But as a report released by Human Rights Watch today details, the government has squandered or stolen much of the money at the expense of its people.
It is a sad contrast, since the country has a per capita income comparable to Spain’s or Italy’s and development indicators more like Afghanistan’s. For just one sad example, infant and child mortality actually has increased -- from an already-dismal 103 deaths per thousand in 1990 to 124 per thousand in 2007. Similarly, under-5 mortality rates increased from 170 per thousand in 1990 to 206 per thousand in 2007.