One of the richest countries in Africa, Equatorial Guinea, is rapidly expanding its naval power. The fleet of the 600,000-strong country will be larger than that of 160 million-strong Nigeria. Is Africa preparing for a major war?
In January of 2012, the Navy of Equatorial Guinea officially added to its ranks a 2,500-ton frigate Bata. It was built at the Bulgarian shipyards with the active participation of Ukrainian experts and became the flagship of the ever-increasing military and naval forces. Judging by a picture made in Malabo (the capital and main navy base of the country), the ship has a powerful enough weapon by the standards of the region: one 76-millimeter and two 30-mm automatic guns and two helicopters.
Until recently there were five small patrol boats, mostly of Soviet (Russian) and Israeli production. Among them, two 58-ton high-speed patrol boats Shaldag Mk II purchased in 2004-2005, from the Israelis that are now serving in the navy of the country under the names Isla de Corisco and the Isla de Annobon.
However, in 2008, the Navy of the country in secrecy received a 50-foot ocean patrol vessel Estuario de Muni. Within the last two years the Navy of the country has changed beyond recognition. Another such ship was received, and in March of 2011 two 470-ton 62-meter patrol vessels Kie-Ntem and Litoral were delivered from Israel. In fact, the vessels are a patrol option of missile boats type Saar 4.
But there is more to it: now Equatorial Guinea ordered from Israel two corvettes, and is in talks about acquiring a modernized Brazilian Barroso corvette with the displacement of two thousand tons, and another three ships of the same class from South Korea. However, even without the implementation of these transactions, this tiny country with a population of 650,000 people is second only to Nigeria (150 million) in terms of the strength of the Navy in West Africa.
Why does Equatorial Guinea need such power? « This is designed to defend the country’s maritime borders, and because of this equipment, if necessary, the frigate can land on any part of the coast of Equatorial Guinea in all weather conditions, » said President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. At the same time he announced the creation of full-fledged Marines.
The President also announced the procurement of an aircraft Marco Antonio for the armed forces « specially designed for the protection of the country and ensuring its security. They will fly over the territory in order to identify upcoming cases of betrayal, as it happened before. » The military in response thanked the Chief for the care of national defense.
However, one should not think that the purchase of a new frigate was a tribute to the officers and a sign of the President’s fear. Nearly everyone who occupies high positions in the country is his relative. According to the President, « the acquisition of this equipment does not mean that this country wants regional or territorial supremacy. » The bottom line is that it intends to minimize the « permanent threat » at any cost to protect themselves and their wealth left by the ancestors from the « envious neighbors ».
He added that the new frigate is necessary, considering a large sea area of Equatorial Guinea and the long border with Cameroon, Nigeria, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe, and Angola. The military preparations of the country have become particularly noticeable in the last two years. Now, Equatorial Guinea is one of the most active in the field of defense procurement among the African countries.
A few years ago the country’s « Air Force » virtually existed only on paper and included only civil and trainer aircraft. However, more recently it purchased two batches of Ka-29 and Mi-26, and four Russian Su-25, as well as five attack helicopters Mi-24 and one Mi-17 helicopter.
The President did not forget about the army and acquired service mortars, Russian and Chinese artillery, and three older T-55 as well as approximately 40 different armored vehicles (BMP-1, BTR-152, and a small number of BRDM).
In addition to this serious for such a small country like Equatorial Guinea armored park, in 2006 by order of the current President its soldiers have carried out an explicit act of piracy, capturing 15 Belgian APCs Pandur on their way to perform peacekeeping tasks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As a result, despite the small size of its armed forces (2,500 people) in a purely technical sense it left behind most of its neighbors.
However, the President of Equatorial Guinea fears not so much the revenge for the acts against the forces of the United Nations, but the envy of its neighbors. Due to the exploitation of the oil resources alone, the country in terms of GDP per capita (36,600 USD in 2009) came out on top in Africa and has become the 30th in the world in terms of these indicators, ahead of many Western countries.
However, the true natural wealth of the country has still not been fully exploited. According to geologists, the country’s offshore fields have significant oil resources. Added to this are large and virtually untapped reserves of natural gas, timber, gold, bauxite, diamonds, and tantalum that caused bloodshed in the neighboring DRC, as well as entire forests of precious woods. It is no wonder that many may be tempted.
Incidentally, the rule of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo was not cloudless. The U.S. has repeatedly mentioned that he could face criminal prosecution « for corruption. » Back in 2003, the American magazine Parade has declared him « the sixth of the ten worst dictators of our time. » Three years later, according to Forbes, he was the eighth on the list of the wealthiest rulers in the world.
There were attempts to remove him from power. One of the most serious attempts was the attack at the presidential palace on January 17, 2009 by the militants from Nigeria who reached the island of Bioko by sea. There have been other attempts to eliminate Mbasogo through foreign mercenaries. His ongoing attempts to militarize are understandable. However, will he have enough resources, at least human, to compete with such giants as the 150 million-strong Nigeria?
By Sergey Balmasov