EQUATORIAL GUINEA: AFRICA’S ONLY SPANISH-SPEAKING NATION
While it might be common knowledge that Spanish is spoken in Central and South America, it may come as a surprise to learn that there is a country in Africa where Spanish is an official language.
Equatorial Guinea is situated on the western coast of Africa, bordering Cameroon to the north and the Gulf of Guinea to the west and Gabon to the east and south. It stands out as the sole African nation where Spanish serves as the official language.
Equatorial Guinea is the only Spanish-speaking African nation, primarily due to its colonial history. Spain colonized the region in the late 18th century, and it remained a Spanish colony until it gained independence in 1968. During the colonial period, Spanish culture, language, and administration were introduced and became ingrained in the local society.
A little history into Equatorial Guinea in the 18th century, will broaden our knowledge regarding the country. In 1471, Portuguese navigator Fernão do Po discovered Bioko Island, which later became a slave trading hub for the Portuguese, sending slaves to France, Spain, and England. In 1777, the Portuguese ceded the island and coastal rights to Spain via the Treaty of San Ildefonso.
However, Spain’s decline and issues in South America led to little interest in this African colony. The British Crown later authorized its colonization, leading to conflicts between the English and Spanish for control. In 1861, Spain sent a group of 260 emancipated Cubans and political prisoners to establish control, officially making the island a Spanish colony and introducing coffee and cocoa cultivation.
During Franco’s dictatorship in Spain in 1939, Equatorial Guinea experienced prosperity as many Spaniards migrated there due to Franco’s authoritarian rule. On October 12, 1968, the country gained independence, but it was marred by the establishment of a leftist dictatorship under President Francisco Macías Nguema, leading to a mass exodus of the population.
In 1996, Mobil Oil Corporation’s discovery of substantial oil and gas reserves in this Spanish-speaking African nation offered a new hope. The oil industry has since driven its economic growth, making it the wealthiest African country in terms of per capita income.
After gaining independence, Spanish continued to be one of the official languages, along with French and Portuguese (since 2010). While other African nations have multiple colonial legacies and languages due to the colonial history of various European powers, Equatorial Guinea’s unique history as a Spanish colony has contributed to its status as the sole Spanish-speaking nation in Africa.
Although Spanish is an official language in Equatorial Guinea, with approximately 85% of the population using it for primary education, government affairs, and everyday communication, most people speak ‘Equatoguinean Spanish’, a dialect with grammatical, pronunciation, and vocabulary distinctions from Castilian Spanish. More so, French is spoken in the country, and also taught in schools, but it is not widely spoken.
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