Equatorial Guinea is a small, rich country in West-Central Africa. Thanks to oil, Equatorial Guinea enjoyed one of the fastest economic growth rates in the world during the 1990s and 2000s. Critics, however, say that Teodoro Obiang, Equatorial Guinea’s president for the past 32 years, has spent billions of dollars of the country’s oil profits on showpiece projects that do little to improve the lives of ordinary citizens. In early 2012 Equatorial Guinea hosts the Africa Cup of Nations, the continent’s premier football championship. This, according to critics, is yet another example of how the Obiang government tries to legitimize itself through large international events, often at the expense of the general population.
Since its independence from Spain in 1968, Equatorial Guinea has been ruled with an iron fist by two successive dictatorships. Due to the country’s distant location, small size, and severe restrictions on journalists, relatively few on-the-ground reports have been filed in the Western media. All television and radio stations are state-controlled. But the Cup of Nations tourney presents an opportunity for a more in-depth exploration of the everyday reality in this African petrol-state. Photographer William Sands looks at wealth and poverty in a country cursed by an abundance of natural resources.