The world should take notice of up-and-coming Equatorial Guinea, a West African nation that has made huge developmental strides and partnered with the U.S. Navy to better its security, U.S. officials said.
"The country really has utilized its revenue from oil and gas to help benefit its development in ways that are not being recognized," Anton Smith, the U.S. charge d’affaires, said in a telephone interview Friday as he sailed aboard the frigate USS Robert G. Bradley in the Gulf of Guinea.
On Thursday, the Bradley became the first U.S. Navy ship to anchor off the mainland city of Bata as part of the Navy’s Africa Partnership Station initiative.
Equatorial Guinea’s government has pumped oil revenue into building up hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, electrical grids, sidewalks, ports and airports — improvements "across the board," Smith said.
Private U.S. companies have invested more than $15 billion in the gas and oil sector of the nation roughly the size of Maryland, Smith said.
"Equatorial Guinea is bigger than it looks on the map," Smith said.
"It’s the third largest oil- and gas-producer in sub-Saharan Africa, with a significant foreign investment footprint. ... One of the primary strategic goals for the U.S. Embassy is to improve and enhance security" in the country.
That’s where, in part, the U.S. Navy steps in.
The APS, as it’s called, started in November 2007 and is a Navy initiative designed to provide security training to participating African nations to help them combat regional problems, like drug smuggling, piracy, illegal fishing and human trafficking.
In the course of about six weeks, the Bradley has visited the nations of Cape Verde, Senegal, Benin, Sierra Leone, and now Equatorial Guinea. U.S. sailors help teach African partners seafaring skills, from how to board and search a ship to firefighting and basic maintenance, said Cmdr. Clint Carroll, the Bradley’s commanding officer.
"APS is a year-round, ongoing effort and this is a great opportunity to continue the program and the U.S. Navy’s long-term commitment to our partners," Carroll said.
"The crew just completed a great visit to Malabo and is ready to work with other members of the military here in Bata. We’re building relationships that are the bedrock of maritime safety and security in the region."
After a few more West African visits, the ship is slated to visit Eastern Africa, with stops in Tanzania and Kenya.
The rising phenomenon of piracy that has plagued vessels transiting off Eastern Africa has shown signs of migrating to the West Coast, and piqued African partnership nations’ interest in seeking U.S. help, Carroll said.