Background: Equatorial Guinea gained independence in 1968 after 190 years of Spanish rule. This tiny country, composed of a mainland portion plus five inhabited islands, is one of the smallest on the African continent. President OBIANG NGUEMA MBASOGO has ruled the country for over two decades since seizing power from his uncle, then President MACIAS, in a 1979 coup. Although nominally a constitutional democracy since 1991, the 1996 and 2002 presidential elections - as well as the 1999 legislative elections - were widely seen as being flawed. The president controls most opposition parties through the judicious use of patronage. Despite the country's economic windfall from oil production resulting in a massive increase in government revenue in recent years, there have been few improvements in the country's living standards.