Malab - Equatorial Guinea holds a presidential election on Sunday in which the doyen of African leaders, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who survived a 2004 attempted coup by foreign mercenaries, seeks re-election.Iron fistObiang, 73, has ruled the country of 820 900 people with an iron fist for more than 36 years.His regime has regularly come under fire from rights groups for violent suppression of opposition as well as for rampant corruption, allegations which have stretched to his son, under investigation in France for ill-gotten gains.Democratic reforms and a new constitution took effect in 1982. While Obiang has been regularly re-elected, it has often been by default since opposition parties have boycotted the vote, as they plan to do once again this time.Mercenaries Equatorial Guinea shot to international attention when it sentenced South African and British mercenaries Nick Du Toit and Simon Mann to 34 years in prison for an attempted coup against Obiang in March 2004.In November 2009 Mann and Du Toit were pardoned and released on Obiang's orders.The affair also drew in Mark Thatcher, the son of the former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who pleaded guilty in a South African court to financing the planned coup, and was given a four-year suspended prison sentence.Oil wealth and grinding povertyEquatorial Guinea is one of the continent's most recent oil exporters, although many of its inhabitants still live in poverty. Several, mainly US, oil companies have moved in since 1992.Daily production has risen from less than 5 000 barrels per day in 1992 to a 2012 average that exceeded 410 000 bpd, according to the Mines Ministry, making it sub-Saharan Africa's third biggest oil producer.Petroleum production now dominates the Equatorial Guinea economy with oil revenues accounting for over 70% of the national income, and the petroleum sector the driving force behind growth and development.Oil income has dropped heavily since 2014, however, amid a fall in prices. Like in other oil-dependent countries, firms are closing down or trimming activities for lack of funds.With a per-capita national income of $10 210, Equatorial Guinea is classified as a high-income group developing country, but more than half of the population lives below the poverty level of two dollars per day.One of Africa's smallest countriesThe country consists of several islands off the coast of western Africa, plus a mainland territory south of Cameroon.At 28 051 square kilometres, Equatorial Guinea is around the same size as Belgium, and one of Africa's smallest countries.The political capital, Malabo, is located on the biggest island, Bioko. Bata, the main city on the mainland, is the economic capital.Established by Portuguese traders Portuguese traders established a base on the main island in the 15th century; they named it Fernando Po after the explorer who found it.In the late 18th century Portugal ceded the island, plus land on the mainland, to Spain, which was to rule it for almost two centuries.Although it became independent on October 12, 1968, Equatorial Guinea suffered over a decade of brutal dictatorship, marked by coups, under Francisco Macias Nguema, who was accused of engineering thousands of deaths and creating tens of thousands of exiles. He was overthrown by his nephew, Obiang, in 1979 and executed.