Five Lunacies of Equitorial Guinea
Bantu-speaking peoples, predominantly Fang, establish the majority of population of the Equatorial Guinea. Bantus have a proverb that deals with the common sense: “There are forty kinds of lunacy, but only one kind of common sense.” Based on how the Equatorial Guinea is currently governed it’s clear that the common sense stopped applying there long time ago violating the great historical and cultural traditions of the Bantu speakers who introduced Iron Age and an agriculture civilization into a surrounding Neolithic hunting and gathering societies very early and probably around the sixth century BC.
The Equatorial Guinea, by far, in term of GDP per capita, is the richest country in Africa, and equal in it to the average for the European Union, exhibits at least five lunacies which replace the common sense in all the Five Principles of Good Governance (see table below): by illegitimizing the voice of its population – rigging elections is a norm, providing imbalanced direction of its internal development, grossly misusing public resources, showing no executive, legislative or judicial accountability, nor producing an evidence of basic social fairness, while remaining rated as “Worst of the Worst 2011″ in the human rights’ metrics. Let’s look closely.
Spanish Guinea, as it was then called, gained independence from Spain in 1968. From the outset, President Francisco Macías Nguema, began a brutal reign, destroying the economy and abusing human rights to become one of the worst despots in African history. In 1971, the U.S. State Department reported that his regime was “characterized by abandonment of all government functions except internal security, which was accomplished by terror. That approach led to the death or exile of up to one-third of the population.” In 1979, Nguema was overthrown and executed by his nephew, Lieut. Col. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.In spite Teodoro Obiang appeared like a revolutionary savior he retained many of his uncle’s dictatorial practices.
Equatorial Guinea is Africa’s only Spanish-speaking country, with the area twice size of the State of Connecticut, and with a population of less than 3/4 of a million. Equatorial Guinea’s economic boom first began in 1995 through discovery of oil and establishing oil export. Since then, the oil based economy grew nearly 130 times, making Equatorial Guinea the 7th largest producer of oil in Africa, while remaining only the Africa’s 6th smallest population.
U.S. imports are up to a hundred thousand barrels of oil a day from the country, steering high interest of large oil companies, and others, whose least concern remains the political corruption and misgovernment.
Shady deals are what Obiang regime specializes in. As per The New York Times, these includes:
• U.S.-based military contractor Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI), a Virginia based company headed up by former Donald Rumsfeld’s aide Bantz Craddock, hired for
training Equatorial Guinea’s security forces. Former Democratic lobbyist and Clinton administration official Lanny Davis, a recipient of a $1 million per year contract with Equatorial Guinea until earlier this year;
• Qorvis Communications which represents Obiang in Washington and receives a lucrative $60,000 per month retainer in a contract which
runs through August 2011, which listed the client’s contact address “3620 Sweetwater Mesa Road, Malibu, CA 90265”, which is the address of Teodoro’s $32 million Malibu mansion;
• Hess Oil, which was paid over $1.3 million to lobby on “education and dissemination of information that ration regarding registrant’s assets in Equatorial Guinea and Libya” in 2009 (Check this lesson). Marathon Oil which spent $1.08 million in the first quarter of 2011 lobbying on a number of foreign policy issues including “investment by Marathon Oil Corporation for
developing energy resources in Equatorial Guinea” and “Equatorial Guinea – U.S. Engagement”;
• Exxon which was paid $6.6 million in 2008 for lobbying, and among other issues of concern, “discussions regarding background on business in Equatorial Guinea.”
The political, economic and social game the Equatorial Guinea plays is conducted in a fashion similar to other oppressive regimes: besides conducting shady international business deals, the governing elite makes a constant efforts at, and allocates significant resources to, maintaining an appearance of legitimacy by financing the international public relations campaigns, while enforcing an internal constitutional and legal framework that works only on paper, with no evidence of any accountability process. Luckily, not everything goes right such as last year when a United Nation agency decided to suspend plans to award a life sciences prize sponsored by Equatorial Guinea.
Every citizen shall enjoy the following rights and freedoms:
- Freedom of expression;
- Equality before the law. …
- Freedom of movement and residence;
- Honour and good reputation; …
- The inviolability of the home and the privacy of all correspondence. …
- The right to speak;
- The right to a fair hearing before the courts;
- Freedom of association, of assembly and the right to strike;
- The deprival of liberty except in the cases and according to the manner determined by law;
- The right to hear the charges levied on him;
- The right to presume innocence until found guilty during hearing;
- No person shall arrogate to himself the right to do justice; …
- Shall not be condemned without proof, nor deprived of the right to defense; …
Constitution of the Equitorial Guinea, Item 13 (fragments).
Although the constitution guarantees press freedom, the 1992 press law authorized government censorship forcing all journalists to register with the government. The state holds a near-monopoly on broadcast media, reportedly monitoring Internet communications, planting its own censored information posts such as Equatorial Guinea News on Blogspot.com while providing no access for the independent correspondents.
The constitution also seems to protect religious freedom, while official preference is given to the Roman Catholic Church and the Reform Church of Equatorial Guinea, the freedom of assembly and association is severely restricted, and official authorization for political gatherings is mandatory. There are no effective human rights organizations in the country, and international NGOs are prohibited from promoting or defending human rights. The constitution provides for the right to organize unions but there are solid legal barriers to collective bargaining.
The judiciary is not independent, and the enforcement of the law is done through the security forces that generally act with impunity. Prison conditions, especially in the notorious Black Beach prison, are extremely harsh. The authorities have been accused of widespread human rights abuses, including torture, detention of political opponents, and extrajudicial killings. In a manner similar to other totalitarian regimes all citizens are required to obtain exit visas to travel abroad, denying the opposition parties such visas. Constitutional and legal guarantees of equality for women are largely ignored, and violence against women is reportedly widespread.
Meanwhile, the president and his family still can use the country’s wealth as their personal ATM machine. Take the president’s son, Teodorin who acquired an impressive collection of luxury properties throughout the world. Back home, he’s the Minister of Forests and with his official income of about 4 thousand dollars a month and still was able to spend almost $44 million on mansions and luxury cars in the US and South Africa between 2004 and 2006. By comparison, the total education budget of the country was less about $43 million in 2005. His recent splurge includes his infamous yacht with a price tag of $380 million which is nearly triple what his country spends on health and education every year.
The lavish lifestyles of the ruling top persist while most people live in crushing poverty and international money laundering is aided by corrupted banks and remains a routine practice. For example, the president kept the country’s oil money at Riggs Bank in Washington DC, and Equatorial Guinea was the bank’s largest client. In 2004, Human Rights Watch helped expose the government’s lavish spending habits. After the US Senate investigation, Riggs received a total of $41 million in fines for failing to comply with anti-money laundering laws. Their dealings with the government of Equatorial Guinea ultimately ruined the bank’s reputation and led to a takeover but no official of Equatorial Guinea’s government was punished.
Another example of lunacy related to PR campaign by Equatorial Guinea authorities is the fact that this month President Teodoro Obiang Nguema inaugurated the city of Sipopo. Sipopo development with the total cost of about $300 million consists 52 luxury presidential villas, a conference hall, an artificial beach, a golf course and the French luxury hotel Sofitel that will be used when Obiang Nguema chairs the African Union and will host its summit for just 2 weeks, starting at the end of June, while the country’s population receives no sufficient social service attention and Equatorial Guinea exhibits the 18th highest infant death rate in Africa. The country will be the host the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012 and more misappropriations are expected.
A poet may express the Equatorial Guinea’s lunacy the best. In the poem, titled “Delirium”, which comes from Marvin Lewis’s “An introduction to the literature of Equatorial Guinea: between colonialism and dictatorship”, the author writes:
In the mirror of my past
there appear ghosts enmeshed
in a dark curtain, where my present
is shattered, and my future
crumbles in nothingness.
Faces of shadows swarm
in my mirror!
Your faces sketched by hunger
carry a stamp of misery as deep
as the revolving song of my sadness
that shouts at me to the depth of my bones
that I shall die like the offended Christ
who having been born in his time
those of his era did not recognize him.
—by María Nsue Angüe
Equatorial Guinea is not an exception and other African countries have similar constitutions and proclaim a commitment to constitutional democracy and constitutionalism (a system of laws that must be obeyed by the rulers) in documents such as the Constitutive Act of the African Union (AU, 2000), the Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance (2002) and the Base Document of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM, 2003) adopted within the framework of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD, 2001). Arguably, the absence of constitutional democracy, lack of respect for constitutionalism, and poor governance has been and still remains a significant cause of problems on the continent.
Assembled by Mark Bajkowski
Mark, born in Poland, is a Jack of all trades, master of none, who lives in New York since 1979. Mark has an unusually wide range of interests and is known to relate well to people half his age. Since his early childhood, he felt a curious relation to Africa, which unavoidably brings up the controversial subject of past-life memories.