October 23, 2014

Equatorial Guinea Throws Down a Gauntlet: Challenges Foreign Critics to “Visit Our Country or Shut Up”

President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and his wife meet the Obamas during his tenure as Chairman of the African Union

Equatorial Guinea has thrown down a gauntlet and challenged its foreign critics “to visit our country and see what is happening here or shut up.”  This was on the occasion of the 9th Sullivan Foundation Summit, held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, from Aug. 20-24, 2012.  The Summit drew a large crowd of African presidents and leaders, including host Equatorial Guinea President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo who declared the Summit open, Co-Chairman of the Summit and former Ghanaian President John Kufuor, the Chairman of the African Union and Republic of Benin President Boni Yayi, Sierra Leonean President Bai Koroma, President of Sao Tome and Principe Manuel Pinto da Costa, Sudanese Vice President Dr. Elhaj Adem Yousif, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and several foreign ministers.

In addition, there were hundreds of high profile delegates from the United States, including former university presidents, professors, athletes, businessmen and women, as well as members of the entertainment world, including television producer Bentley Evans of Bent Outta Shape Productions.

Notably absent was any delegation from the U.S. government, which was regrettably noted by the organizers, since in the past Presidents and other American high profile leaders had attended including Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, then First Lady Hillary-Rodham Clinton.  However, most of the American delegates understood that President Barack Obama could not attend given the perceived civil rights violations in the country, as well as the fact that he is steeped in his reelection campaign.  However, the absence of the U.S. ambassador to Equatorial Guinea was palpable.  Most American delegates had expected that he would attend and present a no nonsense assessment of the leadership of Equatorial Guinea, rather than letting people have a one-sided view.  It was viewed as a major diplomatic error.  Absent also was the former chairman of the Board of Directors of the Sullivan Foundation, Ambassador Andrew Young.

What has angered and continues to anger Equatoguinean leaders about criticism of the country is that most of the foreign critics have never visited the country, preferring to dwell on hearsay or what is termed “archaic news and perception” of the country.  Said President Obiang Nguema, “critics are free to criticize as per their freedom of expression. However there are some who wish to undermine the sovereignty of nations and the equality for its people. This [the Summit] is a golden opportunity to come to know our country, which is small but rich in opportunity and culture.”  Obiang further said “Unfortunately, we now face new-colonialism; where some nations continue to practice that they are above others. Today, theories show that life proceeded from Africa. Slavery was an invasion of African culture and destruction of our values. The AU shows that Africa can unite and contribute to the global stage as a nation.”

With an emotion borne of facts, the information minister of Equatorial Guinea, Hon. Austino Nze Nfumu,, demanded to know where were the so-called “friends” of Equatorial Guinea during the eleven years of brutal dictatorship under Equatorial Guinea’s first President Francisco Macías Nguema.  It was estimated that more than 80,000 Equatorial Guineans, almost a third of the population then, lost their lives under the hands of Macias Nguema.  “These so-called “friends of Equatorial Guinea” were nowhere to be found,” said Hon. Mokuy.  “Equatorial Guinea disappeared from the face of the earth.”

The foreign minister, Hon. Agapito Mba Mokuy, listed a number of issues that had been applicable during those years of dictatorship, including the fact that cocoa plantations were in the hands of colonial masters.  Churches, he said, were closed, but now re-opened with religious freedom for anybody who wants to attend any church they desired.  “If that’s not a form of democracy, I don’t know what it should called.”  There were no political parties then, but now Equatorial Guinea has 13 political parties, and the African Union deemed the last presidential election in 2009 “in line with electoral law”.  Equatorial Guinea now has the highest per capita GDP in Africa of $35,000.00 comparable to Italy, Spain and other industrialized countries, and criticism of Equatorial Guineans investing abroad was misplaced because now they have the assets to invest abroad.  UNESCO has certified that the literacy rate in Equatorial Guinea is now 83%, when there was nothing built by the colonial masters during the era of colonialism.  “Equatorial Guineans are now happy to be called and referred to as Equatorial Guineans,” said Mr. Mokuy.

Mr. Nfumu fumed at the disparity that had existed between white and black children.  “There were different dining rooms for white children and black children..  We only had one doctor and three graduates when we gained independence.”

Criticism of Equatorial Guinea has centered around the length of time that President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has stayed in office, and what is seen as corruption of his family in controlling the wealth of the country.  Mr. Nguema came into office through a coup d’etat against his uncle, Macias Nguema on August 3, 1979, which makes him the longest reigning African President, now 33 years, since the demise of leader Col. Moammar Ghadafi.  It is interesting that President Nguema paid great tribute to Ghadafi, but faulted him for not extending democracy to his people.

In 2011, US authorities filed requests to seize a $30 million Malibu mansion, California, oceanfront home, a $38.5 million Gulfstream jet, a Ferrari worth more than $500,000 and dozens of pieces of pop singer Michael Jackson memorabilia worth almost $2 million, belonging to the President’s son, Teodorin Nguema Obian Mangue.  Mr. Teodorin has denied all charges, and said that he bought those through legitimate business dealings.

It is odd and interesting to note that while the U.S. government is busy trying to distance itself from the government of Equatorial Guinea, it has in fact encouraged the private sector to invest heavily in the country, to the extent that most important private area practices are manned by U.S. companies.  Oil companies such as Marathon, Chevron and Noble Energy have substantial holdings in the country.  The country exports most of its oil to the United States.

Then there is the case of the country’s security operations, which is manned by a U.S. company, M.P.R.I., (Military Professional Resources, Inc.) the Virginia security firm led by retired U.S. Gen. Bantz M. Craddock, the former supreme allied commander in Europe.  The company confirmed that it received in 2011, it received the sum of $250 million to “in an overall, generic way, to provide security for the coastline, some coastal surveillance.”

President Nguema Obiang has been praised by the World Bank for building and carrying out infrastructural development in the country, including tarring over 85% of the roads in Equatorial Guinea, improving the infant mortality rate disputed by the foreign NGOs but affirmed by the World Bank.  A state of the art hospital has been constructed in the capital Malabo and a new city is being built in the mainland.  Even when it comes to civil rights, it was noted that there were only about 200 prisoners in Equatorial Guinea with a population of 660,000, while the City of Newark in New Jersey, has a prisoner population of 4,000 with a population of less than 300,000.

The Sullivan Foundation provided many people with a first-hand view of what is happening in Equatorial Guinea, as much as it was difficult to interact with the opposition.  Most would attest that they were initially hoodwinked by the vicious anti-Nguema Obiang rhetoric that almost drove them to cancel their participation, but having visited feel happy that they were able to attend a country they feel is on the rise, but needing more exposure as well as encouragement to improve on its human rights record.

The challenge has been thrown; the foreign critics should jump at the invitation and visit Equatorial Guinea to confirm or change their view of the country.  Criticizing from afar is disingenuous at best.  If America could engage Iran and North Korea in dialogue, then the foreign NGO critics need to engage the country.  It is possible that out of this engagement, there will be a better understanding and maybe even an improvement in abetting the criticisms they have leveled as well as improving the civil rights of the people in the country .

 

Chika Onyeani is the author of the internationally-acclaimed and No.1 bestselling book, “Capitalist Nigger: The Road to Success,” as well as “The Broederbond Conspiracy”, adapted by the San Francisco State University to teach students how to write a spy novel.

Comments

  1. Yahdah says:

    Shalum

    My daughter just arrived back from the Conference, and as you can imagine, we had a lengthy conversation concerning the event. You covered much of what she related, however you didn’t touch on her main frustration which was the gross disorganization of the meetings. She felt that it spoiled much of what could have been accomplished. She blamed this on the American group that organized the Conference. They were not sufficiently Africanized to carry out such a project and were probably hampered by excessive governmental control.

    • conyeani says:

      Yahdah,

      Thanks for expressing your daughter’s observations. It was not my intention to dwell on the organizing of the event, but to discuss the vicious foreign attacks on the Equatorial Guinea government. With what is happening in the US now, with the Republicans using legislation to perpetrate voter fraud and prevent blacks and latinos from going to the poll this November, I don’t believe America has any moral grounds to judge others.

      If you daughter wishes to write about the event in Equatorial Guinea as she saw it, we will be very happy to publish it. Thanks.

      Chika Onyeani

      • Chika,

        Why dwell on the “vicious foreign attacks” at the expense of the homegrown complaints? For instance, here’s what the main political opposition party had to say about the Sullivan Summit: http://www.cpds-gq.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=218:press-release-we-the-poor-of-equatorial-guinea-salute-you-the-leon-sullivan-foundation&catid=4:noticias&Itemid=6

        Or, for the perspective of an ordinary Equatoguinean, here is an informative piece: http://www.guinea-ecuatorial.net/inicio.asp

        I am disappointed that a perceptive and learned journalist like yourself failed to dig beneath the surface of the EG government’s claims that its critics are welcome to visit the country and investigate credible complaints by journalists who have been denied visas to visit EG, or whose materials were confiscated and destroyed by government security forces before they were kicked out of the country (see here, for instance: http://cpj.org/2011/06/equatorial-guinea-deletes-german-tv-crews-footage.php). I would have expected you to investigate the government’s claims about political pluralism by at least interviewing members of the opposition or analyzing the merits of numerous and credible reports of electoral fraud issued by both domestic and international organizations.

        Instead, you chose to ignore the evidence and tell a one-sided story in defense of the Summit and the Obiang regime, largely based on statements made by government officials, the Sullivan Foundation, and your own limited experience inside the country.

        Do not hesitate to let me know if you would prefer that I write my own piece to send to you for publication. Being an Equatoguinean who lived under the Obiang regime for half of my life, I might be able to provide your readers with the voice of a critic who understands what daily life feels like for an ordinary citizen of Equatorial Guinea.

        • conyeani says:

          Dear Tutu,

          I believe if you were to talk to many people in the US or even outside the country, they will tell you that Chika Onyeani is not afraid of publishing the truth. My book, “Capitalist Nigger: The Road to Success,” has achieved its phenomenal success because of its brutal frankness in addressing issues concern the black race. People know me as a brutal critic of African leaders when there is justification for it.

          You know, last night, I listened to the most vile lies out of the mouth of the vice-presidential candidate of the Republican party Paul Ryan, and I am sure I am going to be listening to the same kind of lies from the presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

          The American media is busy nuancing the speech, rather than calling a spade a spade, telling the American people that these are lies. Yet, when we do our own analysis, it is subjected to a higher standard than the ones that the American media has set for itself.

          As I said, we will publish your article, but we also reserve the right to publish those who have a different opinion from you. Thanks.

          Chika Onyeani

  2. Mr Dougan Champion A. says:

    Thank you very much Chica for such a widely covered info on what actually took place in
    Equatorial Guinea during your visit. And I feel more touched because you were able on your own
    (not guided or led by abyone) to tallk to people; reach to whomever you wanted to; move about while gathering your data for others to read the truth about my country. I hope to see you some other time when I will be less busy so that I will attend to and host you as a trully african in our style. Rgds.

  3. Joseph Kraus says:

    Chika,

    You rail against those who tell but one side of the story about Equatorial Guinea, but your article commits the same crime. Based on three research trips to Equatorial Guinea conducted over the past 5 years, I can attest to the complex reality of life on the ground in Equatorial Guinea. The government is investing billions of dollars into infrastructural improvements, although the spending priorities, at times, raise concerns (e.g. spending billions on luxury resorts and a new capital city while electricity and running water remain unreliable for most ordinary citizens). Overt repression may be on the decline, but it still occurs, and fear is discernible among ordinary citizens living in the many slums around Malabo and Bata. The Obiang regime has made improvements compared to the 11 brutal years of the Macias regime, but that period of the country’s history was so dark that anyone would look better by comparison.

    Your analysis fails to account for the numerous, credible reports of ongoing human rights abuses, electoral fraud, and harassment. Many of these claims are made by local organizations and individuals. Dismissing their accounts as some sort of foreign conspiracy to “unfairly” denigrate the Obiang regime is to effectively silence those who know best what life is like for the ordinary citizens of Equatorial Guinea.

    Your analysis also cherry picks facts. While the World Bank praises the EG government for some of its infrastructural improvements, its most recent 140 page public expenditure review of Equatorial Guinea is highly critical, accusing the government of investing far too little to improve basic health and education. The World Bank reported that the standard of living of most of the population “has not significantly budged and poverty is widespread”. It states that public funding of the education sector was insufficient and “well below the expenditure of countries in the region”. Consequently, only one in two students completes primary education.

    The country may have fewer prisoners than New Jersey, but many of those prisoners did not receive free and fair trials, or were locked up for political reasons. Nor is it likely that torture is used in New Jersey, while, according to the UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture, it has been used in Equatorial Guinea in recent years.

    Your analysis mentions the widespread corruption allegations brought against high-ranking members of the EG government, but it never actually addresses what those might mean for the country’s governance record or future development prospects. Instead, you point out the obvious: US business and geopolitical interests sometimes conflict with its values and principles. There is nothing surprising about that; yes, it is unfortunate, but it is also fairly standard U.S. foreign policy.

    It is hard to imagine that attendees to the Sullivan Summit, which took place in an isolated new luxury conference center, were able to experience many of the daily realities experienced by ordinary citizens. It is disappointing that your analysis ignores their perspectives, or the many credible reports emanating from both domestic and international organizations that document ongoing abuses.

    • conyeani says:

      Joseph,

      Thank you so much. You and I could continue to accuse each other of stating the whole facts: you and I could write a 250-page book on Equatorial Guinea, none of us would come close to pleasing everybody.

      Here’s a part of an article I have yet to post regarding my experiences in Equatorial Guinea, which is yet to be posted due to the photos not yet being uploaded, which I will hopefully upload this night or tomorrow, titled “Equatorial Guinea: A Hidden Oasis of Confidence, Beauty and Tranquility”

      “As a Nigerian, though I have stayed for umpteen years in America, one of the first things I watch is our reception at the airport, the airport surroundings compared to what I know exists in Nigeria. Having read of press freedom suppression in Equatorial Guinea, I was on full alert when the plane banked and the announcement came that members of the media would be the first to disembark. I said to myself, “Well, here we go.” I don’t really understand why this was done, because there was no special treatment given to the media: eventually everybody’s passport were taken from them and processed by members of the Sullivan Foundation. After this, nobody herded the media to a different location; we all got our luggage just like everyone and passed through customs. There were no guards looking for members of the media like they do in China where you are followed around if you are a journalist. And before I start the real description of my visit to Equatorial Guinea, let me just say that when we reached our hotel – the Sipopo Sofitel Golf Hotel, we were informed that the hotel has the best internet connection in the country; we could use the Wifi in our rooms or go to the business center to log on to the internet. As soon as I got into our room, that was the first thing I did: bring out my laptop, plugged in the connection to the several electrical outlets provided, boot up the laptop and connect to the internet.

      It was quite amazing: here I was with a very fast internet connection able to access any kind of news, being able to read my favorite news from the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Politico, Talkiing Points Memo and of course Yahoo news. I would have expected that a totalitarian regime would have prevented such access to the international media where anybody could access the thousands of articles critical of the country’s President and government. To me, that was the first lie that had been dispelled.”

      Also, you conveniently omitted to mention the recent UNESCO-Equatorial Guinea International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences given out to three scientists by UNESCO, where its 58-member board voted to accept the $3 million donated to the organization by the Equatorial Guinea government at the objection of many NGOs and western governments. Here’s the press release by UNESCO in case you missed it:

      19.07.2012 – UNESCOPRESS
      Award ceremony of the UNESCO-Equatorial Guinea International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences

      © UNESCO/L.Rukingamubiri
      The UNESCO-Equatorial Guinea International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences was awarded in a ceremony at UNESCO Headquarters on 17 July. Three laureates – Maged Al-Sherbiny from Egypt; Felix Dapare Dakora, South Africa; and Rossana Arroyo Verastegui, Mexico shared the Prize.

      The Prize of a total value of US$ 300,000 distinguishes individuals, institutions or organisations for scientific research in the life sciences that improve the quality of human life.

      The Vice President of Equatorial Guinea, Ignacio Milam Tang, took part in the ceremony. François Abiola, Minister of Higher Education and Research of Benin represented H.E. Dr Boni Yayi, President of the Republic of Benin and Chairperson of the African Union and Rodolphe Adada, State Minister of Congo, represented H.E. Mr Sassou Nguesso, President of the Republic of Congo.

      Getachew Engida, the Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, awarded the Prize on behalf of the Organization’s Director-General and stressed that “UNESCO was created to facilitate the sharing of knowledge between researchers.”

      “The world and Africa in particular, need science. Hence the need to promote it,” said Vice President, Ignacio Milam Tang of Equatorial Guinea, which funds the UNESCO-Equatorial Guinea International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences.

      In his address at the ceremony Maged Al-Sherbiny emphasized the value of the Prize, as Africa’s first international scientific award. He also stressed the importance of scientific networks if Africa to tackle the health challenges the continent is facing, which include the Hepatitis C and Schistosomiasis diseases on which he is working.

      Born in 1963, Maged Al-Sharbiny is the President of the Centre for Science and Technology of the Non-aligned Movement and President of Egypt’s Academy of Scientific Research and Technology. He is also Vice Minister of Scientific Research.

      Rossana Arroyo Verastegui spoke of her commitment to women’s health in fighting one of the most widely spread sexually-transmitted diseases. She welcomed the Prize for its contribution to the development of fundamental research.

      Born in 1955, Rossana Arroyo Verastegui is Professor at the Centre for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico.

      Felix Dapare Dakora of South Africa spoke of his commitment to improving soil utilization in the quest to fight food scarcity and contribute to human health. He welcomed the Prize and highlighted Africa’s pressing need to train a new generation of researchers.

      Dakora, born in 1952, holds the South African Research Chair in Agrochemurgy and Plant Symbioses at Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria. His work focuses on the molecular ‘conversation’ between legumes and soil.

      • Joseph Kraus says:

        Chika,

        Thank you for taking the time to reply, and I look forward to reading your forthcoming article. However, I must take umbrage with several points that you raise. Your reporting seems to rely solely on what you personally experienced, and neglects to take into account the experiences of others, including Equatoguineans. You didn’t experience any harassment as a journalist, but you most likely woudn’t have, as you were traveling with the Sullivan Foundation for an event sanctioned by the EG government. Other journalists have had very different experiences, including a German TV station that was detained and had its footage deleted by gov’t authorities in June 2011, before being forced to leave the country. Other journalists have reported harassment as well.

        As for excellent wireless in the hotel, you were staying in the most luxurious hotel in the country, which caters to foreigners. Of course you had excellent wireless. That does not mean that such amenities are available to ordinary citizens. I can personally attest to that not being the case, since I spent much of my time in internet cafes where connections were painfully slow and unreliable. And while it’s difficult to verify the credibility of rumors that the gov’t monitors those internet connections, the fact that ordinary citizens are fearful that it is true is in itself its own form of censorship.

        The relevance of your mention of the UNESCO prize is unclear. Did UNESCO, a highly politicized organization, endorse a prize funded by Obiang and/or Equatorial Guinea (there continues to be uncertainty over whether the prize money is from Obiang or the gov’t)? Yes. Does that mean that the Obiang regime is committed to furthering development? Maybe. But why, then, is there still so much poverty and repression in Equatorial Guinea? The prize could also just might mean that the Obiang regime, for the cheap price of $3 million, scored a victory in its public relations campaign aimed at improving its international image.

        It seems to be working…at least in this case.

  4. Curzio Malaparte says:

    Bravo Joseph and Tutu for injecting some reality in the hagiography and propaganda. I looked up the Sullivan Summit website ad saw this newspaper as a “partner”. It is astonishing that unlike the overwhelming number of press accounts this one sounds like PR. This will reflect poorly on the author for years to come. There is no question that Obiang is a human rights violator, a kleptocrat, and dictator. History will be unkind to his henchmen and cheerleaders. Chika included.

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