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.