Equatorial Guinea is comprised of three independent landmasses. The mainland is sandwiched between Gabon to the south and Cameroon to the North and the Gulf of Guinea to the west. It’s approximately the size of Rhode Island. The other to parts of the county are two islands, Annobon and Bioko. The second of which is where the capital, Malabo, is located. The Ethiopian Airlines flight attendant announces we’ll be departing Douala for Malabo. Flight time, 22 minutes. I have enough time to nod off to sleep before the plane starts to descend over the water.
Equatoria Guinea is the only previous colony of Spain in sub-Saharan Africa. In the late 1960s, the small country gained it’s independence from Spain and held their first democratic elections. Unfortunately, as John Ghazvinian writes in Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil, “the wrong man won.” Francisco Macias Nguema, a clinically diagnosed schizophrenic sociopath claimed victory and announced himself “President for Life, Immaculate Apostle of Steel and Unique Miracle of Equatorial Guinea.” His policies were disastrous. Macias declared the word “intellectual” illegal and banned the use of lubricant to be used at the power plant, claiming that magic was to be counted upon to operate the machinery. He banned western medicine and relied solely upon African black magic and herbal remedies. And when people started fleeing Malabo by sea, he disbanded the fishing industry and made boats illegal. Moreover, as Ghazvinian writes, “in 1975…Macias celebrated Christmas Day by lining up 150 of his political opponents in a soccer stadium and shooting them dead while a brass band played Mary Hopkin’s 1960s anthem, ‘Those Were the Days, My Friend.'” It’s not surprising then that one-third of the entire population died during Macias’ rule.
On August 3, 1979, Macias was disposed in a military coup led by his nephew, Brigadier General Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, and was executed. Obiang has ruled Equatorial Guinea ever since. When oil was discovered in he mid-1990s, Western governments pressured Obiang to allow opposition parties to participate in elections. In 1996, Obiang won with 99.2% of all ballots, in 2003 with 97% and was reelected just last year. The government in Malabo is a known violator of human rights and Obiang himself is often referred to as a thug as he leads a tightly controlled military state.
For further reading about Equatorial Guinea (as I’ve referenced it multiple times on this trip), turn to John Ghazvinian’s Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil, pp. 170-206. Disturbing and entertaining reading.