Guinea: A Local
Point Of View On Assessments
By International Experts
By Agustin Velloso
13 July, 2007
Guinea, a tiny country of 28.000 square kilometres located in Western
Africa, has a GDP of $25.69 billion (2005 est.) and a GDP growth rate
(2004 est. average) of 25.7 per cent (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/7221.htm).
With a population of 540.109 (July 2005 est. - same source), its flourishing
economy is based on its main natural resources: petroleum and timber.
Because of this, the country
has recently become a target of international attention, including the
main world institutions -World Bank (WB) and several United Nations
subsidiary bodies-, some international organisations –Organization
for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), European Union (EU)-,
individual state agencies –the United States Department of State-
and some big corporations and non governmental organisations (ngos).
In recent reports made public by these observers, the country enjoys
“a spectacular abundance of oil revenues” (OECD) and consequently
“the world’s highest GDP growth between 1995 and 2001”
According to information
provided by governmental sources, “in 1995, Equatorial Guinea
was found to have massive reserves of petroleum. Shortly thereafter,
significant reserves of natural gas were also discovered. These findings
have generated substantial revenue for Equatorial Guinea, revenue which
is being invested in increased transparency in its financial practices,
and diversifying its economy, modernizing its infrastructure, strengthening
its public health system, and promoting education to build a strong
foundation for the future of the country.” (http://guinea-equatorial.com/about.asp)
Impressive as this data appears,
the information provided by foreign agencies and country officials should
be compared to information provided by locals. Then a clearer picture
of the country can be seen.
On February 27, 2007, the
website http://actualidad.terra.es posted a piece of news sent by (news
agency) EFE under the title: “Seminar on poverty and conflict
resolution opens in EG.” The information says: “State radio
made public today the government’s plan, together with oil companies
operating in EG, to organise a seminar to discuss measures to fight
poverty and issues related to transparency and technology transfer.”
But not all actions conducted
by the government of EG are so public. Many things the government and
its ministers get up to receive much less publicity.
For instance, on that very
day in the mainland town of Acurenam, a group of children were bathing
on the river bank as they always have. The Deputy Minister of Agriculture
who accompanies President Teodoro Obiang on his pre-electoral tours
around the district, took some time off to swim. He ordered some children
to wash his car while he went swimming. Afterwards, he noticed his watch
and some clothes were missing. The children did not notice anything
was missing, since they do not have watches and bathe with only their
shorts on, that is all they have.
The Deputy Minister conducted
himself in private that day the same way he conducts himself in his
governmental affairs; he threatened to break all the children’
legs if the watch was not returned. When it wasn’t, he took them
all in their wet clothes to the police station where some children were
tortured, reports the Comisión Ejecutiva Nacional de Convergencia
Para la Democracia Social (CPDS) -press release, February, 26, 2007
Sixteen children were detained.
Most of the children were fifteen years old, others were seventeen,
eight, and the youngest was five. A similar number managed to escape.
This means that thirty children were able to share in the spoils of
the robbery – as a best case scenario: assuming they actually
did take the watch.
Then, they could still count
on a good sixty US dollars by selling the watch on the black market.
This would work out to two dollars per child. Ironically, two dollars
a day is the exact amount which most people who don’t happen to
be governmental ministers live on in Africa –as estimated by United
Nations Development Programme (UNDP) scholarly reports.
In spite of this, these children
with two US dollars each have more than enough to wander through mud
covered streets, to jump over open-air sewage pipes and to play count
the few traffic lights and signs. Those are the only games they can
play in a land without libraries, book stores and civic centres, or
any real public services.
General conditions in EG
have been disastrous for its most vulnerable and young population; 44.2
per cent of the population is aged under fifteen. According to the UNDP
Human Development Report, 56 per cent do not have access to clean water
and 47 per cent have no proper sanitation infrastructure. In addition,
19 per cent of children under five are not an acceptable weight for
their age (1995-2003), and 65 per cent of births are not attended by
qualified personnel (1995-2003). The country has 25 physicians per 100.000
inhabitants (1990-2004) to deal with these health problems and many
others like malaria, other tropical illnesses, and human immunodeficiency
A day out with the deputy
minister is not that expensive for the children of Acurenam, especially
if you take into account the free transport to the police station, threats,
beatings and torture. All these services are covered by the Minister
and President Obiang, a very generous leader as we can see. None of
this is news to the US Ambassador either.
On March 8, 2006, the US Department of State Report on Human Rights
Practices in EG states that “Members of the security forces tortured,
beat, and otherwise abused suspects, prisoners, and opposition politicians.”
Further, “security forces continued to arrest and detain persons
arbitrarily and with impunity. Security forces often detained individuals
"on orders from superiors" without any further legal process.”
In other words, the State
Department quite accurately predicts the Deputy Minister’s behaviour
a year beforehand. This is not a great mental feat since anyone who
has seen or, worse, suffered “conflict resolution” under
Obiang, can similarly predict such things. This is something all embassies
accredited to Malabo know only too well. The Department of State tells
of other similar abuses of power:
attacked the young people and those accompanying them, hitting them
with the butts of their handguns, causing substantial injury to several
of them, and leaving some girls in the group undressed in public. At
least 10 were detained on police premises. They were released one week
According to some foreign
sources, let alone government’s sources, it seems that Equatorial
Guinea is moving in the last years, in particular during the oil boom
years, slowly but soundly, to higher standards of social and political
development. Without doubt, credit has to be given to meetings held
by EG ministers and UN high officials, business done by oil companies
and cooperation programmes carried out by Western governments. Obiang
is also a strong contributor to the wellbeing of his countrymen, mainly
through his trips to the United States, France and Spain, where he always
finds support for his policies.
But above all, most of the
credit rests with foreign journalists. Their almost constant press coverage,
and never ending courage to stand up to the oil companies have helped
make Equatorial Guinea the household name around the world it has obviously
It is a shame that the children
of Acurenam are so ungrateful and spend their time stealing from defenceless
Deputy Ministers. Let’s just hope that police station visits and
their broken legs help them appreciate all that is done by Obiang, his
government, and the international press in their name. Then, maybe in
years to come they will be able to live on $2.10 a day.
English translation by the author reviewed by David Anderson
UNED-Facultad de Educacion
Paseo Senda del Rey, nº 7
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