The economy of Equatorial Guinea is the fastest growing economy in Africa
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Getting back is always fun. Especially if after a couple of months of your absence you find that not only the cityscape but even the ocean shore line have changed. This reportage from Equatorial Guinea continues the "Mysterious Country" story published by Odnako magazine a year ago. The author told about how he was impressed by the country's booming construction and high quality of new roads cutting through the jungle. Today you take the local construction sites and roads for granted. It took the country only a year to build a new airport in Malabo, a runway on the Corisko Island, new ports and ship yards, hotels and you name it. So what, you may tell. Equatorial Guinea is rolling in petrodollars.
What is interesting about the country is that Equatorial Guinea - a dictatorship, according to the global media - has not fenced off the outside world cherishing its newly found wealth but, on the contrary, welcomed everyone saying - the Guinean sun shines for everybody.
To grasp this mystery you'll have to give up your deep-rooted stereotypes and assume that the world is not just black and white. Even here, in Africa.
Actually, no African country is a traditional democracy (that is, from the European or American point of view). Most African presidents rule till the very old age regularly winning in sweeping victories in all-country elections, yet only very few of them have been branded by the Western press as dictators - depending on the global political situation at the every given moment.
Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo fall into the category of the wicked African leaders and is castigated by the Western media and the right wing as the vilest dictator of all times.
Actually, only very few of those who lament over the sufferings of Guinea's people, overcrowded prisons and the outrage of the military have ever been to this country. Personally, I've been there several times and never seen neither piled corpses of the tortured regime opponents nor crowds of starving people begging for help.
President Obiang has been in power since 1979 and formally is the oldest of today's rulers, or dictators, if you prefer it that way. He indeed rose to power through a coup d'Etat having toppled his uncle Francisco Macías Nguema. Under Macias' rule who was dubbed "daddy" by the people of Guinea, the country indeed was struggling, and there were piles of dead bodies in the streets and people dying from hunger. The country's population was down by almost a quarter. Some managed to flee the country, others had no choice but to stay.
So, it's quite easy to understand why Guinean people call the military coup of 3 August 1979 "a liberation revolution". After adoption of the constitution prepared by the UN experts, in 1982, the country had its first presidential election and for the first time elected Obiang as its president. Ever since he's been winning these elections every 7 years with the result that most human rights advocates find appalling - 97% of the votes.
However, I believe that even if the Guinea people were not as loyal to Mr Obiang, he would have won all the same without rigging the ballot. The victory would have been less impressive but still a victory.
"Equatorial Guinea has no social basis for political reforms. Its people are not angry enough with the situation in the country", says the leader of the Guinea human rights organization Tutu Alicante. He's fighting for Guinea's people's rights from the US territory with George Soros's money, despite the fact that in Equatorial Guinea opposition parties are officially legal.
Some believe that for many Africans power is still sacred. This is why their political regimes never change. The power is given to the ruler by God for an indefinite period of time and for his own good as well as for the good of his family, friends and his people. What do elections have to do with that?
I met President Obiang. He does not look like a man who believes that he has a direct connection line with Almighty. Rather he is a kind of god-fearing person and cannot help resenting any hint on sacred nature of his power.
He keeps repeating that Guinea is learning democracy. "I mean the today's western concept of democracy. We have to learn it yet. However, we have own democratic traditions here in Africa. Every village has a special pavilion - abaka, or house of words - a sort of village parliament that discusses every decision to be taken here. Collective rights prevail over the rights of individuals in our tradition, but genuine democracy involves respect for opinion of every single person, no matter if this person agrees with the community or not. We are heading in this direction, and I think there is no alternative for that", he says.
Many condemn parochial nature of power distribution in Equatorial Guinea. Allegedly, Obiang brought to power all his relatives who control political and economic life of the country.
This is true. In a country with the population of 500,000 people and polygamy traditions all people are somewhat relatives. A man who can afford to have 10-12 wives and all their children (and 10-12 wives are not a limit) automatically becomes a relative of almost all big clans and families.