Macharia Gaitho, one of my favorite columnists at The Daily Nation captured my exact sentiments in his column today. I hope the American ambassador in Nairobi, and whoever it is that briefs Washington on matters Kenyan took note of this piece.
And in other news, Guinea has serious problems. The junior army officer who took over in a coup last year to “establish peace and democracy” has decided that he wants to hang on to power, inviting protests from Guineans not into such ideas. We’ve heard this story before, and we know how it ends.The Guineans should start reading on Samuel Doe, Jerry Rawlings, Idris Deby, Obiang, Museveni, Yahya Jammeh and the many others. Coups are the strongest predictor of future coups. A history of civil violence is also a strong predictor of future violence. Endemic poverty, an economy’s reliance on the export of commodities and weak to poor trade ties with the international community compound matters even more. The odds are stacked against the poor Guineans. They are in this for the long haul. And it sucks that the international community (including Sarkozy’s France) does not care about Guinea, as long as the generals keep exporting Bauxite.
Fun fact about Guinea: Guinea is a leading bauxite exporter, but most of its people live on less than $1 a day (courtesy of the BBC).
So the government of Equatorial Guinea is saying that Nigerian rebels were the ones behind the mystery assault weapon attach on the presidential palace yesterday. For now nobody really know who the attackers were. It is not clear what the motive of the Nigerians was in attacking president Obiang’s palace. Whoever they are I think the attack should be a wake up call on Mr. Obiang, the kleptocratic autocrat who has been running the tiny central African state since 1979. His rule has been bad news for most equatorians. The country is Africa’s third biggest producer of oil – after Angola and Nigeria – and should not have the high poverty rates that it has, especially considering that it only has just over 600,000 people.
In other news, it appears that one of the rebel groups in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement has finally agreed to a deal with the Sudanese government. This is welcome news. I hope the news will make the ICC slow down in its efforts to try al-Bashir for war crimes. I am not fan of the genocidal buffoon that is Mohammed al-Bashir but at the same time I think that attempts to arrest him will only make him dig in and reverse the progress that the opposition and civil society groups have made in terms of increased political space. Also, the deal does not necessarily mean an end of hostilities since not all the rebel groups in the western Sudanese province have signed on it. The conflict in Darfur has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced over two million.
Last year alone, according to the Bank of Cenral African States, Equatorial Guinea earned 4.3 billion dollars in oil revenue. This was about 90% of the country’s GDP. This in a country of just over 600,000 souls. Last year’s World Bank estimates put the country’s per capita income at about 20,000 dollars. But don’t be fooled by this figure, more than 60% of the citizens of this tiny Central African country live on less than a dollar a day. It is estimated that the government has stashed more than 2 billion dollars in foreign accounts. Mr. Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the president since 1979, is one very wealthy man.
Whenever I think about this country – among many other equally wealthy African countries – I ask myself: How hard can it be? How hard can it be to provide education for your people? How hard can it be to provide decent housing? How hard can it be to ensure that people are not starving? And all this while your treasuries are overflowing with cash. Of what use are the billions to Obiang and his friends if his country-people are starving? Don’t these men have a scintilla of pride? Doesn’t Mr. Obiang feel even a tinge of shame when he sees pictures of fly-infested faces of emaciated African children in the front pages of major world newspapers or book covers?
It is very frustrating. It is inexplicable. It makes you wonder whether these people are grown up men or children. It seems almost commonsensical that a country like Equatorial Guinea – small in size and with an abundance of oil – should never wallow in want. It takes a great deal of stupidity to plunge a whole 60% of the population in abject poverty with this much wealth. 600,000 Obiang. Just 600,000. You can keep track of every one of your citizens, providing for their basic needs and granting them a decent education, healthcare, housing and what not. Seriously. It is not rocket science.
Equatorial Guinea is the third largest oil producer in Africa, right after Nigeria and Angola. Equatorial Guinea also has just over half a million people. It therefore defies logic that this country should still have many of its people living in squalid conditions. This country ranks 121st out of 177 on the UN Human development Index, even though it has a per capita income (PPP) of 50,200 (CIA Factbook) – only second to Luxembourg in the entire world! Why are many Equatorial Guineans still dirt poor, dying from treatable illnesses and ignorant? Where is Teodore Obiang Nguema Mbasogo taking all the oil money?
This is a shame to the continent and to Obiang and his cronies. It is high time African leaders became their own keepers and fostered a culture of intra-continental competition rather than their old-school collusion to steal all they can from the poor and dying, as is happening in this fabulously wealthy country. This is especially important now that the EU and the US – because of competition for resources with China – have decided, like the latter, to turn a blind eye to gross injustices like this one.
With a total population smaller than those of most African capitals, and with all the oil money, how hard can it be to keep track of everyone and ensure that all Equatorial Guineans are well fed, educated and healthy?