Breaking News: January 4, 2018 – Today.ng reports an AFP story that Facebook, WhatsApp and VPNs have been blocked in my former host country, Equatorial Guinea. And…
February 5, 2018 – News24 reports an AFP story that 130 members of the opposition party have been detained. In other news reports, opposition leaders say that number is actually 200.
In just a few days I’ll give you the promised close-up look at smallpox, but I needed to give you the breaking news from EG.
“Eerie Silence” – a chapter from my upcoming memoir Vaccines & Bayonets: Fighting Smallpox in Africa amid Tribalism, Terror and the Cold War, is excerpted later in this post. Creepy connection to current breaking news.
The Today.ng story reports that Equatorial Guinea has blocked Facebook, WhatsApp and VPNs, Virtual Private Networks that allow connecting securely to a private network over the internet.
But the report has no further details about that situation. Why? It quotes “a diplomat in the region,” as saying there is “a real lack of transparency on what’s really going on.” today.ng/news/africa/52717/chad-warns-regional-threat-equatorial-guinea-coup-bid
Judging from our family’s experience in Equatorial Guinea, I’d say “lack of transparency” is an understatement.
Blocking the news sounds familiar
True, there’s a different dictator in power now, but this all rings a far-too-familiar bell. A mere few months after the October 12, 1968 independence, a cloak of secrecy enveloped the country.
When we lived there in 1970-71, the government read all incoming and outgoing mail, (outgoing had to be left at the post office unsealed), and punished anyone making comments critical of the regime. They shut down their own press. Banned foreign journalists. Banned foreign publications.
And Spain made any press mention of Equatorial Guinea, her former colony, a violation of her own official secrets act.
More Breaking News: Obiang dissolves government
Feb 3, 2018 – AFP: “Equatorial Guinea’s president Teodoro Obiang Nguema has dissolved his government, including the powers of the prime minister and his three deputies, according to a decree read out on state television on Saturday.”
(He had already fired four top government members, including his grandson, whom he suspects of being coup plotters.)
The AFP story further quotes Obiang. “‘Making use of the powers bestowed on me by the fundamental law, I put an end to the functions of the prime minister in charge of administrative coordination, of his deputy prime ministers and the rest of the members of the government… and I thank you for the services provided,’ said the decree, which was dated Friday.” citizen.co.za/news/news-africa/1805837/eguinea-politics/
Ministers reappointed 3 days later
The Independent – Feb 6, 2018 The Independent reported that Obiang reappointed on Monday the same prime minister and 3 deputy prime ministers he had fired on Friday, and that they would form a new government over the next few days.
In just now…relatives appointed
Feb 7, 2018 – Anadolu Agency out of Ankara, Turkey: “Equatorial Guinea leader shuffles cabinet post-coup bid: [Obiang] appoints relatives to key government posts.”
Examples: one of the president’s sons is the new minister of mines and hydrocarbons. His brother was named minister of presidential security. aa.com.tr/en/africa/equatorial-guinea-leader-shuffles-cabinet-post-coup-bid/1056968
130 – 200 Detained; Opposition member dies in custody
Feb 5, 2018 – News24: “Libreville – The European Union sees ‘a sharp decline’ in human rights in Equatorial Guinea where an opposition figure died in custody and over 130 people have been detained. (See my previous post with the opposition party’s statement that at least 200 of their members have been arrested, 200 they can name.)
“The restrictions on freedom and arrests, particularly those of political opponents … since the elections in November 2017 arouse grave concern,” said Catherine Ray, EU spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, in a statement.
“The death in custody of Mr Ebee Ela, a member of the opposition party Ciudadanos por la Innovacion (CI, Citizens for Innovation), confirms the sharp decline in the human rights situation,” Ray said.
“Santiago Ebee Ela, 41, who was detained on January 2, died at the police headquarters in the capital Malabo of “cruel torture”, the CI party has said.
“President Nguema said Ebee Ela was ‘sick’….
The report continues, “From the mid-1990s, Equatorial Guinea became one of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest oil producers, but about two-thirds of its 1.2 million people live below the poverty line.” news24.com/Africa/News/eu-concerned-over-rights-abuses-in-e-guinea-20180205
Sharp decline in human rights? What was that “Freedom in the World” score on E.G. quoted in my previous post?
FREEDOM STATUS: NOT FREE
7/7 Freedom Rating
7/7 Political Rights
7/7 Civil Liberties
Freedom in the World Scores: (1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)
Almost every news story I’ve cited in this and my previous post includes the following statement:
“Critics accuse [Obiang] of brutal repression of opponents as well as election fraud and corruption.”
Breaking Feb 7, 2018 – AfricaNews: “Equatorial Guinea’s clampdown on opposition worries EU”
In this new Africanews video report, the EU is worried about the political, human rights and security situation in Equatorial Guinea. The country is, after all, a member of the U.N. Security Council. africanews.com/2018/02/07/equatorial-guinea-s-clampdown-on-opposition-worries-eu/
Smallpox was only part of our family’s battle in Equatorial Guinea
When my husband was working with smallpox eradication in “the Auschwitz of Africa,” fighting the microbe became only half our family’s battle.
The recent coup attempt, retribution visited on the opposition party, death in custody – all sound too familiar.
My life there seemed like fiction–like we were in a bad play. On a stage set that masqueraded as paradise.
The current news feels like a re-run.
Equatorial Guinea’s current drama
Palm and banana trees, rainforest, volcano, black sand beaches, ocean. A tiny but oil-rich African country with billions in petro-dollars. No electricity, clean water or other basic services for average person. 40% of children not in school.
The Dictator – played by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
Prior roles: President Macias Nguema’s go-to enforcer, Governor of infamous Black Beach Prison, and more. Ousted Uncle Macias nearly 40 years ago. “Restored democracy.” Continues to win one 7-year term after another – by close to 100% of the vote.
The opposition party: one seat in the 100-member parliament.
An election. An alleged coup. Arbitrary arrests. Firings. Opposition party claims torture and death at the hands of the government. Obiang denies. Opposition rejects denial.
In the Wings: Dictator-in-Waiting
Vice President and heir apparent: President Obiang’s son, Teodoro Obiang Mangue, nickname Teodorin.
Best known role: Flamboyant international playboy.
Best known past and present toys: Gulfstream jet. Luxury yacht. Mansions in Malibu and Paris. Million dollar Michael Jackson collection, Bugatti Veyron, a fleet of the world’s rarest and most expensive cars.
Silence of fear
What about all of those January coup reports I told you about in my previous post? Was the coup for real or trumped-up as yet another excuse to silence dissenting voices?
(I write about Equatorial Guinea’s 1970 silence in my upcoming historical memoir Vaccines & Bayonets: Fighting Smallpox in Africa amid Tribalism, Terror and the Cold War.)
Excerpts from the chapter “Eerie Silence”
“May 12, 1970. After breakfast we stepped out into a mildew-tinged steamy day, the air full of mist not heavy enough to fall in drops. Ginger, Charles [our toddler and preschooler] and I set out to explore Santa Isabel [now Malabo].
Nothing was far away in this one-square-mile capital. A couple of blocks from the house I stepped into a mercantile—with a meager inventory. And no customers.
The next several shops were boarded up. Abandoned…
We came to a farmacia with its near-empty shelves. The pharmacist had run out of aspirin and Bandaids, the only two things I’d planned to buy. I tried to strike up a conversation, but he wasn’t the chatty sort. It wasn’t like he was busy with other customers. Where were all the people in this town?
Other vacant shops behind their green shutters stared out of faded green, or dingy, once-white buildings. Graceful Spanish arches, colonnades and heavy wrought iron grillwork could not mask water-stained and moldy walls.
Passing more shuttered stores we entered the grocer’s. I was anxious to see what I could or couldn’t buy in Santa Isabel.
My cheery greeting was answered with a somber nod.
We approached the tall wooden counter that stretched the length of the store. Behind it, floor-to-ceiling wooden shelves lined the wall, the wide spacing of the canned goods failing to disguise the bareness.
I had hoped to find some fresh produce. But what had the ambassador said—it’s too wet to grow vegetables? I couldn’t think of all the words I needed, so I pointed to a couple of tins of green beans, and Charles and Ginger each chose a treat. The grocer mumbled something and handed me our selections.
We passed the post office. Nothing happening there.
How silent and empty this place. Hardly a car in sight. A mere handful of scattered pedestrians.
And I suddenly realized something else—no music. It wasn’t just the absence of voices and laughter, car horns and bicycle bells. I heard no rhythms of drums and chants. No mellow tones from flute and thumb piano. Just silence….
When Mary Kingsley had visited here a hundred years ago, she said the “sleepiness infected the [one] café and took all the go out of it.” What I was beginning to sense now was nothing so benign as sleepiness.
After four blocks, the street opened onto the enchanting Plaza de la Independencia. This square fronted the deep circular bay created by a sunken volcanic crater, its collapsed north rim forming the harbor mouth. Palm-fringed hundred-foot cliffs formed its slender arms.
With the once-a-month ship not at the dock, I had a perfect view of the jewel of a bay. The Spanish Neo-Gothic cathedral with its twin towers sat on the plaza’s west side. The Presidential Palace sat on the south side, opposite the harbor.
But the people. Where were the people? Such a beautiful place. How could the plaza be empty?”
Watch for answers to the empty and silent streets when I find the right publisher for my book.
* * *
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And now, back to that close up look at smallpox. In the event of further breaking news I’ll do an additional post.