THE BLOG

Equatorial Guinea: Where Is the Outrage?

25/11/2014 10:08 GMT | Updated 24/01/2015 10:59 GMT

For those who hold an interest in International football and in particular the African Cup of Nations, crisis was averted as it was revealed Equatorial Guinea was stepping in to host the competition. The announcement came on the 14th November after the debacle of Morocco refusing to host the competition over growing concerns over the potential spread of Ebola.

The Confederation of African Football post announcement, decreed "to agree to organize a competition like this 2 months before the event, you must admit you really have to be a true African". The 'true' African the confederation were referring too was none other than President Obiang, leader of Equatorial Guinea and longest serving non-regal head of state in the world.

President Obiang's has presided over Equatorial Guinea since 1979, where he ousted his uncle in a military coup. In many ways Equatorial Guinea and president Obiang are a representation of 'true Africa', a strict authoritarian regime with one of the worst human rights records. However the muted response from the western world at the announcement of the new hosts is the truest indictment of how we view Africa. We are constantly subjected to a barrage of moral indignation and condemnation at the fact Russia with its draconian anti-homosexuality laws is hosting the World Cup in 2018. Also Qatar 4 years later in 2022 hosting the same tournament has serious human rights issues, with over 1000 workers who have already lost their lives preparing for the World Cup in conditions compared to slavery.

In my opinion moral indignation shouldn't be reserved for sporting events solely participated in by western countries. A cynic may then come to the conclusion that voicing outrage at a particular host country is done with the intended consequence of not wishing to be seen legitmising that countries modus operandi, rather than an aim to genuinely enact change.

Equatorial Guinea has long been a subject of fixation for myself and I harbour ambitions of creating a documentary there one day. Although like many countries in Africa in many respects, Equatorial Guinea is also unique. The one and only African colony Spain ever had dominion over and although a tiny speck of a country with a population of 650,000, it is the largest oil producer in the sub-Sahara.

Equatorial Guinea could be considered a microcosm for some of the most pressing issues in the world today. A country so rich in oil it is labeled 'the new Kuwait' and registered as having the 69th highest GDP in the world. Despite this affluence coupled with a miniscule population, 50% of it's populace has no access to clean water, 20% die before the age of 5 and it's president has a personal wealth estimated by Forbes to be in the region of $600 million.

Another possible reason for an omission of criticism aimed towards Equatorial Guinea could be down to willful ignorance. It has been reported that President Obiang deposited more than half a billion dollars in the Washington USA based Riggs bank. The now defunct bank even had a luncheon in President Obiang's honour, and with a country that rich in oil you could see the willingness to avoid the use of rhetoric portraying it to be a pariah state. Former assistance secretary of state for Africa Walter H. Konsteiner remarked "African oil is of national strategic interest" and upon a visit to America in 2006 Condoleezza Rice who purportedly stated him to be a 'good friend' greeted President Obiang.

It has also been reported that since 2004, the Equatorial Guinea government has employed the American PR Company Cassidy and Associates at a princely fee of $120,000 per month to maintain both a positive relationship with America and image worldwide. You can understand why there would be a vested interest in avoiding a negative narrative when it comes to Equatorial Guinea, and perhaps the best way to achieve as such is to rarely mention it.

After all it is a speck of a country, often confused with Guinea, Guinea-Bissau or even Papa New Guinea. However I believe if we are willing to be hypocrites when it comes to international sporting competitions, we should at least be informed ones.