Something is far from kosher in Equatorial Guinea, but the ‘moralists’ are turning a blind eye to it
20 Jan 2015 | Tony Leon | Original Publication: Rand Daily Mail
There’s a question, coupled with a riddle, designed to shake off the back-to-work blues: Which is the richest country, per head of population, in Africa? Theoretically at least, each citizen there should be more than three times richer than the average South African.
Clue: If you have not paid much attention to it before Monday this week, you should now know the country, as its city of Mongomo, home town of its president, was the site of Bafana's defeat by Algeria in the African Cup of Nations.
Answer: Equatorial Guinea, the continent's third-largest producer of oil after Nigeria and Angola. Its population of just 650 000 people in this tiny country should enjoy a standard of living approximating that of the average citizen of Portugal, which it closely matched in terms of GDP per capita, at more than $20 000 (R232 000). South Africa's GDP per capita is just over $6 600.
The riddle: Why does 80% of Equatorial Guinea's population live in abject poverty? According to the UN, fewer than half its population has access to clean drinking water. About 15% of Equatorial Guinea's children die before reaching the age of five.
According to a recent article in the prestigious Foreign Affairs journal, it is "one of the deadliest places on the planet to be young".
The simple reason for the wealth gap was explained in the same article.
"Energy revenues, derived from pumping around 346 000 barrels per day, have flowed into the pockets of the country's elite, but virtually none has trickled down to the poor majority."
Of course, given the collapsing price of crude oil, the country's ruling elite might be soon be less rich than they are currently. But they've done pretty well since Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo seized power in 1979 in a bloody coup against his uncle.
Today he enjoys, along with his great riches, the awkward title of being "Africa's longest-serving dictator”.
That award, conferred on him last year by the left-leaning Guardian newspaper, jostles along with others awarded to the great man and his regime.
"Worst of the worst" was Freedom House's description of the state of the country's political and civil rights. Reporters Without Borders, which monitors the state of media freedom in the world, described Obiang as a "predator of press freedom'', and Transparency International places Equatorial Guinea in the top 12 of its list of the "most corrupt states in the world".
But if you think the father is bad, the son is apparently even worse.
Teodoro Jr, recently installed by his dad as the country's vice-president, is also a prodigious collector of real estate across the world. This includes a home, recently condemned as rat-infested, in Cape Town's Clifton Beach. But this pales in comparison to his Paris mansion, estimated to be worth more than R1.35-billion.
The headline-catcher for "Junior" was his pile in Malibu Beach, California. It was seized, along with a Gulfstream jet, Michael Jackson memorabilia and eight Ferraris by US Justice Department officials. In court papers, the prosecution averred that his riches were a consequence of corruption and were "inconsistent with his state salary of less than $100 000 per year". Last year, to settle the criminal indictment, Obiang forfeited some $34-million of these assets to the US government.
Needless to say, back here in the more modest (even Nkandla seems a shack by comparison) South Africa, there is no "boycott, disinvest and sanction" campaign against Equatorial Guinea and its ruling family. Standard Bank, the sole African sponsor of the CAF — which is highlighting this benighted country — is not having any of its branches picketed or boycotted.
No, we reserve our ire and concern for human rights for one country, and just one chain store that stocks its products: Israel and Woolworths.
Strangely enough, Obiang and his dictatorship was once described by George W Bush's Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice as "our good friend". Hardly surprising since, pre-fracking at least, most of that country's oil exports went to the US. But Bush had a more arresting phrase as the educational-reforming governor of Texas, before he became president. He said that accepting poor results in black and Latino schools was the consequence of "the soft bigotry of low expectations".
With all the current swirl and tweeting around racism, real and imagined here, one can only assume that holding Israel, for example, to the highest standard of human rights behaviour and expecting nothing of the sort in, say, Equatorial Guinea is the current and local equivalent of the soft, or loud, bigotry of low expectations. The local BDS crowd expect every human rights box to be ticked by Israel, and hold no mirror up at all to a slew of states far closer to us.
On the Woolworths issue, matters become even more interesting. It was with a sense of macabre fascination that last year we watched Cosas, going one better than the usual suspects in the anti-Israel brigades, deposit pigs' heads in the Sea Point branch of Woolworths. The basis for this act was to discomfort local Jewish shoppers using the kosher section of the store. The stand-out problem here was that there is no specific kosher section in the shop.
Yet just across the road, a gleaming new Checkers store has an aisle of kosher and Israeli products. But Checkers has been untouched by the boycott or any pigs' heads.
That's another riddle in a maze of inconsistencies in this selective targeting. Is Israel the only country worthy of protest action? And is it the fact that the chairman of Woolworths is Jewish, or is it that it is seen to be the place where the elite shop that makes it alone the target? As they say in the classics: "I think we should be told."