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Who Will Believe My Report About Equatorial Guinea?

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By Idang Alibi

Fed on a diet of monotonous negative Western media reports, the overwhelming mental image anyone in Nigeria or anywhere else in the world has about Equatorial Guinea is that it is a small, isolated, dirt poor country tucked somewhere away in one sleepy corner of the Atlantic Ocean and ruled by a most vicious dictatorship. That, it is one better to be forgotten country that is of no consequence to anyone and that it cannot therefore possibly be a good example in any way to say a big, rich, well known, self proclaimed giant of Africa like Nigeria. It was that image I carried to Equatorial Guinea when I was privileged to cover the 7th Summit of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Heads of State and Government which took place in Malabo from December 10-14 last year. Imagine, therefore, my shock and the shock of hundreds of delegates and media men who were also in that country for that event who beheld a country that did not fit the mental picture they had had of it prior to their eventual physical encounter with the place. Everyone was pleasantly surprised by what they saw of efforts at development.

There is a common African saying that a child who has not visited other people’s farms will think that his father’s farm is the biggest in the world. My encounter with Malabo, Equatorial Guinea is a validation of that saying. Many of us Nigerians have grown to think our country is the most developed in sub-Sahara Africa and as a result we tend to be resting on our oars. From what I saw in Equatorial Guinea, my message to my countrymen is that we should begin to learn to be more humble and above all, to be more committed to the task of development or else risk becoming a comatose giant. We should begin to be more careful in wearing the tag of giant of Africa which we have conferred on ourselves or else there may emerge some small David who will wrestle with us and take away that accolade. Equatorial Guinea may be that David who will kill the giant Goliath.

From what I saw from its capital city Malabo, and what I heard is taking place in other cities of the country like Bata, Equatorial Guinea is a country on the move. The people seem determined to build a new country for themselves free from the image others have been fed of it. Moves are on to build a brand new capital out of Malabo and tear down the old Malabo, re-plan and rebuild the congested place. An infrastructural revolution seems to have been declared. Six lane roads and overhead bridges have come on. New layouts are being opened up. Large swathes of virgin forest are being cleared to make way for new roads, new streets and new residential and industrial and commercial areas. Our remarkable thing about what is happening in Malabo is that their structures– be there roads, culverts, houses or bridges– are made to last. From mere look, you can see that they are solidly built and with an eye for exquisite beauty.

The set of a mass housing project for the poor I saw in Malabo can sit comfortably on our exclusive neighbourhood of Maitama Extension in Abuja and our big men and women will be scrambling for them for themselves. It is not the kind of ramshackle things indifferent contractors build here for low income earners as if poor people are not deserving of well built structures. The international conference centre in Sipopo where the ACP event held is said to be an improved replica of the conference centre in Qatar. There is no building anywhere here in Nigeria that can compare to it in massiveness, solidity and sheer elegance. It exudes the emerging power that is Equatorial Guinea.

Malabo is enjoying a construction boom; it has become one giant construction yard with Chinese, European and other nations firms holding sway. I saw the signage of Arab Contractors on some projects. Sadly, there is no presence of a single Nigerian indigenous contractor participating in the development of a sister, next door country. By the way, what is our country’s policy towards Equatorial Guinea which though is not within our political and economic bloc but is near enough and important enough for us to take into account in view of its new found oil and gas wealth?

Any Nigerian who visits Malabo will no doubt come away with the conclusion that while the strong and privileged are busy stealing our common patrimony for themselves and while all of us are busy making noise, other serious-minded countries are quietly making progress. If we do not wake up now and begin the serious business of nation-building we may emerge from our slumber one day and discover that others have left us several light years behind in the quest for development.

Let no one get me wrong. Equatorial Guinea is not now a land flowing with milk and honey. It has not become an El Dorado yet. But anyone who is perceptive enough can easily see that it is a country on the right trajectory. It is a country on the move.

You can see evidence of vision, evidence of a deliberate plan to move from where they are now to somewhere better tomorrow. I heard that the dream of President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and the people of Equatorial Guinea is to make Equatorial Guinea become the Dubai of Africa.

And this does not appear to be an empty dream. As I have tried to point out, they are actually taking concrete actions towards the realisation of their vision for their country. To free the country from its isolation and get it integrated into the world economy, Equatorial Guinea, the only Spanish-speaking country in the whole of Africa, decided to join the French Africa monetary union. The country also adopted French as a second official language so that its citizens cannot be cut off from much of the world.

Malabo is becoming a centre of international diplomacy and chief host of many popular sporting events. Surely, these things are not mere happenstances. They betray a deliberate decision on the part of the leadership and followership of that country to move on rapidly and join the comity of developed nations.

Mbasogo is trying to prove to the world that dictatorship and development are not mutually antagonistic. He may not be your typical Western style democrat and therefore Western supported African leader but he is nevertheless providing the kind of leadership conducive to development.

As I grow older and become more experienced about the realities of the world, there are certain assumptions that have been rammed down the throats of certain powerless persons in the world by the dominant people of the world that are being shattered in our my very eyes.

My visit to Plateau State in October last year under the auspices of the National Good Governance Tour opened my eyes to the reality that while peace is certainly desirable for human progress and happiness, its absence is not necessarily a condition for lack of progress or development for a people who are determined to change their circumstance for good. For in spite of the gory tales of violence and instability in Plateau, remarkable progress has been made under the obviously able leadership of Governor Jonah Jang.

Far more developmental goals have been reached in the Plateau than in many other states in the country where there is relative peace.

The second myth or assumption that I have seen shattered in my face is my encounter with Equatorial Guinea which has shown me that although no other system may be superior to democracy, the absence of Western style democracy in a country may not necessarily mean a lack of development. Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has shown that a good dictatorial regime may even develop a country faster than whatever our African cast of noisy and unfocused democrats can ever accomplish.

In fact, before Mbasogo, the non-democratic iron -fisted leaders of the Asian Tigers countries of South Korea (General Park Chung-hee), Singapore (Lee Kuan Yew and Indonesia (General Surkano) have proven that what a country needs to develop is a set of clear-headed and clear-visioned leaders who love their country and are ready to provide leadership for the people to follow. If you read this to mean an endorsement of autocracy, you are on your own because that is not what I am saying.

I am merely moved by the giant strides being made in Equatorial Guinea and I am happy for the people of that country but I am very worried about the lack of corresponding progress being made by my own country given our comparative advantages. We must wake up, now. The conclusion of my tale is that for those who have been brainwashed by relentless Western media propaganda, the only thing coming out of Equatorial Guinea is not brutal dictatorship.

Rather, so many promising good things are happening in Equatorial Guinea that should dwarf whatever negative that is taking place there.

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