Though Latin America’s African roots are not exactly a secret, it’s not as commonly known that Africa is home to a country that counts Spanish as one of its official languages. This week, Latino Media Collective explored why Equatorial Guinea is “virtually non-existent in the consciousness of Latinos in the western hemisphere.”
The country has a modest population of about 1.2 million, made up of different Bantu peoples along with descendants of migrants from neighboring countries, who were originally brought by the Spanish to work in the cocoa and timber industries. After 200 years of Iberian colonization, they officially broke free in 1968. But a majority of the population still speaks Spanish.
In an hour-long Latino Rebels podcast, Latino Media Collective spoke to Tutu Alicante, the executive director of EG Justice, to learn a little bit about the history of this oft-ignored country. Here are five things you should know about EG:
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo is Africa's longest serving leader.
In 1979, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo seized power from his uncle, President Francisco Macias Ngeuma, who banned the Catholic Church and all Spanish nationals. While Teodoro relaxed some of the former president’s rules, he continued to have total control, according to the BBC. He’s Africa’s longest-serving president.
In 2012, Forbes published a list of the five worst heads of state based on user’s feedback and Obiang ended up topping that list. “Equatorial Guinea is one of the continent’s largest producers of oil and has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into prosperity for its people,” Forbes reported.
The president's son has an extensive Michael Jackson memorabilia collection.
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo’s son, Teodorin, is the country’s second vice president, and he’s known for his expensive tastes, including a Malibu mansion, a Gulfstream jet, and a car collection. But among all his expensive items, his Michael Jackson memorabilia collection seems to hold the place closest to his heart. According to CNBC, the U.S. government accused the Pepperdine grad of using America’s financial system to launder millions of dollars.
In 2014, he gave up his Malibu mansion and 2011 Ferrari in a settlement with U.S. authorities. His $2 million MJ memorabilia, however, remained untouched. Teodorin is set to become EG’s next president.
Equatorial Guinea has really good golf courses.
Because EG is one of the highest oil producing nations in Africa, the country has a high gross domestic product per capita. But Tutu Alicante explains this money is in the hands of only a small elite, aka the president and his family, which is why the country also has a low human development index.
“Where does that money go?” Alicante asked. “The money that is produced in that country thanks to oil, where does it go? … There are at least two or three golf courses in Equatorial Guinea; they are the best in Africa – in a country where people do not play golf.”
Sipopo is a luxury resort built for a week-long African Union summit, according to The Guardian. The multimillion-dollar resort features 52 presidential villas, an artificial beach, and the country’s first 18-hole golf course.
Spanish is one of three official languages.
EG has three official languages: Spanish, French, and Portuguese. But according to Alicante, French and Portuguese aren’t taught in schools; therefore, these aren’t languages that the majority of the population speak fluently. French became an official language in 1997, and Portuguese followed in 2011, according to PR Newswire.
President Obiang is not a fan of Tutu.
Since age 19, EG-born Tutu has lived in exile, and Obiang is truly not a fan. “A couple of months ago, President Obiang in his national speech, his national address to the nation, called me a national traitor who instead of going back to the country is out there badmouthing all the good work that he’s doing,” he said.
And though Equatorial Guinea isn’t on the radar of the majority of Latinos and Latin Americans, Tutu is traveling through Iberoamérica to talk about his native country and the importance of solidarity. He’s already visited Guatemala. “In particular when we have such strong cultural lassos, cultural ties that binds us together, it’s important that people in Guatemala find out what’s happening there.” This year, he’ll also visit Colombia and Argentina.