Equatorial Guinea: Few, but Strong Virtual Voices

When the called “Arab revolts” exploded, some wondered if the same was possible in Sub-Saharan Africa. These winds of freedom spread along the demonstrations and through one fundamental tool: the Internet. Blogs and twitter accounts were used not only to pass information or call upon people to struggle for rights, but also as platforms to share thoughts and demands of freedom.

Egypt has about 200,000 blogs and 5 million Facebook users. This is very different from Equatorial Guinea, where only 2% of the population has access to the Internet, and there are about 11,000 Facebook users and two blogs. Two known blogs.

Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel (Malabo [es]) and Eyi Nguema (Opinión desde Guinea Ecuatorial [es]) are the only bloggers writing in Equatorial Guinea. But their blogs are hosted in Spain, the first one on the digital magazine Frontera D [es] and the second in the newspaper El País [es].

Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel. Photo courtesy of Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel.

The comparison with the Egyptian situation on this subject isn’t haphazard. On February 11, 2011, while hundreds of people were at the Tahrir Square and Hosni Mubarak announced his withdrawal, the president of the Spanish Congress of Deputies, José Bono, was visiting Equatorial Guinea, making famous the sentence “it is much more that unites us than what separates us.” And he wasn’t talking about the Equatoguinean people, but the dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema, in power since 1979.

On the same February 11, Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel started a hunger strike, to protest against the “dictatorship that eats our souls” and against the Spanish support of Obiang. In his last post [es] before the hunger strike, Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel wrote about the dictator Obiang and his presidency of the African Union. He criticized building roads and houses for institutional events, while the Equatoguineans have to confront the lack of basic social infrastructure and the destruction of their homes when they are in “strategic” places:

En Malabo, y en las inmediaciones del poblado de Baney, pero cerca de la costa, han arrasado un terreno muy grande para construir los hoteles, los establecimientos de lujo y las residencias particulares de los presidentes africanos para cuando se reunirán para celebrar la cumbre anual este año.

In Malabo, in the vicinity of Baney village, near the shore, they have destroyed a lot of land to build the hotels, the luxury establishments and the private residencies of the African presidents during the annual summit this year.

In his blog Opinión desde Guinea Ecuatorial [es], Eyi Nguema also highlights the lack of governmental social and economical policies for the population: how to live without electricity, how to manage the need of water, how to make Equatorial Guinea a country with a place within the global networks. And how to make a country for the nationals and not for foreign interests or the political elite related to the clan Nguema.

aquí los guineoecuatorianos no controlamos nada de eso; por lo que huelga meter el dedo en la llaga y exhortarnos a trabajar con la idea de que hemos de luchar por nuestra independencia

here the Equatoguineans don’t manage anything; that’s why we need to put the finger in the wound and exhort to work the idea that we need to fight for our independence

Along with their constant struggle for political autonomy, the quest for the right to build their own houses is an everyday issue in Equatorial Guinea. In his most recent post [es], Eyi Nguema writes about the houses in his country:

En efecto, lo que sucede es que, para no vivir en la intemperie, se compra cuatro tablas y cuatro pies derechos de madera (o bloques de mortero de cemento y arena), más chapas de hojalata y se levanta un cobertizo; a un lado se excava el pozo para el agua que se va beber y a otro, el que albergará las aguas residuales (fecales incluidas) y listo. Aquí cuando se habla de viviendas, en un 80% o más, se habla de construcciones de este tipo.

As a matter of fact, if you don’t want to live in the open, you buy four planks and four feet of wood (or blocks of cement and sand), tinplates and you build a shed; on one side, you dig the potable water well, on the other, the residual waters (including the fecal ones) well. And that’s it! Here, when we talk about houses, 80% or more of the time we are talking about these kinds of constructions.

These bloggers don’t hide the fact that Equatorial Guinea is a rich country. There is plenty of oil, wood and water. But most of the population lives in misery, with high rates of infant mortality and a paralysis in agriculture. Human rights violations, such as political persecution and summary executions, are rampant, as confirmed in the most recent Human Rights Report of the country.

Blogger Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel’s also writes about these issues. But in his case, cyberactivism is a true commitment with the polis. This blogger and famous writer often says he has a free mind and no intentions of entering formal politics. But when he saw himself forced to leave Equatorial Guinea after he began the hunger strike, he was already a political symbol. He describes Equatorial Guinea as a “republican kingdom” or a “non republic,” and with this in mind he wrote about nepotism and the confiscation of the state by Obiang while he was in his country. Now he lives in Barcelona and writes about the perils of the apathy of the national and the international communities, and the absence of action because of fear. He argues that one of the arguments is [es]:

Aquí estamos bien. Es África. Hay países peores que este. ¿No has oído la radio?

Here we are ok. This is Africa. There are countries worse than this. Didn’t you listen to the radio?

The national radio  suffers severe political censorship. People who listen to the Radio-Télévision Nationale de Guinée Équatoriale don’t know what has happened in Tunisia, in Egypt or Libya. In a country without newspapers, they can only depend on mouth to mouth spreading of news. Or those who have access to the Internet can read the Asodegue [es] page, the only website with other information about Equatorial Guinea.

Under these extreme circumstances, the blogs of Eyi Nguema and Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel offer two of the very few possibilities to build a virtual space for free expression. This is Africa, says Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel.

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