Report

EQUATORIAL GUINEA

UK POLITICAL AND CULTURAL DELEGATION  AUGUST 17-22  2011

1. The delegation was arranged by the Triarius Foundation at the invitation of the Government of Equatorial Guinea. The objective is to commence a process of improving relations and commercial links between the UK and EG, a stable, wealthy and well-governed state rising rapidly in both African and international importance.

Delegation members

-      Political

Steven Baker MP

Nadine Dorries MP

Caroline Nokes MP

-      Cultural

Giles Ramsay (Chairman, Developing Artist )

Ian Birrell       (World Music)

-      Development

Rupert Allason (former MP)

Greg Wales      (Triarius Foundation)

The group was accomodated at the Sofitel, Sipopo, near Malabo and in Bata, and flew to EG on Iberia.

General meetings were held with;

-  3rd Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Health and Human Rights, Solomon Nguema Owono

-  Minister of Labour and Social Security, Estanislao Don Malavo

-  Minister of Education, Joaquin Mbana Nchama

-  President of the National University of EG, Carlos Nze Nsuga

-  President of the Parliament, Angel Serafin-Seriche Dougan Malabo

-  Prime Minister, Ignacio Milam Tang

Other meetings were held with'

-  Vice-Minister of Agriculture, Diosdado-Sergio Osa Mongomo

-  Director-General of Culture, Rufino Ndong Esono Nchama

-  UK Honorary Consul, David Shaw

There were general visits to;

-  Malabo Regional  Hospital

-  La Paz Hospital, Sipopo

-  Luba port and Freeport

The cultural group met a range of artists and arts organisations.

The developmental group met with a range of businessmen and officials

2.  General Impressionsof EG.

Malabo and Bata airports are of good standard. The Sofitel at Sipopo is world-class, as is the Hilton in Malabo. The other Sofitel in Malabo is of high standard. The six-lane motorway from Malabo to Sipopo (approx. 12 km  is newly constructed and links the two  in a few minutes. The Sipopo development includes the very sophisticated Conference Centre, the state-of-the-art  La Paz hospital and  fifty large and luxurious  villas originally built for the African Union Heads of State summit in July 2011.

Both Malabo and Bata are well-developed and prosperous towns compared to the generality in sub-Saharan Africa. As in similar States (such as the Gulf) there is a very considerable amount of   new construction and infrastructure development, and a widespread impression of rising wealth in the general population. Unlike states with more acute internal security problems (such as Rwanda and Venezuela) there is little overt  presence of military or police. Government ministers and officials were competent, well-informed, and courteous.  Generally, the impression is of a relaxed and relatively harmonious society. Most unusually in sub-Saharan Africa, neither Malabo nor Bata have squatter camps of displaced persons on the outskirts. Malabo and Bata contain slum areas, but these are relatively smaller and less socially deprived than   in many cities in the United States.

Important  reasons for the superiority of EG's social and economic position compared to the majority of sub-Saharan African states  lie in the prolonged period of internal and external peace under the current  Government, and in the competent strategies it has employed to capitalise on the country's new oil wealth.

Compared to the remainder of sub-Saharan Africa, the population is well dressed and housed. All elements of the delegation were able to travel where they wished, and speak to whomever they chose.

3. Governance

Legislature

The Parliament of 100 MPs is elected for five-year terms, most recently in 2008.  MPs are elected on a direct franchise, by a secret ballot of all adults. Its powers are broadly similar to those of the European Parliament, and include the ability to question ministers and civil servants on the performance of their duties. The proposed new constitution now in discussion proposes an additional upper house of 70 directly-elected members, with increased powers for the legislature.

Executive

The President is elected for a term of seven years, most recently in 2009, winning 95.4% of the votes cast. The Presidency,  as in the majority of UN member states, has wide and autocratic powers. This has been criticised by some commentators, but the advantages for a state at EG's stage of development are considerable, as has also been the case in several Gulf states, Singapore, Hong Kong, Russia, the People's Republic of China and elsewhere. Particularly, it has enabled a clear and coherent  setting of developmental  priorities, a high level of fiscal responsibility, and  a focus and coherence of long-term planning to extents  not normally available to democracies. It has also assisted EG as a society to retain a cohesiveness, with common values, moralities  and objectives, to an extent that is socially and politically competent  and effective. Opposition to the government is inconsiderable and largely unorganised, although much feted among liberal ideologues in the West. The proposed new Constitution mandates a maximum of two five-year terms for each president.

Judiciary

The judiciary has been criticised (in the International Bar Association 2003 report) for a lack of independence. This remains an issue, although is of course a situation EG shares with a majority of UN member states, so is unremarkable in itself.

Civil Society

Commentators from a Western perspective have referred to a lack of civil society as they understand it. However, this often superficial and uninformed analysis fails to appreciate the strengths of traditional African societies, reinforced in the case of EG by a nearly universal adherence to Roman Catholicism . This provides a framework of behavioural norms within which both society in general and the leadership normally operate. The result is that what may appear oppressive governance  to an uninformed  Western observer may be simply the expression of generally accepted attitudes and modes of activity. Similar situations are familiar in Moslem, Hindu, Far Eastern, and other states, as they were in European states until recently.  Current Western ideology emphasises rights for individuals to behave anti-socially, stupidly or  self-destructively to an extent that more competent societies have always rejected.

Broadcast media in EG are government-controlled, as in a majority of UN member states, and there is little print media. There are practical reasons for this, as there is no widespread tradition of advertising (there is a notable lack of advertising hoardings, for example) which, together with the small population, probably means that any national media would always need to be subsidised. Equally, the small population and the highly inter-linked and inter-related nature of EG society means that there is a powerful and effective informal network for disseminating information  and discussing issues,  making formal media channels much less important than in larger and more diverse States.

Policy

The Government has utilised the new wealth from oil and gas exports to develop the country as a whole, to an extent matched by few oil-rich States.  The mainland - previously isolated - has benefitted from remarkable levels of investment in infrastructure and general construction. Transport links to neighbouring States have improved markedly. There are now, for example, two road bridges to Gabon where none existed before.  The policy of developing Bata and Malabo as joint centres of govenment has had powerful practical and symbolic effects.

The Government has faced serious external threats, and is likely to continue to do so. It has therefore made the improvement of a defence capability one of its many policy objectives, with considerable success.

The president has proved an active and effective Chair of the African Union, and has promoted an authentic African voice in world affairs at the UN.

 

4. Society

 

EG is a more cohesive society than the UK or the USA, which observers from those states, used to a dysfunctional society  lacking common values and objectives, can find difficult to grasp. The population of EG shares common attitudes and norms - derived from African traditions and their shared Roman Catholicism - to a considerable extent, which gives considerable commonality of views. Their attitude to human rights as they are understood in the UK and USA therefore differs. They place a higher priority on families; family life; the duties and obligations of family members to each other; and the preservation of families as viable social units, than is now fashionable in the West. They also share strong value-systems - they have a stronger sense of “right and wrong” than is now allowable in Western liberal ideology. As an example, although divorce is legal, it is very uncommon and not socially approved. Western views of other “rights” - such as those to express opinions  damaging to the maintenance of family life - are not generally shared in EG society, as in many other societies whose priorities differ from those of the West. Homosexuality, while not illegal, is not the ideological cause-celebre that is fashionable in much of the West, and is not seen by the majority of the population as requiring particular legal and social support.   Similarly, there is a considerable unity of views among the population as to the general modes in which the leadership should exercise power, and the areas of people's lives over which it is appropriate for it to do so.  As the current leadership operates broadly in accordance with them, there is considerable general satisfaction with the government. The Fang and Bubi tribal groups share a common  heritage of African cultural norms together with a shared Roman Catholic faith, and have a history of mutual cooperation.  There is therefore far less acute mutual antagonism between them than that between the main tribal groupings in Rwanda, Iraq, or Northern Ireland; a principal reason for the generally relaxed nature of EG society.  Most inhabitants of EG are proud of their country and its achievements, and find the negative attitudes of some parts of the West hard to understand.

EG has good, workable relations with a majority of states, including Russia, Brazil, India, Turkey and China. The cultural imperialism by which some political elements in a small group of states (particularly the USA and UK) seek to impose their own ideologies on EG is both  ineffective and discourteous, and destructive of harmonious relations.

EG's actual human rights record bears international comparison well. The prison population in August  2011  was 280, which in a population of 1.015 million is lower per capita than the UK, and greatly lower than the USA. Like a majority of states, EG retains the death penalty.  There have been 5 executions since 2000; 1 in 2001 for murder, and 4 in 2009 for an attempted coup. It should be noted that the 4 were given a public trial, which whatever shortcomings it may have had in terms of Western legal standards was superior to the extra-judicial killing of those seen as serious threats to the USA routinely carried out by the USA authorities. Allegations of torture are frequently  made against the EG government, factual evidence of which is hard to acquire or assess; but there seems no strong evidence that EG uses torture of those posing a threat to the state to the same extent as the USA and UK.

EG has seen a rapid rise in the advancement of women in political, official and business

positions, in which area  it is one of the most advanced African States.

The ICRC, at the invitation of the government, now has an office in EG, and will in future be able to report on the  operation of EG society factually and reliably.

Recommendation; the US and UK governments adopt a mature attitude to EG, as a friendly and competently-governed State with whom they share a wide range of objectives and policies.

 

5. Human Rights

Freedom of speech.

EG has been criticised on this, although most widely at the trivial level of the self-interested, unrepresentative, and unaccountable pressure groups whose business models require them to generate  indignation and concern among those from whom they rely for funding. Their analyses normally lack  rigour, objectivity, and  solid grounding in fact.

Absolute freedom of speech exists nowhere.  In the UK and USA freedom of speech is prohibited in many areas to do with sex, gender, race, ethnicity, religion and individual competence, despite the need of any society wishing to operate effectively  for open and  informed  discussion of these topics.  Far freer discussion of them is allowable in EG.  EG, on the other hand, as in a majority of UN member States, tends to discourage criticism of government and the existing social structure, although this is in a context of the general views and attitudes of a coherent society with common attitudes and  values.  In general, overall  levels of freedom of speech in EG are comparable to those in a US university, although applied in a different pattern.

Democracy

EG is sometimes described as failing to follow Western liberal democratic ideology.  There are, however, regular elections for the presidency and the parliament and. as above, a powerful and effective level of local governance based on established traditions and norms. Where formal democracy in a Western sense is limited, it is important to distinguish between autocratic rulers who operate within the general value-systems of their society and seek to act for the general national benefit; and those who act to self-selected objectives, and disregard the needs of the nation in general. EG is clearly in the first group, of which other examples are Singapore, several Gulf states and Russia, and as was the England of Elizabeth 1st or William Pitt. Examples of the latter are the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, and the regimes of Saddam, Gaddaffi, and Castro.

The political and commercial elite in EG are very wealthy, and there is a marked disparity  of wealth between the elite and the remainder of the population. This is permanently the case in all states, so does not require comment.

The Western concept of democracy is currently increasingly challenged, and it is important that countries such as EG are supported in their own quest for a system of governance which  preserves their existing strengths as societies, while avoiding the many pitfalls associated with Western systems.  The UK and the other member states of the EU are currently engaged in a similar quest, and have chosen  to forgo  democracy at the highest and most pervasive level of governance ( that provided by the EU, an autocratic oligarchy ) in search of greater competence than was provided by  previous national democracies. Adherence to liberal democratic ideals for its own governance has not been seen by the UK as an important policy objective, so it is unreasonable for it to make such demands on others.

Recommendation; Mutual tolerance between EG and the UK in their search for workable systems of governance in the face of serious problems and pressures.

Personal freedoms

Coherent societies with strong common value-systems, such as EG, take a different view of personal freedoms than is currently fashionable in the West. The inhabitants of EG, as with  those of a majority of states,  prioritise rights to operate their family and working lives as they wish, within a common value-system of a generally  accepted range of available choices.  This contrasts with the Western ideological position that choices in these areas should be completely unconstrained, however anti-social or self-destructive they may be. This has contributed to the social breakdown of many Western societies, and does not provide a competent role model. Rights to personal property in EG are of similar strength to those in the UK. Freedom of discussion (as above) in EG is similar  to that in the UK overall, although differing in specific areas.

6.  Economy

The discovery and exploitation of oil has transformed a previously deeply impoverished society.  The government has adopted strategies similar to those employed in states with similar experiences. The acute skill shortages in the idoneous population has been addressed by the rapid development of the National University ( which has received support from a range of universities in the USA, Russia, Spain and China ) by expansion of the school system, and by the development of industry training schemes with employers such as Lonrho. The rate of expansion is such, however (there are currently some 1,300 major construction projects, the supervision of which requires far more skilled manpower than is available locally) that there is a continuing shortfall of expertise, which has to be filled by foreign contractors.

Recommendation; The UK liaise with the EG government on where and how UK expertise could assist. Support for UK universities and technical training organisations to become involved in EG would be particularly useful.

EG's rapid economic growth creates several problems. Although it now has the highest rate of re-emigration of any African state, many of whom have useful skills acquired elsewhere, there is also considerable immigration from neighbouring countries. This gives problems of assimilation, and is also identified as an important source of infectious diseases. It is capable of producing political instability.

Rapidly increasing national wealth is always capable of producing social disaffection among those who feel that they have shared insufficiently in it. The EG government appears to have dealt with this effectively. Overall strategies have followed several strands simultaneously. The  development of facilities ( such as hotels, hospitals and conference centres) and infrastructure that enable foreign inward investment, and which develop income streams other than from oil and gas, have been accompanied by considerable  social, healthcare, housing and school development. The strategy of developing Malabo and Bata as parallel centres of Government has been effective in fostering national unity and cohesion. The rapid economic growth means that there is little unemployment, and so little need for policies specifically to deal with the unemployed. The government has put great emphasis on development on the mainland, avoiding the errors of some other oil-rich states where development has been narrowly confined geographically. The government has also avoided the fundamental error of Kuwait, where providing incomes to the general population on a basis where no economic activity is necessary on their part has led to an unstable and fragile society excessively dependent on imported labour and expertise.

EG has negligible external debt, and no internal Government deficit. It therefore has unusual levels of freedom of action, while having the resources to pursue a wide range of policy goals simultaneously.

EG is a member of the Central African CFA franc, which is underwritten by the French Treasury and has a fixed exchange rate to the Euro. As the strongest economy in this group, EG is a major element in the continued operational success of this currency.

 

7.  Rural Affairs, Agriculture and Fisheries

EG is fortunate in having avoided the levels of population drift from the countryside to the towns,  and the pockets of urban poverty created by it, that are a major problem in many African states. The reasons for this include the long-term stability provided by the current government - EG  has not  suffered from  civil war or the existence of organised disaffected groups controlling areas of its territory, both of which have caused social dislocation in other States. The great fertility of much of its soil has assisted the survival of rural societies. The government has identified the need to stabilise the rural population by providing acceptable levels of rural incomes as a high priority.

A key factor will be the development of local food processing capabilities, to enable the profitable export of agricultural products, and to minimise the need for the importation of food.                          The Triarius Foundation has committed to assisting this.

The development of fisheries and fish processing is an obvious avenue, for which the EG

government has detailed plans. A fish trading centre was opened in Bata in August 2011.  An essential element of this is that the government now posseses a competent naval capability, able to enforce fishery protection zones.

Recommendation; the UK government liaise with the government of EG on the use of UK expertise and experience in both areas.

 

8. Defence and security

EG was until recently vulnerable to external aggression. The acquisition of good-quality military equipment from a range of countries, together with the large and effective training programme operated for several years by MPRI (supported by the US State Department) have transformed this situation, as well as enabling competent fishery protection ( as above ). The corvettes and gunboats acquired from Brazil, South Korea and the PRC are in the process of creating a competent naval capability. The policies of the EG government towards narcotics and terrorism have been widely praised by the US Drug Enforcement Administration  and the Central Intelligence Agency.

9.  Healthcare

The extent and quality of healthcare is rising rapidly from a low base. There are twenty general hospitals and clinics in EG, whose standards are mostly at levels similar to much of sub-Saharan Africa. A programme to construct 4 high-quality hospitals is midway to completion. One in Bata has been operating for two years. La Paz in Sipopo opened in July 2011, and is still working up. Facilities there are world-class. The other two will be operational within three years. This will provide one high-class hospital per approximately 250,000 population.

The programme to deal with bilharzia, and that sponsored by Marathon to combat malaria, have been very successful by international standards, as has the programme to improve maternity and mother and baby healthcare. The World Health Organisation reported in September 2011 that EG is one of only seven out of 53 African countries that are on track to achieve Millenium Development goals in this area.

 

Recommendation; The UK asssit this by supporting the deployment of the Royal College of Obstetricians training programme to EG, and by assisting with the training of medical staff.

 

10. Culture and Sport

As Africa's only Spanish-speaking state, EG is felt by many of its arts practitioners to be somewhat isolated  from other African cultural activity. Sporting links, and the profile of EG football, will be greatly advanced by the African Cup of Nations tournament to be held jointly with Gabon in January 2012. Developing Artists is already in discussion on the development of  theatrical and artistic links with other African States, and with the UK.

 

Recommendation; The UK Arts Council support these developments and others arising from them.

 

11. UK collaboration with EG.

The UK has so far largely failed to take advantage of the remarkable commercial opportunities offered in EG, or to assist its development with expertise and technology. Other EU states, such as France and Germany, have achieved far more.

Recommendation; The UK develop political, social and commercial ties with EG as a matter of urgency. Key to this is the establishment of UK consular facilities in Malabo with visa-granting capabilities.

 

12. The Future

A range of links and activities has already emerged from the visit.

Discussions are ongoing with the Director-General of Culture on a programme of theatre and music workshops, exchanges and performances. Discussions are also taking place with the Ministry of Agriculture and with the university, as well as with the Ministry of Health. Commercial links are being planned, and can be expected to develop rapidly. A greater degree of political engagement is urgently desirable, and it is expected that the recent visit has laid the groundwork for that.

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