Report by Kopesese (Edmundo) Sepa Bonaba
Translated by Eria TV
In Equatorial Guinea, there is a habit of parking and not addressing the major issues related to the political situation of the country of public debate, that is, of the official institutions, however lacerating, scandalous and insulting they may be, the tendency is to obviate or omit them, to avoid, it is often said, “problems”. So that in the end, and due to its impact on the population, its treatment usually ends up being reduced to domestic or semi-public spaces, such as bars, the family environment and other similar spaces. But always with a small mouth, although more and more, voices of denunciation and protest against the injustices and inequalities that have metastasized in the country, can be heard.
One of these issues is the dominant clan’s almost exclusive monopoly of the reins of power and administration in the country, from which it derives a systematic policy of exclusion, marginalisation and invisibilisation of the Indigenous population groups. The Äbóbë case is the most paradigmatic, whose absence and exclusion have been reduced to a purely symbolic or testimonial role.
In this case, We are talking about a scandalous and insulting exclusion and marginalisation, which is not, by far, the result of improvisation, but of a calculated and continuous process that began its first president of the country, in the early seventies of the last twentieth century, as we will see later and that it is already affecting, in the same way, the rest of the indigenous ethnicities, that is, Ämbos, Bisios, Corisquenos, Ndowes, to name a few, and, as far as we understand it, other subgroups of the fang ethnic group, a fact that has served to sow widespread discontent. But we are going to focus this article on the case of the Äbóbës.
Kopesese (Edmundo) Sepa Bonaba. Sociologist, independent researcher, and author of the book España en la Isla de Fernando Póo, 1843 – 1968, among other works. Expert on immigration and international cooperation.
And why only the Äbóbë people?
I could say this for two reasons: one, because it is not logical for the action of the state government to be centralised, practically in its entirety, in its territory, the Äbóbës are completely excluded from the organs of power, as if instead of being part of that state, it were a colony under foreign occupation.
The second is because it is a situation that has consolidated itself as the backbone and raison d’être of the Republic in question and has turned a deaf ear to the protests of the Äbóbës, under the pretext that we are a minority in the country.
So, how did this situation achieve and consolidate itself? This is what we shall discuss next.
First of all, we would like to underline that the concept of “minority” introduced by the Spaniards as a pretext to empower a certain group to the detriment of the rest of those who make up the current Republic of Equatorial Guinea, during colonisation, and which Guineans have so assimilated and ingrained in their language when talking about their demography is not objective. It does not take into account the geographical configuration of the country, among other reasons, because nobody is a minority in their land.
Before colonisation, Ämbos, Bisïos, Äbóbë, Bujebas, Ndowés, Bayeles, etc., each lived in their territory and, not having been subjected to any foreign domination, they enjoyed their status as free peoples. The neologism “minority” did not exist, as none of them needed to use it to subjugate any other. But, with colonisation and the coloniser’s need to subjugate the peoples he invaded, it necessitated the employment of an occupation force, thus increasing demand for people who would enforce the occupation for the colonisers. The population movement on the island of Bioko, which facilitated its demographic disruption, resulted in a continuing influx of people from other lands, whose naturalisation and growth allowed for the coining of the unfortunate expression of ‘minority’ and ‘majority’ in the colony as a whole. When, in reality, what this was doing was just that, provoking the demographic alteration of the island of Bioko, and if possible, its native population, in order to control it more easily.
Another important nuance that should be noted is that, in general terms, the so-called new African state was born inheriting the operating structures that the coloniser created to plunder the colonies, subjugate their population and ensure their dependence after the end of the colonial period using the slogan “divide and conquer” as a doctrinal principle. A principle that, very early on, the new authorities of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea made their own. This is particularly evident in the territorial configuration of the country, which resulted in a very clear ethnic diversity and divides.
During colonisation, Spain used one of these ethnic groups, in order to consummate its domination of what was then its colony, ranging from 1900 until the proclamation of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea was formed (known today as Bioko Island, Annobón Island, Corisco Island, the two Elobeyes and the territory of Rio Muni on the African continent).
The practical translation of this fact was the choosing of a particular group to which, consciously or unconsciously, from very early on (back in 1907), it began to empower to roles in, first, the military and then as civil servants and then in the clergy. When, in 1963, Spain decided to turn its only colony in Africa into a single nation, under the name of the Equatorial Region, the Äbóbës were already expressing their opposition and
The Äbóbës already expressed their suspicion and disagreement with this measure to understand that it would not favour them taking into account the enormous demographic imbalance that existed with the Fangs and the strong differences that existed between both ethnic groups and the migratory avalanche that Spain had sponsored from Rio Muni to the island, a fact that was altering, with great impact, the way of life of the Äbóbës. Largely due to the empowerment that the Fangs had been granted by the Spaniards. However, Spain was to turn a deaf ear to the position of the Äbóbës, who were moving from total autonomy to the proclamation of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, in 1968, against their will.
By then, ethnic differences and discrepancies had already emerged, and as will happen in colonial times, the newborn state kept the centralisation of its activity on the island of Bioko by an, essentially occupied, Administration of more than 80% of members of the Fang ethnic group. A purely immigrated population, who had been handed political and military control over the island and the whole country, we assume, as compensation for services rendered during the period.
The prologue of the process
Between the very early failed coup attempt of 5 March 1969, only five months after the proclamation of the new state and the events of 21 January 1998, a series of events took place in Equatorial Guinea, which only served to consolidate this process of exclusion, marginalisation and the systematic invisibilisation of the Äbóbës out of the highest levels of government. This continued to the position of making them irrelevant to the progress of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, as is happening today.
Let’s take a look:
Coup d’état of 3 August 1979:
These exclusions began to be seen in a remarkable way with the coup d’état of August 3, 1979, in which one man, Eulogio Oyo Rikesa (1979), participated as the only military man of Äbóbë descent who also participated in the coup d’état. He was also part of the National Salvation Board, which was created to face the new post-Macias stage, a premonitory sign. Some may say that no one of any other ethnic group participated in this army either, and they would be right, which speaks to what we want to highlight here, the fact that the coup was monopolised by fangs, a fact to which surely due attention was not paid at that time, despite its importance. Because with it, will begin the absolute monopoly of this ethnic group in the government and control of the country, to the detriment of the rest of the ethnic groups of the country.
Another significant fact that came out of this coup was that it was to be the platform on which the military would use to seize and take over civilian power as well, which, by this time was already, by an overwhelming majority, fang dominated. The new regime placed this military as the backbone of the new system, above civilians, as well as a feudal system and protections for the territories of the fang domain. A situation that has only become more entrenched since this time.
With the positions that commanders inherited from the colonial era and the creation of new detachments on Bioko island, the new president increased the presence of members of this ethnic group in the armed forces to consolidate his control of the island, and virtually vetoed the recruitment of any Äbóbë member.
In the new situation, both new appointments to the military and to the civil administration were made by decree, and had to have the acquiescence of the supreme commander of the Armed Forces meaning that the regime had acquired the status of a civil-military regime.
From here, to the implementation of a policy based on the purest and most brazen nepotism, there was no obstacle, and so the hiring of like-minded people became the way of staffing the Public Administration. We wonder why such an unjust and harmful policy for the country was only interpreted as a consequence of the Äbóbë-Fang animosity when the background obviously runs much deeper.
This systematic exclusion, marginalisation and invisibilisation that have been present in public administration have evolved into other areas, such as student scholarships grants, wealth distribution and social presence, as well as the impoverishment and seclusion of the Äbóbës it has caused, at some levels, even more severely than during colonisation itself. To the extent that we are not surprised by the presence of nostalgia for the past, despite its sad memory. At the moment, blatant abuse of power has become the norm and, as is always the case, those in power tend to impose their norms, their values and their language, just as in colonial times. Any protest against Fang people is brutally repressed and punished, because now, in Equatorial Guinea, the Fang have replaced the white settlers to repress and humiliate the Äbóbës. Any attempt to protest is always met with the same response: the use of violence under the pretext of “separatist attitudes” that threaten and jeopardise the indissoluble unity of the homeland.
The panorama of absolute domination described above sends shivers down the spine when you consider the audacity of those who attempted the uprising of 21 January 1998, an act with little chance of success. It was undoubtedly the rebellion of dispossessed peoples playing for all or nothing.
Absorption or total extermination of the Äbóbë?
The absolute monopoly of power is evident in the composition of the present Government, the diplomatic missions abroad, within the Catholic Clergy, the private sector, and now in the creation of new Fangs villages on Bioko Island, all while preventing Äbóbë people from relocating to Rio Muni, the mainland of Equatorial Guinea, leads to the conclusion that an absorption project is being carried out. One that culminates with the extermination of the Äbóbë people. What would be the need to create new Fangs villages on the island if not? Generally, migratory movements in one direction tend to result in the diminishing numbers of people who are natives of the land, mortgaging the possibilities of the latter’s development, as they are deprived of their human resources, the most important capital of any plan or project of development of a territory or country. We wonder whether the country’s rulers have taken into account this contrast between population concentration and the loss of the original population, and its possible medium and long-term impact in both places.
There is a lot of demagogy and hooliganism in the speeches about the indissoluble unity of a country that is permeated by enormous contradictions, to the extent that its apologists are doing the most to fragment it, but Fang supremacism as an expression of its absolute rule and political doctrine cannot be the recipe for maintaining a cohesive state, as so many declarations of independence are demonstrating. Equatorial Guinea is a diverse and multi-ethnic country, and as such must be organised, governed and managed. Denial and deprivation of the right of the other cannot be the main currency of governance.
London, January 2023.