Equatorial Guinea is a small country that was a Spanish colony until it was granted independence under the presidency of Macias Nguema in 1968. Power unsettled his mind and Macias Nguema soon became a bloodthirsty despot on par with Uganda's Idi Amin Dada and Bokasa in the Central African Republic. Thousands of his subjects were tortured and killed. All schools were closed in 1975 and churches in 1978. The economy came to a standstill and those who could fled the country.
Finally, he was overthrown in 1979 by his nephew Obiang Nguema Mbasogo who asked the international community for help to rebuild the country. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank provided loans and the United Nations sent a multidisciplinary team of experts covering all aspects of the socio economic organisation of the country.
In March 1980, the United Nations gave me the mandate to examine the existing documentation on the country's petroleum potential and to advise the new government on the best strategy to adopt for its development. I recommended the avoidance of too close ties with only one oil company and the hiring of more than one independent consulting firms to oversee the country's interests.
Some progress has been made since those dark days but not much. Trade with neighbouring countries has picked up and tourism has begun. Elections were held in 1993 and 1997 but power remained firmly in the hands of Obiang Nguema who was re-elected again in 2002. Oil was discovered offshore by Mobil in 1997 but considering the high level of corruption, it is unlikely that the oil revenues will raise the standard of living of the population.
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This is the island of Bioko. Airline timetables made getting here complicated in 1980. After UN briefings in New York I flew to London, Tripoli, N'djamena and Lagos before taking this picture. It is much easier now that there is oil and tourism! A weekly direct flight connects Malabo to Madrid.
And here is Malabo, the small town from where Macias Nguema reigned supreme and terrorised his subjects only a few months before.
Malabo did not have enough accommodations for all the experts that arrived here to help so the UN chartered this ship to house them. It was an excellent arrangement for it allowed a lot of cross-fertilisation between experts of different disciplines. Naturally it was also a hotbed of rumours...
A view from the ship towards the building on top of the hill where Nguema had his offices.
Malabo was deserted and run down in 1980 but it is said to be beautiful now that the Spanish colonial buildings have been restored.
Another deserted street with a white UN vehicle.
The new Guinean government staff was helpful and well intentioned but untrained. Not all were new so we could not avoid wondering what role each had played during the previous bloody regime.
Malabo's modern and clean market was much too large for the number of buyers and sellers.
Some of us went for a tour around the island to enjoy its exuberant untamed vegetation. The gentleman in the white cap was our highly experienced and competent team leader.
Below, a couple of examples of the powerful ceiba trees.
My short mandate here had been a most rewarding experience. I learned a lot about the noble and darker aspects of human nature and had the pleasant illusion that my contribution to the UN team could make a difference for this small country.
Getting back was easier via Douala and Paris.
I found these two old photos of Cameroon so here they are. This one shows the Cameroon Airlines twin otter landing in Douala.
I had to wait in Douala for the next flight to Paris so I enjoyed the comfort of a luxury hotel with swimming pool and topless sun goddesses.
What a good life I had!