Spain and Equatorial Guinea: development cooperation as fraud


Development cooperation between Spain and Equatorial Guinea is an exercise in political rhetoric, fine for soothing the consciences of sensitive citizens and useful to dissemble the policies of both countries’ governments. The citizenry think they are “helping” the poor while politicians cover up the way cooperation is useless for the African country’s development but good for increasing the scandalous wealth of the Obiang clan and to contribute to Spanish political and business expansion.

Some people think international development cooperation and official development aid are matters relating to current foreign policy. The truth is that some policy elements are new and others are not.  In the pre-democratic years, the governing class argued that Spain had been generous during its colonial era and that the proof of this was the spread of Catholicism and civilization as well as miscegenation. However, that generosity was not enough to produce doctors and engineers or to leave a political and social infrastructure in Western Sahara and Equatorial Guinea. So when independence came, frustrated in the Saharawi case, development cooperation was obligatory for Equatorial Guinea.

The same thing happened with the other colonial centres, England, France, Portugal. They left nations independent politically but not culturally and politically. Colonialism turned into neo-colonialism. The powerful could no longer directly exploit the weak  as before, but they worked out new systems : conditioned loans, unfavourable trade deals (like the Lomé Convention of 1975), exorbitant charges for services, the fiscal policies of the IMF, World Bank projects and so on.

From independence in 1968 until approximately 1995 ( when the oil exploration years began), Spain worked on development with Equatorial Guinea  in the fields of politics, economics, the armed forces, education etc. Ironically, one of the first agreements signed in 1979 was the Protocol on Cooperation on Hydrocarbon Matters.
 
It is surely surprising that cooperation between the tenth world power and its former colony of just 28,000 square kilometres, 400,000 inhabitants and abundant natural resources has not managed to pull the colony from among the lowest places in the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index in its first 30 years of independence. It is more surprising still when one considers the development cooperation from the United States, France, China and other countries, without counting the international bodies and agencies : the United Nations, The World Health Programme, UNESCO, UNICEF and the European Economic Community.

Starting in the last years of the previous century and especially in the first years of the 21st Century, Equatorial Guinea experienced unparalleled rapid growth. The reason for this was its gas and oil : 81,000 barrels a day in 1998, 300,000 a day in 2004 and 420,000 barrels a day in 2005.

This has led the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to grow 18% in 2000, 66% in 2001, 20% in 2002, 10% in 2003 and 25% in 2004. Per capita income has gone from some US$600 in 1998 to US$2000 in 2000 and to US$5300 in 2005. (Bureau of African Affairs, 2007: www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/7221.htm).

The oil sector makes up 97% of the country’s exports and 92% of its GDP, but in addition there are timber, cacao, minerals, fisheries, agricultural produce and tourist potential. Once again it is surprising, surely, that a country able to produce a barrel of oil per person per day, one that counts with other resources and is a trade partner of the richest countries in the world, the most noteworthy being Canada, the United Kingdom and Norway, counts too with aid links to school students in the United States, and in Spain (the municipality of Alcorcón (in Madrid) and church schools in Monforte (in Galicia)). All these links indicate what is commonly understood as development cooperation by rich-country citizens concerned for people in poor countries.

Karen Miller, former secretary of the Hatcher primary school (Kentucky, USA) moved to the capital of Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, and e-mailed her friend Jenny Jonhson about school needs in the country. The world’s fifth largest oil company, Marathon Oil, which operates in Equatorial Guinea, published Jenny’s response:

“I felt the need to help. I knew this was something God wanted me to do. I put up posters in the school. The only problem was making sure the books donated by teachers and pupils arrived. I want to thank all those who have helped with this project. First of all to God, our Father for making this happen, to the school community and especially Marathon for starting this aid project for the students of the island of Bioko.” The estimated cost to the company was some 35,000 Euros. (www.marathon.com)

Last April 13th, the municipality of Alcorcón signed a permanent cooperation agreement with the Organization of Ibero-American States. The fact that Equatorial Guinea is not exactly located in the ibero-american area does not stop the municipality saying “we are very proud as a city to join this project of a meeting between cultures. Material cooperation with Equatorial Guinea, initially of 60,000 Euros will enable the start up of a reading project on the one hand, with school libraries and on the other hand, teacher training in Spanish and local languages and in mathematics. (www.oei.es/noticias/)

In the first week of June, the church schools of Monforte organized a solidarity fair to raise funds for their colleagues in Equatorial Guinea. According to a local daily paper “the piñata, the jumble sale, dinner and dance and donations raised  7,794 Euros.” Unlike the reports above, no mention is made of the uses made of the money. (www.lavozdegalicia.es/)

Perhaps the teacher, the mayor and the religious teaching staff are unaware that the government of Equatorial Guinea with a budget of US$2 billion in 2005 could well afford to pay for some text books and school libraries.

Preoccupied with prayers, meetings and brunches, maybe they have not had the chance to get to know the reality of the country but instead have collected over 100,000 Euros. Even if that sum reaches Equatorial Guinea, which may be unlikely, that money does not even come close to the 380,000 Euros paid for a Lamborghini sports car acquired in 2005 by Teodoro Nguema (son of President Obiang and Minister of Agriculture and Forestry) according to a report in the South African Cape Times of July 20th.

It can be argued that a similar effort by 16 other solidarity groups could match the money that Nguema might have used  to benefit his people. This last alternative seems more likely to benefit the development of Equatorial Guinea except one might prefer that people not live dependent on the charity of others. 27 solidarity groups with similar fundraising ability would be needed to match Nguema’s penchant for luxury cars, since the same article reports he also spent 800,000 Euros that year buying  a Bentley Arnage and a Bentley Mulliner.

Even so, it is hard for the good will of development workers, donors, sponsors and volunteers to keep up with the pace of spending : the US Forbes magazine, specializing in listing the world’s wealthiest people, reported that on June 5th 2006 Nguema also rented the yacht of Microsft co-founder Paul Allen, fifth wealthiest man in the world, for 600,000 Euros.

Teodorín, as he is known, has a mansion and a recording studio in the United States and various properties and interests in other countries. the Global Witness organization, dedicated to uncovering corruption in countries rich in raw materials, reports that the mansion is worth US$35 million. (http://www.globalwitness.org)

Although ordinary citizens are unaware of these facts, the government knows very well, but still maintains cooperation links. With regard to State  development aid there is abundant information  from various official sources (and quasi-official, like political parties, institutes and foundations) and all are great at being aware of next to nothing and confusing almost anyone.

The State Secretariat for International Cooperation (www.aeci.es) declares : “the government….. bears collective responsibility for respecting and defending peace and human dignity and equality at the world level. Poverty reduction is an ethical duty for the world’s most prosperous citizens and a political obligation for all the governments on the planet.”

Lovely aims that perhaps don’t marry up too well with military spending of 17 billion Euros in 2007, 15th highest in the world (http://www.antimilitaristas.org), while expenditure on development aid is 3 billion. (www.realinstitutoelcano.org/) From that last amount one has to subtract those loans that create more debt, debt forgiveness and so on (http://www.intermonoxfam.org/page.asp?id=2673) while that first figure for defence can be left out of the equation altogether until someone proves the link between arms spending and development.

Spanish development aid to Equatorial Guinea devoted nearly 4.5 million Euros to healthcare in 2004-2005, spread over various projects : control of endemic diseases, water purification, community health and health workers. (www.mae.es/Embajadas/Malabo/es) With that sum President Obiang would have struggled to purchase his two mansions in Maryland in the United States.

But it is not a matter, you might say, of tracking down every last cent, these African countries are known for their idiosyncrasies and no one is perfect. Well, in that case, take the example of quality healthcare, Spain’s for example, a country placed 21st in the Human Development Index, while Equatorial Guinea is placed 121st. (www.planalfa.es/fers/) Per capita spending on healthcare is US$1640 and US$139 respectively

Development cooperation galactic style, to use a fashionable term, would ensure that people in Equatorial Guinea enjoyed the same level of health care as people in Spain. Multiplying 450,000 people by US$1640 works out at a little more than US$700 million. Coincidentally the same amount Obiang transferred to personal accounts in the unexpectedly extinct RIggs Bank, based, by the way, in the United States and, as luck would have it, the main investor in Equatorial Guinea. (www.forbes.com)

One can look at it yet another way. Obiang spends about US$70 million a year on “security”, a figure to be treated with caution since the actual sum is unknown even to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. (www.sipri.se) but it can be inferred from purchases of war equipment. Spain, the United States and Israel have all sold Obiang military materiel and trained his troops and police. In ten years of oil exploration one might well have thought Obiang could have increased his people’s life expectancy with such a sum, but it remains about half that of Spain : 43.5 and 79.5 years respectively.

Or again, development cooperation is very much more than money. According to Spain’s International Cooperation for Development Law (23/1998, July 7th.) “development processes will be promoted with respect to the defence and protection of human rights, basic liberties and economic and social welfare needs….”

Those processes do not exist (www.amnistiainternacional.org/ – www.state.gov/g/drl/hr/), as Spain knows very well, although the Minister for Foreign Affairs omits to mention it and prefers to talk about other things, while parliamentarians who visited the country in 2007 “found improvements and returned optimistic”. (www.asodegue.org/junio1607.htm)

Political declarations, projects, reports and aid workers abound, but that is not development cooperation. To talk as if there were development cooperation is an insult to the people of Equatorial Guinea, in fact one should talk about a development cooperation fraud.

Translation copyleft Tortilla con Sal

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