No Statistics

No Statistics

Josep Anglada Bigordá December 19, 2011
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The author argues that Equatorial Guinea lacks a system of public administration.

A Country without Statistics

[This article originally appeared in Bitacora Africana. EG Justice translated it into English]

“Unfortunately, one of the current problems of Equatorial Guinea is that we still lack updated statistics in some fields, and there are no updated statistics on income distribution for any entity to cite.” - Anatolio Ndong Mba, Ambassador-Permanent Representative of Equatorial Guinea to the UN (1)

These are the words that the Equatoguinean ambassador to the United Nations used to try to deflect criticism that the New York Times leveled against the Obiang regime in a May 30, 2011 article written by Adam Nossiter (2).  Anatolio Ndong linked poverty, truth, waste, and statistics in an attempt to justify the unjustifiable. Something similar occurred a few days later on a BBC program when the Equatoguinean ambassador to the United Kingdom asserted, with a certain cynicism, that the poverty rates often used to describe Equatorial Guinea are, in reality, only numbers (3). 

If someone, whether out of simple curiosity or the need to acquire reliable data for a study, clicks on the “Guinea in figures” link on the government’s official website (4), s/he will encounter an unpleasant surprise: a motley mix of dubious “facts” from varying sources that mix unrealistic estimations of the population with manipulated indexes that use misleading comparisons to favorably compare Equatorial Guinea with developed countries on issues such as levels of violence, peace, human rights, literacy rates, infant mortality, the variation of the Consumer Price Index in 2009, the distribution of economic activity in 2007, and the country’s level of exports since it gained independence. In reality, what is displayed is a random set of data and figures that lacks rigor and scientific merit. Its intent is to whitewash the government’s image.   

The most reliable statistics relating to Equatorial Guinea are reported by international agencies, NGOs, and research institutions, be they economic, educational, or health focused. This is due to the simple fact that there are no credible statistics of any kind today in Equatorial Guinea, despite the existence of a Department of Statistics and National Accounts in the Ministry of Planning

Strictly speaking, a state without statistics is a contradiction in terms, since it is precisely through statistics that the modern state gains its rationality. The knowledge provided by statistics allows a society to improve the efficiency of public administration. Since the seventeenth century, the word "police" has referred to the collection of actions aimed at improving the lives of the inhabitants of a city, beginning with education and health, and including facilitating the public order, planning, and commerce. It was not until well into the eighteenth century that the primitive concept of "police" evolved into its broader meaning, expanding to encompass public administration. This occurred precisely because of the great achievements facilitated by the statistical predictions of basic needs in education, health, and urban planning that, in the case of trade, led to the foundation of political economy.

It is statistics, therefore, that make public administration possible. In Equatorial Guinea, this is precisely the case. The lack of statistics is coupled with the lack of “police”. 

Dismantling the colonial administration since independence, the administrative function passed into the hands of the purely clientelistic and patrimonial One Party State, where numbers and facts are not missed at all – a calculated scheme in the two Nguemist dictatorships. But a country that handles great sums of money for more than a decade cannot progress at all without a modern public administration that possesses systems of accumulation and rigorous data collection, since words like “planning” or “redistribution of wealth” lack meaning in their absence. Without public administration, we would be talking about a state in which the subsistence economy coexists with financial engineering, but nobody cares about, nor does anything, to fix it.

Despite all of this, it took until this year for the government to initiate a state health survey in Malabo and Bata (5), and the establishment of a School of Administration, modeled on the Spanish system, was only recently announced, the outcome of a bilateral agreement with Spain that will train 1000 public officials (6). Basic surveys on education remain to be done and the most basic data about the population continues to be a mystery: depending on which source one uses, the number of inhabitants varies from 400,000 to 1,200,000. It seems incredible, but today, an official census of the population still does not exist. 

It is a great paradox of the Equatoguinean state that it is investing in pharaonic public works even though it does not know the basic needs of its people. The immense black hole of the country’s public administration system forces luxury and poverty to shake hands yet again. 

A basic matter, such as taxation, is impossible in Equatorial Guinea. In Equatorial Guinea taxes are not paid, because without a population census, private property, an active population, or the rendering of work, it is not possible to demand taxes. Conversely, the abuses and outrages in terms of real estate are daily, and without the basic tools of the census it is not possible to dispense justice.

The dysfunction that leads to ignorance about the needs of citizens does not end there.  

In countries where the state has been strong, with a powerful administration that protects citizens’ interests, an equally powerful civil society has emerged, as a check and control on the powers of the state. Once more, public administration and civil society go hand in hand. Without “police” there is no civil society. This is precisely what has happened in Equatorial Guinea: the substitute administration formed by the ruling party has impeded civil society. A country without administration is a doubly disorganized country: in administrative relations and in social relations. That’s why politics is not possible right now in Equatorial Guinea: civil society is what makes politics possible, what decides how to organize and administer it. 

In the 17th century, the modern state was consolidated in Europe based on the idea of circulation of goods and persons.  Urban planning is put to use for the service of citizens. The administration is vigilant in fixing the roads and making markets and cities healthier and more efficient. The police, in turn, will ensure protection for these spaces of communication, which are necessary for trade and avoiding famines caused by scarcity. 

In Equatorial Guinea today, with its great showcase investments, urban planning only serves to drown the weakest and destroy the traditional fabric of the country, (7) and the police make themselves lord and master of the roads—not to ensure any kind of movement, but rather the opposite: to detain, control and curb the trips of the country’s citizens. As there is hardly any industry or agriculture, the barriers can little affect trade. Nevertheless, many products, often subsistence agriculture, are seized by unrestrained and violent soldiers on the roads.

The final insult to common sense occurred a few days ago, on the occasion of the African Summit, when the dictator, after one of the day’s sessions, invited the African leaders to the laying of the first stone for the great research and technology center that he plans to build in Malabo: the African Observatory for Science, Technology and Innovation (8). Once more, we went from a most embarrassing lack of data needed to improve the basic lives of the neediest, to wanting an institution of advanced study that, in this context, can only be pure propaganda. 

A state without an administration is a police state, a state where politics is not possible. Lack of freedoms, corruption, poverty, and waste are different faces of the same problem. 








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