Two weeks ago, the EU and the African Union met to develop their renewed partnership strategy. These meetings have prioritized the fight against the pandemic and the climate emergency among other topics. Security, governance, the rule of law and respect for human rights have also been addressed, albeit in an inconspicuous way.
Years of colonization erased any hint of recognition of the pre-existence of civilizations, so much so that even in the history books in Europe there is no mention of the atrocities and plunder to which the continent was subjected to and continues to pay part of that bill. Some initiatives by European countries have sought to do justice to obvious demands from African intellectual and political circles. This is the case of the return of cultural property or the recognition of genocide in countries such as Botswana by Germany.
However, another type of plunder is in motion in recent years. The one that allows recognized kleptocrats to amass large sums of money in banks and tax havens with impunity at the cost of subjecting African citizens to utter destitution. It should be noted that these kleptocrats have taken advantage of very similar mechanisms that have benefited Russian oligarchs, now possibly behind the Ukrainian invasion.
Spain and Portugal occupy, after China, the podium of Equatorial Guinea’s main trading partners, for example. These two countries have essentially bought oil from this country worth almost 800 million euros in 2020 alone according to the Guinean national statistical institute.
And as has happened with Angola in Portugal, many of the leaders of this country have wandered with their cars or yachts in Europe without anyone raising questions on the origin of their assets. Ebony Shine is the name of one of the mega yachts worth €100 million belonging to the vice-president, it was spotted in Sardinia last summer, a “criminal luxury” for humble citizens like Marina (not her real name), an elderly woman who must pick up empty cans as a way of life that is becoming common in the city of Malabo given the impossibility of finding a job or being assisted by public services. Several criminal proceedings precisely in Spain and Portugal can speak to the depth of corruption in this country. The most important case in France, has concluded with the confiscation of assets worth approximately 150 million euros. The repatriation of all these assets should also be part of the debate.
This injustice would not worry too much if at least part of the income received by Equatorial Guinea was dedicated to education or health. Recently, the U.S. announced that the vice president’s assets seized would be dedicated to the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines for the population. This would not be necessary if the global governance system and regulatory controls avoided the diversion of funds in such an easy manner. Even if vaccines are provided to the country, the wheel will continue to roll, sentencing every single citizen in Equatorial Guinea to cyclic poverty.
It is therefore imperative that the new EU strategy has a more important “raison d’être”, it must acknowledge that what has been done so far only perpetuates inequality and that current strategies have resulted in empty speeches.
Current policies do nothing more than generate pockets of extreme poverty that lead to greater long-term instability as has been seen in Sahel countries. As an example, the OCA coalition has been able to document the deplorable state of schools and hospitals in Malabo. A single vehicle of the vice president’s luxurious collection could be used to provide electricity to 65% of students in the country that cannot use computers or study without light.
It is time to break the vicious circle where there is always a walk back to instability and poverty, which results in more global insecurity because feeding kleptocrats and autocrats implies paying a larger bill in the future as we are witnessing in the heart of Europe. The new framework of the climate emergency should be a platform that also includes measures (concessions) of economic opening that are fair for the continent. In parallel, African civil society’s opinions should be heard of when making decisions that fully impacts them.