A ceremony was held on 5 August in Bata, the second city of Equatorial Guinea, to award the first International Kim Jong Il Prize to the country’s head of state, Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.
The International Kim Jong Il Prize was inaugurated on 24 December last year, with a view to awarding it to international statesmen who have contributed to the causes to which the late Korean revolutionary leader Comrade Kim Jong Il dedicated his life, including independence against imperialism, global peace and the building of independent national economies.
President Nguema is Africa’s longest-serving head of state. When he came to power, his country was one of the five poorest in the world. Today, thanks to the judicious use of its newly discovered oil wealth, it already has the highest income per head in the whole of Africa and has an ambitious nation building project to develop the country and completely eliminate poverty and prevent excessive wealth disparity by 2020.
A high level delegation from the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), headed by Comrade Kim Ki Nam, Politburo member and secretary of the central committee of the WPK, visited Equatorial Guinea to congratulate the President on his receipt of the prize.
Meeting the delegation, President Nguema stressed that all the third world countries should fight in the same trench to defend their independence and natural resources from the imperialists. The DPRK, with its strategic policy of ‘army first’, was an example and an inspiration in this regard, he stressed.
He recalled his own three visits to the DPRK and his meetings with both Kim Il Sung, the founder of the DPRK, and Kim Jong Il. President Nguema said that his county saw China as its most important ally and a model for its development, but that he could not forget that the DPRK was the first Asian nation to come to his country’s support and assistance at a time when they had nothing.
The DPRK party and government delegation was joined on the visit to Equatorial Guinea by one from the International Kim Jong Il Prize Council. A member of that delegation shared the following impressions with Lalkar:
Equatorial Guinea is one of the countries about which it is almost impossible to obtain reliable information. Western media coverage is sparse, but when it appears it is universally bad, not to say, at times, lurid.
One of the few occasions on which the country hit the headlines was at the time of a failed coup by Mark Thatcher and a group of fellow old Etonians, who entertained rapacious notions of stealing the country’s vast oil wealth for their personal benefit. Their flimsy justification – and a mainstay of imperialist propaganda – was the claim that this oil wealth has been used only to benefit a small elite whilst the mass of people remain mired in poverty.
The same line has been echoed in recent days in a court case where the United States government is, somewhat bizarrely, attempting to prevent an Equatorial Guinean government minister from purchasing items of memorabilia associated with the late Michael Jackson. The Independent and other newspapers have claimed in this regard that some 70 per cent of the country’s population are living in poverty.
What we saw in Equatorial Guinea was at complete variance with the negative portrayal by the imperialists.
Although the airport serving the capital Malabo remains modest, the first thing one sees driving away is Equatorial Guinean and Chinese workers, working side by side to build updated facilities.
Driving into the city, one cannot help but be struck by the brand new and pristine highways, with state of the art lighting. Brand new offices for ministries and companies exhibit a wide range of innovative architectural styles.
There are a number of similar prestige projects elsewhere. A huge and impressive conference centre has hosted summit meetings of the African Union as well as other international gatherings, such as the Africa South America Summit, held earlier this year, attended by Bolivian President Evo Morales among others, and to which Comrade Hugo Chavez sent probably his last political writing in solidarity. (The Equatorial Guinean President was the only African head of state to attend Comrade Chavez’s funeral.) The compound contains a dedicated villa for each African head of state, whilst a nearby island is a biodiversity and nature sanctuary, enhancing the natural environment. Indeed, the country’s huge forest cover has been preserved largely intact, ensuring that, despite its proximity to the equator, it enjoys a temperate climate.
Of course, any oil rich country can build some prestige projects. But the other sight that greets one on the drive from the airport is tens of thousands of newly built flats, in well-designed estates, built, largely by Chinese companies, as homes for working people.
We also visited a new housing estate, aptly called Nueva Esperanza, New Hope, where people can buy attractive bungalows from the government for the equivalent of US$10,000. The government encourages people to spread such payments out over several years so as not to strain their finances, but, with an average per capita income in excess of US$30,000, we were told that many young people preferred to buy them outright.
Such new developments are steadily replacing the old part of the capital, which, whilst it may be cited by imperialism as an example of the country’s poverty, was repeatedly and correctly described to us as that which had been left behind by the imperialists. But even in the old town, with its streets named after former Egyptian President Nasser, and other heroes of the anti-imperialist struggle, whether visiting by day or night, and as elsewhere in the country, one saw no outright poverty, not a single beggar, nor a person poorly dressed, without shoes or in distress. The comparison with many other African countries, including, for example, the sprawling townships in South Africa, a legacy of the apartheid era, could hardly be greater.
The officials of the foreign ministry, who looked after us, were rightly proud of their country’s enlightened social policies, including free education and heavily subsidised health care. We saw two new ‘state of the art’ hospitals and learned that vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women and young children, enjoy free health care. The same is true for the treatment of serious illnesses, such as malaria and HIV. In other cases, the individual is expected to pay 25 per cent of the cost of their care, the state meeting 75 per cent. To keep the HIV rate low, the state provides free condoms on request.
In the old town of Malabo, we were taken to the newly established National House of Culture. Its facilities are free and open to all, particularly to young people. Besides free internet and wifi, there were rooms where youth were rehearsing break dancing and contemporary dance, as well as playing billiards and table football. There was also a café, cinema, seminar room, and a small museum with national artefacts, traditional sculptures and fossils, among other facilities. It was explained to us that the government wanted to make such facilities available to the youth as a constructive alternative to hanging out on the street, indulging in drugs or excessive alcohol consumption.
Speaking to us, President Nguema rightly took exception to a speech by David Cameron, where the British Prime Minister had claimed that all the wealth of Equatorial Guinea was allegedly stolen by the ruling elite, leaving the masses so poor that that they were supposedly dying of hunger in the streets. The President simply and correctly asked us to compare this, monstrously false, description with what we had seen with our own eyes in five days of exploring his country.
President Nguema further explained that, when oil had been discovered in his country, the US oil monopolies had descended and were taking nearly everything for themselves, leaving almost nothing for the country and the people. It was when he had forced a renegotiation, to ensure that Equatorial Guinea retained a fairer share of its own natural wealth for its own development, that the imperialist propaganda campaign had started in earnest against himself and his government, accusing them of corruption and repression. Equatorial Guinea, which has the third largest proven oil reserves in sub-Saharan Africa, after Nigeria and Angola, was now pursuing a policy of diversification, hoping to develop cooperation in the oil sector with its traditional allies Russia and China.
Doubtless, the country still faces many challenges in its development, but our delegation came away with the overriding impression that Equatorial Guinea was a hidden jewel of the African continent, a country fully deserving of our solidarity in its struggle for independent development and against imperialism.