Islands In The Stream, Or, Caminemos Pisando Las Sendas De Nuestra Inmensa Felicidad

In the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney Australia, two African swimmers, both from Equatorial Guinea, gained significant notoriety for their record slow times in swimming. Eric Moussambani, nicknamed “Eric The Eel” and Paula Barila Bolopa, nicknamed “Paula the Crawler” had very slow times in swimming the 100m and 50m freestyle, respectively [1]. The two received their spots in the Olympic qualifying as a result of a quota that allows spots to be saved for athletes from nations too poor to qualify for the Olympics by meeting the usual standard. In Equatorial Guinea, this is not surprising considering the nation only has two swimming pools and none of them are Olympic sized, leaving the overmatched competitors to try to swim up to a standard that they had not ever met by practicing as hard as they could for a month. Of course they were overmatched, and being so overmatched, they attracted a good deal of goodwill despite their incompetence as the sort of lovable losers who can profit from fifteen minutes of fame for trying something that they are hopelessly bad at and giving it the college effort anyway.

When it comes to most standards of living for the populace as a whole, the tiny nation of Equatorial Guinea, which sits along the Cameroon line in the Bight of Biafra, composed of several small islands, the largest of which, Bioko, contains the nation’s capital Malabo while a new planned capital closer to where the current dictator lives is being constructed, with a small and mostly rectangular section of land called Rio Muni, where most of the nation’s small population lives nestled between Gabon and Cameroon, is at best a lovable loser. Freedom House considers the president of the country, one Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo as a “predator” of press freedom, a status that likely did not hurt his chances at winning yet another managed election in the nation over the weekend [2], cementing his status as the continent of Africa’s longest “serving” dictator. The country also ranks on the bottom tier of sex trafficking among the world’s nations, with a litany of other serious problems, such as 20% of children dying before the age of 5 and half of the population lacking access to clean drinking water [3].

What makes all of this more galling for those few people who know anything about this tiny kerplunkistan and kleptocracy is that the miseries suffered by its people come despite an average income that is among the highest in Africa, at $12,438 per capita nominal GDP and a robust $31,731 per capita GDP based on purchasing power parity. Of course, such numbers mean little when the wealth of the country is so concentrated in industry, with 97% of the country’s exports being either in crude oil or other liquefied hydrocarbons, and the vast majority of the wealth concentrated in the hands of the small nation’s microscopic elite, led by the nation’s president and family, who frequently offshore the wealth they have plundered from their nation in Western banks for their own convenience while their people are at best ignored and at worst ridiculed as among the poorest and most badly misgoverned nations in a world full of corrupt leadership. What is the point of measuring by averages in a nation as skewed as Equatorial Guinea, for example?

Should such a nation be a lovable loser among the world? Should a nation whose oil wealth, being tapped by none less than Exxon Mobil, be in such a disreputable state as Equatorial Guinea, given that at under a million people it is not large enough that size should present a barrier to development of the nation’s human and other natural resources, as well as the development of at least something worthwhile for others to see. After all, the nation has no UNESCO World Heritage Sites nor any tentative sites for the World Heritage List, nor even any intangible cultural heritage listed by UNESCO. This status as a cultural backwater makes the claims recorded on one of its Wikipedia pages rather risible: “While lying on the enriched continent of Africa, Equatorial Guinea has proved to be entrenched in ancient rituals and songs. This is especially true for the Fang, a people whose territories begin at the southern edge of Cameroon south of Kribi, Djoum, and Mvangan in the South Province and continue south across the border, including all of Rio Muni in Equatorial Guinea and south into Gabon and Congo. While on the capital island of Bioko, this beautiful country has largely been influenced by Spanish customs and traditions during the colonial period. During the colonial period, education and health services were developed in the country. Now, you may enter into the traditions of the breathtaking Equatorial Guinea [4].” If UNESCO, no slouch when it comes to recognizing culture, finds nothing either tangible or intangible about a national culture worthy of being remembered, the only breathtaking nature of that culture is likely to be the breath that is held in when people are trying not to laugh out loud at the ridicule of Fang chauvinists while trying desperately to say something polite that is not too far from the truth.

At best, it may be said that Equatorial Guinea is a land full of painful ironies. Its national anthem, for example, has the title “Caminemos Pisando Las Sentas De Neustra Inmensa Felicidad,” in the language of Spain, its former colonial master. This title can be translated as “Let Us Walk The Paths Of Our Immense Happiness.” Yet a land so desperately poor and struggling, with such an absence of high culture, or even of the basic means of survival, even while its wealthy elite plunders the land and lives high on the hog, taking photos with American presidents, putting the ill-gotten gains of theft and graft abroad so as to better secure them from the potential of hostile regime change and redistributive justice, is not likely to have an immense happiness at all, except perhaps the fact that it might need to appear happy in order for its silence to be taken as implicit criticism of its national leadership. One wonders what it would take for a nation like Equatorial Guinea to have happiness in its nation and servant leadership, apart from the miracle of divine takeover, which makes this little but easily forgotten nation like far too much of the world around [5].

[1] See, for example:

[2] Equatorial Guinea – Reporters Without Borders.

[3] BBC (14 November 2014) Equatorial Guinea profile.


[5] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Musings, Sports and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Islands In The Stream, Or, Caminemos Pisando Las Sendas De Nuestra Inmensa Felicidad

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Atlas Of Remote Islands | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Olympic Athletes From Russia | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Eyes Of Africa | Edge Induced Cohesion

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