It wouldn’t be right to let Black History Month 2014 pass here without paying tribute to Francisco Macías Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.
Dubbed the “Dachau of Africa,” Nguema began his notorious reign in Equatorial Guinea with fiery speeches denouncing Spanish imperialism, massacres, political assassinations, and by chasing out the 7,000 Spaniards who were the country’s business owners, professionals, teachers, and civil administrators, whom he quickly replaced with members of his own family and ethnic group.
So far, Nguema’s Equatorial Guinea sounds like a repeat of the chaos that followed the independence of the Democratic Republic of Congo, but it quickly spiraled into something more like Pol Pot’s Cambodia:
“Given unlimited powers to arrest, torture, rape, and murder, Nguema’s security forces wrecked vengeance on the country’s educated classes and took savage reprisals against any hint of opposition. Thousands were incarcerated and murdered there; two-thirds of the national assembly deputies and most senior civil servants were killed, imprisoned, or driven into exile. Many were executed on a whim. When the director of statistics published a demographic estimate that Nguema considered too low, he was dismembered to ‘help him learn to count’. In two documented cases, he ordered the executions of all former lovers of his current mistresses. He also ordered the murder of husbands of women he coveted. Before each state visit that Nguema made abroad, political prisoners were routinely killed to dissuade any opponents from conspiring against him. Death sentences were invariably carried out with extreme brutality. Guineans were liable to be punished merely for failing to attend manifestations of praise and joy or for being ‘discontento’. In 1976 the last remaining senior civil servants, handpicked to replace those he had previously murdered, sent him a mass petition asking for a relaxation of the country’s total isolationism, hoping there would be safety in numbers. Every one of the 114 petitioners was arrested and tortured, many never to be seen again.” (Martin Meredith, The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, p.240)
“No proper administration survived. The only people to be paid regularly were the president, the army, the police and the militia. Most ministries – including those dealing with education, agriculture, construction and natural resources – had no budgets at all and their offices in Malabo were shut. The central bank too was closed after the director was publicly executed in 1976. All foreign exchange was delivered instead to Nguema who hoarded it along with large amounts of local currency in his various palaces on Fernando Po and Rio Muni. When Nguema was short of money, he resorted to ransoming foreigners: $57,600 for a German woman; $40,000 for a Spanish professor; $6,000 for a deceased Soviet citizen.” (Meredith, pp.240-241)
In Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Christianity was banned and anyone wearing glasses or who was perceived to be an intellectual was shot by the Khmer Rouge:
“In long, rambling and incoherent speeches, Nguema fulminated against his pet bugbears – education, intellectuals and foreign culture. He closed all libraries in the country, prohibited newspapers and printing presses and even banned the use of the word ‘intellectual’. All formal education came to an end in 1975 when Catholic mission schools were told to close. Children from then on were taught only political slogans.” (Meredith, p.241)
In Uganda, Idi Amin was the “Conquerer of the British Empire.” In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mobutu Sese Seko was “The Great Helmsman.” In Haiti, “Papa Doc” Duvalier was the “Uncontestable Leader of the Revolution.” In Côte d’Ivoire, Félix Houphouët-Boigny was Le Vieux (The Old One).
“The Only Miracle,” though, is my favorite:
“In his drive to control organized religion, he ordered sermons to include references to him as ‘The Only Miracle’ and decreed that his portrait be displayed in all churches. Under threat of immediate arrest, priests were forced to reiterate slogans such as, ‘There is no God other than Macías, and ‘God created Equatorial Guinea thanks to Papa Macías. Without Macías, Equatorial Guinea would not exist.’ Event this, though, did not satisfy him. In a series of edicts in 1974 and 1975, he banned all religious meetings, funerals and sermas and forbade the use of Christian names. Christian worship became a crime. Virtually all churches were subsequently locked up or converted into warehouses.” (Meredith, p.241)
He was an admirer of Adolf Hitler, whom he described as “Africa’s savior,” and celebrated his birthday by having prisoners shot to the tune of “Those Were The Days”:
“Papa Macías shocked diplomats with his outrageous statements, including his claim that Adolf Hitler was “Africa’s savior.” The use of the world “intellectuals” was made punishable by law. Macías would celebrate his birthdays by having prisoners shot by a firing squad in Malabo’s stadium, while loudspeakers played his favorite song, “Those Were the Days.” In this staunchly Catholic country, he once had political opponents crucified.”
Papa Macías succeeded in wiping out half of his own population and exterminating almost every intellectual in the country:
“In his report on Equatorial Guinea, Klinteberg summed it up as a land of fear and devastation no better than a concentration camp – the ‘cottage industry Dachau of Africa’. Out of a population of 300,000, at least 50,000 had been killed and 125,000 had flet into exile. Hardly a single intellectual remained in the country; fewer than a dozen technical school graduates survived.” (Meredith, p.242)
In his final days, Macías stored the national treasury in a bamboo hut in his native village, and spent hours around a campfire talking about the good old days in Equatorial Guinea before the arrival of Europeans:
“Ill at ease in Fernando Po, he retreated to the mainland, first to Bata, where a new presidential palace was built for him, then to live in his remote native village in Mongomo where three of his four wives lived. He took with him most of the national treasury, storing huge wads of bills in bags and suitcases in a bamboo hut next to his house. Some oc the money rotted into the ground. He also kept the country’s pharmaceutical store there. Surrounded by relatives and village elders, he spent hours around a campfire discussing ‘state policy’ and reminiscing about the good old days before white rule.” (Meredith, p.242)
In 1979, Francisco Macías Nguema was overthrown and executed by his own nephew, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who still rules Equatorial Guinea today. What’s more, Equatorial Guinea is now the richest country in Africa, which makes it one of the most successful black countries in the world.
Note: Monique Macías, the daughter of Macías Nguema, has written a memoir about her life growing up in North Korea.