By Tikum Mbah Azonga
This article is an adaptation of an earlier one published in the London-based WEST AFRICA magazine in 1987. The article reports on the official visit to France by President President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.
While in France, President Nguema was was received in audience by French President Francois Mitterrand and both men discussed bilateral cooperation. The trip is widely seen as another step towards stepping up ties between Equatorial Guinea and France. It was therefore not surprising that the topic was very prominent in the discussions the two presidents had with each other at the Paris-based Champs Elysées. The visit is Nguema`s third to France in three years, which is a lot, by any standards.
While in Paris, Nguema told Mitterrand that as the only Spanish-speaking country in Equatorial Africa, his country was like an ‘’orphan’’ He said that its participation in francophone summits and the various francophone organizations should be considered as proof of Malabo`s desire to be part and parcel of the Francophone community. President Nguema admitted that his country was going through a serious crisis but pointed out that some progress had been made since it joined the CFA Franc zone in 1985. The president stressed that French was now both a working language in Equatorial Guinea and a communication medium being widely used in Equat0-Guinean schools.
Turning to defence, he stressed the need for French assistance to his country. At present about 500 Moroccan troops are directing the county’s security but Nguema may feel they need ‘beefing up’ following Nigeria’s stern reaction over the presence of South Africans in Malabo. An agreement with France would give the former Spanish colony the kind of protection enjoyed by most francophone counties. French troops could be flown in whenever trouble flared up, as they were in Togo during last year’s alleged coup attempt.
Relations with France have been warming up since Nguema became president in 1979 but especially; following disagreement with Spain over who should control aid funds sent to Malabo. The French role became more prominent when Equatorial Guinea abandoned its isolated currency, the ekwele, and joined the CFA Franc zone in 1985. This automatically led to membership of the Bank of Central African States (BEAC) whose other members are Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, and Gabon, all of them Francophone countries. Equatorial Guinea is also a member of the francophone Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC) whose members include those of BEAC, as well as Rwanda, Burundi, and Sao Tome and Principe. Malabo is also a member of the Customs and Economic Union of Central African States (UDEAC) whose members include Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, and the Central African Republic.
French aid to Equatorial Guinea in 1987 totaled CFA8.8bn. Furthermore, Paris is to give Malabo some CFA780m in budgetary aid for 1988. French exports to Equatorial Guinea in 1987 amounted to CFA1.6bn, against imports of CFA750m. Paris cooperation with Malabo has been mainly in the domains of agriculture (coffee, cocoa, and foodstuffs), health (information and vaccination campaigns, as well as hospitals), education, as well as defence and electricity. France is to reorganize the Equoto-Guinean gendarmerie by providing training and equipment, as well as setting up a motorised infantry unit according to an agreement signed earlier this year. There are 135 French nationals living in Equatorial Guinea, about 50 of whom are technical assistants.
It is worth noting that the honey moon Nguema is enjoying with France is a logical step in relations between the two countries. Equatorial Guinea was as happy with going into the relation with France, as France was eager to open up a special communication corridor with Malabo. This assertion can be borne out by a conversation this writer had in Malabo in 1991, with the then Minister of Eternal relations in the latter’s Malabo office. This writer asked the minister whether Spain, the colonial master of Equatorial Guinea was not frowning at the ever growing ties between Malabo and Paris. The minister replied that what Equatorial Guinea had gained from France within ten years, she had not gained from Spain since independence. He went further and said if they had to choose between France and Spain, they would choose France.
France is well known for its largesse. It has a remarkable way of courting friends that is effective. They bring you into the fold and look after you. That is why they have done so much for Malabo. Yet, Malabo is not the only out-of-the-way friend France has. French investment in Nigeria is relatively intense. In fact, according to trade figures released in 1986, France bought and sold more goods to Nigeria that to any other African country, including its traditional die-hard friendly countries of French expression. Nigeria has made French its de facto second official language and France has over the years provided scholarships to an innumerable number of Nigerians to study in Franch.
Both parties were optimistic as the visit ended. Speaking shortly before his return home, Nguema declared: ‘’I am returning home happy and satisfied with our cooperation’’ The French cooperation minister, Jacques Pelletier, for his part had earlier assured him of assistance towards Equatorial Guinea’s recovery programme, and promised to support Malabo’s aid requests to international financing bodies. ‘’our bilateral links will develop in several fields. France, a friend to Equatorial Guinea`s, is concerned about supporting the efforts to your people and government’’, he said.