A VOA correspondent who went on a reporting trip to Equatorial Guinea says the country’s oil boom over the past several years is making it rich but is not helping the poor. Voice of America West Africa correspondent Nico Colombant traveled to Equatorial Guinea to explore a country not widely covered by the press. In this fifth of a five-part series, Colombant told English to Africa Service reporter Cole Mallard it has so much oil now that in the last ten years it’s gone from an extremely poor country to the third largest producer of oil in sub-Saharan Africa.
Colombant says he used the legislative elections as a reason for the reporting trip. (“The ruling party won 99 out of 100 seats.”) He says the elections were a good opportunity for him to learn what he could about Equatorial Guinea as a reporter on the ground.
NOT EASY BEING A JOURNALIST.
Colombant says it was easy to get into the country as a US citizen but it wouldn’t have been if he’d declared himself as a journalist in advance. He says it became “trickier” once he declared his profession at the airport, and limitations were placed on his travels. He says he was told he could visit and photograph only nice areas that have been developed recently; he was not authorized to go into impoverished areas.
The VOA journalist says the country does not have a free press: There are no independent newspapers; there are only state-run media, and “state television is just propaganda for the president.” Colombant says it’s a very tightly controlled situation and quite challenging for a journalist; as an example, he says, “When I did go to impoverished areas I found that people were very scared to talk and I always had to be watching my back to see if the military was…around the corner.”
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has long been accused of corruption, repression and a lack of transparency. He has denied charges of malfeasance and says he is committed to democracy and the rule of law.
ON THE UP SIDE …
Colombant describes some areas where progress is being made in Equatorial Guinea. He says new road construction is underway and is moving quickly compared to other African countries he’s familiar with. And he says salaries appear to be higher than in other African countries, ”so there is money. If you want to work hard, there are opportunities in Equatorial Guinea. It’s just not a place, I think, where you can really be involved in politics if you’re not in agreement with the government.”