Email interview with Alicante, February 25, 2015
Ethan Zuckerman: President Obiang has invested a great deal of capital in hosting international events in Equatorial Guinea. How will the violence at the Cup of Nations semifinal affect this strategy? Will Obiang continue to pursue international legitimation this way? Do you expect organizers of these international events to be less likely to come to Malabo in the future?
Tutu Alicante: As you may have noticed, the Equatoguinean regime was quick to spin the violent scenes from the stadiums as the work of the political opposition and enemies of the state. We have received second hand accounts of journalist and diplomats from Ghana, Ivory Coast, and other African nations that were verbally and physically abused by their Equatoguinean counterparts. In other words, what most of us witnessed on our TV screens was a minute part of the scary and violent reality on the ground. All this, however is unlikely to slow down Obiang’s PR machinery. As some say in Africa, when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. the hands of Issa Ayatou, African presidents, international bigwigs and organizations, Brazilian Samba schools, etc will continue to be greased by EG’s petrodollars. The color green has a powerful way of inducing amnesia.
EZ: Some commentators on the violence have wondered whether the anger directed at Ghana fans might suggest a willingness of EG citizens to protest against the government. Do you think that’s a plausible interpretation? Or was this simply an ugly football riot?
TA: JFK once said that those that make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable. I believe decades of injustice and repressed frustrations can manifest itself in unexpected ways. Furthermore, a culture of systematic arbitrariness and absolute impunity inevitably breads riots. Without a doubt, the vast consumption of alcohol before, during, and after the games made a frustrated population–which until then was used to seeing their country win by any menas necessary–combustible, but, readers would agree that the alleged violence directed against Ghanian diplomats in the VIP booths had more to do with a culture of impunity than a simple football riot. I also believe that readers would agree that the destruction at the FEGUIFUT and the ruling party (PDGE) headquarters, which happen hours prior to the game, had more to do with pent-up frustration that football riots…
EZ: Given the reputation of Equatorial Guinea’s security services, what’s likely to happen to those arrested in last night’s violence?
TA: Between 400 and 600 youth, including several minors (10,11, 12 years of age) were arbitrarily arrested. Many, who had not be at the stadium and had no connexion to the violence were arrested in their homes and schools. These youth were unlawfully detained for one week. Many of them were physically abused and tortured, in an attempt to have them confessed that they had been instigated by the opposition. Seven days later, they were all released, supposedly thanks to a presidential pardon granted by the benevolent Obiang.
EZ: Equatorial Guinea is quite opaque for most of us, due to media restrictions and journalistic censorship. How should we understand what happened in Malabo as a reflection of the mood of EG citizens? Your tweets seem to suggest that we need to have some sympathy for the people of EG- how do you think we should understand this ugly incident?
TA: Violence is never justified. Or is it? Was the Boston Tea Party justifiable? Were the American colonists justified in rebelling against England?
When riots unravel following a specific and vivid injustice, as w/ the Rodney King beating by the LAPD, or the most recent events that followed Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, MO, it seems easier to understand what led to the violent response.
I am a strong believer and proponent of nonviolent struggle. I would always advocate for people who have suffered decades of repression to respond in a nonviolent way, with demonstrations, boycotts, and other tactics, as it happened in the fights agains apartheid or during the civil rights movement. Or as it has happened w/ the Arab Spring movement in northern Africa. but, I also understand that nonviolent struggle is a hard discipline to ask from a society without a strong civil society, and without respect for some basic rights and rule of law.
I ask journalists and people to understand what happened in EG as the first–perhaps mistaken or misguided–but nonetheless the first mass showing of resentment against an illegitimate, corrupt, and repressive regime. It is unfortunate that football-loving fans from around the globe, and the wonderful people of Ghana were left as the unintended receivers of that showing of disapproval. I know most Equatoguineans are ashamed and would publicly apologize to the world for what was shown on TV. But I also know that most Equatoguineans are tired and feel powerless against the Obiang regime. We Equatoguineans call on the global community to sympathize and empathize with us to help us get rid of the longest-ruling dictator in the world.