The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 43           November 7, 2005  
‘To read is to grow’ is banner at book fair in
Central African nation of Equatorial Guinea
(feature article)
MALABO, Equatorial Guinea—Several hundred students, teachers, and others took part in the First Equatorial Guinea Book Fair October 17-20. The event was hosted by the university at its campus here in Malabo, the capital of this country on Central Africa’s west coast.

The four-day cultural event was organized to encourage reading and to promote literature and writers, from Equatorial Guinea in particular. It featured book presentations, seminars, poetry readings, art displays, book sales, and ended with a skit written and performed by students.

Along the university’s outdoor hallways were tables with books on Equatoguinean culture and history, as well as titles produced by Cuban publishers, books from New York-based Pathfinder Press, literature from the Catholic publishing house Ediciones San Pablo, works of art, and other materials.

The literary festival was timed to coincide with Equatorial Guinea’s national independence day. Several days of celebration culminated October 12 in a massive and spirited march, an expression of national pride, held in the town of Evinayong, a provincial capital on the continent.

The book fair’s success led organizers to announce they are already planning the second national book fair for a year from now, most likely to be held at the university campus in the city of Bata.

Some of the professors and other participants expressed surprise—and delight—in witnessing the thirst among young people for books on culture and politics in Equatorial Guinea and the world. A number said they hoped the fair would lead to establishing the country’s first bookstore, and that next year’s event would have even more books by Guinean authors.  
Equatorial Guinea
Equatorial Guinea is a country of some 400,000 inhabitants, bordered by Cameroon and Gabon, former French colonies. It is made up of a continental region—the largest city of which is Bata—and several islands including Bioko, where Malabo is located. Strategically positioned as a base for the lucrative slave trade that lasted well into the 19th century, ports of the country were ruled at one time or another by Portugal, Holland, Britain, and Spain. With the division of Africa among European colonial powers following the 1884-85 Berlin Conference, the country came firmly under the boot of Spanish colonialism, gaining independence in 1968.

The majority of Guineans speak Spanish and some also French, the two official languages here. In addition, most speak Fang, Bubi, pidgin English, or other Bantu languages.As a result of these centuries of colonial and imperialist domination, Equatorial Guinea is one of the most economically underdeveloped countries in Africa. Over the past decade, however, the discovery of huge petroleum and natural gas reserves in the Gulf of Guinea has led to major investments by U.S. and other imperialist-controlled oil companies. Most of the capital has poured into building offshore petroleum platforms, and steps to create the infrastructure necessary to sustain the extraction of oil. The town of Luba, an hour south of Malabo, is the site of a massive, 10-year project to create a deep-water port serving as a hub for the oil industry throughout all of West and Central Africa.

Punta Europa, an industrial as well as administrative and support center of the oil operations, has become virtually an American city. Off limits to all but those employed or living there, its blazing lights and smooth roads contrast starkly with the unlighted and unpaved streets in much of Malabo just a few miles across the bay.

Initial steps to pave some of the country’s main roads, improve the electrical and telecommunications systems, and build hotels, offices, and modern housing complexes for those who can afford them are, at the same time, laying the foundations for a nascent Guinean working class.  
‘Foster culture of reading’
The book fair, held under the banner “To Read Is To Grow,” was opened by Carlos Nse Nsuga, rector of the National University of Equatorial Guinea. This was the first time such an event was being held in the country, he emphasized.

Also on the platform were Joaquín Mbana, the vice minister of education; Trinidad Morgades and Pedro Ndong Asumu, vice-rectors of the university campuses in Malabo and Bata, respectively; Cuban ambassador Víctor Dreke; and Hwangbo Ung Bom, ambassador of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The audience included students from both the university and secondary schools.

The fair aims to promote reading, said poet Carmela Oyono Ayíngono in her introductory remarks. Reading and access to books are “indispensable for cultural development,” she said. Every Guinean household needs a small library “to foster the culture of reading from an early age.”

Two books presented the opening day helped set the tone of the entire event: Historia de Guinea Ecuatorial: Período pre-colonial (The history of Equatorial Guinea: Precolonial period) by Rosendo-Ela Nsue Mibui, and From the Escambray to the Congo: In the Whirlwind of the Cuban Revolution by Víctor Dreke. The Cuban embassy in Equatorial Guinea was one of the sponsors of the event, which also coincided with Cuban Culture Day on October 20.

The opening day program also included a well-received presentation by Pathfinder president Mary-Alice Waters introducing Pathfinder Press to participants at the fair. On behalf of the five-person team taking part in the fair and staffing the Pathfinder stand, Waters said, “Our presence here helps underline that there are ordinary people in the United States who do not start from a desire to protect the relative wealth and abundance of resources consumed in the most economically developed countries.

“There are many, like ourselves, who understand that American and European development exists in substantial part because billions the world over live in crushing poverty,” Waters said. “We start with the world and how to transform the international economic order, which is the source of this reality” (see talk on page 7).

Rosendo-Ela Baby spoke about La historia de Guinea Ecuatorial, written by his father, a well-known historian. “This book explains events that led to the formation of our country,” he said. It presents a wealth of facts on the period of preclass society—including the migration to Central Africa by the Fang, Bubi, and other Bantu-speaking peoples—that preceded the imposition of European colonial rule and the slave trade in what is now Equatorial Guinea.

Dreke presented From the Escambray to the Congo, an account of his five-decade-long record as a revolutionary fighter, published by Pathfinder Press. Visibly enjoying the opportunity to interact with a responsive audience of Guinean youth, Dreke outlined some of these experiences, from his involvement as a teenager in the revolutionary war that overthrew the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship in Cuba in 1959, to his role as a commander of the volunteer units of workers and farmers that defeated CIA-organized counterrevolutionary bands in the Escambray mountains of central Cuba in the early 1960s.

“In 1965 I had the tremendous opportunity of coming to the African continent—to the Congo—to fight with Commander Ernesto Che Guevara and a group of 130 Cuban compañeros under the command of the Congolese liberation movement,” said Dreke, who was second in command of that column of Cuban internationalist volunteer combatants. Most of the professors and many students in the audience knew of Dreke as the Cuban ambassador to their country, but knew nothing about his participation in African liberation struggles.

He pointed out that Cuba not only has some 140 internationalist volunteers—mostly medical personnel—serving in Equatorial Guinea today, but that “our goal is that our doctors, agricultural technicians, and others be replaced by Equatoguinean compañeros.” Some 70 Guinean youth are currently completing their sixth year of medical studies in Cuba and in the Cuban-led medical school in Bata.

Dreke said the Cubans working in Africa today are not there to extract the region’s oil wealth. “The only thing we have taken with us is our dead—the more than 2,000 Cubans who have perished in combat in several African countries—and the hearts of the majority of Africans,” he said to applause. (The text of these remarks will be published in a coming issue of the Militant.)  
Lively discussions
Throughout the four-day event, the book presentations and seminars sparked lively discussions.

Rosalía Andeme, a professor at the university and part of the book fair organizing committee, spoke on “Folklore as an instrument of education and culture.” She explained the origins of some of the Guinean dances and music in the resistance to the slave traders and colonial oppression.

Youth in Equatorial Guinea need to embrace their cultural heritage rather than be ashamed of it, Andeme argued. “Modernization does not have to mean Americanization or Europeanization of our culture.”

Joaquín Mbana, the vice minister of education and one of the authors, presented the book De boca en boca (By word of mouth), a collection of essays and a contribution to Fang oral history. With a great deal of humor, appreciated by the students in the audience, he explained that while the traditions recorded in the book are part of the country’s cultural heritage, beliefs in sorcery and magic are not unique to Equatorial Guinea—they exist in Europe and elsewhere—and can be given a historical explanation.

A panel of five professors discussed Macías: Verdugo o víctima (Macías: executioner or victim) by Agustín Nze Nfumu, currently the Equatoguinean ambassador in London. The book, published last year, is about a subject until now rarely discussed in public here—the 1968-79 reign of terror under President Francisco Macías Nguema, head of the first government following independence from Spain.

During the Macías years, tens of thousands fled into exile and many, including those distrusted as “intellectuals,” were jailed, tortured, or executed. Macías, whose government developed close relations with Moscow and Beijing, cloaked himself in anti-Spanish and anti-imperialist rhetoric. He made himself president for life and at one point declared himself a “communist.” On August 3, 1979, he was overthrown in a coup by young military officers and later tried and executed. The coup was led by Teodoro Obiang Nguema, today the country’s president.

Another panel discussed Mi vida por mi pueblo (My life for my people), an autobiographical book by President Obiang.

In the discussions following these and other presentations, students asked probing questions of the panelists. Was Macías really a victim of his own personality, as the book suggests? What did they think about the state of democratic and union rights in Equatorial Guinea today?

In tribute to Cuban Culture Day, several presentations focused on Cuban history and culture, including the historical ties between the two former colonies of Spain.

A talk on “Black women as depicted in literature and art in 19th century Cuba,” by Jassellys Morales, third secretary at the Cuban embassy, was one of the liveliest. She focused on slavery, sexual relations, marriage, and the racial intermixture that marks Cuba’s history. The presentation sparked an exchange with audience members on differences between Cuba and Equatorial Guinea on marriage traditions and responsibility for children, attitudes toward interracial marriage, and the forging of the Cuban nation.

Other special presentations included one by the Spanish Cultural Center in Malabo, another by the Pauline Sisters staffing the literature table of the San Pablo publishing house, and another on the transformation of education in Equatorial Guinea and in Cuba today.  
Hunger for books
The hunger for books among youth and other participants in the fair was evident at the literature tables. At the Cuban publishers’ stand, staffed by some of the half-dozen Cuban internationalist volunteers who teach at the National University here, students eagerly picked up books and pamphlets by authors ranging from José Martí and Ernesto Che Guevara to novelist Alejo Carpentier and poet Nancy Morejón.

At the Pathfinder stand, the titles most in demand, in addition to From the Escambray to the Congo, were collections of speeches by Thomas Sankara, the leader of the 1983-87 popular democratic revolution in the West African country of Burkina Faso. Dozens of copies of Sankara’s We Are Heirs of the World’s Revolutions and Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle flew off the table—in Spanish, French, and English. Young women in particular were interested in Sankara’s explanation of the struggle for women’s emancipation.

Books by Nelson Mandela and about the movement that overturned the apartheid regime in South Africa were equally popular, followed by Malcolm X Talks to Young People and Habla Malcolm X (Malcolm X Speaks). Students also snapped up a range of Pathfinder titles, from Capitalism’s World Disorder by Jack Barnes to issue no. 13 of New International magazine, featuring the article “Our Politics Start with the World.”

Altogether more than 300 Pathfinder books and pamphlets were purchased, including everything by Sankara, Mandela, and Malcolm X. To assure these titles remain available to students, Pathfinder made a donation of more than 125 books to the university, which the fair organizers said would be distributed among several libraries.

At the closing session, rector Carlos Nse Nsuga spoke with great pleasure about the book fair’s resounding success. He thanked “those whose efforts made this possible,” including the vice minister of education, the Cuban embassy, Pathfinder Press, and the many participating faculty members.

The event concluded with a comic skit in the campus courtyard put on by students at the law school. They enacted a trial in which one man accused another of the death of his sister in a traffic accident, claiming the accused had caused her death through brujería (witchcraft). With humorous exchanges in Spanish and Fang, the cast had the audience rolling with laughter and won a hearty round of applause when the defendant was acquitted.

At the end the students read a statement, saying their purpose in preparing the skit was to appeal to the government to develop a body of law to deal with the all-too-common charges of witchcraft brought before the courts. Their defense of materialism and the rule of law—versus superstition and traditions that hold back the modern development of Equatorial Guinea—was warmly received by the students and faculty in attendance.
Related article:
‘We start with the world and how to transform it’  
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