Teodoro Obiang, the golden singer
Posted Sunday, February 17 2013 at 02:23
It was on a Saturday morning when he strolled into our yard, singing a James Brown song with a few improvisations.
I feel Good..na na na
I’ll feel better when Oyala is complete..na na na
Then, to my mother’s great amusement, the man wearing an expensive suit, a gold watch and gold-rimmed glasses, slid to the left and then right, snapping his fingers rhythmically. When he was done, he breathlessly declared: “ Oyala will be the greatest city ever built.”
“Oyala?” I posed.
“Yes, yes,” said the man with great enthusiasm, “I, Teodoro Obiang, President of the great Republic of Equatorial Guinea, I am building a new capital city called Oyala”.
My mother - awe struck by the identity of the visitor – offered to make him tea. She was dashing into the house when the president stopped her.
He took a gold cup from one of his coat pockets. “Mother,” he said, “put the tea in here.” As he sipped his beverage, he gave more details about his project. “Already, a 500-room hotel is complete… work has began on a golf course, a polo pitch, a dam for yacht racing, an ice rink, an exclusive casino…” He finished his tea, rubbed his hands together in obvious glee and pronounced: “All these will greatly benefit the people of Equatorial Guinea.”
Later, after another cup of tea and more stories about other development projects he was planning, I escorted Teodoro Obiang to Old Nyati’s house. “Father,” he said to the village sage after introducing himself and retelling the story of his development work, “I want to spend a few days here to think of and draw plans for yet more projects.
But in the following days, it became clear to us that the president was no great worker. In the morning, he would sit on the bench under the tree in his yard, drinking palm wine that he had sent for from Old Nyati. Then after a heavy lunch, he would lie in the hammock until late afternoon, after which he would entertain villagers with tales of his prowess in development and governance.
“To govern well,” he told us one evening, “you have to involve the people in governance...”
He looked thoughtfully at the fire in front him. “People such as your family members…my son, Teodorin, is a minister, his brother too. My own brother is Chief of Defence, my mother is minister without portfolio, my sister too…” He paused, pushed his glasses from the tip of his nose, and looked around the gathering with immense self satisfaction.
On another evening, he told us how he had beaten down several coup attempts masterminded by jealous foreigners. “They hate to see a successful African leader,” he said, a tinge of bitterness in his voice. “Even reports you read about my country…just rubbish…”
“Sir,” I asked him, “what do you make of reports claiming that despite prodigious oil wealth, the people of your country are very poor.”
“Rubbish again,” snapped the president. “If we were so poor, how on earth would Teodorin have bought so many luxury cars while living in France, or bought his Malibu estate in California, or successfully bid for Michael Jackson’s white glove, or been able to date rich American actors and singers, eh?”
He glowered at me behind his glasses.
“Why don’t they look for the correct information before publishing such reports…?”
“They should have asked me what I am worth, or my wife, or my brother…”
As the president raved about the properties he, his family and friends owned in the country and globally, I wondered why Africa continued to not only condone depraved leadership, but also to encourage it. A few years ago, Obiang was made Chairman of the AU, then he was allowed to host the Africa Cup of Nations tournament... How did the AU reconcile its own talk of an African Renaissance and what was in effect encouragement of people like Obiang. Should not the organisation set standards of leadership that members must meet, and isolate those not in compliance-Mugabe, Al Bashir, Biya…? An African Renaissance must mean a rebirth of our cultures, societies, literature, architecture, and most importantly of our governance culture.
I awoke from my thoughts to find the president talking proudly of his children.
“How many African parents have children who live next to film stars?” he posed. The flames from the fire lit up his animated facial features.
Then without warning, the president shot to his feet , let out a James Brown scream and lunged into an improvisation of another one of the Godfather of Soul’s classics:
I am rich and proud
I am rich and proud
The author is a Monitor contributor based in Nairobi.