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Tutu Alicante

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Tutu Alicante is a human rights lawyer from the island of Annobon in Equatorial Guinea. In 1993, Mr. Alicante was in a Roman Catholic seminary, preparing for the priesthood. A group of citizens, among them one of Mr. Alicante’s cousins, organized a peaceful demonstration at the governor’s house calling for respect for human rights and measures to address widespread poverty. In response, government forces arrested and killed a number of the demonstrators and burned Mr. Alicante’s family home to the ground. He left Equatorial Guinea in 1994 to pursue his education abroad.

After obtaining a law degree from the University of Tennessee and a Masters in Law from Columbia University, he worked on legal defense programs for migrant farm workers and as a consultant for a branch of the Open Society Institute promoting legal accountability and transparency in extractive industries.

Tutu Alicante founded and serves as Executive Director of EG Justice, a nonprofit and nongovernmental organization that educates, empowers, and engages a new generation of democracy and human rights advocates at home and abroad. It undertakes grassroots campaigns to reform institutions inside Equatorial Guinea and
documents human rights violations, collecting oral and written testimonies inside the country and abroad to hold violators accountable. EG Justice publishes periodic reports and educates the public. EG Justice collaborates with international institutions to bring critical human rights issues to the attention of global policymakers, including the United Nations, the African Union, and other multilateral organizations. It undertakes and supports legal advocacy to hold human rights abusers accountable in local, regional, and international tribunals and works closely with community-based partners to empower them through the litigation process. 

Follow Tutu Alicante on Twitter at @TutuAlicante and follow EG Justice on Twitter at @EGJustice

My name is Tutu Alicante. I am from Equatorial Guinea. Amazingly an interview like this couldn’t have happened a few years ago, you know. And that’s because a few years ago, just a few years ago, I was still using pseudonyms to write articles, or pseudonyms to provide congressional testimonies. That has changed right now a bit, where it’s now the government of my country that is having to use all these fake names and fake corporations in an effort to hide all the stolen assets from Equatorial Guinea in an effort to avoid international prosecution and arrest, all right?

I am from a small island in Equatorial Guinea called Annobón. This is south of São Tomé and Príncipe. This is a poor, isolated, but very, very beautiful island in Equatorial Guinea. And in terms of my background, I grew up in Annobón, somewhat in Malabo, the capital. And growing up, one of the people there I admired the most was my father. But something happened in 1993 that completely changed what became of Tutu Alicante. Up until 1993, I was in a Catholic seminary studying to become a Catholic priest. August of 1993 – there is an event in my country where a group of young men who were tired of the isolation, tired of the poverty, tired of the abuses carried out by the government military folks decided to march to the governor’s house and demand some rights.

Immediately the government of Equatorial Guinea sent a group of military men to squash their revolt. The military arrived; then within a few hours, had arrested, tortured, beaten all the young men they could find. They shot two of these young men, one of whom I know very, very closely. They burned down several houses, including my family’s house. And I remember having a conversation with my father that night where I asked him what we were going to do about what had just happened. Our house had been burned down because they couldn’t find my cousin. And to this day, I vividly remember my father’s face. He could barely get the words out. But his answer to me – no, there is nothing we can do; we just have to build another house. And that so changed my mind, there – it so affected me because that was the resignation that the entire community felt and shared.

I refused at that moment to believe that nothing could be done in the face of these atrocities, nothing could be done; that you could have your son killed, nothing – there was nothing you could do. You could have your house burned down; there’s nothing you could do. One would expect that in the face of grave atrocities – having your son killed, having your house burned down – a human being would react in some way: maybe become politically active, take the case to the court system, do something that shows how enraged you are by what had just happened to you.

Sadly, my father, like everyone else in the Equatorial Guinea, has never engaged in any political activity, in any legal accountability process to demand redress for any of these types of violations. People fear that by demanding something, by demanding what should obviously be your rights, you will be bringing on more problems, more trouble from the government. So my father has not done anything to this day about what happened to us. And I came to the U.S., to the United States, five months after that. This happened in August; I came to the United States generally in 1994. But I went to the U.S. with the sole purpose of studying and acquiring the skills that will help me bend the arc of history towards justice.

We needed justice in EG. We needed a society that was ruled by laws, a society in which our rights, as human beings, were fully respected. And that is what I do now. I run an organization called EG Justice, and we work with people from Equatorial Guinea, inside the country and in the diaspora, to bring about change, to bring about change, because we need change desperately. 

Equatorial Guinea is one of Africa’s smallest countries, with a population of roughly 650,000 people. It is the only independent country on the continent where Spanish is the official language. Extensive oil reserves were discovered in 1996 and have dramatically altered the country’s fortunes. Oil has made Equatorial Guinea the wealthiest country in Africa on a per capita basis, with the World Bank estimating the country’s per capita GDP (Purchasing Power Parity in current international dollars) at over $35,000 – nominally higher than that of France or Japan. However, the country’s resources are distributed very unevenly, with more than 70 percent of the population living below the poverty line.

The area now known as Equatorial Guinea was home to many indigenous tribal groups when it was first discovered and colonized by the Portuguese in 1471. In 1778, Portugal ceded the area to Spain and it became home to many plantations. Immigrants came from other African countries as well as Spain looking for work. Freed slaves also came to the country, creating a mixture of ethnic and cultural groups. Spain ruled the country as a colony until 1968, when it granted Equatorial Guinea independence.

In 1968, Francisco Macias Nguema became the first president of the nation. During his rule, Macias carried out the execution of those who he perceived as a threat to his rule as well as many members of the Bubi ethnic minority. By the end of his time in power more than a third of the population of Equatorial Guinea had either fled the country or had been executed. The nation experienced a massive “brain drain” as Macias specifically targeted intellectuals and those involved in education. Macias also declared himself president for life, closed down some churches, prevented Equatoguineans from leaving the country, and banned things he perceived as “un-African,” including Western medicine.

In 1979, current President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo overthrew and executed his predecessor and uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema, in a bloody military coup. However, Obiang continued many of the policies and practices of his uncle’s regime. The judiciary and parliament are firmly under the control of the president. Obiang’s regime has never held credible elections. Basic freedoms, such as freedom of expression, assembly and conscience are not respected by the regime.

Equatorial Guinea’s oil resources are controlled by Obiang’s supporters and other elites. Corruption is rampant – in 2013, Transparency International ranked Equatorial Guinea 163rd out of 177 countries surveyed.

In its 2014 “Freedom in the World” Report, Freedom House labeled Equatorial Guinea as “not free”. The nation received the worst possible score of seven in political rights, civil liberties, and as its overall freedom rating. Freedom House’s 2014 “Freedom of the Press” Report gave Equatorial Guinea a score of 90, where 0 is the best possible score and 100 is the worst possible score. 

More from Tutu Alicante

Tutu Alicante: Becoming an Activist “I refused to believe that nothing could be done in the face of these atrocities.” Tutu Alicante: The International Community “There are concrete things that the international community can do to ensure the rule of law.” Tutu Alicante: Repression “How has Obiang been able to maintain power in Equatorial Guinea?” More + Tutu Alicante: The Case of Wenceslao Mansogo “Wenceslao Mansogo, a human rights and prodemocracy advocate, was arrested and imprisoned for his outspokenness.” Tutu Alicante: Discovering Oil “The average person has not benefited from the oil boom.” Tutu Alicante: Studying Law “I realized that change is definitely possible.” Tutu Alicante: Message to Dissidents “Message to Dissidents” Tutu Alicante: About Equatorial Guinea “Equatorial Guinea is the richest country in Africa per capita, but 75 percent of the people live on less than a dollar a day.” Tutu Alicante: The Resource Curse “Transparency is essential for Equatorial Guinea to become a place where we can actually use the resources to address poverty.” Tutu Alicante: Building Civil Society “That’s what freedom is all about – becoming a full-fledged citizen.” Tutu Alicante: The Role of Technology “Technology is the way to an Equatorial Guinean spring.” Tutu Alicante: Heroes Tutu talks about his heroes. Tutu Alicante: Rule of Law “Equatorial Guinea is an example where absolute power has corrupted the government absolutely.” Tutu Alicante: Freedom of the Press “There is no freedom of the press in Equatorial Guinea.” Tutu Alicante: The Arab Spring “The Arab Spring has definitely shown us that there is real power when people come together.” Tutu Alicante: Spanish Message to Dissidents “The Arab Spring shows that we have more power than we think we do.”