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
One of the things I always tell college students in the U.S. when I talk to them is that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And it’s this quote by Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As citizens of the world, we have a moral obligation to ensure that when something is happening to someone that is unjust, we speak up, we denounce, we do something to change that situation. And to my friends in the U.S., to my people watching this interview, I hope that they’ll reflect on the meanings of those words from Martin Luther King.
To people working in closed, nondemocratic, despotic regimes, I think the Arab Spring has shown us that change is possible. Six months ago I could not have imagined an Egypt without Mubarak, a Libya without Gaddafi, et cetera. And today we know for sure that when people come together, we can actually change our situation. Senegal is another example where – I was in Senegal a month before Wade went to the election booth or election ballots to try to prolong his stay in power. And seeing young artists, young people come together to say that was not going to happen, then three months later finding that that did not happen because the people stood together and stood against tyranny and stood against dictatorship gives me hope.
I think what is happening in China today is another place where I draw a lot of hope from. There was a time when political prisoners in China were not known. Right now when there is a political prisoner in China, the U.S. and the international community is there to support that. Definitely access to information, social media, new technologies gives me hope that we as a humanity, as a society, as a global community, we can actually spread freedom around the world faster than we could a few years ago. When a political prisoner in Zimbabwe knows that within hours, their condition, their status can be known by thousands of people that can sign a petition to an influential government, to an influential decision-maker, that is real power that can help us change our current situations.
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.