Why I Went to Equatorial Guinea: FAQs Edition
My peoples! Last Saturday, I got back from an amazing and transformative trip that I was on for a week. I was more hush hush than usual about my disappearance from blogging and all but it was for a good reason.
I was in the city (and island) of Malabo, in Equatorial Guinea, as part of the Afripolitans delegation for the 9th Leon Sullivan Summit. The trip was sponsored by the DC-based civil rights organization, the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, and it was steeped in controversy. This is why I was mainly quiet about my participation until my return. Real Gs move in silence like gnomes and gnats and weight!
What does all that mean? I’ma break it down into the FAQs folks throw at me when they hear it.
Equatorial Guinea? Where’s that???
Chile, I know you might not have heard of it. I called AT&T to ask them about the possibility of me getting an international phone plan while I was there. The dude who answered the phone put me on hold for 10 minutes only to come back and tell me I was the first person to ever call and ask for that destination. And then he told me “NAWL. We ain’t e’em got towers there or partnerships.” Not in those words but WOMP.
Ennehweighs, Equatorial Guinea is a small country in Central (some say West) Africa, between Cameroon and Gabon. Malabo is the capital city, and it’s on an Island off the coast of the mainland.
What is the Leon Sullivan Summit?
The Summit, and the foundation that plans it, bears the name of civil rights activist Reverend Leon H. Sullivan, whose life was dedicated to improving human rights, social justice and economic fairness in Africa and the diaspora. Before his death in 2001, Reverend Sullivan received honorary doctorates from over 50 universities and got a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Pres. George H.W. Bush. EPIC, I say.
Anyway, the Leon Sullivan Summit happens ever 2 years in a country on the continent of Africa “to highlight key issues and best practices, stimulate discussion, define opportunities, promote private enterprise and foster high-level strategic partnerships.”
The Summit is nothing to sneeze at, and is well attended by heads of states and world leaders. Past attendees read like a who’s who of people who are running things around the world.
Why the hell were you there? What’s this “Afripolitans” thing?
BECAUSE I’M AFRICAN, FOOL!!! No I’m just kidding.
Wells, the Sullivan Foundation, and CEO Hope Sullivan Masters, wanted young Black leaders to experience the Summit and possibly help bridge the gap between Africa and the Diaspora. As the next generation, it’s important that young folks are included in the conversation, so we can carry the torch and all that good stuff. We are the future and the future is now so we can’t be excluded.
I was one of 80 folks chosen (originally it was 50) to be a part of this delegation, and we were referred to as the “Afripolitans.” We were all brought together by Cherae Robinson, who thought it was especially important for folks like us to be represented at the Summit. She gets all the props for being the mastermind.
The Afripolitan delegation ranged from ages 23 to a couple of people who were over 40. We spanned all industries (agriculture, media, advertising, technology, food science, commerce and so much more) but what we all had in common is that we’re doing great work and making impact in our spaces. We were truly a dynamic group (with extreme ratchetness to boot) and we went to the Summit to listen, observe and contribute.
What was the controversy about?
Wells, Equatorial Guinea is run by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, and he happens to be the longest-running president in the African Union (since the passing of Ghadafi). He’s been at it since 1979 and doesn’t look to be leaving anytime soon, so he has been referred to as a dictator. Then add the accusations of human rights violations (as well as the scandal of the international warrants out for his son’s arrest) and you see a mess and then some.
Some human rights groups were giving the Sullivan Foundation MAJOR side-eye and there was much backlash for the decision to hold the Summit in EG. In fact, they went on a major campaign to try to stop the Summit from happening, tweeting people who were invited and doing a lot.
Hope Sullivan Masters was accused of being a pawn in the Obiang chess game and a lot of bad press happened in the weeks leading up to the Summit. So a lot of invited figures declined invitation, and some were very vocal about their lack of support for the Summit.
It was drama.
Luvvie, why did you go in spite of all that controversy?
First of all, tuck in your judging eyes. See what had happened was… O___O
I admit that at first, I was slightly hesitant about making the trip. When I read all the articles about Obiang’s record, as well as the possible security risk, it took me aback for a bit. But nothing in my head rang an alarm that I wouldn’t be safe.
Beyond that, I wanted to see this country for myself. I wanted to see what I had read about first-hand and then come to my own informed conclusions. I also wanted to be a part of the conversation happening. I’m Nigerian born and bred, and my connection to the continent of Africa is still strong, and excluding myself will be a disservice to me, above all else. If I said “no” I’d be wondering “what if?”
Also, let’s face it. Equatorial Guinea is not exactly known for tourism. There aren’t going to be many opportunities I get to go to this country, especially all-expense paid. For me, I needed to say yes. YOLO and all that jazz.
Aight so how was the trip?
It was amazing for me. AMAZING. In fact, look out for a post from me with the highlights of the trip and what made it rocked my world. That’s a whole post by itself. TRUST ME! But the Summit itself was disappointing to me.
Why was the Summit disappointing? And how did you still have a great time?
I ended up only going to 2 days of the whole Summit and it was because days 1 and 2 did nothing for me and I realized my reason for being in EG were greater than sitting in the Sipopo Conference Center.
I wasn’t even fazed that the Summit began 2 hours later than planned on Day 1. CP time is on steroids when you get to the continent of Africa. But that wasn’t even terrible because I expected that. However, the speeches by the heads of state felt like the usual talking head spiel. And honestly, the whole day felt like a commercial for President Obiang. It was like 5 hours of being told “He’s really awesome. Believe us! Don’t believe everyone else. THEY LIED ON HIM!” and I was put off by the pandering. Yes, some great points were made about how the world needs Africa, but overall, it felt like a PR campaign.
Plus, we were basically not allowed to eat until the President was good and done speaking. Even though it was 4:30pm. On some “put down your plates and come back in until he finishes” deal and I was like “even my mama doesn’t tell me when to put food in my mouth. NAWL!” I thought it spoke to the greater control that he has on his people. And there’s a different between respect and reverence and folks leaned towards the latter for him. Which made me uneasy.
Also of interest, where the conference was held was a billion dollar building in Sipopo, a part of Malabo that’s restricted to private citizens of Equatorial Guinea. It’s like if the US banned citizens from accessing the entire part of downtown DC, where the White House is located.
Then, panels kept on being cancelled. Day 1, all the panels ended up cancelled. Day 2, a bunch of them were too. So potentially interesting conversations I wanted to participate in didn’t end up happening. I did have great conversations with people in the hallway (which isn’t unlike a lot of conferences I attend). I’m not sure where the breakdown happened but things fell apart. Word to Chinua Achebe. That was my last day at Sipopo. NO MORE SIPOPO for me after that.
So you still ain’t told me why the trip was amazing after all that.
DANG! Chill! Fine, since you can’t wait, I’ll give you the cliff notes. Getting a chance to SEE and BE in Equatorial Guinea was great! The trip was amazing when the Afripolitans did our own thing and ventured into EG on our own to see Malabo for ourselves. It was amazing at nighttime when we kicked it! It was awesomesauce when we visited the orphanage. Talking to the locals was awesome. And the Afripolitans made the trip a once in a lifetime experience. I’ll go into detail on these on my next post about the trip.
But even with the disappointing part of the trip, EVERY experience was necessary. It was all part of a package of 7 exhilarating days that challenged us and made us uncomfortable many times. It taught us patience and made us see our weaknesses when thrown in the middle of chaos. It was also challenging to really open my mind to what I was seeing. Observing and then figuring out what I thought later.
Would you do it all over again?
In a heartbeat. Yes. Everything happens for a reason and we get to be in the spaces we’re in at the moment we’re in them for a reason. I figured out the reason for my trip and I’ll share that with y’all later. But yes. I’d do it again without hesitation. A “What I took away from the trip” post is coming too.
But know one thing. This trip was TRULY epic.
Any other questions?
I said a lot but it still wasn’t enough to fully explain the Summit, Rev. Leon Sullivan or the Foundation so y’all can use your Googling powers for more info. Or click the links I included in the post.
With that being said, let me add. I am NOT an employee of the Sullivan Foundation nor was I compensated for going on the trip besides my flight and hotel. So for the people who want to get froggy, have a seat for a second and read. This Summit is a hot button issue for some but don’t come in my comments section acting out. I leave that disclaimer so govern yourself accordingly. For reasons.