In 2013, Equatorial Guinea donated $30 million to fight hunger in Africa. Truthfully though, that donation may have been partly inspired by self-interest. Located west of Central Africa itself, the tiny nation is dwarfed in reputation by its northern compatriot Guinea. Below are five other reasons people are hungry in large swaths of its population.
Many Americans are culturally illiterate when it comes to Africa as a whole. They do not know how many countries there are, much less the individual distinctions between those countries. When casually asked about the location of the 2010 World Cup, most of them shrug and reply, “Africa.” What follows is a fair amount of “voluntourism,” our second reason.
“An act carried out by … hoards of … the great unwashed backpacker brigade descend on a place to do have a jolly nice holiday—usually at precious little cost to themselves—and do the occasional bit of good work.” The Urban Dictionary definition says it all. Voluntourists seldom go to Africa because they are dedicated to ending the suffering of African women or children. Instead, it’s become a social rite of passage and a booster for résumés and college applications.
Lauren Kascak—a three-time, self-admitted voluntourist herself—asserts, “Voluntourism is ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the communities they visit … In Ghana … local people weren’t purchasing health insurance, since they knew there would be free foreign health care and medications available every few months. This left them vulnerable in the intervening times, not to mention when the organization would leave the community.”
3. Misplaced priorities
Closely related to voluntourism, many people who do come to Equatorial Guinea with a helpful mindset end up not helping in ways that have lasting impacts. It is said that if a man is given fish, he will only have food for one day. Many altruists are, sometimes literally, the fish-givers. For this reason, it cannot be stressed enough the importance of diversifying aid beyond handouts and freebies. Otherwise, the very “Others” whom altruists try to help become dependent upon the latter’s aid, eventually stunting economic growth on a grand scale.
4. The Paradox of Plenty
Equatorial Guinea is not a poster child nation of poverty; it struck oil in 1995 and is now perceived as relatively wealthy. However, its people remain stuck in poverty because the government also has misplaced priorities. While it has increased the annual amount spent on public works, less than half of Equatorial Guinea’s population has access to clean drinking water. Its child mortality rate remains near 10 percent. Why? That brings us to point five.
Ahh, the old C-word is back. The leaders of Equatorial Guinea, since its independence in 1968, have ruled over the small country with a dictatorial, terroristic mindset. Its first leader following independence was Francisco Macias Nguema: a dictator who ordered the deaths of thousands of opponents, including some of his own family members. He remains known as “one of the most kleptocratic, corrupt, and dictatorial leaders in post-colonial African history.” His successor and nephew, Teodoro Mbasogo, may not be much better. Mbasogo may not be connected to a possible Bubi genocide, but Human Rights Watch maintains that he has used the oil boom to carry on the kleptocracy that his predecessor instituted.
– Leah Zazofsky