The Accidental Tourist

BATA, Equatorial Guinea — This country is a frightening place for foreigners. With a booming oil rush and billions in American petrol companies’ investments, it is fair to say that the government has no real need for a tourist industry. This became very clear to me on my fourth night in the tiny central African nation.

As I walked along a picturesque marble boardwalk at the ocean’s edge, I decided to take a discreet picture of the sea. Within thirty seconds of removing my camera from my backpack, I felt a strong hand on my shoulder. It spun me around so that I was face to face with an angry military officer, who had a large gun slung across his shoulder. He promptly confiscated my camera and questioned me as to what possible reason I could have for being in the country and taking pictures. The soldier even suggested at one point that I could be a “terrorist.” After a disastrous hour or so trying to explain myself across an impossible language barrier, I finally managed to retrieve my camera—after paying a 30,000CFA bribe (about $60).

The message was clear: There is no such thing as tourism in this corner of Africa. Ultimately, however, my run-in with the authorities is just another example of the shortsighted mismanagement of Equatorial Guinea. While the government lavishes in oil wealth, the citizenry suffer under the weight of unbearable poverty. Tourism could be an avenue for Guineans outside of the government sector to begin taking control of their own economic potential. The country itself is a vibrant and beautiful place, with landscapes ranging from volcanic mountains to elephant forests to grassy plains and sleepy seaside villages. With the right resources, there could be a thriving adventure tourism scene here that could send some much-needed money towards the general public. Yet, as long as dictatorial president Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo Nguema continues to rule with an oil-soaked iron fist, Equatorial Guinea might as well hang up a giant sign at the airport that says “Go Away.”

James A. McFadden’10, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Kirkland House.