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Equatorial Guinea

Michael Ugarte

Equatorial Guinea (Bioko) was a Spanish colony from 1778 to 1968; in 1900 the area of continental Africa called Río Muni became part of Equatorial Guinea through a treaty with France. Spanish is the official language, although indigenous (Fang, Bubi, Combe/Ndowe) languages are widely spoken. During the dictatorships of Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923-1930) and Francisco Franco (1936-1975) colonial administrative units were established to regulate activities in Morocco and the areas on the African central west coast.

Independence in 1968 was followed by the dictatorship of Francisco Macías (1970-1979) which gave rise to another dictatorship through a coup plotted by his nephew, Teodoro Obiang who rules today. Both regimes are, "text-book" cases of post-colonial political and cultural patterns. With the discovery of oil in the eighties we see a new arrival of the "first world" in the form of energy conglomerates: Repsol in Spain, along with Exxon-Mobil, Triton Oil, and other Texas-based companies. France also has major interests in Equatoguinean oil.

My Present Projects:
1. My focus on Equatorial Guinea has led to an investigation of the broader issue of the self-conceptions of nation and nationhood in Spain through interactions with its African "other" in the 20th century. I am now writing a book on these topics by re-reading Spain's 20th century history and culture vis-à-vis its "African other": its exchanges, interactions, dialogues, conflicts, and relations with the inhabitants of that "other" continent. I divide my project into four sections: I)Theory and concepts, II Spain and Morocco in the 19-20th centuries, III Equatorial Guinea, and IV African immigration to Spain. In this project, Africa is at once a real and symbolic space: real in terms of the economically and historically specific areas of the continent that have had direct contact with Spain, and symbolic as an "other," as not-same, a separate entity albeit integral to national consciousness.

This project deals with the following issues: post-colonial conceptions of "otherness," or Post-colonial "othering" (Bill Ashcroft Post-colonial Studies, the Key Concepts), Fanon's theories of African identity, Emmanuel Levinas's ethics, the vicissitudes of Spanish colonialism from the "disaster" of the Spanish American War to another colonial war in Morocco, Equatorial Guinea in Spanish consciousness, and Spain in Equatoguinean consciousness as revealed in a rich body of literature (just one among several important novelists is Donato Ndongo, presently in exile from Equatorial Guinea and living in Murcia Spain).

2. I am also translating Ndongo's first novel Las tinieblas de tu memoria negra (Shades of Your Black Memory) into English.

Questions for Workshop(s):

  1. How do European nations view Spain in its proximity to Africa (both geographically and culturally). Is Spain considered an "other" within Europe, as in the old adage in the age of Napoleon: "Africa begins at the Pyrenees."

  2. What is the European reception of African literatures: how are Anglophone African literatures received in England? Francophone in France? Lusophone in Portugal?

  3. How is the relatively new field of cultural studies affecting the study of "Black Europe"? Is the serious study of film, music, dance, news media (including television), and other forms of popular culture considered worthy areas of study in the university, not only in research but teaching as well?

  4. Spain's colonial era had to do with European domination of Latin America mainly in the 16th and 17th centuries. But the history of Africa is directly related to this domination in the form of slave trade. How has slavery and the Diaspora made for cultural hybridity in the modern/contemporary period? One effect of the slave trade might be the prosperity Europe is generally experiencing today while Africa (in its vast majority of nations) is experiencing just the opposite. Is there a cause/effect?

  5. What do other Europeans know about Equatorial Guinea? What do other African countries know about Equatorial Guinea?

  6. What are the difficulties of publishing "serious" literature by Africans seeking readership in Europe?

  7. Who are the audiences of "serious" African literature considering the remarkable variety of languages, both European and African? In other words, who reads African literature?

  8. How is (should) the literary canon be re-structured, taught, questioned in the light of writing by and about Black Europeans.

  9. How is the complex and multifaceted concept of the "other" reformulated (or perhaps extended or reaffirmed) in the consideration of Africans in Europe? I refer to discussions of the "other" in Sartre, Lacan, Fanon, De Certeau, Levinas, Habermas, and post-colonial theorists.

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