strange states­men

SD TUCKER ex­am­ines the mur­der­ous legacy of Fran­cisco Macías Nguema, the de­mented Iboga-trip­ping African despot who got high on ban­ning books, ed­u­ca­tion and clever peo­ple from his coun­try, all whilst de­vel­op­ing a unique def­i­ni­tion of the term ‘brain-food’.

Fortean Times - - Contents -

He don’t need no ed­u­ca­tion sd tucker

There is a long-run­ning med­i­cal con­tro­versy as to whether or not the pro­longed abuse of recre­ational drugs and hal­lu­cino­gens can cause se­ri­ous men­tal dis­or­ders amongst their users. A brief ex­am­i­na­tion of the ex­traor­di­nar­ily bizarre and blood­thirsty ca­reer of Fran­cisco Macías Nguema (19241979), Pres­i­dent and self-pro­claimed Unique Mir­a­cle of Equa­to­rial Guinea be­tween 1968 and 1979, would sug­gest that this de­bate should im­me­di­ately be closed. Both a dope and a fiend, the no­to­ri­ously dense and un­e­d­u­ca­ble Macías was so de­voted to all­night ben­ders smok­ing weed and drink­ing brews made from the leaves of the lo­cal hal­lu­cino­genic Iboga plant that it was said the best time for diplo­mats to get him on the phone was at around 3am, when he and his cronies were sit­ting around af­ter dark pass­ing joints be­tween one an­other, and de­vis­ing ever-more deliri­ous plans for run­ning – or, more ac­cu­rately, ru­in­ing – the coun­try.

Such ses­sions would re­sult in lu­di­crous es­capades in which, for ex­am­ple, Macías would sud­denly call up the elec­tric­i­ty­gen­er­at­ing plant in the cap­i­tal Mal­abo and or­der it to stop us­ing all in­dus­trial lu­bri­cants, be­cause he felt up to the task of greas­ing the en­gines him­self with his ‘mag­i­cal pow­ers’. The end re­sult, nat­u­rally, was that the gen­er­a­tors blew up. Not that Macías cared. When he left the cap­i­tal he of­ten or­dered the plant be shut down any­way, see­ing as power was “no longer nec­es­sary” when he wasn’t in town. So chaotic and corpse-rid­den did Equa­to­rial Guinea be­come un­der Macías’s 11-year pe­riod of quasi-geno­ci­dal mis­rule that it is es­ti­mated some­where be­tween 50-70 per cent of the tiny African na­tion’s pop­u­la­tion fled be­yond its bor­ders while they still could. Once Macías re­alised what was hap­pen­ing, he had roads lead­ing out of the coun­try mined to pre­vent es­cape. When peo­ple then tried to flee by sea, he had his se­cu­rity-ser­vices de­stroy ev­ery boat they could find. Those who were left be­hind could be killed for the most ab­surd of rea­sons, such as wear­ing ‘il­le­gal spec­ta­cles’ against his prior com­mand. Es­ti­mates vary, but one com­monly cited fig­ure is that Macías slaugh­tered some 50-70,000 per­sons out of a mi­nus­cule to­tal pop­u­la­tion of about 300,000. Com­pletely ac­cu­rate es­ti­mates are hard to come by, how­ever, be­cause the pro­foundly anti-in­tel­lec­tual Macías dis­ap­proved of the very con­cept of sta­tis­tics and so re­fused to al­low his gov­ern­ment to keep any; when a civil-ser­vant pro­duced some fig­ures which dis­pleased him one day, Macías al­legedly or­dered the man be chopped up into lit­tle pieces in or­der to “help him learn how to count”. Macías’s ha­bit­ual vi­o­lence was of­ten as inventive as it was bar­baric. On Christ­mas Eve 1975, he or­dered his sol­diers to dress as Santa Claus and then fes­tively ex­e­cute 150 of his op­po­nents in the mid­dle of a foot­ball sta­dium whilst Mary Hop­kins’s charm­ing bal­lad ‘Those Were the Days’ was re­layed on a con­tin­u­ous loop through loud­speak­ers to en­hance the mood. An­other time, he had 36 pris­on­ers buried up to their necks in soil, then left them out to be eaten alive by ants, face-first. How could such an ob­vi­ous lu­natic pos­si­bly have ever been elected to a po­si­tion of ul­ti­mate power?


The rise of Fran­cisco Macías Nguema is the most cau­tion­ary parable of the post-colo­nial era. When he was born in 1924 his land was owned by Spain and op­er­ated un­der the name of Span­ish Guinea, a small but well­run colony. The ‘coun­try’ it­self was a wholly artificial in­ven­tion, con­sist­ing mainly of a rec­tan­gle of land lo­cated in the armpit of West Africa, known as Río Muni, and the world’s most em­bar­rass­ingly named is­land, Fer­nando Poo (famed among forteans for its key role in the Il­lu­mi­na­tus! Tril­ogy), nei­ther of whose na­tive pop­u­la­tions had much in com­mon with one an­other be­yond rule from Madrid. Spain dur­ing most of Macías life­time had its own dic­ta­tor, in the shape of the fas­cist Gen­eral Fran­cisco Franco. No friend of democ­racy, when global pres­sure was placed upon Euro­pean pow­ers to free their African colonies dur­ing the 1950s and ‘60s, Franco sought to im­ple­ment some kind of fudge in which Span­ish colonists would still re­tain many of the key posts in in­dis­pen­si­ble pro­fes­sions like law, in­dus­try, agri­cul­ture and the civil ser­vice: a na­tive pres­i­dent and cab­i­net would be in over­all charge, but the na­tion would be ba­si­cally un­govern­able without the con­tin­ued con­sent of the white set­tlers, who were the only ones prop­erly trained to keep civil so­ci­ety go­ing. What Franco did not an­tic­i­pate, how­ever, was that the na­tion’s first post-in­de­pen­dence Pres­i­dent would be an out­right psy­chopath who sim­ply wouldn’t care if the en­tire coun­try be­gan to col­lapse around him.

Macías was born in 1924, the son of a prom­i­nent witch­doc­tor in the lo­cal Bwiti cult, which was wide­spread amongst the Fang peo­ple of Río Muni. Dis­turbingly, his


dad is thought to have sac­ri­ficed Macías’s lit­tle brother in the cult’s name and then set his bones up as a cen­tre of rit­ual-wor­ship. Later, the nine-year-old Macías had to watch as a Span­ish colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tor beat his fa­ther to death to teach the na­tives a les­son. A week later, Macías’s mother com­mit­ted sui­cide. That’s enough to drive any child in­sane, and Macías duly obliged; not that his early pa­trons in life, a group of Span­ish Catholic mis­sion­ary priests, no­ticed. As the son of a witch­doc­tor, the lad seemed a prize con­vert, and when the priests took him un­der their wing he seized the op­por­tu­nity for so­cial ad­vance­ment, even adopt­ing the Span­ish name of Macías from one of them. Given his at­ti­tude to­wards the Catholic Church af­ter gain­ing power – de­cree­ing all ser­vices had to be­gin with out­landish hymns of praise in his name, forc­ing all priests to walk bare­foot across hot coals, then fi­nally ban­ning re­li­gion al­to­gether and us­ing churches to store weaponry – it seems sur­pris­ing that Macías was once such a keen Chris­tian, but this sim­ply fits in with a life­long pat­tern of him tem­po­rar­ily pre­tend­ing to be what­ever other peo­ple wanted him to be, just so long as it was to his cur­rent ad­van­tage. What the priests wanted Macías to be most of all was a scholar, but he proved to be barely lit­er­ate. It took him three goes to pass the exam giv­ing him the sta­tus of ‘ emancí­pado’, or ‘civilised cit­i­zen’, which should have opened the door to a bet­ter life as a civil ser­vant; but Macías s ha­tred of book-learn­ing was as in­grained as his in­ap­ti­tude for it, so he went off to be­come a hum­ble farmer in the re­mote prov­ince of Mon­gomo.

How­ever, dur­ing his time with the mis­sion­ar­ies Macías had man­aged to mas­ter a very ba­sic form of spo­ken Span­ish, to the ex­tent, per­haps, that Manuel from

Fawlty Tow­ers ever man­aged to mas­ter English. Mon­gomo’s Span­ish of­fi­cials, whose com­mand of the Fang lan­guage was sim­i­larly ap­palling, quickly sought to ex­ploit Macías s du­bi­ous lin­guis­tic ‘skills’ and ap­pointed him as a court-in­ter­preter. Un­for­tu­nately, he shame­lessly abused his po­si­tion to gain bribes from ac­cused Fang in the dock by threat­en­ing to ‘trans­late’ their tes­ti­monies in such a way that they would end up with far heav­ier pun­ish­ments than they de­served. Nat­u­rally, the lo­cal Fang be­gan to fear Macías, some­thing the colonists mis­took for re­spect. As such, they made him Mayor of Mon­gomo, and when the move­ment for in­de­pen­dence took off he was in­tro­duced into the world of na­tional pol­i­tics. The only part of his ed­u­ca­tion that Macías had re­ally un­der­stood was the end-of-day pro­pa­ganda hour, when pupils were made to con­stantly re­peat slo­gans in praise of Gen­eral Franco, and he was still keen on par­rot­ing these phrases years later, pre­sum­ing this was what the colonists wanted. Think­ing they were deal­ing with an ul­tra-loyal buf­foon, the Span­ish viewed him as an eas­ily ma­nip­u­lated fig­ure who might prove use­ful fol­low­ing in­de­pen­dence. How­ever, the Span­ish had mis­taken Macías’s cave­man-like ut­ter­ances in Span­ish for lack of elo­quence in his na­tive Fang. In 1967, they set up a TV trans­mit­ter and handed out free sets to na­tives so that they could see the can­di­dates to be their fu­ture pres­i­dent speak. One of them was Macías. A shame­less psy­chopath with no sense of self-re­straint, Macías proved a nat­u­ral on-screen tal­ent, giv­ing hyp­notic speeches in Fang to an awed pop­u­lace and win­ning the elec­tion of 1968 by some mar­gin. Even though he had openly praised Adolf Hitler as be­ing “the saviour of Africa”, the peo­ple of the newly re­named Equa­to­rial Guinea had lit­tle inkling that their new-fan­gled demo­crat­i­cally elected leader was to take af­ter the Führer in more ways than a shared tal­ent for soar­ing or­a­tory. Only the res­i­dents of Mon­gomo, who knew all too well what Macías was like, failed to lend him their vote.


The sym­bol used by Macías on vot­ing-slips was that of a tiger, an an­i­mal not known in West Africa. How­ever, ‘ El Ti­gre’ was the Span­ish term for the black pan­thers or leop­ards, which lived lo­cally, and it was well known amongst the Fang that pow­er­ful witch­doc­tors like Macías could trans­form them­selves into such beasts at night. Apart from a few un­co­op­er­a­tive cab­i­net min­is­ters whom he had shot or thrown out of win­dows, the first vic­tims of The Pan­ther’s claws were the un­sus­pect­ing Span­ish and Por­tuguese colonists who had thought their po­si­tion in so­ci­ety se­cure. Un­leash­ing his street-thugs to at­tack their homes and busi­nesses, Macías forced Spain to send out eight de­stroy­ers to evac­u­ate some 7,000 ter­ri­fied colo­nial­ists. Once the ships sailed away, Equa­to­rial Guinea was truly free of the white man’s scru­tiny. Not want­ing to pub­li­cise the fact that demo­cratic elec­tions were now al­lowed in Spain’s for­mer colony but not in Spain it­self, Franco had placed a ban on all re­port­ing from the place do­mes­ti­cally. This, com­bined with few West­ern jour­nal­ists based in Africa be­ing able to speak Span­ish, meant there was a near-to­tal global me­dia black­out on Equa­to­rial Guinea, giv­ing Macías the ideal

op­por­tu­nity to do any­thing he liked. One pri­or­ity was tak­ing re­venge upon the hated ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. In the most ex­treme re­ac­tion to exam fail­ure on record, Macías had all books in the coun­try burned, closed down all li­braries, archives, news­pa­pers and print­ing-presses, ex­e­cuted any­one wear­ing glasses, and banned the very use of the word ‘in­tel­lec­tual’. Shut­ting ev­ery pri­vate school, he mod­i­fied the cur­ricu­lum in state-run ones so that chil­dren were made to waste their days re­peat­edly chant­ing teacher-led slo­gans thank­ing Papa Macías for be­ing the fa­ther of the coun­try, as he had once been made to thank Gen­eral Franco. Study­ing had never done him any good, so Macías al­legedly de­vel­oped a new and more ef­fi­cient means of de­vel­op­ing his mind in­stead – eat­ing the brains of his most in­tel­lec­tu­ally gifted vic­tims, hop­ing thereby to ab­sorb their knowl­edge and live up to his ti­tle of ‘Grand Mas­ter of Sci­ence, Ed­u­ca­tion and Cul­ture’.

The main­land Río Muni area of the coun­try was once known as the ‘Can­ni­bal Coast’, and it was a cen­tral be­lief of tra­di­tional Fang so­ci­ety that eat­ing part of your de­feated en­e­mies would en­able you to take on their pow­ers. It was also a cen­tral tenet of the lo­cal Bwiti witch­doc­tor cult to sit around all night tak­ing drugs and talk­ing to the dead, which helps ac­count for Macías’s pre­ferred noc­tur­nal mode of gov­er­nance. Mov­ing back to the main­land, far away from the is­land sec­tor cap­i­tal of Mal­abo, Macías built a palace and stuffed it full of hu­man skulls so he could be close to the dead. Here, high on mar­i­juana and hal­lu­cino­gens, he would have late-night din­ner-places set at his ta­ble, and or­der his vic­tims to re­turn from ‘The Vil­lage of the Dead’ so he could be­rate them for their fail­ings – a weird, politi­cised de­vel­op­ment of the tra­di­tional Bwiti prac­tice of com­mu­nal con­sump­tion of hal­lu­cino­genic

Iboga- leaves, in or­der to com­mune with the vil­lage an­ces­tors. Com­ing to be­lieve he had su­per­nat­u­ral pow­ers, Macías even­tu­ally banned all re­li­gious prac­tices in the coun­try, in­clud­ing Bwiti, on the grounds that he him­self was now God.

Skulls were not the only thing Macías had stored away in his palace. When he left Mal­abo, he mur­dered the Gover­nor of the Cen­tral Bank and took the con­tents of the Trea­sury away with him to keep safely un­der his bed, or in suit­cases stashed around his room. As God, Macías saw no rea­son to draw dis­tinc­tion be­tween the na­tional Trea­sury and his own pig­gy­bank, and re­fused to set any na­tional bud­gets or keep any proper ac­counts, with the end re­sult that the en­tire econ­omy sim­ply col­lapsed, and peo­ple had to for­age for fruit to sur­vive. Elec­tric­ity, ed­u­ca­tion, health­care, trans­port, san­i­ta­tion, tele­coms – all ceased to func­tion. Only the deadly na­tional se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus still worked, and even se­cret po­lice­men might have to visit Macías per­son­ally to get their back pay, re­trieved from un­der God’s mat­tress.

To raise funds, in 1976 Macías hit upon the scheme of forc­ing the en­tire adult pop­u­la­tion to work as un­paid slaves in mines and put some of his for­tune in banks, de­cree­ing that he alone should be given a spe­cial high in­ter­est-rate of 8 per cent. With money still run­ning short, ‘Mad Un­cle Macías’, as he be­came known, be­gan kid­nap­ping ran­dom for­eign vis­i­tors and de­mand­ing large sums in ran­som from their gov­ern­ments. When, in 1976, a Soviet plane crashed into a rocky peak near Mal­abo, he re­fused to re­lease the corpses back to Rus­sia un­til the Krem­lin agreed to pay him $5 mil­lion in com­pen­sa­tion for “the dam­age caused to my moun­tain”. Things came to a head when, in 1979, Macías killed sev­eral fam­ily mem­bers who had gone to him ask­ing to be paid, which prompted his feared nephew, Lt-Col Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the na­tional-se­cu­rity chief, to in­sti­tute a coup be­fore his own skull ended up in Macías’s ever-grow­ing col­lec­tion. Put on trial, Macías was handed 101 sep­a­rate death sen­tences – but there was a prob­lem. Macías threat­ened to haunt his ex­e­cu­tion­ers in the form of a pan­ther, so a spe­cial unit of Moroc­cans was brought in to do the deed; as good Mus­lims, they had no be­lief in such non­sense, so were un­afraid to shoot him. Obiang then took over, keep­ing the reins of supreme power very much within the fam­ily. He is still the Pres­i­dent of Equa­to­rial Guinea to­day. 1


Obiang has proved to be a more en­light­ened ruler than his un­cle, and un­der his be­nign gaze liv­ing stan­dards in Equa­to­rial Guinea have hap­pily risen from the un­bear­able to the merely ap­palling. Fol­low­ing the dis­cov­ery of large oil-de­posits in 1991, the coun­try has grown ever richer year by year, with some 360,000 bar­rels of the black stuff now be­ing pro­duced per day, gen­er­at­ing bil­lions. Equatogu­ineans should, there­fore, be rich. How­ever, Obiang is al­leged to have kept much of the Trea­sury’s newly gen­er­ated oil wealth for him­self, although prob­a­bly not un­der his bed as his un­cle did. Un­der Obiang, the ran­dom killings and sense­less mass-mur­ders have ended for good, to be re­placed with the al­to­gether more ra­tio­nal hu­man rights abuse only of those per­sons thought to de­serve it. With al­most 40 years of un­in­ter­rupted rule be­hind him, Obiang stands as the long­est-serv­ing non-royal head of state in the world, win­ning elec­tion af­ter elec­tion by highly im­pres­sive, 90 per cent­plus mar­gins – in some vot­ing-ar­eas, he has even achieved as much as 103 per cent of the vote. This is only right, see­ing that in 2003 the na­tional state ra­dio (there are still no news­pa­pers) broad­cast the re­as­sur­ing news that not only was Pres­i­dent Obiang “in per­ma­nent con­tact with the Almighty”, he was in some sense “the coun­try’s God”, hav­ing “all power over men and things”. For ex­am­ple, ex­plained the broad­cast, “He can de­cide to kill without any­one call­ing him to ac­count and without go­ing to Hell, be­cause it is God Him­self… who gives him this strength.”

Nonethe­less, the as­so­ci­a­tion with his de­posed el­der rel­a­tive has stuck, and there are plenty who have sought to tar Obiang with the same brush of sor­cery and in­san­ity. Most no­table was the op­po­si­tion leader Severo Moto, who in 2004 mem­o­rably

claimed that he was un­able to re­turn from po­lit­i­cal ex­ile abroad to his home­land, as Pres­i­dent Obiang wanted to “eat my tes­ti­cles”. Call­ing the au­to­crat both “a de­mon” and “an au­then­tic can­ni­bal”, Mr Moto claims that his ball-bit­ing arch-en­emy “sys­tem­at­i­cally eats his po­lit­i­cal ri­vals”, con­cen­trat­ing upon taste-test­ing their testes to in­crease his sex­ual prow­ess. “He has just de­voured a po­lice-com­mis­sioner,” Moto went on to claim dur­ing a ra­dio in­ter­view. “I say ‘de­voured’, be­cause this com­mis­sioner was buried without his tes­ti­cles and brain.” Obiang him­self has de­nied the charges, and see­ing that they em­anate from a po­lit­i­cal ri­val, they may well be sim­ply an at­tempt to paint him as a car­bon copy of his hated, brain-munch­ing un­cle to sow dis­sent. Such claims have cer­tainly caused em­bar­rass­ment for Obiang’s big­gest mod­ern-day al­lies, the USA. Amer­ica’s rulers have proven them­selves con­sis­tently able to over­look a lit­tle light can­ni­bal­ism be­tween friends, with ‘The Chief’, as he likes to be known, be­ing granted a lengthy and fawn­ing US State Visit in 2006 as part of a post-9/11 drive to re­duce US de­pen­dence on Arab oil. This was quite a con­trast to the dam­ag­ing events of 1993, when the then-US Am­bas­sador, John E Ben­nett, was caught en­gag­ing in ‘witch­craft’ (re: tend­ing Bri­tish war-graves) in a ceme­tery upon the day of Equa­to­rial Guinea’s lat­est rigged elec­tion. It was pub­licly an­nounced that Ben­nett was hop­ing to make use of “tra­di­tional medicine [i.e. magic] given to him by elec­tion­boy­cotting op­po­si­tion par­ties in or­der that the vote would turn out badly” for The Chief. The fol­low­ing year Ben­nett de­parted, giv­ing a vale­dic­tory speech in which he openly named Obiang’s chief tor­tur­ers of the day, lead­ing to a near-to­tal break­down in re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries. Nowa­days, how­ever, oil’s well that ends well, with cer­tain in­ter­ested transat­lantic par­ties,

petro-dol­lars firmly in view, even in­sist­ing that Obiang is a gen­uine force for good in his na­tion, whether he swal­lows peo­ple’s balls or not – the re­alpoli­tik equiv­a­lent of Never Mind the Bol­locks. 2

Pres­i­dent Obiang is cur­rently pro­vid­ing kind shel­ter to one of our for­mer Strange States­men, the now-de­posed AIDS-cur­ing Pres­i­dent Yahya Jam­meh of the Gam­bia (see

FT353:48-51). Surely an imag­ined ac­count of their time spent to­gether has all the mak­ings of a great TV sit­com? Es­pe­cially if Obiang tries to eat him…

LEFT: Fran­cisco Macías Nguema, the first Pres­i­dent of Equa­to­rial Guinea, pho­tographed circa 1970.

LEFT: Macías pho­tographed at Mal­abo air­port, with his uni­formed nephew Teodoro Obiang vis­i­ble at the far right. BE­LOW: Macías’s pres­i­den­tial palace at Mal­abo; he later re­lo­cated to a new one, filled with skulls, fur­ther in­land.

ABOVE: A po­lit­i­cal meet­ing in Equa­to­rial Guinea prior to the coun­try’s first elec­tion since gain­ing in­de­pen­dence from Spain in 1968, in which Macías was first pro­pelled to power.

ABOVE LEFT: The de­posed Pres­i­dent Macías is flanked by Guinean troops on 10 April 1979 dur­ing his trial in Mal­abo. He was sen­tenced to death and ex­e­cuted hours later. ABOVE RIGHT: Equa­to­rial Guinea’s cur­rent Pres­i­dent, Teodoro Obiang Ngue­mathe, who has been ac­cused – like his late un­cle – of eat­ing his po­lit­i­cal ri­vals.

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