Today’s New York Times carries a full page ad under the title, “Equatorial Guinea, New Paradise for Investors.”  The ad reminded me of one of the geography lessons my father gave me, age 10, and my brother, age 8.  He constantly told us about all the nations and peoples of the world but this lesson stood out because he said the story of this  then small Spanish colony revolved around the constant conflict between the “Fangs and the Bubis.”  Now what ten year old would not be intrigued by such names, “Fangs and Bubis?”

Thirty years later, while at our embassy in Madrid, I came across the tiny nation again.  This time my boss, a charming native of New Orleans with a delightful accent laden with equal parts of molasses and butter, told me about having been a key witness in what is generally considered to be the most startling murder ever committed in one of our embassy’s. 

The murder took place during the regime of Equatorial Guinea’s first president after the end of colonial rule, Francisco Macias Nguema.  Macias was perhaps the worse of the several  ruthless dictators that have ruled post-colonial Africa.  It is estimated that during his rule he had killed 80,000 of the 300,000 people in the country.  He was even accused of cannibalism. 

The nightmare outside the embassy seeped inside leaving the small staff  in a constant state of mental distress.  The murder occurred after the embassy’s staff  had been evacuated leaving behind the top officer and his communications man locked in the secure communications room.   In an apparent fit of rage the communications man stabbed the officer to death with a pair of scissors.  Since there were no eye witnesses, my New Orleans colleague testified at the trial of the murderer as to his character.  The defendant was found guilty and sentenced to prison. The murder became a legend in the Foreign Service.

About the same time I worked with my New Orleans boss, a Spanish business friend of mine came back from a trip to Equatorial Guinea.  He spoke of seeing the most startling evidence of how poor the country was, and it was one of those that hung on to the bottom rung of the world’s economic ladder with its fingernails.  My friend had actually seen a man standing on the main street of  the country’s capital, Malabo, selling spaghetti by the strand!

Later,  in 1990, while at our consulate general in Monterrey, Mexico my colleague and friend, the Consul-General, John Bennett, called me in to tell me he had been named to be our ambassador to Equatorial Guinea.  In reply, I told him, “John, just remember, the Fangs and the Bubis.”   John went to the country without his family but was soon “PNG’ed” or ejected by the country as “persona non grata.”  I believe he got caught between the Fangs and the Bubis.

A few years later Equatorial Guineas jumped from the bottom rung of the economic ladder to the highest per capita income rate in Africa courtesy of the discovery and exploitation of some very rich oil deposits.  In 2002 my then business partner, a Serb who had established himself in the USA, at my suggestion, went to Malabo to see how we could cash in on Equatorial Guinea’s new found wealth.  While there his business collapsed in the USA under the weight of a mountain of debt leaving me to clean up the mess.  The last time I talked to him was a phone call from Malabo in which he explained he was very sick and could do no business.  I told him to go back to Europe and not return to the USA since his creditors were waiting to skin him alive if he returned.  I never saw him again.

Nor have I ever actually seen Equatorial Guineas but I feel a certain affinity for the place and was pleased to see that it is now a “Paradise for Investors.”  But its current president is notorious for his dictatorial manner, in spite of having been recently made the head of the Organization of African Unity.  And for those who do decide to invest in its economy, just beware of the “Fangs and the Bubis.”