By Erik Hagen
English translation of this story was published on 29 November 2010.
From the brand new TV building (over) propaganda television programmes are sent on Norwegian antennas to all over Equatorial Guinea. (Photo: Equatorial Guinea’s Department of Communications)
The Bergen company Nera Networks, which develops infrastructure for telecommunications all over the world, has during the past few years given Equatorial Guinea’s censored state television channel a giant lift. Now propaganda from the country’s dictator may reach all corners of the country.
So far, it has been well known that a long series of Norwegian companies in the oil business have contributed to developing the oil industry in Equatorial Guinea. In September Norwatch revealed that some of the oil from the country’s offshore field finds its way to Esso’s plant at Slagentangen near Tønsberg. Last year the export to Norway amounted to NOK 1.2 billion, and the importer, Esso, won’t reveal how much it has paid in taxes to Equatorial Guinea’s dictator.
Norwatch can now report that part of the state’s oil income is used to develop the propaganda in the country, with the help of Nera Networks of Bergen.
God’s Right Hand – from Bergen
President Obiang does not exactly have a low opinion of himself. He has modestly called himself “God of the Country”. To improve his status, he is backed up by a well-oiled propaganda machine. And the agreement to develop the country’s infrastructure, worth 18 million euro, was awarded to Nera Networks.
The contract was part of the modernization lift for the state channel RTVGE. By means of new giant antennas the state channel’s message about Obiang’s greatness can now be transmitted to almost all of the population in the destitute country. It has been especially important for the authorities to obtain good TV contact between the island where the capital is located and the mainland, where the majority of the population lives. The new Nera antennas, which have just been raised, make sure of that.
It is a closely supervised message that will be broadcast, since nobody in the opposition gets a chance in the radio and TV transmissions. Here Obiang is lauded to the skies – literally.
“He may decide to kill others without being held responsible and without going to hell, because he is God incarnate,” the RTVGE radio programmes have proclaimed, without irony, and in homage to the country’s leader.
Last year the minister of information fired four of the journalists in RTVGE. They had been “disobedient” and “lacked enthusiasm”, it was claimed. According to the organization Reporters without Borders, the reason was supposed to have been that they did not cover the government’s “merits” sufficiently. This past spring another RTVGE journalist was apprehended for 3 days after he had made a radio report on seven dead bodies discovered at a public rubbish heap. Foreign journalists are constantly denied entry to the country. The only private channel is owned by the president’s son.
It is by means of this total media control that Obiang wins the elections with from 95% to 100% of the votes. Ever since 1979, when he killed his president uncle in a coup d’état, Obiang has governed the mini-state with an iron grip. The country is among the richest in the world per inhabitant. Simultaneously, 77% of the population lives in dire poverty. All income from the oil industry goes to the president’s closest allies.
“The Obiang family rules the country as if it were their private property, and the oil income is used to consolidate the regime’s position. The oil money is now being invested in a grand-scale information campaign to strengthen the government’s image, both internationally and locally,” according to Rainer Henig, who has immersed himself in Equatorial Guinea’s economic history in his doctoral thesis at the University of Tromsø. He says it is extremely alarming that a Norwegian company supports such a system and believes the state channel is an important tool in enabling Obiang to keep the power in the country.
“It is difficult for us to comment on individual contracts. In general, we believe that communications technology and infrastructure promote democracy and human rights and provide grounds for economic growth. We consider this a positive step for the country to get out of poverty,” Trygve Dahle of Nera told Norwatch.
“Can this type of technology be misused?”
“Unfortunately, neither we nor other companies have any guarantee that our products will not be misused in some situations,” Dahle said.