VIP PARTICIPATES IN HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE IN EQUATORIAL GUINEA OCTOBER 2012
Article by Helen Broadus – President of Venue International Professionals, Inc.
The Republic of Equatorial Guinea, under the auspices of the President H.E. Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and coordinated by Dr. Gloria B. Herndon the President of GB Energie, hosted a highly successful International Leadership Conference from October 14-18, 2012 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. The theme of this conference was “The Role of Local Leadership in Achieving Sustainability” and the objective was to bring together international leaders with public-private sector officials from Equatorial Guinea in order to exchange ideas on issues of municipal development and management, healthcare, education, energy, agriculture, environment and arts and culture. The principals of Venue International Professionals, Inc. attended the conference as delegates and were asked to take the lead role in organizing a Forum on Eco-Tourism/Diaspora on October 16th. VIP had the opportunity to meet with senior officials in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism as well as conducted various site inspections during our visit to Equatorial Guinea.
During my visit to Equatorial Guinea I had the opportunity to visit the Cultural Center of Equatorial Guinea to learn more about the history and culture of the people of Equatorial Guinea. As a background, the capital city is Malabo which is located on Bioko Island. Malabo was named after a local king who was in power when the Portuguese first arrived in 1472. Another important leader who inhabited the island was Luba who was the king of the Bubi people. These were the indigenous people who were predominately fishermen when the Europeans arrived. Currently, the major ethnic group is known as the Fang people who are the inhabitants of the mainland of Equatorial Guinea and they are mainly an agriculturally based community.
At the Cultural Center I was able to see several artifacts from the Bubi and Fang people to include wooden statues, intricate ceremonial masks and other wood carvings that were used for various ritual purposes. I was actually familiar with several of the unique features of these artifacts and was able to correctly identify them from my travels to other West African nations. Many cultural artists from Equatorial Guinea are world-famous and had great influence on impressionism and cubism art by such greats as Picasso. They include cubism artist Ghuty Mamae who has taught at major art schools/universities in Madrid and Barcelona in Spain; Leandro Mbomio a famous bronze sculpturer who also featured cubism in his major works and Gabriel Mokolo Awambala who specialized in sculptures featuring ancestral depictions of life in Equatorial Guinea. Their collective artistry is widely recognized for how they have blended influences of geometry and lines, mixtures of colors and cubism imagery.
A very interesting thing that I learned was that the name OBAMA is a very familiar surname with the local people even though they were eventually colonized by the Spanish, French and Portuguese. Specifically, the word OBAM comes from a traditional fable of “a great bird that guides people to water or freedom”. It also has great meaning both spiritually and culturally to the local people and those who are named OBAMA are typically “destined to be leaders of their people”. In fact, many of the people in leadership position in government and business have the name OBAMA! Coincidentally, the Deputy Minister of Tourism who I met at the conference is named Obama.
In addition to my visit to the Cultural Center of Equatorial Guinea, I had the opportunity to visit several other points of interest on the island to include: Old Malabo City which is where the majority of the Bubi people live and New Malabo City which is currently being designed as a modern city to take the place of Old Malabo City. This is a major undertaking of the Government of Equatorial Guinea and it was amazing to see all of the new construction being done each day.
Many of the Fang people who move from the mainland are being employed as government workers and they will live in New Malabo City. Another interesting fact is that in order to keep pace with all of the interest in trade and investment (particularly pertaining to the expanding oil industry) the Government of Equatorial Guinea has decided to build a suburb of Malabo known as Sipopo. This is also were many of the foreign nationals live, especially many of the Chinese workers who are building the new developments.
I also visited an area called Luba which is primarily an agricultural community where the Bubi people live. Much to my amazement, I noticed that even in the rural areas there was basic electricity and the availability of clean drinking water in the local communities. I also had an opportunity for a “host-day” visit to the City of Bata located on the mainland of Equatorial Guinea. Again, it was quite surprising to see all of the government-sponsored construction designed to improve the quality of life in basic accommodations with paved roadways, bridges and electricity for its people. The highlight of our visit to Bata was when we were greeted in Mbini for a full cultural immersion of the hospitality of the wonderful people of Equatorial Guinea.
In closing, my visit to Equatorial Guinea was an amazing opportunity to learn more about a unique culture in Central Africa that has had great influence on Western art especially that of impressionist and cubism artist.
About the author of this article: Helen Broadus is the President of Venue International Professionals, Inc. – a full service travel and tourism consulting company that specializes on tourism destinations on the African Continent. She is also a docent at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. and frequently writes articles about the cultural and historical aspects of her many visits to African destinations