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The Government Burned Down His Home, He Committed To Human Rights: Meet Tutu Alicante

Tutu Alicante grew up in Equatorial Guinea, a small nation on the western coast of Central Africa. The country is one of the largest oil producers in sub-Saharan Africa, yet many of its citizens live in extreme poverty. The oil profits stay within the government, and long-serving President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo uses intimidation tactics like imprisonment or even execution to silence his critics.
When Alicante was a young man, he witnessed a devastating act of violence committed by the state against his village. They killed some of his neighbors and burned down his family’s home. Since that day, Alicante has held a firm commitment to bettering the human rights of Equatoguineans. He studied law in the United States and founded a nonprofit called EG Justice, which promotes human rights and transparency in Equatorial Guinea.

Host Frank Stasio talks to Alicante about his early experiences in his home country and his efforts to improve the lives of those who are still there. Alicante currently runs his nonprofit from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Interview Highlights

Alicante on Spanish rule in Equatorial Guinea:
What 200 years of colonialism does to the sense of peoplehood in that country, what it does to the economy to that country, what it does to politics and ideas of politics, particularly when you gain independence at a time when [Francisco] Franco, who was a dictator in Spain, was still ruling over Spain ... Basically all the infrastructure –  political, social, economic infrastructure – that we inherited from Spain are ones that are already broken in terms of an independent country that could aspire to become democratic.

What happened after the government came to his village to squash a revolt:
What struck me about that, that afternoon having a conversation with my father in which I ask him: This has happened to our community. Our own house had been completely burned to the ground. These two young men that we knew very comfortably had been killed. What can we do? And my father – and you have to know my father is one of the people I admire the most, and especially at those ages  – looking at this man that I believed was everything in the world and seeing tears on his face and watching his inability to answer me and eventually blurting out: There is nothing we could do. For me is unacceptable.

On watching the O.J. Simpson trial when he first came to the U.S. in 1994:
Law then gained a new meaning. It gained a social and political meaning, a context that normally when you're just looking at laws in the book you don't know about. All of a sudden the word “guilty” and “not guilty” had a bigger implication than just a legal term. It was also a social and a political term. The same thing with race. The fact that O.J. Simpson was black – it was more than just a social construct. It became a very political issue in the midst of all these legal issues that were being argued.

On his work at EG Justice:
I see it as a place where I'm planting seeds, hoping that one day they will grow. I know what the end picture could look like. I know we want freedom in my country. I know we want a country that is democratic, a country where there is justice and equality for everyone in the country … I strongly believe that you have to work with people at the grassroots, people that are affected by this work, engage them in bringing cases against the corporations, the government, take them to the U.N., take them to the State Department, those places, and ensure that they are taking agency, they are taking that first step in ensuring they're demanding what is theirs to begin with.

On why it’s important to look at the region as a whole:
You don't bring about major change by working in silos. Martin Luther King, Jr. says: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. So there's too much injustice in the world, and focusing only on what's going on in Equatorial Guinea is never going to yield the results that you want, unless at the same time you're also focusing on what's happening in Cameroon, in Chad, in Gabon, in Central African Republic – all that region and beyond.

An example of Ramon's cartoons:



Amanda Magnus is the executive producer of Embodied, a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships and health. She has also worked on other WUNC shows including Tested and CREEP.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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