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Bubi in Equatorial Guinea

  • Profile 

    Bubi people, numbering perhaps 40,000, are indigenous to the island of Bioko, where they were once in the majority.  

    Historical context

    Farmers and traders, Bubi resisted the grabbing of land and pressures to work on Spanish and Fernandino cocoa plantations. From the 1960s (with Spanish encouragement) some Bubi leaders sought separation of the island from mainland Equatorial Guinea. However, repression under the Nguema regimes led to the death and exile of many politically active Bubi, and for many more a period of forced labour on the island. By the 1980s Fang dominated the island numerically as well as politically. In 1993 Bubi radicals established the Movimiento de Autodeterminación de la Isla de Bioko (MAIB) to protest against the total marginalisation of the Bubi people in government and the economy. Before independence there had been a Bubi party, the Union Bubi. MAIB was not a registered party and operated from exile and underground in Bioko. As prominent figures in a coalition of opposition parties, Bubi leaders called for a boycott of elections held in 1993 under unfair circumstances. Violent intimidation was the government’s response. 

    In 1993, security force violence against civilians, and the banning of aid flights, created extreme distress. An early 1994 report by a UN Special Rapporteur on human rights singled out Bubi and Annobón Islanders as victims of ethnic discrimination. 

    In 1998 the government arrested and charged with treason a group of 84 Bubis following an attack on a military barracks on Bioko.  No evidence was presented. Amnesty International reported that their only offence was membership in an opposition party and that their arrests appeared solely motivated on the basis of Bubi ethnic origin. All detainees were tortured. Of 64 convictions, all based on confessions through torture, fifteen of the prisoners were subsequently sentenced to death but had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.  Meanwhile, Bubi have faced continued intense harassment from the military.  Bubi who refused to hand over harvests, money, or land, were prone to beatings and shootings.  The Bubi continue to lack freedom of movement on their island homeland.  In 2006, for the first time since independence, a new prime minister was appointed who was not a Bubi, ending the last symbolic (but empty) gesture against the otherwise total exclusion of Bubi in government. 

    During a 2010 visit to the country the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment received reports of discriminatory practices against Bubi detainees by others in detention or by prison staff. In 2011 Amnesty International reported that two opposition activists were detained on suspicion of belonging to MAIB in the run-up to an African Union summit in the capital Malabo, but were subsequently released without charge as they were not members. 

    Current issues

    In a submission to the UN’s 2019 Universal Periodic Review of Equatorial Guinea, a Bubi indigenous peoples’ rights organization, El Pueblo Indígena Bubi de la Isla de Bioko, reported that the movements of Bubi remain strictly controlled by the authorities, with military checkpoints outside their villages. Permission to travel across the island of Bioko has to be sought in advance, which effectively curbs Bubi villagers’ contacts with their relatives and friends. These controls have also prevented the election of Bubi representatives, as Bubi voters have not been able to hold any community congresses.  

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