In a statement read by TVGE’s broadcasters Sunday night, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema called the incident an “accident” and blamed it on the “negligence” of those tasked with guarding stores of dynamite and munitions. He ordered an investigation and asked the international community for help in rebuilding parts of the city that had been destroyed.
Televised footage showed patients streaming into hospitals and rescue crews pulling survivors out of rubble. A news anchor pleaded with viewers to donate blood.
Equatorial Guinea is a small and impoverished country wedged between Gabon and Cameroon on Africa’s Atlantic coast. It’s divided into two parts: the mainland, home to Bata, and an island called Bioko, about 150 miles to the northwest, where the capital, Malabo, is located.
Obiang has been in power since a coup in 1979 and is known for his repressive rule, vast network of corruption and lavish vanity projects. The world’s longest-serving president, he secured a sixth term in 2016, claiming 99 percent of the vote.
While the country is rich in oil and timber, the majority of its million and a half citizens are poor. By some measures, the rate of extreme poverty is 40 percent.
Numerous coup attempts against Obiang have been staged over his decades in power, but in those instances, news coverage has been heavily curtailed. On Sunday, state-run TV showed uninterrupted coverage of the blasts throughout the afternoon and evening.
Blasts at arms depots have been seen in central Africa. Nine years ago, almost 250 people were killed in a similar series of explosions on the outskirts of Brazzaville, capital of the Congo Republic.
Equatorial Guinea and the Congo Republic are both ruled by leaders who have spent decades in power and often use their militaries’ might against their own people to suppress dissent.
Bearak reported from Khartoum, Sudan.