Jose Mañana Interview «Equatorial Guinea is a wonder to be discovered»

Jose Mañana «Equatorial Guinea is a wonder to be discovered»

Esta entrada también está disponible en: English Español (Spanish)

72,000 people follow the YouTube channel of José Mañana, an Equatoguinean influencer who is making his country known to the world and who tells us about the wonders of the only Hispanic country in Africa

“A gentle breeze caresses you while you hear the piercing sound of the waves hitting the seawall. And you get that feeling that you’re experiencing something you’ve never felt before. You vibrate with the hustle and bustle of the people crowding around and it smells… what does Equatorial Guinea smell like? Equatorial Guinea smells like poppies”. This is how José Mañana remembers his last afternoon on  Bata seafront, “one of the most beautiful places” he has ever been to and his favourite spot in the city. And he does so with the nostalgia of someone who, after years away, dreams of returning home.

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José is 25 years old and defines himself as “a guy who makes sure that his country is known in the Hispanic world”. To say this sounds like a paradox, like trying to make Portugal known in Europe or Korea in Asia. Because his country, Equatorial Guinea, is as much a part of the Hispanic world as Spain, Argentina or Colombia. Located in Central Africa and independent since 1968, Guinea is the only Spanish-speaking country on the continent and, together with America and Europe, “closes the triangle” of Cervantes’ language in the world, as the writer Donato Ndongo likes to say.

But very little of this is known outside its borders. And that is what José fights against with his YouTube channel, which he started in 2019 and which already has 72,000 followers. He started with videos about magic and social criticism. He soon moved to Malaysia to study and realized that people needed to know that Equatorial Guinea existed and had a lot to share with the world. “Nobody even knew that Spanish was spoken in Africa. When they heard me speaking it, they would ask me how long I had lived in Spain, I’ve never set foot in Spain, Spanish is spoken in my country!”

“When they heard me speaking Spanish, they would ask me how long I had lived in Spain, I've never set foot in Spain, Spanish is spoken in my country!”

Spanish is, like the other European languages spoken in Africa, a product of colonization. Despite this, he believes that Guineans have made it part of their culture: “It was something that was imposed on us, but at the same time it is the best legacy that that dark period left us. We young people know that Spanish is our main tool for communicating and going out into the world”.

Spanish Cultural Center in Malabo

Nor does José believe that the language of Cervantes is endangered by the coexistence of French and Portuguese, which since 1998 and 2007 share official status with Spanish: “I have never heard French in the street, nobody is interested in speaking it, and Portuguese is not even studied at school. There are news programs in both languages and their audience is zero. Guineans don’t see the point of changing languages, we have fallen in love with Spanish”. In everyday life, his countrymen use it in the public, school and work spheres, while in the family, the native languages prevail, especially Fang (on the mainland) and Bubi (on the island of Bioko).

“We have fallen in love with Spanish and we know that it is our main tool for communicating and going out into the world"

The common language is, for José, what unites Equatorial Guinea with Spain and with the 19 Spanish-speaking countries of America: “When I came into contact with the Latin world, I saw that I identified with them, that the language led us to a shared culture and that Equatorial Guinea must be considered part of that community if we want them to know us and visit us”. This is precisely the pending challenge in Equatorial Guinea: tourism.

“Equatorial Guinea is a wonder to be discovered, but if people don’t know the value of tourism, they can’t invest in it”

Despite the fact that the country is, for this influencer, “a wonder to be discovered”, it is at the bottom of the ranking of the least visited places in the world. The reason? For him, it is the lack of knowledge of the industry: “If the people who live in Equatorial Guinea don’t know the value of tourism, they can’t invest in it. Right now our only economic source is oil, but it will run out. And by then we need to make Guinea a paradise, ease visa procedures and get people to come and see us”.

Malabo Promenade

In his generation, the mentality towards tourism is changing: “We already know how to promote our country internationally. On Google, Equatorial Guinea is starting to become a trend. But we lack means for those who want to visit us to come”. At the same time, initiatives by young entrepreneurs to facilitate travel to Equatorial Guinea are thriving, such as the agency Rumbo Malabo.

José Mañana is convinced that anyone who sets foot on his land will be captivated by Equatorial Guinea’s Hispanic, Caribbean and African charm. At the top of his list of must-see places is Pico Basilé, on the island of Bioko, very close to the capital. “As well as being the highest mountain in the country, it is an ancient volcano at the foot of which there is a natural park with primates, lush vegetation and other endangered species”. Another essential visit for him is the park of Monte Alén, in the continental region and famous in Spain for being the birthplace of “Snowflake”, the famous albino gorilla of the Barcelona Zoo.

“A tourist could enjoy immersing himself in the wildest part of the country and then sleep in a place with all the comforts”

Iglesia Madre Bisila
Picture: Pico Basilé daytrip - Rumbo Malabo

Another attraction for the traveller, he says, is the contrast between the abundant wilderness and the developed tourist infrastructure: “The Djibloho hotel, in the middle of the mainland, is a huge space where you can live with someone for three months and not meet them once. A tourist could enjoy immersing himself in the wildest part of the country and then sleep in a place with all the comforts”.

But without a doubt, what he misses most about home is the food. “My mouth starts to water as I remember the flavours of Equatorial Guinea. Bambucha, which is eaten with corn or crushed herbs with palm kernels; or añorowono, a dish made from delicious ground peanuts”.

“My mouth starts to water as I remember the flavours of Equatorial Guinea: bambucha or añorowono”

In his videos, José Mañana refutes a common mantra about Africa: insecurity. The case of Equatorial Guinea is, he assures us, an oasis of calm with almost non-existent crime rates: “A Mexican follower travelled to Equatorial Guinea and sent me a video to show me, astonished, that he was walking through the streets of Malabo in the middle of the night without a single incident. Apart from the occasional robbery, there are hardly any incidents. In Guinea we have a lot of respect for tourists, we are very fond of them”.

Ureka-waterfall

“There are hardly any incidents in Equatorial Guinea, we have a lot of respect for tourists, we are very fond of them”

A few months after returning home, he says that his years abroad have made him realize the beauty of his country: “Before, my mind was closed. Now I have two cultures, two visions and I feel I have to show the world what Equatorial Guinea is like”. That “world” is getting bigger and bigger. Thanks to his work and that of other young entrepreneurs, thousands of people know a little more every day about this little piece of Hispanic Africa that one day, he hopes, will be visited, loved and remembered as it deserves to be.

Alberto Esparza

Alberto Esparza

Hispanic philologist and journalist. Lover of Equatorial Guinea.

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"Equatorial Guinea is a paradise" - Benjamín Zarandona

Esta entrada también está disponible en: English Español (Spanish)

The former Betis player lives between Spain and Equatorial Guinea, a land he is in love with and where he is currently working for the new generations of football.

“Spain has not yet discovered the paradises that Equatorial Guinea can offer”. Benjamín Zarandona (Valladolid, 1976) is sincere when asked why no one from the ancient metropolis visits Equatorial Guinea. The country was a Spanish colony until 1968 and the only nation on the continent that speaks the language of Cervantes. “When I publish photos or videos, people do not believe that there are islands, like Corisco or Annobón, that have nothing to envy to Punta Cana.”

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Benjamin knows the subject. He received his African heritage from his mother, who was born in the coastal city of Mbini. It was there that his father, a Basque from Portugalete, met her while doing military service. Together they returned to Spain, and in Valladolid, they had Benjamin, who learned to love football in those streets. In the Castilian city, he began his career, which took him to the first division in Valladolid, Real Betis, and Cadiz for eleven seasons.

And one day, Guinea knocked on his door. “The president of the Federation of Equatorial Guinea came to Seville. I was already old enough to know that playing for the Spanish national team was very complicated, so I decided to play for them, where my brother was also playing”. Benjamin had never visited his mother’s homeland, but he will not forget the moment his plane landed in Malabo.

"I did not expect that reception in Guinea or that people would follow LaLiga there."

“I did not expect that reception in Guinea or that people would follow LaLiga there but they were informed about everything. When we arrived at the airport there were many, many people waiting”. He found a land of overflowing beauty, hypnotic green and tropical sun. But he also felt that they needed him: “I was very impressed by the orphanage in Malabo, those children, and from that day on I knew I needed to help.”

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Benjamin believes in the transformative power of football.  strength to unite the new generations and bring them a better future. For years he has pursued two goals that make it possible. The first one is to create a structure of lower categories and that children grow in values and sportsmanship: “The base is a good structure of lower categories, a league from 8 to 17 years that allows them to play every week with good facilities and trainers”.

"This project has three pillars: values, education and football"

To achieve this, Zarandona works with the Martínez Hermanos Foundation and the Real Betis Football Foundation. The first organization has planned  for eight years a campus of men’s and women’s football: “300 children have come, it lasted three weeks and we did it in the Salesian school of Bata. We gave them breakfast, boots, material, they did not lack anything”.

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With the foundation of his former club, he leads a group of 18 children who has twice taken them to play tournaments in Madrid and with whom he trains in the stadium of Nkua-Ntoma (Bata), in a facility loaned by the Ministry of Sports. “This project has three pillars: values, education and football. We try to inculcate values and training methodology”. Real Betis provides the brand and clothing, and he is in charge of looking for sponsors.

Benjaminzarandona

Another huge potential of Guinea is tourism. Benjamin’s voice gets excited when he speaks of his second country: “Equatorial Guinea is a paradise. If Spain gave us more visibility, many would choose to come and know the islands of Corisco and Annobón, their people and their culture”.

The former footballer often relaxes in them and confesses to loving the “beautiful beaches” and the “good people” that inhabit them for centuries. He would like his compatriots in Europe to set their eyes on this African emerald and let themselves be envelop by the tropical heat, stillness and lush nature that soaks it all in a blinding green.

When in Guinea, Benjamin spends most of his time on the island of Bioko, a unique place because it hosts the only capital in the world, Malabo, which is not located on the mainland of the country. Called Santa Isabel during the Spanish period, it is a historic center sown with colonial vestiges. Walking through its streets is a sensory experience of aroma, cultures, history, and the African culture.

Rediscovering the rhythm of local life and its gastronomy has been another of the gifts that he has given, he says, his return to Guinea: “The fruit is wonderful, the pineapple is super sweet, the mango and papaya too”. As pleasant as the food is, for Benjamin, the calm and well-being offered by the country: “I have been here a few years and the best thing is the people, the peace and tranquility with which one lives”.

"I have been here a few years and the best thing is the people, the peace and tranquility with which one lives."

It recognizes that it lacks to visit one of the most imposing corners of Guinea, the Ureka waterfall, one of the country’s virgin natural parks that offers a spectacle of rivers, eternal beaches, and waterfalls. While we convince him to visit this amazing place with the hand of Rumbo Malabo, he tells us the impact caused by another of the symbols of Equatorial Guinea and the island of Bioko: the Sampaka farm.

For him, this place is “a historical memory that reconciles tradition with the present.” The estate, recreated in the film Palmeras en la nieve, was a symbol of Spanish colonization and was known for cultivating and exporting one of the best cacaos in the world.

With the independence of Guinea in 1968, chocolate production in the country went into a rapid decline and Sampaka came very near to going into the history books. But with the impulse of a new generation, the iconic place has returned to its golden years and has become Benjamin’s favorite refuge.

The life of Zarandona, who lives between Malabo and Madrid, is a melting pot of Spanish and Guinean culture. “I was fortunate to be born in Spain because that allowed me to surround myself with the world of football and meet a lot of people. And thanks to my parents, I have the roots to go to Guinea and knowing the culture, and to help sports and children, which are the main thing”. He owes them both, he says, everything which he is today.

Alberto Esparza

Alberto Esparza

Hispanic philologist and journalist. Lover of Equatorial Guinea.

Do not hesitate to follow us on social media to keep up with all our news and articles

Did you like it? Share it with your friends on any social media and help us grow.

Share on facebook
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Telegram

Benjamin Zarandona Interview

Benjamín Zarandona: Equatorial Guinea is a paradise. The former Betis player lives between Spain and Equatorial Guinea, a land he is in love with and where he works for the new generations of football.

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