He is an artist and illustrator with a strong commitment against human rights violations in Equatorial Guinea. Self-taught he refers to Paco Ibáñez, Quino, Manara, S.Tan, Moebious and Hergé as his main influences. “And then I am also influenced by the place where I live and share with other people, other feelings, other values, other loves, other natures, that keep you in the real world that the fiction of comic stripes is said to lack”, he explains.
His pen name, Jamón y Queso, is an expression of gratefulness. The man Esono sees as his “Western father”, Pascal Lefrançois, was a French-African who could not pronounce the ‘r’ in Ramón, so called him Jamón. Lefrançois also used to tell him that he and his son were like ham and cheese.
Esono was born in Nkoa-Nen Yebekuan (Mikomeseng-Kie Ntem), in the continental region of Equatorial Guinea, near Cameroon, in 1977. A few years later he moved to Malabo, the capital, where he lived until 2011 when his partner found a job in Paraguay and he went along.
“Women drove me to craziness” he jokes. On the summer of 2017, his partner’s job allowed them to move to El Salvador. It was good news but Esono had to go back to his country for all the paperwork.
Soon after he arrived in Equatorial Guinea, on the 16th of September 2017, he was arrested on the street and without being given any reasons why. It was soon obvious that his arrest was related to Esono’s harsh satire. He was taken to Black Beach penitentiary and accused of falsifying currency and money laundering. By the end of February 2018, the lack of evidence and the strong international pressure allowed Esono to be released from prison. Yet, he had to stay in the country for a few more months waiting for his passport. Finally, he was able to flee at the end of May.
During his career Esono has received many prizes. The last was the Prize to Courage 2017 by the Cartoonists Rights Network International, in acknowledgement of his courage face to the threats that aimed to shut him and curtail his freedom of speech. He is currently working in a new project, 218: Empire which he aims to finish very soon.
How did you start working on social critique on a country with an authoritarian and strict control?
Everything started with La Verdad, a newspaper associated with a political party to which my brother-in-law took me to make a caricature of the president and the mayor. As an illustrator and critic of the regime there was nothing else for me than to denounce this ‘authoritarian and strict control’ as you call it. I don’t like this control, not here, not anywhere.
What is the life of someone who is not part of the elites in Equatorial Guinea? Equatorial Guinea?
Equatorial Guinea has a history that has helped to immobilize the minds of its children. Either they win, or you win: there is a very context of power deeply rooted in tradition The elites do not exist as such, there are members of clans and their rings of power. This means that the fangs will be in Equatorial Guinea if a miracle does not take place And that anyone who is not fang, it is difficult for him to consider himself of the elite, even though he may live of good near the institutional power. If you are not one of this “elite”, you are you’re a fag, in all the extension that the word can have for a sardine.
What makes humor such a powerful weapon of denunciation and social criticism?
In my case, in which I caricature whenever I can, it is the fact that that any person, even if they have no studies or training, can see images and see images and be amazed with laughter. It is a laughter that begins in silent, hidden, and that if it emerges from anonymity, it takes the social power to the the master and turns him into a kind of buffoon. For the power, we are the buffoons, and that is why we offer our buffoonery. To each one of us we have to see ourselves in front of the others through mockery, but in Equatorial Guinea we have started with those who are really annoying.
You have been six months in Black Beach penitentiary. How are the conditions there?
Inhuman. Poor. Criminal. They are always trying to humiliate you, thinking that they will control you. There is no room for rehabilitation which is supposed to be the goal of these human dumpsters. They know it, but they have too many interests, because they get money over blood. And makes you “shut your eyes for keeping yours safe”. I would call it a state kidnap, state mob.
Your imprisonment has led the international community to rage. Which role has played the international community in the result of your trial?
The same that the biblical manna had for the population that benefited from it. For me, miracles exist when they come from the will of the people not to accept anything as true. You can add to this that as an illustrator I have images out and that I am married to a woman with a red Spanish passport. I can only say thanks, I will never stop acknowledging that I have had support in the worst times of my life as an illustrator and activist from Equatorial Guinea.
How do you see the role of the international community in maintaining Obiang in power for more than four decades?
I see it as everything that has a future and needs to be explained. By now I can and I have to criticise international organisations with fervour. But I think of the high level of external directors that have given empathy to my case, and I have to thank rather than criticize. However, I am known, others are not so lucky.