Petrodollars, Megalomania and Human Rights in Equatorial Guinea
By Abdoulaye Bah from Global Voices · Translated by Jane Ellis
Disclaimer: Guest Posts May Not Always Be Unbiased
[All quotations translated from French can be viewed in the original post]
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa, launched a charm offensive in 2011 and 2012 using his petrodollars to target the worlds of showbusiness, sport and international diplomacy.
Being chairperson of the African Union (AU) from January 2011 to January 2012 allowed him to court the media outside Africa’s borders. Another opportunity for him to promote himself and his regime when he was president of the 7th ACP Summit of African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States. The ACP, which has links to the European Union, held the summit in Malabo, capital of Equatorial Guinea, from December 13 to 14, 2012.
However, following his accession to AU chairmanship, the media, civil society and blogosphere denounced him for his poor human rights record. Blog Gaboneco wrote [fr]:
The democracy he professes is just right for the outside observers, especially those in Western countries, who, intoxicated by the scent of petrol, have conveniently forgotten their views on democracy, human rights etc. So much so that the strong man of Bata can suppress his opponents and gag the press. The Human Rights organisations are the only ones who dare complain about what is happening in this country, which they do from time to time.
News and information was tightly controlled in Equatorial Guinea, which the CPJ identified as one of the world’s most censored nations. Nearly all news media were owned and run by the government or its allies. One independently owned newspaper circulated in the country, but it had to practice self-censorship; no independent broadcasters operated domestically.
The regime clamped down again just a few days before the start of the ACP summit. The blog Coup de Gueule de Samuel reported several cases [fr] of journalists being suspended and programmes pulled:
“cultura en casa” ‘Culture at home’ in Spanish, a programme on Equatorial Guinea national radio (RTVGE) was abruptly “stopped and suspended until further notice” on Friday October 19 for having tackled and denounced on air the abuse of power and incompetence of the courts and national parliament which the presenters spoke of.
Other, similar cases of suspensions [fr] were cited by the blog:
- A radio programme, “La Tertulia”, ‘The Gathering’ in Spanish, presented by Siméon Sopale, was taken off air four years ago today after denouncing and criticizing the authorities following the announcement that “taxis in Malabo would be Mercedes”.
- Juan Petro Mendene, a Francophone journalist, was suspended in May 2012 for having referred to Muammar Gaddafi even though coverage of the Lybian revolution had been forbidden to be broadcast on RTVGE by those in charge of censorship and against freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Malabo.
- Pedro Luis Esono Edu Bidang was also hit with a suspension in February 2010 until the present, for having announced the discovery of the bodies of seven Malians in a rubbish dump in Bata, economic capital of Equatorial Guinea.
Several days after the start of the ACP summit, Reporters without Borders were asking questions about the death of a journalist who had demonstrated his independence over many years faced with the Obiang regime:
Is it still possible to shed light on this case? … The government should issue a statement to dispel the suspicions under which it finds itself, and should order an investigation if the family requests one.
While the Malabo authorities seek the abolition of visa requirements [fr] with Spain, their security forces are tracking down African immigrants and, in some cases, killing them without hesitation. The blog France-Guinée equatoriale posted an article [fr] revealing these crimes, committed with impunity:
Attacks on African nationals, particularly on Malians, are frequent in Equatorial Guinea. They generally have the aim of extorting money from poor citizens, often illegal workers. When attacks are committed by police or soldiers, they normally go unpunished.
Commenting on the article from the Gaboneco blog, Ramirez le Rescape described abuses of power [fr] by the president’s son:
Nepotism – his son is worse than Gaddafi’s – because of his greatest extravagances, such as buying 250 suits in just a single day, a single purchase, a single shop, not to mention the Lamborghinis…
Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, prodigal son and luxury car aficionado is Second Vice President, charged with Defence and Security, a post which does not even exist according to the constitution [fr]. He loves to act the playboy and frequently causes controversy with his orgies of spending. He denies himself nothing – fancy townhouses, luxury villas, collections of Old Masters and stars’ memorabilia. Revealing the order of a yacht for his personal use, for the princely sum of 288 million Euros, equivalent to almost three times the education budget for his country. Global Witness blog reported:
Its total contract price is approximately 288 million Euros, or $380 million at current exchange rates. This would make it the world’s second most expensive yacht, behind Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s $1.2billion Eclipse.
The following video shows the seizure by French police of eleven luxury cars at the house of Obaing’s son:
Placido Mico of the CPDS (Convergence for Social Democracy) is the main opposition MP in Equatorial Guinea. He is known for being strongly critical of the lack of political presence by the opposition in the country. On the subject of wasteful spending, he reported via diasporas-news.com [fr] that as far as the organisation of summits and conferences is concerned:
Projects such as Sipopo or Oyala – a city created on the mainland – do not serve as development. There are only a few huts around Oyala – no electricity, no schools, no running water, no hospitals. This project is crazy. When Brasilia was constructed, it was done to ease congestion in the capital. Rio and Sao Paulo both had water and electricity…
“We are a country of 700,000 people. Are we going to deport people to make them go to Oyala?”, he asked.
“It is scandalous. In the meantime there are no tables – in some schools lessons take place on the ground. There are no books”, he added.
According to MalaboNews, on Christmas Eve 2012, apparently trying to show off to the international community, the president donated the sum of 60 million Central African Francs to twelve ‘opposition’ political parties. Samuel Obiang (no relation) wrote in blog [fr] Coup de gueule de Samuel:
The majority of these parties led by the friends of President Obiang Nguemas think of their party as a veritable source of funds – a ‘business’ as the Equatorial Guineans call it.
Some of these parties have no members – who are the allocated funds for, we ask ourselves?
In a country where an independent press is not authorised, with corruption opposition, what future is there for Equatorial Guinea? It has been made rotten through corruption and misappropriation of public funds.
Poverty is escalating dramatically, but nobody is thinking about life after petrol.
Globalwitness.org reviewed some social statistics:
Incredibly, since oil was discovered in the mid-1990s, poverty levels have actually worsened. Equatorial Guinea enjoys a per capita income of about $37,900, one of the highest in the world. Yet 77 percent of the population falls below the poverty line, 35 percent die before the age of 40, and 58 percent lack access to safe water.
Equatorial Guinea is languishing in 136th place in international human development rankings as calculated by mean levels attained in three essential areas, namely, health and longevity, access to education and a decent standard of living. Although richer than many African countries, Equatorial Guinea spends less on investments to improve these key areas than most.