Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo is an Equatoguinean politician who has been President of Equatorial Guinea since 1979.

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Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (born 5 June 1942) is an Equatoguinean politician who has been President of Equatorial Guinea since 1979. He ousted his uncle, dictator Francisco Macías Nguema, in an August 1979 military coup and has overseen Equatorial Guinea's emergence as an important oil producer, beginning in the 1990s. Obiang was Chairperson of the African Union from 31 January 2011 to 29 January 2012.

Obiang is Africa's longest serving leader, having been in power for three decades[1] Equatorial Guinea is one of the continent’s largest producers of oil, but ranks very poorly in the United Nations human development index; the vast majority of Equatorial Guineans hardly have access to clean drinking water.[2] Critics have described Obiang as a dictator.

Early life

Born into the Esangui clan in Acoacán, Obiang joined the military during the colonial period, and attended the Military Academy in Zaragoza, Spain. He achieved the rank of lieutenant after his uncle, Francisco Macías Nguema, was elected the country's first president. Under Macías, Obiang held various jobs, including governor of Bioko and leader of the National Guard.[3] He was also head of Black Beach Prison, which was notorious for subjecting inmates to severe torture.[4]

Presidency

After Macías ordered the murders of several members of his own family—including Obiang's brother—Obiang and others in Macías' inner circle feared the president had gone insane. Obiang overthrew his uncle on 3 August 1979 in a bloody coup d'état.[3] Macías was placed on trial for his activities over the previous decade and sentenced to death. His activities had included the genocide of the Bubi. He was executed on 29 September 1979 by firing squad.[5]

Obiang declared that the new government would make a fresh start from Macías' brutal and repressive regime. He granted amnesty to political prisoners and ended the previous regime's system of forced labor. However, virtually no mention was made of his own role in the atrocities of his uncle's rule.[3]

New constitution

A new constitution was adopted in 1982. At the same time, Obiang was elected to a seven-year term as president; he was the only candidate. He was reelected in 1989, again as the only candidate. After other parties were permitted to organize, he was reelected in 1996 and 2002 with 98 per cent of the vote[6] in elections condemned as fraudulent by international observers.[7] In 2002, for instance, at least one precinct was recorded as giving Obiang 103 percent of the vote.[4]

He was reelected for a fourth term in 2009 with 97% of the vote, again amid accusations of fraud and intimidation,[8] beating opposition leader Plácido Micó Abogo.[9]

Although his rule was initially considered more humane than that of his uncle, by most accounts it has become more brutal over the years. Most domestic and international observers consider his regime to be one of the most corrupt, ethnocentric, oppressive and undemocratic states in the world. Equatorial Guinea is now essentially a single-party state, dominated by Obiang's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE). The constitution, while slightly less authoritarian than its predecessor, still grants Obiang wide powers, including the power to rule by decree. Although opposition parties were legalized in 1992, 99 members of the 100-seat parliament are either members of the PDGE or are aligned with it, and there is little opposition to presidential decisions.

The opposition is barely tolerated; indeed, a 2006 article in Der Spiegel quoted Obiang as asking, "What right does the opposition have to criticize the actions of a government?"[4] The opposition is severely hampered by the lack of a free press as a vehicle for their views. There are no newspapers, and all of the broadcast media are either owned outright by the government or controlled by its allies.

International relations

United States



US President Obama and Obiang with their wives in 2009 at a reception in New York

Equatorial Guinea's relations with the United States entered a cooling phase in 1993, when Ambassador John E. Bennett was accused of practicing witchcraft at the graves of 10 British airmen who were killed when their plane crashed there during World War II. Bennett departed after receiving a death threat at the U.S. Embassy in Malabo in 1994;[10] in his farewell address, he publicly named the government's most notorious torturers – including Equatorial Guinea's current Minister of National Security, Manuel Nguema Mba. No new envoy was appointed, and the embassy was closed in 1996, leaving its affairs to be handled by the embassy in neighboring Cameroon.

Things started to turn around after the 11 September attacks in 2001 on New York and Washington, in the aftermath of which the United States sought a radical re-prioritization in its dealings with key African states. On 25 January 2002, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, a Jerusalem-based think tank, sponsored a forum on “African Oil: A Priority for U.S. National Security and African Development” at the University Club in Washington, D.C. According to the Institute, "West African oil is what can help stabilize the Middle East, end Muslim terror, and secure a measure of energy security. First, the Africa Initiative is Africa's Turn. And, turning Africa can help turn the kaleidoscope that will reset misalliances and unseat misrule driven by oil and murder. It's a policy".[11] Speaking at the IASPS forum, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Walter H. Kansteiner said, "African oil is of national strategic interest to us, and it will increase and become more important as we move forward. It will be people like you who are going to develop that resource, bring that oil home, and try to develop the African countries as you do it."[11]

In a lengthy state visit from March to April 2006, President Obiang sought to reopen the closed embassy, claiming that "the lack of a U.S. diplomatic presence is definitely holding back economic growth."[12] President Obiang was warmly greeted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who called him a "good friend",[13] and Obiang himself was "extremely pleased and hopeful that this relationship will continue to grow in friendship and cooperation." The PR company of Cassidy & Associates may be partially responsible for this change in the relations between Obiang and the United States government. Since 2004, Cassidy has been employed by the dictator's government at a rate of at least $120,000 a month.[14]

By October 2006, however, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had raised concerns about the proposal to build the new embassy on land owned by Obiang himself, whom the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has accused of directly overseeing the torture of opponents of his regime.[4]

Controversy

Abuses

Abuses under Obiang have included "unlawful killings by security forces; government-sanctioned kidnappings; systematic torture of prisoners and detainees by security forces; life threatening conditions in prisons and detention facilities; impunity; arbitrary arrest, detention, and incommunicado detention."[15]

In July 2003, state-operated radio declared Obiang "the country's god" and had "all power over men and things." It added that the president was "in permanent contact with the Almighty" and "can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell." He personally made similar comments in 1993. Macías had also proclaimed himself a god.[16]

Obiang has encouraged his cult of personality by ensuring that public speeches end in well-wishing for himself rather than for the republic. Many important buildings have a presidential lodge, many towns and cities have streets commemorating Obiang's coup against Macías, and many people wear clothes with his face printed on them.[17][18]

Like his predecessor and other African dictators such as Idi Amin and Mobutu Sese Seko, Obiang has assigned to himself several creative titles. Among them are "gentleman of the great island of Bioko, Annobón and Río Muni."[19] He also refers to himself as El Jefe (the boss).[20]

Wealth

Forbes magazine has said that he is one of the wealthiest heads of state, with a net worth of $600 million USD.[21] Official sources have complained that Forbes is wrongly counting state property as personal property.[22]

In 2003, Obiang told his citizenry that he felt compelled to take full control of the national treasury in order to prevent civil servants from being tempted to engage in corrupt practices. To avoid this corruption, Obiang deposited more than half a billion dollars into accounts controlled by Obiang and his family at Riggs Bank in Washington, D.C., leading a U.S. federal court to fine the bank $16 million.[23] Later scrutiny in 2004, from an American Senate investigation found that Washington-based Riggs bank took $300 million on behalf of Obiang from Exxon Mobil and Amerada Hess.[24]

In 2008, the country become a candidate of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative - an international project meant to promote openness about government oil revenues - but never qualified and missed an April 2010 deadline.[25] Transparency International includes Equatorial Guinea as one of its most 12 corrupt states.[26][27]

Coups

In 2004 an attempt to depose Obiang was thwarted. One of those allegedly involved was Mark Thatcher, son of the former UK Prime Minister. In 2008 American journalist Peter Maass called Obiang Africa's worst dictator, worse than Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.[28]

Since the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi in August 2011, Obiang has been the world's longest ruling non-royal head of state (See List of current longest ruling non-royal national leaders).

Finances

Obiang had a close relationship with Washington, D.C.-based Riggs Bank. He is said to have been welcomed by top Riggs officials, who held a luncheon in his honor.[29] (Publicity regarding this relationship would later contribute to the downfall of Riggs.[30])

On 10 November 2010, the Supreme Court of France accepted that the complaint filed by Transparency International in France on 2 December 2008, is admissible. The Supreme Court’s decision will allow the appointment of an investigating judge and the opening of a judicial inquiry into claims that the President has used state funds to purchase private property in France.[31]

An article published in Forbes magazine suggested Obiang has gathered roughly $700 million of the country's wealth in US bank accounts.[32]

Personal

Obiang is believed to be suffering from terminal prostate cancer. He reportedly favours his son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue to succeed him.[33]

References

  1. "The Five Worst Leaders In Africa". Forbes. February 9, 2012.
  2. "The Five Worst Leaders In Africa". Forbes. February 9, 2012.
  3. Gardner, Dan (6 November 2005). "The Pariah President: Teodoro Obiang is a brutal dictator responsible for thousands of deaths. So why is he treated like an elder statesman on the world stage?". The Ottawa Citizen (reprint: dangardner.ca). Archived from the original on 12 June 2008. http://web.archive.org/web/20080612161320/http://www.dangardner.ca/Featnov605.html.
  4. Alexander Smoltczyk (2006-08-28). "Rich in Oil, Poor in Human Rights: Torture and Poverty in Equatorial Guinea". Der Spiegel. http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,434691,00.html.
  5. "When Macias was duly sentenced to death 101 times, a new Moroccan presidential guard had to form the firing squad, because local soldiers feared his alleged magical powers." Bloomfield, Steve (13 May 2007) "Teodoro Obiang Nguema: A brutal, bizarre jailer" The Independent, last accessed 21 October 2010
  6. Bloomfield, Steve (13 May 2007) "Teodoro Obiang Nguema: A brutal, bizarre jailer" The Independent, last accessed 21 October 2010
  7. United States Central Intelligence Agency (2009) CIA World Factbook 2010 Skyhorse Pub Co Inc., New York, page 214, ISBN 978-1-60239-727-9
  8. Tran, Mark (30 November 2009) "President Nguema of Equatorial Guinea on course to extend three-decade rule" The Guardian, last accessed 21 October 2010
  9. Nguema wins re-election
  10. A Touch of Crude
  11. Proceedings of an IASPS Symposium
  12. Larry Luxner (2001-08). "Equatorial Guinea Goes from Rags to Riches With Oil Boom". http://www.washdiplomat.com/01-08/a2_08_01.html. Retrieved 2007-11-01.
  13. Remarks With Equatorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo Before Their Meeting
  14. Kurlantzick, Joshua (7 May 2007). "Putting Lipstick on a Dictator". Mother Jones. http://www.motherjones.com/news/outfront/2007/05/extreme_makeover.html. Retrieved 2007-08-22.
  15. United States State Department (25 February 2009) "2008 Human Rights Report: Equatorial Guinea", archived at Freezepage
  16. "Equatorial Guinea's 'God'". BBC. 26 July 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3098007.stm. Retrieved 2007-11-01.
  17. Maass, Peter (2005) "A Touch of Crude" Mother Jones 30 (1): pp. 48–89
  18. Silverstein, Ken (2010) "Saturday Lagniappe: UNESCO for Sale: Dictators allowed to buy their own prizes, for the right price" Petroleumworld, originally published by Harpers Magazine, 2 June 2010, archived at Freezepage
  19. "In his address UNESCO’s annual meeting of governments on 30 October 2007 the “Gentleman of the great island of Bioko, Annobón and Río Muni, El Jefe (the boss), “a god who is ‘in permanent contact with the Almighty’” and “can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell” His Excellence, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, ..." Kabanda (3 October 2010) "Money for good causes: does the source matter?" Sunday Times (Rwanda), premium content that requires login, last accessed 21 October 2010
  20. Staff (28 September 2010) "Africa's Worst Dictators: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo" MSN News (South Africa), archived at Freezepage
  21. Fortunes Of Kings, Queens And Dictators. Forbes. 5 May 2006. http://www.forbes.com/billionaires/2006/05/04/rich-kings-dictators_cz_lk_0504royals.html and part of a slideshow
  22. Kroll, Luisa (15 May 2006) 'Fortunes of kings, queens and dictators: A look at the world's wealthiest leaders" Forbes on MSNBC.com, last accessed 21 October 2010
  23. Ken Silverstein. "Oil Boom Enriches African Ruler: While the people of Equatorial Guinea live on a dollar a day, sources say their leader controls more than $300 million in a Washington bank". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2003-01-22. http://globalpolicy.igc.org/security/natres/oil/2003/0122gui.htm.
  24. "Equatorial Guinea profile". BBC News. 24 January 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13317174.
  25. "Equatorial Guinea profile". BBC News. 24 January 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13317174.
  26. http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2009/cpi_2009_table
  27. "Equatorial Guinea profile". BBC News. 24 January 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13317174.
  28. Maass, Peter (24 June 2008). "Who's Africa's Worst Dictator?". Slate (The Washington Post Company). http://www.slate.com/id/2193870/. Retrieved 2008-06-30. "But Mugabe may not be Africa's worst. That prize arguably goes to Teodoro Obiang, the ruler of Equatorial Guinea"
  29. Montgomery, David; Kathleen Day (17 July 2004). "Critics Say Allbritton Ruined Bank He Loved". Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A56372-2004Jul16.html. Retrieved 2008-07-08.
  30. Gurulé, Jimmy (2008) "Chapter 11: Private causes of action: using the civil justice system to hold terrorist financiers accountable" Unfunding terror: the legal response to the financing of global terrorism Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, England, footnote 10, page 356, ISBN 978-1-84542-962-1
  31. Newstime Africa, 22 November 2010
  32. http://english.aljazeera.net/news/europe/2010/10/20101021155522938291.html
  33. Chris McGreal and Dan Glaister (2006-11-10). "The tiny African state, the president's playboy son and the $35m Malibu mansion". London: The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/nov/10/equatorialguinea.danglaister. Retrieved 2012-01-06.