The Obiang clan makes an electoral farce

On Sunday, Teodoro Obiang will be confirmed as president of Equatorial Guinea in a farce election, for the sixth time. For the country rich in oil and poor in mice, this means above all one thing: the disaster continues.

Rich country, rich president, poor population: Teodoro Obiang sees his country primarily as a self-service store.

Mario Cruz / EPA

One election is the paper-only Equatorial Guinea ballot. Although three candidates have run for the presidency of the West African country, this is a democratic facade at best. There is no doubt that Teodoro Obiang will be confirmed in office on Sunday, as always, one is tempted to say.

The 80-year-old has been at the helm of the only former Spanish colony in sub-Saharan Africa since 1979. Back then, eleven years after independence, Obiang ousted his uncle from power and then had him killed. With a 43-year term, he is now the world’s longest-serving head of government.

In the last elections in 2016, which international observers unanimously described as a farce, Obiang officially obtained 93.7 percent of the vote. A similar result is likely to be announced this time as well.

The epitome of the resource curse

In a free and fair election, Obiang, who rarely appears in public, probably wouldn’t stand a chance. His record is a disaster.

Over four decades, Obiang has deteriorated his country so badly that he is now considered the epitome of the resource curse. Relative to its size, Equatorial Guinea has significant oil reserves. Due to the billions the government earns from its promotion and export, the country has one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa, around $12,000 a year.

However, for most of the 1.5 million inhabitants, this number is irrelevant. The country’s level of development is catastrophic, even by African standards, and has even deteriorated recently: today, around 70 percent of the population lives in poverty, life expectancy is 60 years, and the school and health services do not have sufficient funds. According to the UN, there is no other country where the gap between per capita income and the level of human development is as large as in Equatorial Guinea.

The real fate of billions in oil has long been an open secret. This becomes clear when Obiang’s son, Teodorín, who is also vice president of the country and is considered a possible successor to his father, is followed on social media. There, the 54-year-old, who has been convicted of corruption in several Western countries, makes no secret of his fondness for luxury: sometimes he appears in expensive sports cars, sometimes on his yacht. President Obiang is more modest in public, but for years he has been considered one of the richest heads of government in the world.

nepotism and repression

The fact that Obiang remains in power despite all this is mainly because he has progressively expanded his control over the country over the years. This applies at the political level: with one exception, only representatives of the ruling party sit in the two houses of parliament, and many important positions in government and in state-related companies are held by relatives or close associates. But it also applies to the security apparatus, whose loyalty costs Obiang quite a bit, and which he regularly uses to intimidate, jail, torture or kill overly vocal critics.

In the weeks before the elections, the repression again increased significantly. Dozens of NGO officials, opposition politicians and journalists have been arrested and remain in detention. A human rights organization based in neighboring Cameroon warned of “a wave of repression aimed at silencing the population.”

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years in power

little international pressure

Despite these flagrant abuses, international criticism of the Obiang regime has been limited. The United States, in particular, plays an ambiguous role in the country.

The US State Department has recently expressed concern about “reports of arrests and harassment of members of the opposition and civil society.” But these words of caution seem hypocritical given that Washington has even strengthened its ties with the corrupt government in recent years and regularly sends high-ranking government officials to Malabo for quick visits.

The explanation for this contradictory US policy is quickly found: for several years, China has been trying to get the green light in Malabo to build a military base on the main island of Equatorial Guinea. For Beijing it would be the second base in Africa after Djibouti, and the first in the Atlantic.

Washington wants to avoid this at all costs and seems willing to look the other way when it comes to human rights and democracy. Just last week, in the midst of the repressive election campaign, CIA deputy chief Obiang Jr. met with the corrupt vice president. According to the statement, the Malabo talks were mainly about “security in the seas of the Gulf of Guinea.”

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