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Equatorial Guinea: Mr Obiang, New Chairperson of the African Union and Human Rights Abuser

Heads of state and government in the African Union (AU), which was established in 2002 in Durban South Africa to replace the Organization of African Unity – elected on January 30, 2011, Mr Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo as its new chairperson, succeeding Malawian President Mr Bingu wa Mutharika.

President Obiang and former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Image from US State Department, in public domain.

President Obiang and former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Image from US State Department, in public domain.

Mr Obiang has been Equatorial Guinea's president since 1979, following a coup d'état; he rules his country with an iron fist. Despite a sobering human rights review [fr], he has up to now managed to avoid international condemnation.

As soon as he was elected, Nguema made statements that only confirmed the self image he gives to his country's leadership. Many blogs and online media have captured them, including Le Patriot Nefertiti [fr] who cites him on lepost.fr:

Les concepts de démocratie, des droits de l'homme, de bonne gouvernance, ne sont pas des nouveaux thèmes pour l'Afrique, mais il convient plutôt de les adapter à la culture africaine (…)

The concepts of democracy, human rights and good governance are not new themes for Africa, but it is more suitable to adapt them to the African culture (…)

He didn't elaborate how ideologies such as the ones defined in the universal declaration of human rights are in need of adaptation to fit Africans.

Human rights organizations reacted promptly:

On the blog pambazuka.org, Yves Niyiragira cites [fr] a press release from the African Assembly for the defense of Human Rights (RADDHO), published on January 31, 2010 in Addis-Abeba, Ethiopia, expressing “its deepest indignation”:

La situation des droits humains en Guinée équatoriale est caractérisée par les tortures systématiques contre les opposants politiques, les violations des libertés fondamentales avec une opposition muselée, l’absence d’une presse indépendante, l’inexistence de la Société civile.

The human rights situation in Equatorial Guinea is characterized by systematic torture of political opponents, by the violation of the fundamental freedoms with a muzzled opposition, the absence of an independent media body, and the non-existence of civil society.

The violations include death sentences. According to Amnesty International, four people – Jose Abeso Nsue, Manuel Ndong Anseme, Alipio Ndong Asumu and Jacinto Micha Obiang – were kidnapped in Benin where they had fled to, and “they were executed on August 21st, immediately after being declared guilty by a military tribunal in the capital Malabo.”

The blog appablog.wordpress.com published [fr] the following comment:

…. elle [l'UA] se dote d’un nouveau président en la personne de M. Teodoro Obiang Nguema, président de la Guinée Equatoriale, arrivé au pouvoir par un coup d’Etat et régnant sur son pays au mépris des droits humains depuis 30 ans.

…. it [AU] acquired a new president in Mr Teodoro Obiang Nguema, president of Equatorial Guinea, who arrived to power through a coup d’état and has been ruling his country for 30 years completely disregarding human rights.

Enfin, alors que l’impunité des responsables des crimes les plus graves bafoue le droit des victimes à la justice et est à la base des crises politiques et des conflits sur le continent, la FIDH déplore la décision de l’UA de réitérer sa demande de suspension des procédures judiciaires engagées par la Cour pénale internationale contre le président soudanais El Béchir, présumé responsable du crime de génocide, de crimes contre l’humanité et de crimes de guerre au Darfour

Finally, as the impunity of the people responsible for serious crimes violates the victim's rights to justice and is at the basis of political crisis and conflicts on the continent; the FIDH [International Federation for Human Rights] deplores the AU's decision to reiterate its request for the suspension of the judicial procedures started by the International Criminal Court against the Sudanese president El Bechir, alleged responsible of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

Par ses décisions, l’UA nous montre qu’elle nage en plein paradoxe.

Through its decisions, the AU is showing us how it is immersed in paradox.

After Obiang's re-election to power in Equatorial Guinea in 2009 with more than 95% of the votes, an article by Denis Carlier entitled, “Obiang Nguema, a president for 30 years: Authoritarianism and corruption in power on black gold ground in Equatorial Guinea” on the blog afrik.com triggered many reactions:

Blogger juju wrote in his first comment:

30 ans et encore sept ? c'est la malédiction de tout un peuple qui se voit dans la misère à cause de ces dictateurs, d'abord Macias Nguema et maintenant son neveau Obiang Nguema. Les gens vivaient bien avec les espagnols. Il n'y avait pas de petrol, les familles avaient leurs terres et les parents avaient des moyens pour payer les etudes à leurs enfants. Il n'y avait pas d'analphabètes. A quoi a servi l'indépendence ? pourquoi nous les africains n'avons pas le droit d'une vie digne dans nos pays ?

30 years and another 7 to go? It's the curse of a whole population that see itself in misery because of its dictators, first Macias Nguema and now his nephew Obiang Nguema. The people lived well with the Spanish. There was no petrol, families had their land, and parents had enough money to pay for their children's studies. There were no illiterates. What was the purpose of the Independence? Why don't we, the Africans, have the right to a life with dignity in our countries?

In a second comment, juju added:

… Avec un PIB de 29800 dollars [per capita], pas d'eau potable pas d'électricité pas de logements dignes pas d'hôpitaux ( lui et sa famille vont au Maroc pour se soigner).

…With a GDP of $29,800 [per capita], no drinking water, no electricity, no decent housing, no hospitals (him and his family go to Morocco to get medical care).

From his part, Malembe wrote:

On peut également dire que ces despotes travaillent à la solde des occidentaux. Après tout c´est du théâtre, chacun a un rôle ou des rôles bien précis dans les pièces. Le Président equato-guinéen sait qu´il est une marionnette. Il n´est pas leader.

We can also say that these despots work in the pay of the west. After all it's theater, everyone has a role or multiple well defined roles in the plays. The Equato-Guinean president knows that he is a puppet. He is not a leader.

It is hard to deny Malembe's comments since, based on this article by Denis Carlier [fr], an investigation directed by the Securities and Exchange commission on the existence of dubious transactions on Riggs Bank accounts, in Washington (DC) has discovered:

un total de 700 millions de dollars y a été transféré au profit d’Obiang et de ses proches, en provenance des compagnies pétrolières ExxonMobil Corp, Amerada Hess Corp, ChevronTexaco, Devon Energy Corp et Marathon Oil Corp. La banque a été condamnée à une amende record de 16 millions de dollars pour avoir tu le détail des virements, et s’est finalement faite racheter.

A total of 700 million dollars has been transfered to Obiang and his family, from the following petroleum companies: Exxon Mobil Corp, Amerada hess Corp, ChevronTexaco, Devon Energy Corp and Marathon Oil Corp. The bank was fined a record $16 million for not disclosing the details of the transactions, and was later bought.

According to Leger Ntiga on the website africapresse.com [fr]:

Le président équato-guinéen Teodoro Obiang Nguema se trouve à la 12e place du classement des chefs d’Etat les plus riches du monde derrière huit dirigeants d’Asie parmi lesquels le sultan de Bruneï, le roi d’Arabie Saoudite, l’émir du Qatar et le sultan d’Oman, ainsi que le prince Albert II de Monaco et le Premier ministre Italien, Silvio Berlusconi. Il est ainsi accusé de confisquer les biens publics de son pays.

The Equato-Guinean president Teodoro Obiang Nguema is the 12th richest head of state in the world, following 8 Asian rulers including the sultan of Brunei, the king of Saudi Arabia, the emir of Qatar and the sultan of Oman, as well as prince Albert II of Monaco and the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. He is thus accused of stealing his country's wealth.

A few days before Obiang's election as the AU's Chairperson, Abena Ampofoa Asara commented, in an article entitled “Obiang: the pseudo humanitarian”, published by pambazuka.org, on Obiang's $3 million dollars endowment that the UNESCO almost accepted:

Avec le revenu national le plus élevé de l’Afrique subsaharienne, le revenu per capita de la Guinée équatoriale est comparable à celui du Portugal ou de la Corée du Sud. Néanmoins, 60% de la population se débat pour survivre avec moins d’un dollar par jour. Depuis la découverte du pétrole dans ce pays, en 1995, la famille de Teodoro Obiang Nguema et ses proches associés sont devenus fabuleusement riches, alors que la majorité de la population est restée embourbée dans la pauvreté.

With the highest national income of the Sub-Saharan African countries, the per capita income of Equatorial Guinea is comparable to that of Portugual or South Korea. Nevertheless, 60% of the population is struggling to survive with less than a dollar per day. Since the discovery of petroleum in this country in 1995, Teodoro Obiang Nguema's family and his close associates have become extremely rich, whereas the rest of the population remains mired in poverty.

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