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Equatorial Guinea - Politics

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo is Africas longest-serving leader and has ruled the former Spanish colony since 1979. He took power in a coup on August 3, 1979, ousting his own uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema, who was shot by firing squad. What people like Ali Manzui would call "monarchical tendencies in Africa" are very much evident in the dictatorship. Any collection of dictators in Africa, which includes people like Idi Amin, would certainly include Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.

The "resource curse" is the phenomena whereby a country with an export-driven, natural resources sector, generating large revenues for government, leads paradoxically to economic stagnation and political instability. There is considerable evidence that non-renewable natural resource revenues, especially windfall can, if not properly managed, adversely affect economic growth and poverty reduction.

Equatorial Guinea has an extremely tight, intricately interconnected society. There are no arms-length transactions here. The traditions of the predominant Fang tribe prevail, and the bonds of family are as strong as they are in any other culture. By American standards, these bonds are exceedingly powerful. Ministers themselves fall victim to these traditions and appear unable to avoid pressures to intercede in mundane matters on behalf of even lower-class family members. Failure to do so can result in loss of influence and ostracization within the family and clan.

The power of President Obiang is essentially ethnic and family-based. The desire marked by the head of state for several years to improve his country's civil liberties, governance and human rights (first measures against corruption, open government to called opposition parties, opening a political dialogue with the EU, improve detention conditions ...) have not removed the autocratic character of the regime. Decisions are made largely by the presidency, the opposition is almost non-existent or in exile, the ruling party has control over the whole of society, the press is in the hands of the state, the judicial system is defective.

The need to maintain power by force has now largely dissipated -- the PDGE is a formidable, but no longer ruthless, political machine. Between itself and a handful of pet coalition partners, it can now count on overwhelming popular support as far as the eye can see. The remaining opposition is pitiful -- fractured, incompetent and disorganized -- and seems to think it can complain itself into office. Elections here will continue to reflect lopsided results in favor of the ruling party.

The bias against EG is animated by a loud chorus of hostile critics from among the diaspora (many of whom left when things were much worse) and the once-colonial, now-disenfranchised Spanish. A dedicated and vicious segment of the Spanish media now effectively filters out most of the good news about EG, and provides a distorted frame of reference for anyone casually seeking information about the only former-Spanish colonial holding in Africa. Unfortunately, this creates a bias within the NGO community for those organizations that fail to undertake due diligence to confirm claims. The problems of EG, already exaggerated by an active and efficient internal rumor mill, are thus often blown all out of proportion by the country's opponents.

While the many abuses and atrocities that characterized the Macias years have been eliminated, the government continues to be dominated by the presidency. President Obiang and a circle of advisors (drawn largely from his own family and ethnic group) maintained real authority despite the formal ending of one-party rule in 1991. Obiang's rule was at first considered more humane than that of his uncle. By some accounts, however, it has become increasingly more brutal, and has bucked the larger trend toward greater democracy in Africa. 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 essentially a single-party state, dominated by Obiang's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE).

Reports indicate that security forces continue to commit various human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, though there were fewer reported incidents of such abuses than in previous years. Members of the security forces were allowed to commit these abuses with impunity. The judiciary in Equatorial Guinea is heavily controlled by the State, and the government severely restricts the freedoms of the press and of speech. Domestic radio broadcasting is controlled by the state, journalists must register with the Ministry of Information and the law authorises government censorship of all publications.

The government owned the only national radio and television broadcast system, RTVGE. The presidents eldest son, Second Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, owned the only private broadcast media, Television Asonga and Asonga Radio. Journalists for these entities were not allowed to report freely, and those who filmed March student protests at the National University of Equatorial Guinea were fired.

President Obiang's rule has seen schools reopened, education and health care expanded, religious activity respected and religious freedom tolerated, and public utilities and roads restored, comparing favorably with the anarchic, chaotic, brutal, and repressive pattern of the Macias years. But the countrys human rights record and democratic performance remain poor. Endemic corruption and a dysfunctional judicial system disrupt the development of Equatorial Guinea's economy and society.

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the law grants authorities extensive powers to restrict media activities, and the government limited these rights. Defamation is criminalized, and the government restricted journalistic activity by exercising its right to official prepublication censorship. The countrys media remain weak and under government influence or control. Persons close to the president owned the few private media outlets that existed. Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Those who did not were subjected to government surveillance and threats. Individuals generally chose not to criticize the president, his family, other high-ranking officials, or security forces due to fear of reprisal. The government attempted to impede criticism by continuing to monitor the activities of opposition members, journalists, and others.

Since the beginning of 2011, the Government of Equatorial Guinea took a series of measures that could lead to some form of slightly greater political pluralism, offer more space to the opposition and civil society, and place greater emphasis on social development and good governance. These include among others an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to perform prison inspections and the initiation of a constitutional reform process. One of the intentions of the latter is limiting presidential office-holders to two 5-year terms. It also includes a reform commission through which the regime engages in dialogue with all of the political opposition.

The government held legislative and municipal elections in May 2013. The PDGE won 98.7 percent of seats in the House of Deputies and the newly created Senate. The opposition Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) won a single seat in each chamber. The PDGE also won 98.1 percent of city council seats throughout the country. The lopsided results and weak independent monitoring of the electoral process raised suspicions of systematic fraud. The CPDS disputed the results publicly and filed a formal complaint with the National Electoral Commission, but the government did not address its objections. The few international election observers present were able to cover only a small percentage of the polling stations. The government refused election assistance offered by the EU. Election observers noted the following irregularities at some polling stations: failure to respect the secrecy of the vote, the absence of ballots printed to enable voting for an opposition party, unsealed ballot boxes, incomplete voting result summaries, lack of posting of voting results as required by law, and ruling party propaganda around and in the polling stations. Authorities deployed soldiers to all polling stations, and there were reports that they intimidated voters.

President Obiang had personally strong legitimacy and real popularity because of the profound transformation that the country under its authority. He seemed to prepare his succession in favor of his eldest son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue. However, this project raised reservations in the family clan, with some questioning the ability of the latter to lead the country. President Obiang knows that the negative image of his son makes this difficult succession. The case known as "ill-gotten gains" resulting in the French justice investigating a complaint against him for misappropriation of public property, strengthened the position of his opponents.

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