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, 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. He is the longest-serving leader in Africa and the longest-serving president in the world.
The nature of Obiang's government is non-democratic, since opposition is barely tolerated. He is also accused of corruption and abuse of power. Equatorial Guinea is currently a one party state controlled by the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE). The constitution provides Obiang wide powers, including the right to rule by decree.
Born into the Esanguii clan in Acoacán, Obiang joined the military during Equatorial Guinea's 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. He was also head of Black Beach Prison, notorious for the severe torture of its inmates.
After Macías ordered the murders of several members of the family they shared, including Obiang's brother. Obiang and others in Macías' inner circle feared the president had become insane. Obiang overthrew his uncle on 3 August 1979 in a bloody coup d'état, and placed him on trial for his actions, including the genocide of the Bubi people, over the previous decade. Macías' was sentenced to death and executed by firing squad on 29 September 1979. Once Macias was duly sentenced to death 101 times, a new Moroccan presidential guard was required to form the firing squad, because local soldiers feared his alleged magical powers."
Obiang declared that the new government would make a fresh start from Macías' brutal and repressive régime. He granted amnesty to political prisoners, and ended the previous régime's system of forced labor. However, he made virtually no mention of his own role in the atrocities committed under his uncle's rule.
The country nominally returned to civilian rule in 1982, with the enactment of a slightly less authoritarian constitution. 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 nominally allowed to organize in 1992, he was reelected in 1996 and 2002 with 98 percent of the vote in elections condemned as fraudulent by international observers. In 2002, for instance, at least one precinct was recorded as giving Obiang 103 percent of the vote.
He was reelected for a fourth term in 2009 with 97% of the vote, again amid accusations of voter fraud and intimidation, beating opposition leader Plácido Micó Abogo.
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 régime to be one of the most corrupt, ethnocentric, oppressive and undemocratic states in the world. Equatorial Guinea is essentially a one-party state dominated by Obiang's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE). The constitution grants Obiang sweeping powers, including the power to rule by decree. Although opposition parties were legalized in 1992, the legislature remains dominated by the PDGE, and there is almost no opposition to Obiang's decisions within the body. There have never been more than eight opposition deputies in the chamber. At present all of the deputies but one either belongs to the PDGE or is allied with it. For all intents and purposes, Obiang holds all governing power in the nation.
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?" The opposition is severely hampered by the lack of a free press as a vehicle for their views. There are no newspapers and all broadcast media are either owned outright by the government or controlled by its allies.
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 left after receiving a death threat at the U.S. Embassy in Malabo in 1994. In his farewell address, he publicly named the government's most notorious torturers, including Equatorial Guinea's then-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 terrorist 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". 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."
In a lengthy state visit from March to April 2006, President Obiang sought to reopen the closed embassy in the US, claiming that "the lack of a U.S. diplomatic presence is definitely holding back economic growth." President Obiang was warmly greeted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who called him a "good friend". Obiang himself was "extremely pleased and hopeful that this relationship will continue to grow in friendship and cooperation." The PR company Cassidy & Associates may be partially responsible for this change in tone 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.
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 had accused of directly overseeing the torture of opponents to his régime. The new embassy chancery opened in 2013.
In July 2003, state-operated radio declared Obiang "the country's god" with "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.
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.
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." He also refers to himself as El Jefe (the boss).
In 2008, American journalist Peter Maass identified Obiang as Africa's worst dictator, worse than Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
Since the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011, Obiang has become the world's third longest-ruling non-royal head of state.
In an October 2012 interview on CNN, Christiane Amanpour asked Obiang whether he would step down at the end of the then-current term (2009–2016) since he had been reelected at least four times in his reign of over over thirty years. In his response, Obiang categorically refused to step down at the end of the term despite the term limits in 2011 constitution.
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."
Forbes magazine has said that Obiang, with a net worth of US$600 million, is one of the world's wealthiest heads of state.
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 himself and his family at Riggs Bank in Washington, D.C., leading a U.S. federal court to fine the bank $16 million for allowing him to do so. Later scrutiny by a United States Senate investigation in 2004 found that the Washington-based Riggs Bank took $300 million on behalf of Obiang from Exxon Mobil and Hess Corporation.
In 2008, the country became a candidate for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative – an international project meant to promote openness about government oil revenues – but never qualified and missed the April 2010 deadline. Transparency International includes Equatorial Guinea as one of its twelve most-corrupt states.
Beginning in 2007 Obiang, along with several other African state leaders, came under investigation for corruption and fraudulent use of funds. He was suspected of using public funds to finance his private mansions and luxuries for both himself and his family. He and his son, in particular, owned several properties and supercars in France. In addition, several complaints were filed in US courts against Obiang’s son. Their attorneys stressed that the funds appropriated by both Obiangs were taken quite legally under Equatoguinean laws, even though these laws might not agree with international standards.
The US Department of Justice alleged that Obiang and his son appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars through corruption. In 2011 and early 2012, many assets were seized from Obiang and his son by the French and American governments, including mansions, wine collections, and supercars. The United States, France and Spain are all investigating the Obiang family's use of public funds. The corruption investigation is ongoing and any verdict has yet to come to fruition.
Obiang, his cabinet and his family supposedly receive billions in undisclosed oil revenue each year from the nation's oil production. Although the cabinet has made moderate increases to social spending, these remain far overshadowed by the spending on, for instance, presidential palaces. In addition, the Obiang administration has been characterized by harassment of dissenters and foreign officials seeking to report on conditions. Obiang filed a libel lawsuit in a French court against an organization he believed was demeaning his image by saying that his government had committed such acts, but the case was dismissed.
Obiang has made several pledges to commit to open governance, reduce corruption, increase transparency, and improve the quality of life and uphold the basic freedoms of his citizens. Critics say that Obiang’s government has made very little progress towards this goal, however. Several international groups have called for Obiang to:
- increase fiscal transparency and accountability by publishing all government revenues, and conducting and publishing annual audits of government accounts, including those abroad, and forcing officials to declare assets
- Disclose natural resource revenues
- Greatly increase spending alleviation of poverty
- Uphold political freedoms and rights
- Allow judicial practices to meet international standards
- Cease harassing and hindering his critics
- Allow foreign inspectors and groups to travel freely, unhindered and unharassed.
The US Justice Department has alleged that Obiang’s son also extorted funds from lumber and construction companies by inflating contractor payments by as much as 500%, then funneling the funds into a private accounts for his own use. Obiang and his cabinet have defended Kiki, as his son is known. The lawyers uphold his innocence in both US and French courts, claiming he received these funds legally though legitimate business enterprises.
Shortly after the emergence of these allegations, Obiang named his son Equatorial Guinea’s deputy permanent delegate to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which would possibly result in diplomatic immunity from prosecution. Obiang has created an independent audit task force to review the expenditures and financials of public figures in the government, screen for corruption, and increase financial transparency. The head of this task force, however, is appointed by Obiang himself.
Obiang had a close relationship with the Washington DC-based Riggs Bank. He is said to have been welcomed by top Riggs officials, who held a luncheon in his honor. Publicity regarding this relationship would later contribute to the downfall of Riggs.
On 10 November 2010, the Supreme Court of France accepted that a complaint filed by Transparency International in France on 2 December 2008, is admissible. The Supreme Court's decision allowed the appointment of an investigating judge and the beginning of a judicial inquiry into claims that Obiang has used state funds to purchase private property in France. An article published in Forbes magazine suggested that Obiang has gathered roughly $700 million of the country's wealth in US bank accounts.
Nguema's opponents have accused him of cannibalism; specifically, of consuming parts of his enemies in order to gain power.
Obiang reportedly favours his son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue to succeed him.
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