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Equatorial Guinea Human Rights - History

Equatorial Guinea Human Rights - History

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Recent elections: In the November 12 legislative and municipal elections, the PDGE and 14 coalition parties won 92 percent of the vote in the country’s closed-list party system. The PDGE and its 12 coalition parties took all 75 Senate seats and 99 out of 100 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. At the local level, the PDGE coalition won all except one of the municipal council seats and all except one mayoral race.

There were irregularities and nontransparency in the electoral process. The voter census and registration process was conducted without independent domestic or international monitoring. The government restricted media access to the opposition and blocked access to social media and opposition websites during the electoral campaigns. Official observer communication was restricted on the day of the elections by a shutdown of the internet. The government created an atmosphere of intimidation by deploying military personnel at polling stations. EU and diplomatic observers noted numerous irregularities at monitored polling stations.

In April 2016 President Obiang claimed 93.7 percent of the vote in presidential elections that were marred by reports of capricious application of election laws, nontransparent political funding, polling station irregularities, voter fraud, intimidation, and violence. Military personnel and PDGE representatives were present at all polling stations, while opposition representatives were present only at some stations. There were instances in which procedures to protect ballot secrecy were not enforced. Photographs of the president remained on public buildings used as polling stations.

In violation of the constitution, which requires that presidential elections be held no more than 45 days before or 60 days after the end of the prior presidential term, the election was held 136 days before the end of the president’s term.

In the months leading up to the presidential election, security forces violently dispersed opposition rallies and arrested demonstrators and opposition leaders (see section 2.b.). Some opposition political parties chose to boycott the elections in protest.

In February 2016 police detained Wenceslao Mansogo, deputy head of the CPDS party, and repeatedly detained presidential candidate Avelino Mocache, leader of the Union of Law Center.

Opposition events were shut down, and only two opposition billboards were allowed. The government and the PDGE had an absolute monopoly of national media, leaving opposition political parties with no means to disseminate their message. The PDGE received hourly radio and television coverage before and during the campaign period while opposition parties received none. The PDGE was also able to cover the city in campaign posters and gave away smart phones, promotional cloth, and even cars at campaign events.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) was not fully independent of PDGE influence. By law the NEC is composed of six judges appointed by the head of the Supreme Court, six government representatives and a secretary appointed by the president; and one representative from each registered political party. Only three of the NEC’s members were from the opposition.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The PDGE ruled through a complex network of family, clan, and ethnic relationships. Public sector employees were pressured to join the PDGE and even to agree to have their salaries garnished to fund PDGE activities. The party’s near monopoly on power, funding, and access to national media hampered the opposition parties--the CPDS, Popular Union of Equatorial Guinea, Popular Action for Equatorial Guinea, and the CI.

For example, the PDGE conducted a national campaign with extensive media coverage in preparation for the November legislative and municipal elections. Opposition parties, however, had little to no access to media during this period, contravening the National Pact of 1993, the regulating framework for political parties that stipulates access to media and political financing and that provides for opposition political parties to have free weekly national radio and television spots.

Political parties could receive both private and public funding but were not required to disclose the amount of private funding. In advance of the 2016 presidential elections, only the PDGE received public funding, and the amount was not publicly disclosed.

The government subjected opposition members to arbitrary arrest and harassment.

Opposition members reported discrimination in hiring, job retention, and obtaining scholarships and business licenses. They also claimed the government pressured foreign companies not to hire opposition members. Businesses that employed citizens with ties to families, individuals, parties, or groups out of favor with the government reportedly were selectively forced to dismiss those employees or face reprisals.

Registered opposition parties faced restrictions on freedom of speech, association, and assembly. For example, supporters who attended opposition political party campaign rallies were singled out for police interrogation and harassment. Some political parties that existed before the 1992 law establishing procedures to register political parties remained banned, allegedly for “supporting terrorism.”

Civil servants were removed for political reasons and without due process. In 2016 both the executive and judicial branches were restructured, with party affiliation a key factor in obtaining government employment. The PDGE conducted a nationwide campaign, and government employees were required to support it to keep their positions.

The president exercised strong powers as head of state, commander of the armed forces, head of the judiciary, and founder and head of the ruling party. The government generally restricted leadership positions in government to select PDGE members or members of a coalition of loyal parties that campaigned and voted with the PDGE.

Amended in 2011, the presidential age limit of 75 was removed from the constitution, but the number of terms a president may serve was limited to two seven-year terms. The constitution also established three separate branches of government and created a new post of vice president appointed by the president. As a result President Obiang, who has ruled since 1979, may serve one more seven-year term. In 2016 the president appointed his son, Teodoro Obiang Mangue, as vice president.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Male-controlled cultural influences, however, limited women’s political participation, especially in rural areas. Prior to the November elections, women occupied nine of 75 Senate seats (including that of the Senate president) and 14 of 100 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Three of the 25 cabinet members were women, one of the 13 delegate ministers was a woman, three of eight vice-ministers were women, and six of 37 secretaries of state were women. There were no female justices in the Supreme Court.

The government did not overtly limit minority participation in politics, but members of the Fang ethnic group occupied the top ranks. The group, estimated to constitute 80 percent of the population, exercised dominant political and economic power.

Equatorial Guinea

Defendants in a mass trial in Bata, Equatorial Guinea.


Kenneth Roth


The world’s longest serving leader, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea marked his 40th year in power in August. As in previous years, corruption and repression of civil and political rights continued unabated.

The vast majority of Equatorial Guinea citizens continued to be denied their economic and social rights, including access to health care and primary education, despite the country’s vast oil revenues, which benefit the political elite. In September, the government began negotiations for a $700 million loan request from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) despite boasting Africa’s third highest per capita income.

In June, against the backdrop of repression of civil society, the government reaffirmed its desire to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a requirement of the IMF as a precondition for a loan. EITI requires transparency around oil, gas, and mining revenue and activities and respect for civil society. In July, authorities ordered the dissolution of the Center for Development Studies and Initiatives (CEID), the country’s leading civic group and a former civil society representative in the EITI steering committee. CEID’s vice president continued to face harassment.

In May, a court convicted 112 people for participating in a December 2017 coup attempt. Representatives of the American Bar Association who observed the trial reported serious due process violations, including confessions obtained through torture and severe restrictions on defense lawyers.

Several countries pursued several corruption allegations against powerful government officials. In December 2019, Equatorial Guinea’s two-year term as a member of the United Nations Security Council ended.

In 2019, Equatorial Guinea endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, an international commitment to protect education during armed conflict.

The strange and evil world of Equatorial Guinea

I t is hard not to be impressed when you arrive in the newly rich nation of Equatorial Guinea, especially when you are invited as a guest of the president. There is just a brief wait in the VIP lounge, with its white leatherette sofas and The Naked Gun playing on a flat-screen television, before you are whisked into your limousine, the usual hassles of passport control handled by friendly officials. Leaving Malabo airport you see what looks almost like a modernist sculpture of discarded aeroplanes, one of which has its nose pointing into the air. You wonder if this is some kind of weird memorial to the infamous Wonga coup attempt, when British-led mercenaries failed to overthrow your host in an attempt to get their hands on his oil wealth.

Then there is a drive for several miles along a new three-lane highway. Strangely, it is devoid of traffic – we passed no more than five cars coming in the opposite direction. On either side are new buildings planted among the impossibly lush foliage. There are offices for oil and construction companies, together with scores of new blocks of flats – again all empty.

Eventually you pass the conference centre, a concrete edifice built to host a recent African Union summit. Beside it is a complex of 52 identical mansions, one for every African leader attending the week-long event. It has its own heliport, of course. The houses are all empty.

"Fantastic infrastructure here, isn't it, compared with the rest of Africa," enthuses one of my companions as we speed past. This is Adrian Yalland, an ebullient former spokesman for the Countryside Alliance who now speaks up for this West African dictatorship. He has not visited the country before.

Next, you pass an artificial beach and an ultramodern hospital before turning into an impressive Sofitel hotel with 200 rooms, the country's first spa and a bespoke island nature walk. An 18-hole golf course is being hacked from the verdant jungle. Even the obligatory picture of President Teodoro Obiang has been given a black-and-gold makeover, giving him the look of JFK. There are, however, hardly any guests.

Welcome to Sipopo. This Orwellian complex, grafted on to the capital, Malabo, is the face Equatorial Guinea wishes to present to the world. Obiang, now the longest-serving ruler in Africa and a man accused of presiding over one of the world's most corrupt, kleptocratic and repressive governments, spent more than half a billion pounds creating it as part of his drive to rebrand his regime. It is small change for a man alleged to pocket £40m a day in energy revenues his tiny country is sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest oil producer.

It is like something out of The Truman Show, one of many illusions in a land of artifice. Sipopo cost four times the annual education budget in what is perhaps the planet's most unequal society, a country where per-capita wealth exceeds Britain but three-quarters of its 675,000 citizens live on less than a dollar a day. Infant mortality rates are among the worst in the world, but that spanking-new hospital, said one doctor, has no patients most of the time. Ordinary people, it turns out, are barred from the area.

This makes it difficult for hotel guests to get taxis in and out of town. But I was travelling with Britain's first parliamentary delegation to Equatorial Guinea, so we were cocooned from reality, taken around in motorcades led by police cars with blaring horns. It was great fun – although judging by the angry glares rather less so for local drivers forced out of the way. They are unlikely to complain, however a pharmacist recently stopped by police over a minor traffic mishap said they beat him "like an animal".

The invitation to join the trip came from Greg Wales, a British businessman with a long-standing interest in the murkier corners of Africa – not least when he was associated with fellow Brit Simon Mann's plot to overthrow Obiang. In a surreal twist, he now promotes the regime he sought to oust seven years ago. He asked me as a cultural representative, given my interest in African music I saw a rare opportunity to get a glimpse into a notoriously despotic regime.

Former foreign secretary Michael Ancram had been scheduled to lead the delegation, Wales told me, but was unable to make it. So there were just three backbench Tory MPs – none of whom appeared to have done too much research on Equatorial Guinea before sinking into their business-class seats on the flight out – together with two cultural representatives. The aim was clear: to persuade us this was a good place for business, arts and possibly even tourism.

The rain hammered down as we headed off for our first meeting. It was chaired by Ángel Serafín Seriche Dougan, a dapper fellow who is president of the parliament. Before this he was prime minister until he was forced out amid allegations of corruption – no mean feat in Equatorial Guinea. We sat in a row on his right while senior politicians from his country sat three abreast on sofas to his left. The watches on display were impressive.

"We are here to find out about Equatorial Guinea and take back our impressions," said Nadine Dorries, the former nurse best known for her anti-abortion campaigning, heading the group in Lord Ancram's absence. "We are incredibly honoured to be the first parliamentary delegation in your country."

There followed a polite discussion about the "dynamic democracy" of Equatorial Guinea. Mr Dougan said they held free elections with "all the transparency possible", discussed the freedoms given to opposition parties and explained how they were reforming their constitution along British lines. "We will have two houses, so better to attend to the people. We are learning from you – you may say we do not go fast enough, but we are good pupils." He added that the two sets of parliamentarians shared common interests. "From 1996 we have had oil and have been trying to develop the country. We try to use the resources with all possible transparency to develop the country for the welfare of the country."

Laudable aims. If only they were true. Freedom House, the respected US think tank, places Equatorial Guinea alongside Burma, North Korea and Somalia on its list of the world's worst regimes, a ruthless one-party state where elections are stolen, opponents jailed and state coffers looted, control of daily life is all-pervasive and the government is accused of grotesque human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial killings.

Britain's representatives responded with the following three questions as the illusory discourse continued: could the opposition raise issues to be debated in parliament? Could they apply for debates? And best of all, whether democratic reform was driven by politicians or the people. This came from Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North and former chief executive of the National Pony Society.

Then the cream-suited Yalland chipped in: "One of the misconceptions of Equatorial Guinea is that you don't have a functioning democracy, but you obviously do with state funding and functioning political parties. One of the other major misconceptions is over civil liberties and human rights."

Dougan said he knew it was a big job for his guests to change the views of people in Europe and show them that not everything in Equatorial Guinea was negative. "You will leave as our first ambassadors," he concluded with a smile. Little wonder – cameras had been rolling and clicking constantly, ensuring excellent footage for state-controlled broadcasters. Official reports were hailing the arrival of an all-party group of 10 British MPs.

Despite the naivety of their questions, the MPs begun to twig that all was not as it appeared. Dorries confided she had noticed one of the female politicians had a Hermès handbag costing about £15,000. "What sort of parliamentarian has a bag like that? It's the little things you notice that cause the alarm."

The answer was obvious, given the precedent set by the president. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo seized power in 1979 from his uncle, a man who claimed to be a sorcerer, collected human skulls and was such a tyrant that one-third of the population fled his murderous rule. Since then Obiang has created a brutal one-party state that revolves around his family. He is lauded on state radio as a god in "permanent contact with the Almighty" who can "decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell" this has not, however, stopped him claiming to be a Catholic and being invited to the Vatican by successive popes.

Few outsiders cared much about events in this Spanish-speaking backwater until the discovery of oil. Then western energy giants moved in and the first family joined the global rich list. Obiang, blaming foreigners for bringing corruption to his country, told people he needed to run the national treasury to prevent others falling into temptation. The fantastic scale of his subsequent larceny became apparent when American inquiries into a collapsed bank discovered that Obiang controlled $700m in deposits there alone.

The most notorious member of the clan is Teodorín, the favourite son and presumed heir. His official salary as minister of agriculture and forestry is about £5,000 a month, but in just three years he spent twice as much as the state's annual education budget on luxury goods. He was caught trying to buy a £234m super yacht earlier this year – and last month was reported to have lost a briefcase in Swaziland with £250,000 inside. "He's an unstable, reckless idiot," commented one US intelligence official.

Little wonder Estanislao Don Malavo, the minister of work and social security, told us: "We used to be very poor. Then God answered our prayers – we discovered oil."

Like others we met, he repeated a mantra fed by their advisers that the world had the wrong impression of Equatorial Guinea. Certainly it is easy to be seduced by the capitals's crumbling colonial buildings, the tropical-gothic cathedral and the fancy new restaurants filled with expats – although the streets seem noticeably more subdued, the people more wary, than in other parts of Africa. "People think that when you come here you will be shot at the airport," said Malavo. "Our mistake was that we did not do anything to portray a more positive image."

The regime is spending huge sums on public relations, although this has not stopped criminal investigations in America and France. Obiang's first attempt to whitewash his image on the global stage came three years ago with the £2m sponsorship of a United Nations science prize, which caused such a furore with human rights groups it was never awarded. Now he is president of the African Union and adopting what one aide called more subtle approaches.

Hence our trip – and its highlight of a promised meeting with Obiang. So with the sun finally shining, we were whisked on the presidential jet over to Bata, the second city. An even bigger motorcade collected us at the airport, security men in reflector shades jumping out and opening doors as our cars slowed down. Waiting at the hotel, we watched a minister guzzling champagne at the bar before being told we must meet the prime minister, Ignacio Milam Tang, first.

Tang sat strangely rigid throughout our meeting, with his back ramrod straight and hands clasped tightly together. The only movement came from his legs, which shook uncontrollably. He was clearly extraordinarily nervous as he explained their goal to develop the country "not just internally but morally in building a better society".

Dorries opened with her now-familiar recitation about how honoured the delegation was to be there. "We are here to dispel some of the myths about Equatorial Guinea and also with humility to offer you help to avoid the mistakes we have made."

Then came a bizarre question-and-answer session. Dorries, for instance, asked if Sipopo hospital would be open for everyone, to which the PM replied that it was new so people were unaware of it – this in a country where one in seven children dies before the age of five. Steve Baker, the earnest third member of the delegation with a fixation on free markets, asked about tax rates, to which the PM replied he did not know the exact figures "since I'm not in charge of finance".

After Tang said he did not know how to reply to my question on why he thought the country's reputation was so bad, Dorries conferred with Baker and finally raised the issue of repression. "We keep hearing that you don't recognise your image. But that answer does not help us to help you," she said. "It is particularly the question of human rights."

Tang replied that some governments tried to impose views that were not suitable because of cultural differences, before adding they were victims of stories emanating from the previous regime. As the meeting ended, he dropped his bombshell: the president was not in town, so he could no longer meet us.

Dorries, clearly irked, demanded another question "if we are not going to meet your president", and asked which of their cultural values were at odds with those of their critics. Tang looked uneasy, said he didn't know, then added that their "African values" could never meet "your values in Europe".

The mood became glacial. Baker and the ambassador to Britain joined in, the latter saying tribalism made democracy difficult, before concluding: "We can't have people coming from Europe and telling us what to do without understanding Africa and the African way of doing things."

Dorries, who spent a year working in Zambia when she was younger, replied that the problem was "unacceptable diktats" from governments. "All African countries have tribes, but not all African countries have a reputation like Equatorial Guinea."

Tang responded that they were not the only African country with a bad reputation. "People have tried to learn the truth of cultures before making accusations. Concerning what you say about diktats of government, let me say again: Equatorial Guinea is trying its best to be a country ruled by law. We are trying to do our best." He closed the meeting by thanking his visitors for their sincerity.

Outside in the corridor, the mood was tense. "I need a cup of tea, I need a cup of tea," said Nokes. "No one has offered me a drink. How can this country be developed?"

By the time I returned to the hotel after another meeting, the party was polishing off pizzas and wine. Dorries ended the meal by telling Wales they were not being shown a proper picture of the country and would not write a "whitewash" report he replied that they had been rude to their hosts and did not understand Africa. A furious row broke out.

Just at that moment, the mayor of Bata and governor of the state turned up for another official dinner. Needless to say, it turned out to be excruciating.

We never met Obiang. Nor did we get our promised trip to Black Beach, briefly home to Simon Mann and the most notorious prison in Africa, with its reputation for systematic savagery and torture. This was less surprising, despite all the claims that its infamy belonged in the past.

But I did meet Gerardo Angüe Mangue, who knows the prison all too well. A leading member of the Progress Party, he received a phone call in March 2008 urging him to get home quickly. When he got there, four policemen handcuffed him and beat him up outside the house, then threw him into a tiny cell at Black Beach. He was accused with fellow party leaders of scheming to overthrow Obiang.

For two months, he was kept in shackles. Police would regularly fetch him, bind his hands and feet and then suspend him from a pole threaded through his arms. In his tidy house, he demonstrated the crouching position he was forced into, his body screaming in agony as candles were lit under his face so the smoke choked him. Sometimes cold water was poured over him. "Many people died under this torture," he said. "I thought often I would die also."

The only sustenance was bread and water, while a bucket in the corner served as a toilet. Beatings were commonplace. After a few weeks he was moved to a cell with five other people, and the food improved with chicken necks and wings. For a year he was held incommunicado, then his wife, family and friends were allowed to visit if they paid the guards. Sometimes, they too were beaten.

Mangue, 50, told me women and children were among the inmates. A Lebanese man owing money to members of the country's elite died after police refused his girlfriend's pleadings to give him insulin for his diabetes, while a Nigerian died under torture. The prison was cleaned up before Red Cross visits, but most inmates were too scared to talk openly, he said.

He was freed in June after a presidential amnesty, although he was warned he would go straight back to Black Beach if he resumed political activity. So why was he talking openly to me? "It is simple," he said. "After you have been in Black Beach you have nothing to lose."

Another dissident offered to show me an alternative view of Equatorial Guinea. He smiled when he saw me emerge from a car with presidential licence plates, then asked if I was sure I wanted to join him since the last foreign journalists in Malabo had been detained by secret police then deported.

We wandered around Campo Yaoundé, a community of 25,000 people in the midst of the capital. The bustling streets were so muddy it was hard to walk without slipping. Soukous and hip-hop pounded out of bars as young children walked around hawking clothes. A man offered to show me his shack, made from planks of wood with a corrugated iron roof. Inside were two rooms for the four people living there, with buckets of water stored by the door and intermittent power. Many houses had far more people crammed in.

"Welcome to my home," he said with a rueful smile. "Maybe half the people in Malabo live like this. Not just the unemployed but teachers, engineers, even economists. It's a long way from Sipopo, isn't it?" There were a handful of books on his shelves bought in Spain. "We must be the only country in the world where there are no bookshops," he said when I mentioned them. Despite tough circumstances, he offered to share his dinner of rice and stew with me.

After leaving, the dissident gave me an example of how the regime offered illusions of change while retaining control. "The opposition socialist party used to be unable to sell its papers. Now they can sell them openly in the street," he said. "But anyone buying a paper is followed by plainclothes police and then questioned, harassed and intimidated."

He pointed to a striking yellow building in the distance, saying it was a new private school owned by the first lady. Then he showed me another yellow building this one was more like a ramshackle shed, with wooden props that looked like they were stopping it collapsing into the mud. It was the local school, but there were no books, so the 100 pupils learned by rote.

A teacher told me schools used to make a little money by selling uniforms to parents. Last year, however, Obiang's family opened a textile factory and insisted all schools bought uniforms from there, increasing their wealth a tiny bit more and further undermining a poorly resourced education system.

This is the real face of the family ruling the wealthiest country in sub-Saharan Africa: ruthless, heartless and obscenely greedy. While the president stuffs his bank accounts and his spendthrift son fritters away a fortune on flash cars, more than half his people lack access to safe water, child survival rates are reportedly falling and numbers of children receiving primary education dropping. Obiang, meanwhile, concentrates on polishing his tarnished image one of the visiting MPs was offered £20,000 to lure out colleagues.

The MP rejected the offer. Regardless, I could not help but wonder about such ventures after my unusual glimpse into the world of the parliamentary freebie. The British politicians returned home after a strange trip for which they made few preparations, asked few penetrating questions, sometimes patronised their hosts and never left their purpose-built bubble. Yet to give them credit, they had ventured into the unknown and ultimately refused to buckle down and whitewash the regime as expected.

In our meeting with the president of parliament, I asked the whereabouts of Plácido Micó, the lone voice of genuine opposition in parliament. "We asked him to be here," Dougan replied. "He is not around. Maybe he is out of the country."

He wasn't, of course. Micó snorted with derision when I mentioned this before telling me of how he was barred from the media, his meetings were broken up by thugs, his members sacked from their jobs. He has been arrested a dozen times and endured spells in Black Beach.

I asked Micó what he would have told Britain's MPs. "My message is that the people of Equatorial Guinea are suffering one of the worst dictatorships. People here need help. Look at the interests of the people suffering, not of the oil companies and multinationals.

"In the past 10 years most of the foreign people who come here are more interested in oil and to get commercial advantages than the lack of human rights and democracy," he said. "People here could have a very good life with the oil and gas. Instead it all goes to Mr Obiang and his family."

Equatorial Guinea Human Rights - History

This page includes video interviews (in Spanish) with several of Equatorial Guinea's leading human rights defenders. To view these clips with English subtitles, click on the 'cc' icon at the bottom of the video frame.

Equatorial Guinea has become the richest country, per capita, in sub-Saharan Africa since the discovery of oil and natural gas reserves in the 1990s, yet the majority of its people remain extremely poor. Despite its increased wealth, the realization of the rights to food, health and education has declined. These retrogressions are documented in CESR's statistical analysis of the country's economic and social rights outcomes relative to its resources, and is available in English and Spanish.

Despite these abysmal indicators and the country's increased resources, government expenditure on health and education is far lower than the sub-Saharan African average. Total health expenditure as a percentage of GDP declined between 1996 and 2005 from 4.0% to 1.6%. Moreover, spending is not directed at essential priorities: Equatorial Guinea gives a lower priority to primary education spending than almost any other country in the region.

Lack of budget transparency is a serious obstacle to holding the government accountable for its use of oil-generated wealth. It fuels concerns that official corruption and corporate collusion are diverting resources away from the realization of the basic rights of the majority of the country's people, as documented in a Human Rights Watch report, "Well Oiled: Oil and Human Rights in Equatorial Guinea."

The government of Equatorial Guinea has attempted to discredit CESR's own findings by claiming that the data used in our analysis of the Country is "fabricated" and not actually from the UN sources cited, despite the fact that all sources can be verified through the links and references provided in the document. CESR's factsheet analyses the latest publicly available data from the World Bank and UN specialized agencies such as UNICEF and WHO.

In statements to the press, Presidential Spokesperson Miguel Oyono accused both CESR and Human Rights Watch of attempting to blackmail the government and undermine the visit to the country of the Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos. In July 2009, Moratinos led a delegation made up of representatives of Spanish companies and politicians, with the stated aim of strengthening Spain´s economic relations with its former colony and encouraging the president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, to promore greater democracy and political openness.

Equatorial Guinea before the UN Human Rights Council in December 2009

In light of Equatorial Guinea's appearance before the sixth session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), CESR contributed a submission on the state of economic and social rights in Equatorial Guinea. It focuses in particular on Equatorial Guinea's compliance with its obligations in relation to the fulfillment and realization of economic, social and cultural rights. The submission presents and analyzes key indicators relating to the enjoyment of the rights to health, education, food, water and housing, as well as selected indicators of state policy efforts.The UPR is a unique opportunity, within the UN Human Rights Council, for international human rights scrutiny. The Summary of Stakeholders' Information used much of CESR's submission in reporting on the economic and social rights situation in the country.

The Report of the Working Group provides a summary of the proceedings of the UPR review process and the conclusions and recommendations. Based on NGO (including CESR) lobbying of governments before the UPR session, many governments stated their concern with Equatorial Guinean government's economic and social rights violations. Canada spoke about the economic and social rights fulfillment not being commensurate with GDP and was concerned about the regression in terms of increased poverty rates. It suggested that health and education should be priorities and given the necessary resources. Other countries, such as the Netherlands, Brazil, Sweden, Azerbaijan and Norway all mentioned issues to do with using resources to fulfill economic and social rights. Portugal made an especially strong emphasis on progressively realizing rights according to maximum available resources and ensuring non-discriminatory policies.

In March 2010, the government appeared before the UN Human Rights Council to report on how they would follow up the recommendations made by the UPR Working Groups, highlighting those that the country was willing to accept--including many on fulfilling people's economic and social rights--and those that were rejected.

Following this CESR, in collaboration with local, partners undertook a project to enhance the capacity of national human rights activists and NGOs to monitor the fulfilment of economic and social rights in the country. This project was a response to the local need for broader promotion of human rights, including trainings on international human rights law and its supervisory mechanisms. Further, it aimed at strengthening local activists' capacity to participate in the next Equatorial Guinea UPR process, with a particular focus on how to supervise the progress on the economic and social rights according to the commitments made by the government during the first review in 2010.

Other Resources

EG Justice is an NGO working to promote human rights and rule of law in Equatorial Guinea. Based in the United States, it coordinates activities on Equatorial Guinea in several countries.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reviewed Equatorial Guinea's state report in September 2004, and issued the following Concluding Observations (aquí en español) on the government's respect, protection and fulfillment of children's human rights.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women reviewed Equatorial Guinea's state report in July 2004, and issued the following Concluding Observations (aquí en español) on the government's respect, protection and fulfillment of women's human rights.

Equatorial Guinea Human Rights - History

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997.

Equatorial Guinea is nominally a multiparty constitutional republic, but in reality power is exercised by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema through a small subclan of the majority Fang tribe, which has ruled since the country's independence in 1968. President Obiang was elected to a new 7-year term of office in February through elections marred by extensive fraud and intimidation. The President's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) controls the judiciary and the legislature, the latter also through fraudulent elections.

President Obiang exercises control over the police and security forces through the Minister of the Interior, who also serves as president of the national electoral board. The security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses.

The majority of the population of approximately 400,000 lives by subsistence agriculture, supplemented by hunting and fishing. Barter is a major aspect of the economy in which the small monetary sector is based on exports of petroleum, cocoa, and increasing quantities of timber. Most foreign economic assistance has been suspended due to the lack of economic reform and the Government's repeated violations of human rights. Substantial new oil deposits were discovered in 1995, with exploitation beginning in 1996. The use and investment of oil revenues remains a closed process despite repeated calls from financial institutions and Equatoguinean citizens for financial openness. The country's economic potential continues to be undermined by fiscal mismanagement and a lack of transparency in public finance.

The Government's human rights record remained poor, and serious and systematic abuses continued, although there was some improvement in certain areas. Citizens do not have the right to change their government. Principal abuses by the security forces included: Physical abuse of prisoners torture beatings of detainees arbitrary arrest and detention extortion from prisoners searches without warrants and confiscation of property without due process. Officials took no action against security force members suspected of human rights violations. However, unlike the previous year, there were no reports of extrajudicial killing. Prison conditions remained life threatening. The judicial system does not ensure due process and is subject to executive influence. The Government severely restricts freedom of speech and the press. However, it permitted the establishment of two small, independent newspapers. The Government effectively limits the right of assembly. In the February presidential elections, the Government used arbitrary arrests, illegal detention, extensive roadblocks, beatings, and outright fraud to ensure President Obiang's hold on power. Discrimination and violence against women and foreigners remain serious problems. Discrimination against minorities persists.

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

There were no reports of any unresolved disappearances. Reported disappearances usually involved detention for several days in secret locations without notification of family members or access to legal representation.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

These abuses are serious, frequent, and widespread. The police routinely beat detainees severely, and victims often require hospitalization after release. Access to prisoners is not generally permitted. The Government also uses the psychological effect of arrest, along with the fear of beating, to intimidate opposition party members. The security forces arrested prominent members of the opposition and beat and tortured them, the torture usually taking the form of beating of the soles of the feet.

Credible reports emerged that authorities arrested opposition politicians Victorino Bolekia, the mayor of Malabo, along with deputy mayor Santiago Obama and opposition figures Celestino Bacale and Julian Ehapo in February and badly beat them in detention. According to police, the prisoners--all of whom were elected in the municipal elections of 1995--were engaged in plotting a coup. However, credible sources report that rather than plotting, the four were attending French lessons at the French cultural center when the police raided the location. Mayor Bolekia was released within a few hours while the others remained incarcerated for 2 days. No official government action was taken against those responsible for the arrests and subsequent mistreatment of the prisoners in detention.

In March presidential candidate Amancio Gabriel Nze was reportedly arrested in Bata, chained to a wall, and beaten by Lt. Colonel Diosdado Nguema, police chief of Bata and reportedly a cousin of the President. Supporters arriving at the prison with food for Nze were allegedly also beaten.

In April Celestino Bacale was arrested again, this time for writing a memorandum calling attention to the Government's poor human rights record. He was secretly flown to Bata, on the African mainland, where he was allegedly tortured. In a rare show of independence, however, a magistrate reviewed Bacale's case and ordered his release.

While campaigning in Konibe, presidential candidate Secundino Oyono was reportedly fired upon by soldiers, later arrested, and tortured for 14 hours along with campaign worker Roque Maria Oyon. While there is no independent confirmation of the incident, it appears consistent with other accounts of arbitrary arrests and beatings. The Government has not prosecuted or punished any security officials for these abuses.

Prison conditions are primitive and life threatening. During a September roundup of foreigners for the purpose of extortion, authorities locked 29 detainees in a small cell for 1 week with only a bucket for a toilet. Several independent sources confirmed that prison guards beat a Togolese woman in her sixth month of pregnancy, causing a miscarriage. Rations are inadequate, and sanitary conditions practically nonexistent. Female prisoners are housed separately from men but are reportedly subjected to sexual abuse by guards.

Prison conditions are monitored by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), which makes recommendations to the Government. However, the ICRC recommendations are reportedly not released to the public. At the Government's insistence, they remain restricted to the ICRC, the Government, and the local Red Cross, which is charged with implementing the recommendations. There were credible reports that suggested changes, such as providing cells with cement floors and allowing prisoners access to clean water, had led to modest improvements in otherwise filthy conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention or Exile

There are nominal but unenforced legal procedural safeguards regarding detention, the need for search warrants, and other protection of citizen's rights. These safeguards are systematically ignored by security forces.

Police routinely hold prisoners in incommunicado detention. The Government arrested political figures and detained them for indeterminate periods. Foreigners from neighboring countries are likewise subject to arbitrary mistreatment. On September 26 and 27, when security forces purportedly needed funds for the upcoming national day celebration on October 12, authorities took into custody hundreds of foreigners allegedly living without documentation. These included Nigerians, Ghanaians, Togolese, and Beninois. Many were taken from their beds and had their homes looted during raids. Bribes for release reportedly ranged from the equivalent of $10 to $100.

Even after paying bribes and being freed, some foreigners were reportedly arrested a second time and forced to pay again. Women seized during the raid were confined to a small cell without windows. One credible source described their detention chamber as "a sweat box" and said that their screaming could be heard all night. The guards verbally abused one person who attempted to bring food to jailed friends. A credible source reported that over 200 Nigerians were arrested and jailed. Many of these reportedly had their immigration papers in order, but were nevertheless jailed for the purpose of extortion. Authorities allegedly forced prisoners to pay rent on their cells for the time of incarceration. The authorities reportedly confiscated the documents and property of 35 Nigerians without due process, then loaded them onto a freighter, many clothed only in underwear, for forced repatriation to Nigeria.

On November 13, security agents arrested opposition figure Celestino Bacale for allegedly insulting the President in their presence. Reportedly, an intoxicated security agent accused Balale of plotting to kill President Obiang, and ordered Bacale's arrest, after Bacale refused to allow his briefcase to be searched. Authorities released him November 16, hours before a meeting between President Obiang and the Spanish President in Rome. The Government later ordered Bacale to present himself before a military court on the charge of insulting the President. Bacale went into hiding, with the Government reportedly broadcasting appeals to the public to apprehend him. He fled the country in December, with the charges pending against him.

There were no reports of long term political detainees. However, during the year, the Government arrested political leaders and detained them for indeterminate periods while they were interrogated, beaten, and tortured (see Section 1.c.).

The Government does not officially force its citizens into exile, but many persons who were able to travel abroad sought political asylum (see Section 2.d.).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is not independent judges serve at the pleasure of the President and are appointed, transferred, and dismissed for political reasons. Corruption is rampant.

The court system is composed of lower provincial courts, two appeals courts, and a Supreme Court. The President appoints members of the Supreme Court, who report to him. There are also traditional courts in the countryside, in which tribal elders adjudicate civil claims and minor criminal matters.

The Constitution and laws passed by the Chamber of Deputies provide for legal representation and the right to appeal. In practice, authorities often do not respect these provisions. Civil cases rarely come to public trial.

There were no reports of long term political prisoners. During the year, however, the Government arrested political leaders and detained them for indeterminate periods (see Section 1.d.).

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence.

The Government does not enforce the law requiring judicial warrants for searches. Security forces regularly search homes and arrest occupants and generally do so without warrants.

The Government does not overtly force officials to join the PDGE. However, for lawyers, government employees, and others, party membership is necessary for employment and promotion. Even in the private sector, many citizens claim that party membership is necessary in order to be hired. The party banner is prominently displayed with the national flag in government offices, and many officials wear PDGE lapel pins.

There is surveillance of members of the opposition parties, resident diplomats, as well as accredited diplomats.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and the Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, but the Government severely restricts these rights in practice. Mild criticism of public institutions and government mismanagement is allowed. The Government, however, permits no criticism of the President or the security forces. All journalists must be registered with the Ministry of Information. According to trade sources, there are five or six independent reporters registered with the Ministry of Information. Between 30 and 40 reporters working for official party or government publications are also registered. Foreign reporters visiting Equatorial Guinea are required to be accompanied by guides from the Ministry of Information.

The Ministry of Information also allegedly requires publishers to submit copy for approval prior to publication. All local publications exercise self-censorship and are subject to prior restraint. However, the Government permitted the establishment of two small, independent newspapers, La Gaceta and El Sol. Some foreign publications are sold, though security forces reportedly peruse the contents of publications from Spain and confiscate literature critical of the Government. Outdated copies of Spanish and American newspapers are available to clients of prominent hotels. Shortwave broadcasts and government-controlled radio and television are available. Spanish broadcasts transmitted to Equatorial Guinea have been a source of friction between the two governments. Radio France International also transmits from Malabo.

Television broadcasts only a few hours each day. Cable is available, broadcasting the Cable News Network (CNN), Music TV (MTV), French news, movies, and cartoons. The Government withholds access to broadcasting by opposition parties, and rarely refers to the opposition in anything but a negative light when broadcasting the news.

There are no institutions of higher learning, although the Government is planning to open a university, with the foreign assistance, by combining teachers' training centers and other institutions.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The right of assembly and association is provided for in the Constitution. However, government authorization must be obtained for meetings in private homes of more than 10 people for discussions that the regime considers political.

All parties must register with the Minister of Interior, and supply the names of members and a statement of purpose. Opposition parties must seek permits to hold meetings, including conferences and private meetings. Opposition members who have attempted to circumvent this regulation were beaten by security forces. Gatherings in public places, even small gatherings, are generally observed by security forces. The Government requires permits for public events, which it routinely grants but often quickly cancels, effectively undermining the right of assembly. Authorities granted, then canceled, permission for a meeting on the national day by opposition members who had planned to gather to discuss long-term strategies.

Credible sources state that citizens living in rural areas are hesitant to associate or even be seen with foreigners, fearing that doing so may lead to repercussions from government authorities.

The Government generally respects freedom of religion. There is no state religion, and the Government does not discriminate against any faith. However, a religious organization must first be formally recognized by the Ministry of Justice and Religion before its practice is allowed. Foreign missionaries reported a significant easing of restrictions on their activities during the year.

Nevertheless, the Government restricts the freedom of expression of the clergy. During the year, there were several incidents in which priests were arrested, beaten, and expelled from their parishes for allegedly preaching "political sermons." On February 13, Father Jose Carlos Esono was reportedly arrested in Bata and subjected to mistreatment by police who accused him of antigovernment activities. Reliable sources reported that a Nigerian priest was expelled in March for declining to celebrate mass for the President.

d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

In theory, freedom of movement and travel throughout the country are provided for in the law. However, local police routinely demand bribes from occupants of cars, taxis, and other vehicles traveling outside the capital. The Bubi ethnic group on the island of Bioko is unable to move about freely, according to credible sources, as the Government fears separatist sympathies among the Bubis. Roadblocks throughout the island reportedly prevent them from traveling between villages. Ethnic Fangs are also subject to extortion at random roadblocks.

During the 1996 Presidential elections, the Government systematically restricted the travel of opposition presidential candidates. According to credible reports, roadblocks on the island of Bioko and in continental Equatorial Guinea effectively kept opposition candidates away from their bases of popular support. Meetings were disrupted, and rallies canceled as a result. Election observers noted chains across major roads during the height of the political campaign.

Since the elections, the PDGE promulgated a directive to provincial bureaus to further restrict the free movement of opposition figures. The order entails confiscating property and documents of traveling members of the opposition, as well as searching them for "subversive documents." The directive has been described as "an order of permanent harassment."

Members of opposition parties frequently travel abroad but may face a hostile reception upon their return. For example, opposition figure Placido Mico was stopped and searched at the airport in October, following a visit to the United States. Authorities, led by the director general of national security, Antonio Mba (the President's brother), reportedly confiscated literature and souvenirs brought home from the trip. Nearly 90 percent of citizens who obtained visas for Spain in recent years reportedly never returned to Equatorial Guinea. Most sought political asylum.

There are both refugees and asylum seekers. According to a credible source, some 20 refugees from Liberia, Rwanda, Sudan, and Mauritania have sought political asylum. The Government generally grants these requests. Most refugees, however, do not declare themselves.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change their Government

The Constitution nominally provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, but in fact there have been no free, fair, and transparent presidential elections since independence in 1968. The President exercises complete power as Head of State, commander of the armed forces, and leader of the PDGE. Leadership positions with the Government are, in general, restricted to the President's subclan and closest supporters. While there is an elected Chamber of Deputies, it is not representative and is dominated by the Government. The Minister of the Interior also acts as president of the national electoral board.

The February presidential election, in which President Obiang claimed victory with 98 percent of the vote, was considered openly fraudulent by international observers. The President's early call for elections, ostensibly an effort to move toward democracy at the earliest opportunity, was perceived by many as a ploy to catch the opposition, as well as the nation's voters, off guard. The move met with repeated protests from the international community. It deprived opposition parties of sufficient time to organize their campaigns and meet with voters. Some opposition politicians who campaigned were beaten and jailed. Voting was done in the open and without secrecy, with opposition parties allegedly barred from access to polling areas. There were credible reports of widespread arrests and violence against opposition party members before the elections. Several countries refused to dispatch official observers. Accounts of observers who did attend included reports of beatings, roadblocks, stuffed ballot boxes, and open voting in the presence of security forces. Most opposition parties, claiming that it was futile to run amidst such blatant corruption, opted to boycott the elections.

Although there are no legal restrictions on the participation of women in politics, women remain seriously underrepresented. There are 2 women in the 42-member Cabinet, and 5 in the 80-member legislature.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There are no effective local human rights nongovernmental organizations. One person who attempted to initiate a program with European Union funds to deal with human rights issues and the rehabilitation of torture victims was arrested and accused of running an illegal operation. According to credible reports, the person sought government approval and appealed to the Prime Minister for support, but the project failed and the individual left the country.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights visited once during the year and received government cooperation.

The United Nations Development Program's effort to encourage transparency in the 1995 municipal elections created friction with the Government. The Government requested the removal of the resident representative in 1995 he departed this year.

The Government established a parliamentary commission on human rights approximately 4 years ago. This organization, however, has rarely been heard from, and it has little credibility or influence.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

While the Constitution condemns all forms of discrimination, both governmental and social discrimination continue. These are reflected in traditional constraints on women's education and in the circumscribed opportunities for professional and occupational achievement of ethnic minorities. The Government deliberately limits potential opportunities for ethnic minorities.

Societal violence against women, particularly wife beating, is common. Public beating of wives is forbidden by government decree, but violence in the home is generally tolerated. The Government does not prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence.

Although the Constitution provides for equal rights, women are largely confined by custom to traditional roles, particularly in agriculture. Polygyny, which is widespread among the Fang, contributes to women's secondary status, as does limited educational opportunity on average, women receive only one-fifth as much schooling as men.

There is no discrimination against women with regard to inheritance and family laws, but there is discrimination in traditional practice. For an estimated 90 percent of women, including virtually all ethnic groups except the Bubi, tradition dictates that if a marriage is dissolved, the wife must return the dowry given her family by the bridegroom at the time of marriage, while the husband automatically receives custody of their children.

Similarly, in the Fang, Ndowe, and Bisio cultures, primogeniture is practiced, and as women become members of their husband's families upon marriage, they are not usually accorded inheritance rights. According to the law women have the right to buy and sell property and goods, but in practice the male-dominated society permits few women access to sufficient funds to engage in more than petty trading or to purchase real property beyond a garden plot or modest home.

There are no legislated provisions for the welfare of children. The Government devotes little attention to children's rights or welfare and has no set policy in this area. Education is compulsory up to the age of 18, but the Government does not enforce the law.

No constitutional or legal provisions exist for the physically disabled with respect to discrimination in employment or education. Nor is there legislation mandating accessibility to buildings or government services.

There is no legal discrimination against ethnic or racial minorities, and the Government does not overtly limit participation by them, but the monopolization of political power by the President's Mongomo subclan of the Fang ethnic group persists.

In practice some members of minorities face discrimination because they are not members of the Fang ethnic group, or belong to a subclan other than the President's. Minorities do not face discrimination in inheritance, marriage, or family laws.

Several thousand citizens of Nigeria, Ghana, and Francophone Africa continue to reside in the country. Most are small traders and business people. There are numerous reports of their harassment by the police (see Section 1.d.)

a. The Right of Association

Although the Constitution provides for the right to organize unions, the Government has not passed enabling legislation. A 1995 petition by service sector employees to form a union in the mainland capital of Bata has yet to be answered by the Government. In the small wage economy, no labor organization exists, although there are a few cooperatives with limited power. The law prohibits strikes. The Labor Code contains provisions to uphold worker rights, but the Government generally does not enforce them.

It is generally acknowledged that membership in the PDGE is a prerequisite for hiring and promotion in both public and private sectors. Membership in a rival political organization is considered grounds for dismissal from any position, public or private. Opposition politicians often claim to have been dismissed from their jobs after joining alternate political groups. Credible sources maintain that during the 1996 presidential elections several large private employers reportedly threatened to dismiss workers who did not vote for President Obiang. Now that the oil industry is a major employer, hiring is controlled by the Government, operating through an agency, APEGESA. Independent sources confirm that APEGESA screens applicants for positions and excludes those considered unfriendly or indifferent to the PDGE.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

There is no legislation regarding these rights, or prohibiting antiunion discrimination. There is no evidence of collective bargaining by any group. Wages are set by the Government and employers, with little or no input from the workers. Employers must pay the minimum wages set by the Government, and most companies pay more than the government-established minimum.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law forbids forced labor and slavery, and there is no evidence that such activity takes place. Convicted felons do, within the law, preform extensive labor outside prison without compensation.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The legal minimum age for child employment is 18 years, but the Ministry of Labor does not enforce this law. The Government also does not enforce the law that stipulates mandatory education up to the age of 18. Underage youth perform both family farm work and street vending.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law prescribes a standard 35-hour workweek and a 48-hour rest period which are observed in practice in the formal economy. The minimum monthly wage is approximately $53 (cfa 27,500). The minimum wage does not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The Labor Code provides for comprehensive protection for workers from occupational hazard, but the Government does not enforce this in practice. Employees who protest unhealthy or dangerous working conditions risk the loss of their jobs.


Pygmies probably once lived in the continental region that is now Equatorial Guinea, but are today found only in isolated pockets in southern Río Muni. Bantu migrations started probably around 2,000 BC from between south-east Nigeria and north-west Cameroon (the Grassfields). [20] They must have settled continental Equatorial Guinea around 500 BC at the latest. [21] [22] The earliest settlements on Bioko Island are dated to AD 530. [23] The Annobón population, originally native to Angola, was introduced by the Portuguese via São Tomé island. [ citation needed ]

First European contact and Portuguese rule (1472–1778) Edit

The Portuguese explorer Fernando Pó, seeking a path to India, is credited as being the first European to discover the island of Bioko, in 1472. He called it Formosa ("Beautiful"), but it quickly took on the name of its European discoverer. Fernando Pó and Annobón were colonized by Portugal in 1474. The first factories were established on the islands around 1500 as the Portuguese quickly recognized the positives of the islands including volcanic soil and disease-resistant highlands. Despite natural advantages, initial Portuguese efforts in 1507 to establish a sugarcane plantation and town near what is now Concepción on Fernando Pó failed due to Bubi hostility and fever. [24] The main island's rainy climate, extreme humidity and temperature swings took a major toll on European settlers from the beginning, and it would be centuries before attempts restarted. [ citation needed ]

Early Spanish rule and lease to Britain (1778–1844) Edit

In 1778, Queen Maria I of Portugal and King Charles III of Spain signed the Treaty of El Pardo which ceded Bioko, adjacent islets, and commercial rights to the Bight of Biafra between the Niger and Ogoue rivers to Spain. Brigadier Felipe José, Count of Arjelejos sailed from Uruguay to formally take possession of Bioko from Portugal, landing on the island on 21 October 1778. After sailing for Annobón to take possession, the Count died of disease caught on Bioko and the fever-ridden crew mutinied. The crew landed on São Tomé instead where they were imprisoned by the Portuguese authorities after having lost over 80% of their men to sickness. [25] As a result of this disaster, Spain was thereafter hesitant to invest heavily in its new possession. However, despite the setback Spaniards began to use the island as a base for slave trading on the nearby mainland. Between 1778 and 1810, the territory of what became Equatorial Guinea was administered by the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, based in Buenos Aires. [26]

Unwilling to invest heavily in the development of Fernando Pó, from 1827 to 1843, the Spanish leased a base at Malabo on Bioko to the United Kingdom which the UK had sought as part of its efforts to suppress the transatlantic slave trade. [27] Without Spanish permission, the British moved the headquarters of the Mixed Commission for the Suppression of Slave Traffic to Fernando Pó in 1827, before moving it back to Sierra Leone under an agreement with Spain in 1843. Spain's decision to abolish slavery in 1817 at British insistence damaged the colony's perceived value to the authorities and so leasing naval bases was an effective revenue earner from an otherwise unprofitable possession. [26] An agreement by Spain to sell its African colony to the British was cancelled in 1841 due to metropolitan public opinion and opposition by Spanish Congress. [28]

Late 19th century (1844–1900) Edit

In 1844, the British returned the island to Spanish control and the area became known as the "Territorios Españoles del Golfo de Guinea." Due to epidemics Spain did not invest much in the colony, and in 1862 an outbreak of yellow fever killed many of the whites that had settled on the island. Despite this, plantations continued to be established by private citizens through the second half of the 19th century. [29]

The plantations of Fernando Pó were mostly run by a black Creole elite, later known as Fernandinos. The British settled some 2,000 Sierra Leoneans and freed slaves there during their rule, and a trickle of immigration from West Africa and the West Indies continued after the British left. A number of freed Angolan slaves, Portuguese-African creoles and immigrants from Nigeria and Liberia also began to be settled in the colony where they quickly began to join the new group. [30] To the local mix were added Cubans, Filipinos, Catalans, Jews and Spaniards of various colours, many of who had been deported to Africa for political or other crimes, as well as some settlers backed by the government. [31]

By 1870 the prognosis of whites that lived on the island was much improved after recommendations that they live in the highlands, and by 1884 much of the minimal administrative machinery and key plantations had moved to Basile hundreds of meters above sea level. Henry Morton Stanley had labeled Fernando Pó "a jewel which Spain did not polish" for refusing to enact such a policy. Despite the improved survival chances of Europeans living on the island, Mary Kingsley, who was staying on the island still described Fernando Pó as 'a more uncomfortable form of execution' for Spaniards appointed there. [29]

There was also a trickle of immigration from the neighboring Portuguese islands, escaped slaves, and prospective planters. Although a few of the Fernandinos were Catholic and Spanish-speaking, about nine-tenths of them were Protestant and English-speaking on the eve of the First World War, and pidgin English was the lingua franca of the island. The Sierra Leoneans were particularly well placed as planters while labor recruitment on the Windward coast continued, for they kept family and other connections there and could easily arrange a supply of labor. The Fernandinos proved to become effective traders and middlemen between the natives and Europeans. [30] A freed slave from the West Indies by way of Sierra Leone named William Pratt established the cocoa crop on Fernando Pó, forever altering the destiny of the colony. [ citation needed ]

Early 20th century (1900–1945) Edit

Spain had not occupied the large area in the Bight of Biafra to which it had right by treaty, and the French had busily expanded their occupation at the expense of the territory claimed by Spain. Madrid only partly backed the explorations of men like Manuel Iradier who had signed treaties in the interior as far as Gabon and Cameroon, leaving much of the land out of 'effective occupation' as demanded by the terms of the 1885 Berlin Conference. More important events such as the conflict in Cuba and the eventual Spanish–American War kept Madrid busy at an inopportune moment. Minimal government backing for mainland annexation came as a result of public opinion and a need for labour on Fernando Pó. [32]

The eventual treaty of Paris in 1900 left Spain with the continental enclave of Rio Muni, a mere 26,000 km 2 out of the 300,000 stretching east to the Ubangi river which the Spaniards had initially claimed. [33] The tiny enclave was far smaller than what the Spaniards had considered themselves rightfully entitled to under their claims and the Treaty of El Pardo. The humiliation of the Franco-Spanish negotiations, combined with the disaster in Cuba led to the head of the Spanish negotiating team, Pedro Gover y Tovar committing suicide on the voyage home on 21 October 1901. [34] Iradier himself died in despair in 1911, and it would be decades before his achievements would be recognised by Spanish popular opinion when the port of Cogo was renamed Puerto Iradier in his honour. [ citation needed ]

The opening years of the twentieth century saw a new generation of Spanish immigrants. Land regulations issued in 1904–1905 favoured Spaniards, and most of the later big planters arrived from Spain after that. An agreement made with Liberia in 1914 to import cheap labor greatly favoured wealthy men with ready access to the state, and the shift in labor supplies from Liberia to Río Muni increased this advantage. Due to malpractice however, the Liberian government eventually ended the treaty after embarrassing revelations about the state of Liberian workers on Fernando Pó in the Christy Report which brought down the country's president Charles D. B. King in 1930. In 1940, an estimated 20% of the colony's cocoa production came from African-owned land, nearly all of it was in the hands of Fernandinos. [ citation needed ]

The greatest constraint to economic development was a chronic shortage of labour. Pushed into the interior of the island and decimated by alcohol addiction, venereal disease, smallpox, and sleeping sickness, the indigenous Bubi population of Bioko refused to work on plantations. Working their own small cocoa farms gave them a considerable degree of autonomy. [ citation needed ]

By the late nineteenth century, the Bubi were protected from the demands of the planters by Spanish Claretian missionaries, who were very influential in the colony and eventually organised the Bubi into little mission theocracies reminiscent of the famous Jesuit reductions in Paraguay. Catholic penetration was furthered by two small insurrections in 1898 and 1910 protesting conscription of forced labour for the plantations. The Bubi were disarmed in 1917, and left dependent on the missionaries. [33] Serious labour shortages were temporarily solved by a massive influx of refugees from German Kamerun, along with thousands of white German soldiers who stayed on the island for several years. [34]

Between 1926 and 1959 Bioko and Rio Muni were united as the colony of Spanish Guinea. The economy was based on large cacao and coffee plantations and logging concessions and the workforce was mostly immigrant contract labour from Liberia, Nigeria, and Cameroun. [35] Between 1914 and 1930, an estimated 10,000 Liberians went to Fernando Po under a labour treaty that was stopped altogether in 1930. [ citation needed ]

With Liberian workers no longer available, planters of Fernando Po turned to Rio Muni. Campaigns were mounted to subdue the Fang people in the 1920s, at the time that Liberia was beginning to cut back on recruitment. There were garrisons of the colonial guard throughout the enclave by 1926, and the whole colony was considered 'pacified' by 1929. [36]

The Spanish Civil War had a major impact on the colony. 150 Spanish whites, including the Governor-General and Vice-Governor-General of Río Muni created a socialist party called the Popular Front in the enclave which served to oppose the interests of the Fernando Pó plantation owners. When the War broke out Francisco Franco ordered Nationalist forces based in the Canaries to ensure control over Equatorial Guinea. In September 1936 Nationalist forces backed by Falangists from Fernando Pó, similarly to what happened in Spain proper took control of Río Muni, which under Governor-General Luiz Sanchez Guerra Saez and his deputy Porcel had backed the Republican government. By November the Popular Front and its supporters had been defeated and Equatorial Guinea secured for Franco. The commander in charge of the occupation, Juan Fontán Lobé was appointed Governor-General by Franco and began to exert more effective Spanish control over the enclave interior. [37]

Rio Muni had a small population, officially a little over 100,000 in the 1930s, and escape across the frontiers into Cameroun or Gabon was very easy. Also, the timber companies needed increasing numbers of workers, and the spread of coffee cultivation offered an alternative means of paying taxes [ clarification needed ] . Fernando Pó thus continued to suffer from labour shortages. The French only briefly permitted recruitment in Cameroun, and the main source of labour came to be Igbo smuggled in canoes from Calabar in Nigeria. This resolution to the worker shortage allowed Fernando Pó to become one of Africa's most productive agricultural areas after the Second World War. [33]

Final years of Spanish rule (1945–1968) Edit

Politically, post-war colonial history has three fairly distinct phases: up to 1959, when its status was raised from 'colonial' to 'provincial', following the approach of the Portuguese Empire between 1960 and 1968, when Madrid attempted a partial decolonisation aimed at keeping the territory as part of the Spanish system and from 1968 on, after the territory became an independent republic. The first phase consisted of little more than a continuation of previous policies these closely resembled the policies of Portugal and France, notably in dividing the population into a vast majority governed as 'natives' or non-citizens, and a very small minority (together with whites) admitted to civic status as emancipados, assimilation to the metropolitan culture being the only permissible means of advancement. [38]

This 'provincial' phase saw the beginnings of nationalism, but chiefly among small groups who had taken refuge from the Caudillo ' s paternal hand in Cameroun and Gabon. They formed two bodies: the Movimiento Nacional de Liberación de la Guinea (MONALIGE), and the Idea Popular de Guinea Ecuatorial (IPGE). The pressure they could bring to bear was weak, but the general trend in West Africa was not, and by the late 1960s much of the African continent had been granted independence. Aware of this trend, the Spanish began to increase efforts to prepare the country for independence and massively stepped up development. The Gross National Product per capita in 1965 was $466 which was the highest in black Africa, and the Spanish constructed an international airport at Santa Isabel, a television station and increased the literacy rate to a relatively high 89%. At the same time measures were taken to battle sleeping sickness and leprosy in the enclave, and by 1967 the number of hospital beds per capita in Equatorial Guinea was higher than Spain itself, with 1637 beds in 16 hospitals. All the same, measures to improve education floundered and like in the Democratic Republic of Congo by the end of colonial rule the number of Africans in higher education was in only the double digits, and political education necessary to a functioning state was negligible. [39]

A decision of 9 August 1963, approved by a referendum of 15 December 1963, gave the territory a measure of autonomy and the administrative promotion of a 'moderate' group, the Movimiento de Unión Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial [es] (MUNGE). This proved a feeble instrument, and, with growing pressure for change from the UN, Madrid was gradually forced to give way to the currents of nationalism. Two General Assembly resolutions were passed in 1965 ordering Spain to grant independence to the colony, and in 1966 a UN Commission toured the country before recommending the same thing. In response, the Spanish declared that they would hold a constitutional convention on 27 October 1967 to negotiate a new constitution for an independent Equatorial Guinea. The conference was attended by 41 local delegates and 25 Spaniards. The Africans were principally divided between Fernandinos and Bubi on one side, who feared a loss of privileges and 'swamping' by the Fang majority, and the Río Muni Fang nationalists on the other. At the conference the leading Fang figure, the later first president Francisco Macías Nguema gave a controversial speech in which he claimed that Adolf Hitler had 'saved Africa'. [40] After nine sessions the conference was suspended due to deadlock between the 'unionists' and 'separatists' who wanted a separate Fernando Pó. Macías resolved to travel to the UN to bolster international awareness of the issue, and his firebrand speeches in New York contributed to Spain naming a date for both independence and general elections. In July 1968 virtually all Bubi leaders went to the UN in New York to try and raise awareness for their cause, but the world community was uninterested in quibbling over the specifics of colonial independence. The 1960s were a time of great optimism over the future of the former African colonies, and groups that had been close to European rulers, like the Bubi, were not viewed positively. [41]

Independence under Macías (1968–1979) Edit

Independence from Spain was gained on 12 October 1968 and the region became the Republic of Equatorial Guinea (the date is celebrated as the country's Independence Day [42] ). Macías became president in the country's only free and fair election. [43] The Spanish (ruled by Franco) had backed Macías in the election due to his perceived loyalty, however while on the campaign trail he had proven to be far less easy to handle than they had expected. Much of his campaigning involved visiting rural areas of Río Muni and promising young Fang that they would have the houses and wives of the Spanish if they voted for him. In the towns he had instead presented himself as the urbane leader who had bested the Spanish at the UN, and he had won in the second round of voting – greatly helped by the vote-splitting of his rivals. [ citation needed ]

The euphoria of independence became quickly overshadowed by problems emanating from the Nigerian Civil War. Fernando Pó was inhabited by many Biafra-supporting Ibo migrant workers and many refugees from the breakaway state fled to the island, straining it to breaking point. The International Committee of the Red Cross began running relief flights out of Equatorial Guinea, but Macías quickly became spooked and shut the flights down, refusing to allow them to fly diesel fuel for their trucks nor oxygen tanks for medical operations. Very quickly the Biafran separatists were starved into submission without international backing. [44]

After the Public Prosecutor complained about "excesses and maltreatment" by government officials, Macías had 150 alleged coup-plotters executed in a purge on Christmas Eve 1969, all of whom happened to be political opponents. [45] Macias Nguema further consolidated his totalitarian powers by outlawing opposition political parties in July 1970 and making himself president for life in 1972. [46] [47] He broke off ties with Spain and the West. In spite of his condemnation of Marxism, which he deemed "neo-colonialist", Equatorial Guinea maintained very special relations with communist states, notably China, Cuba, and the USSR. Macias Nguema signed a preferential trade agreement and a shipping treaty with the Soviet Union. The Soviets also made loans to Equatorial Guinea. [48]

The shipping agreement gave the Soviets permission for a pilot fishery development project and also a naval base at Luba. In return the USSR was to supply fish to Equatorial Guinea. China and Cuba also gave different forms of financial, military, and technical assistance to Equatorial Guinea, which got them a measure of influence there. For the USSR, there was an advantage to be gained in the War in Angola from access to Luba base and later on to Malabo International Airport. [48]

In 1974 the World Council of Churches affirmed that large numbers of people had been murdered since 1968 in an ongoing reign of terror. A quarter of the entire population had fled abroad, they said, while 'the prisons are overflowing and to all intents and purposes form one vast concentration camp'. Out of a population of 300,000, an estimated 80,000 were killed. [49] Apart from allegedly committing genocide against the ethnic minority Bubi people, Macias Nguema ordered the deaths of thousands of suspected opponents, closed down churches and presided over the economy's collapse as skilled citizens and foreigners fled the country. [50]

Obiang (1979–present) Edit

The nephew of Macías Nguema, Teodoro Obiang deposed his uncle on 3 August 1979, in a bloody coup d'état over two weeks of civil war ensued until Macías Nguema was captured. He was tried and executed soon afterward, with Obiang succeeding him as a less bloody, but still authoritarian president. [51]

In 1995 Mobil, an American oil company, discovered oil in Equatorial Guinea. The country subsequently experienced rapid economic development, but earnings from the country's oil wealth have not reached the population and the country ranks low on the UN human development index. Some 20% of children die before age 5 and more than 50% of the population lacks access to clean drinking water. [52] President Teodoro Obiang is widely suspected of using the country's oil wealth to enrich himself [53] and his associates. In 2006, Forbes estimated his personal wealth at $600 million. [54]

In 2011, the government announced it was planning a new capital for the country, named Oyala. [55] [56] [57] [58] The city was renamed Ciudad de la Paz ("City of Peace") in 2017.

As of February 2016 [update] , Obiang is Africa's second-longest serving dictator after Cameroon's Paul Biya. [59]

On the 7th of March 2021, there were munition explosions at a military base near the city of Bata causing 98 deaths and 600 people being injured and treated at the hospital. [60]

Human Rights in Equatorial Guinea

The human rights in Equatorial Guinea are influenced significantly by a nearly omnipotent government. The per capita gross national income is $21,056, which, according to the Human Rights Watch, is the highest in Africa. Unfortunately, much of this is due to citizens who are loyal to President Teodore Obiang Nguema Mbasogo having most of the wealth, whereas the rest of the country is living in poverty.

According to the Human Rights Watch, 26% of all children have stunted growth. Nearly half of elementary school-aged children are not enrolled in school, and half of the ones who are do not finish. A ruling in July 2017 by the Minister of Education, which expels all pregnant students in an effort to discourage pregnancy, exacerbates the situation.

Human Rights Watch puts many of the violations of human rights in Equatorial Guinea on President Obiang, the president since 1979, and his government. He was recently reelected in April 2016, amid much controversy. Many citizens in opposition to Obiang boycotted the election, given the unlikeliness of his defeat. Those who came out in opposition to Obiang were arrested, sometimes en masse, and held in jail without charges for over one week. In the week before the election, for example, Obiang’s government targeted members of the opposition party, Citizens for Innovation. Even outside of the elections, those opposing the Obiang government are swiftly dealt with, usually under “disturbing the peace,” according to Amnesty International. One story involved police arresting two members of another opposition party for passing out leaflets.

Not only are opposition leaders persecuted by the government, but so are their families. An example of this involved the son and nephew of an opposition leader, whom, according to Amnesty International, the government arrested and held for nine months, only charging and convicting them for revealing state secrets at the end of their incarceration.

The government’s influence reaches beyond silencing its opposition. When President Obiang’s son Teodorin was charged with embezzlement by the French government, Obiang responded by making his son vice president and accusing France of violating his immunity.

In spite of the severe violations of human rights in Equatorial Guinea, many organizations have spoken out for government reform. According to the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and six other organizations condemned the government for silencing opposition leaders.

The government is making an effort to improve how it treats the opposition party. In order to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Equatorial Guinea has to “refrain from actions which result in narrowing or restricting public debate in relation to implementation of the EITI.” In response to this, the government has allowed one of its opposition parties to resume business as of September 2016.

The government is a large complication when it comes to improving human rights in Equatorial Guinea, but there are small signs of improvement, which hopefully will continue into the future.

Equatorial Guinea: Free Human Rights Defenders

Equatorial Guinean authorities should immediately release two men who head the country’s leading human rights organization, seven human rights and transparency organizations said today.

The police detained Enrique Asumu and Alfredo Okenve, who head the Center for Development Studies and Initiatives (CEID), on April 17, 2017, and have exceeded the 72-hour period that Equatorial Guinean law permits them to detain a person without charge.

“The authorities have a long history of harassing, arbitrarily detaining, and generally interfering with the work of human rights defenders in Equatorial Guinea,” said Tutu Alicante, executive director of EG Justice, which monitors human rights abuses in Equatorial Guinea.

“This latest incident shows the authorities’ willingness to trample on the country’s due process laws to intimidate and silence dissent.”

The organizations raising their concerns about the detention are Human Rights Watch, EG Justice, Publish What You Pay, Transparency International, the UNCAC Coalition, the International Anti-Corruption Conference, and Amnesty International.

Asumu is the president, and Okenve vice president, of CEID. On April 16, authorities prevented Asumu from boarding a flight from the country’s island capital, Malabo, to the mainland city of Bata, claiming they were acting on the orders of the minister of national security, said a colleague of Asumu’s who was present and Asumu’s lawyer.

The following day, Asumu and Okenye visited the ministry’s offices, which are housed in same building as the Central Police Station in Malabo. The national security minister interrogated the two men in his office for more than five hours, said two colleagues who accompanied them to the meeting and waited outside. After the meeting ended, at about 6 p.m., the authorities prevented Asumu and Okenve from leaving the building, and they continue to hold them there.

The police have permitted the colleagues, as well as family members, to visit Asumu and Okenve, and have allowed them access to their lawyers. But the authorities have not brought them before a judge, which the law requires within 24 hours. Nor have the authorities charged them, which under Equatorial Guinean law must take place within 72 hours.

The Ministry of the Interior ordered CEID to suspend its activities indefinitely in March 2016. Colleagues who have spoken with Asumu and Okenve said that the authorities have threatened to fine them 10 million CFA francs (US$16,000) for violating this order.

The ministry issued the order after shutting down a youth meeting that it contends included statements by participants that constituted incitement, a charge CEID maintains is false and politically motivated. The organization appealed the suspension order, but received no response, a representative from the organization said.

The organization announced that it would resume its activities in September 2016. A representative of the organization contended that the April 2016 suspension of its operations was effective only for three months. Since then, it has organized events attended by representatives from various government ministries.

The government of Equatorial Guinea is applying to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an effort that brings together governments, companies, and nongovernmental groups to encourage better governance of resource-rich countries by fostering open public debate about the use of oil, gas, and mining revenues. The EITI requires member governments to foster “an enabling environment for civil society” and to “refrain from actions which result in narrowing or restricting public debate in relation to implementation of the EITI.”

Equatorial Guinea has been dogged by corruption scandals exacerbated by the lack of transparency related to natural resource revenues. The suspension of the country’s leading organization promoting transparency and respect for human rights, and the detention of its leadership, send the wrong signal about the government’s commitment to combatting corruption, the groups said.

“These detentions make the government’s promises to respect civil society as part of its bid to join EITI ring hollow,” said Elisa Peter, executive director of Publish What You Pay. “They threaten to topple the country’s EITI candidacy and send the message that the government will not tolerate independent voices.”

When CEID resumed its activities in September 2016, it also resumed its role as a member of the national steering committee that involves government officials, oil companies, and civil society as the first stage in applying for EITI membership. The national steering committee last met on April 12, and the minister of mines attended an event the human rights group held on April 14 in celebration of its twentieth anniversary.

“The government works with CEID when it wants to feign respect for civil society, but then keeps this suspension order hanging over it like the sword of Damocles,” said Sarah Saadoun, a business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “By bullying two of the country’s most respected human rights defenders, the government seems to be trying to silence civil society at a moment of rising anger over the country’s deepening economic crisis.”

Freedom of Expression and Association

Only a few private media outlets exist in the country, and they are largely owned by persons close to Obiang. Freedom of association and assembly are severely curtailed, and the government imposes restrictive conditions on the registration and operation of non governmental organizations. The few local activists who seek to address human rights-related issues often face intimidation, harassment, and reprisals.

The minister of interior, who also headed the National Electoral Commission, suspended leading civil society group CEID on March 2, one week before the government called for elections. He alleged that comments made during a youth forum organized by CEID two months earlier constituted “messages aimed at inciting violence and civil disobedience among the Equatoguinean youth.” Authorities had earlier cancelled the forum on January 29, 2016, after its first day. CEID accused the government of heavy handedness for suspending the organization because of the comments of some forum participants.

A health ministry official similarly accused a theater group working in collaboration with UNICEF of “inciting the youth” in July and ordered it to stop performing its play on HIV awareness. This was after the official attended a performance session where a member of the audience raised questions as to whether the government was committing sufficient resources to preventing and treating the disease. Last year, the government shut down a cultural center after a minister objected to lyrics of a hip-hop performance as “going against the ideals of the ruling party and unconstitutional,” according to EG Justice, an independent rights group.

Global Policy Forum

The Bush administration maintains reasonably friendly relations with the African nation of Equatorial Guinea despite the extreme human rights violations perpetrated by Equatorial Guinea's government against its own people. America's motive is to acquire oil from Equatorial Guinea's vast reserves. U.S. news media have largely ignored human rights issues in that country, thus leaving U.S. citizens with little information for judging the actions of their own government and its failure to hold the Equatoguinean government responsible for its actions while claiming to have invaded Iraq, at least partly, for humanitarian reasons.

Abject Poverty in "the Kuwait of Africa"

In its search for alternatives to Middle Eastern oil, the United States government is looking to rely more heavily on oil from West Africa. While the U.S. currently acquires 15% of its oil from West Africa, that figure is expected to rise to 20% by 2005 with even more growth afterward as new offshore oil fields come online. This would put West Africa's contribution to U.S. oil consumption very near current Middle Eastern levels. This explains the Bush administration's recent interest in strengthening diplomatic ties with African nations (1).

The West African nation of Equatorial Guinea sells nearly two thirds of its oil to the United States and, though a small nation, produces more crude per capita than Saudi Arabia. Even though the U.S. embassy there has been closed due to a death threat against its ambassador who complained about the country's poor human rights conditions, the United States has maintained diplomatic ties through its Cameroon embassy (2). In early September 2002, Equatorial Guinea's head of state, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, met with State Department Officials and business people in Washington after attending the opening of the United Nations General Assembly (3).

In 1991, the Spanish firm CEPSA discovered the offshore oil field of Alba near Equatorial Guinea's Bioko Island and estimated its potential to yield 68 million barrels. Production began that same year (4). I 1995, Mobil (now Exxon Mobil) discovered the Zafiro oil field, also near Bioko, estimated to have the potential to yield 400 million barrels and began production in the following year (2). Today, the oil contractors are Exxon Mobil and Amerada Hess, and the amount of oil is estimated to be at least one billion barrels. It is not for nothing that Equatorial Guinea has come to be known as "the Kuwait of Africa" (5).

Recently, there has been a campaign led by Tony Blair and human rights activists, including Christian Aid, a campaign known as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, to encourage companies doing business in Africa to disclose payments made to governments. The Financial Times has described Equatorial Guinea and several other African nations as reacting "coolly to the idea" (6). Last November, Obiang told a correspondent that the money he receives from oil contracts would remain secret, even from the International Monetary Fund (7).

Obiang's reaction comes as no shock. There is much evidence that his family spends huge amounts of money irresponsibly. Obiang's son, Teodorin Nguema Obiang takes "business trips" to the United States including, according to Africa Confidential, "several weeks in Hollywood, where he bought a range of vehicles, looked for promising acts for promotion and made payments on his project (estimated cost, US $25 million) for a recording complex plus luxury apartments." The son is also said to be "a party guy who comes in with fabulous chicks" (8). The family's extravagant shopping sprees in Paris have also been reported (9). Obiang's government has built lavish government villas for hosting oil executives to protect them from the oppressive equatorial heat. The villas' occupants are also protected from the country's citizens by walls and guard towers (5).

Given the modest population size of Equatorial Guinea, about half a million people, one might expect there to be plenty of money for everyone by way of revitalizing the economy and building up infrastructure. But most Equatoguineans are malnourished, typically with no running water or electricity. Malaria and yellow fever are rampant. The average life expectancy is 54. Sewage runs free on the streets of Malabo, the capital city, and there is no public transportation. Most citizens eke out a living, as best they can, farming rice, yams, and bananas (5, 10). It was not until July of 2003 that there was any serious talk of extending the range of television signals across the entire nation, even though the country is only about the size of Maryland (11). According to the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Public Affairs' "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices," released last March, barter remains a major aspect of the economy. For 1998, the IMF, which Obiang stated will never learn how much money he takes in, calculated that Obiang's government received $130 million in oil royalties. The government had only reported $34 million (9). This record of mismanagement of revenues has led the World Bank and the IMF to discontinue many aid programs since 1993 (12).

Through most of the twentieth century, Equatorial Guinea was a Spanish colony, sometimes known as "Spanish Guinea" or even "Fernando Po" after the Portuguese explorer who "discovered" the already inhabited island of Bioko. Spain developed enormous cacao plantations, principally on Bioko, importing thousands of Nigerians to work on them. Apart from issues of exploitation, this did lead to a robust economy and a high literacy rate with good medical facilities.

From 1959, Equatorial Guinea began a process of increasing autonomy from Spain culminating in independence in 1968. That year, Francisco Macias Nguema was elected the new country's first president. From 1970 through 1972, however, Macias undid many of the country's democratic structures, abrogating large parts of the constitution, instituting a single-party system, and finally declaring himself "President-for-Life." Macias' government neglected all functions except for internal security. This internal security was achieved through the death or exile of one third of the population. As a result of such turpitude, the infrastructure and economy suffered badly. The Nigerian contract laborers left as a group in 1976.

In 1979, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, nephew of Macias, staged a coup resulting in the trial and execution of Macias. Obiang assumed power, and, at least on paper, is now the elected president of Equatorial Guinea. Every seven years, Obiang is up for re-election and always manages to win, but the fairness of the elections has been questioned by international observers as well as by the main opposition parties, the Republican Democratic Force (FDR), the Convergence for Democracy (CPDS), and the Popular Union (UP), who boycott the elections. The President's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea always maintains control of both the judiciary and the legislature. The 2002 census for Equatorial Guinea estimated the population to be 1,015,000, although the actual figure is much closer to 500,000. Opposition parties claim that this was an attempt to fix the outcome of the December 2002 elections. However, it was a step forward even to have sham elections. Obiang did not agree to have any sort of election until 1995 under pressure from the United Nations, the United States, and Spain (13).

On the 11th of March 1998, Amnesty International (AI) released a report titled "Equatorial Guinea: Detainees Severely Tortured – Five Already Dead." Several dozen members of the minority Bubi ethnic group, native to Bioko Island, were detained in connection with attacks on military barracks there in January of that year. AI expressed concern that the detainees were being held simply because of their ethnicity.

The detainees were subjected to foot beatings to extract confessions and were denied access to medical care. There were two documented cases of people dying from these conditions. However, AI adds that "Unconfirmed reports suggest that an unknown number of other Bubi detainees recently died in detention and were buried in mass graves by members of security forces."

Upcoming legislative elections in 1999 inspired the government to commit similar abuses in an attempt to intimidate the Bubis who have been disenfranchised by the Obiang government and who thus have reason to support opposition parties. More than ten CPDS candidates were arrested at about the same time, some being placed in detention centers and others confined to their villages. There were reports of torture in these cases as well, detainees being forced to beat their hands on a wall for half an hour, and another candidate having his feet beaten with electric cables (14).

Beginning on 14 March 2002, security forces conducted a series of arrests of tens of military personnel and civilians connected with FDR and UP. Those arrested included at least one pregnant woman. All were held without charge in Bata Public Prison and then transferred to other locations, including the Presidential Palace. Some eyewitnesses saw visible marks of torture. Obiang's public explanation was that those arrested were involved in a "diabolical" coup plot against him, although three sons of the former parliamentarian and leader of the FDR, Felipe Ondo Obiang, and his niece, the pregnant woman mentioned above, were apparently arrested only by reason of being related to the FDR leader (15). It was later determined that the exact number of those arrested was 144, sixty-eight of whom were later found guilty of attempting to overthrow the government. Those found guilty are being held in Black Beach Prison which is notorious for overcrowding, lack of hygiene, lack of adequate food and water, and lack of medical care (16).

One should be saddened, if not stunned, to learn that in April 2002, the month following the arrests, the United Nations' Commission on Human Rights voted to adopt a draft resolution abolishing its special representative for Equatorial Guinea. Nicholas Shaxson, writing for the Financial Times, reported that African officials claimed that international oil interests influenced the U.N.'s decision to stop regular human rights monitoring in the troubled country. China, whose lack of oil reserves has made it desperate to seek oil in West Africa, cast its vote in favor of this disturbing resolution. This year, China even sent delegates bearing gifts, and praised Equatorial Guinea's "wise leadership" (17).

On 17 September 2002, Amnesty International reported that one of those being held, Juan Asumu Sima, died in Black Beach Prison. Sima needed help standing during his trial and was reported to have had scars on his legs and arms at the time. This is consistent with reports that he was severely tortured in pre-trial detention. During his trial, he repeatedly requested medical help but this was denied to him. Although he was elderly, torture may have contributed to Sima's death (16). On the 7th or 8th of June 2003, Felipe Ondo Obiang, former head of the FDR and very much the center of the storm in President Obiang's anti-coup purge, who had been sentenced to twenty years imprisonment, simply vanished, speculation being that he was abducted (18).

The 3rd of August 2003 was the 24th anniversary of Obiang's coup against Macias. The day before the anniversary, Obiang used the occasion to pardon eleven of these political prisoners, including Placido Mico, secretary-general of CPDS. Jeremias Ondo Ngomo, Equatorial Guinea's "second deputy prime minister in charge of human rights issues" promptly praised Obiang's humanitarian gesture (19). The release of any of these prisoners is certainly not to be discouraged and is obviously good news, but it is hard not to suppress the judgment that this was merely a token gesture, especially given the timing and the fact that so few were released.

Much of the above seems newsworthy if not urgent, and is being covered by the British press to some modest degree. While there has been some coverage in the U.S., it has been minimal. If the American public knew more about the above events, they might be in a position to judge more critically the Bush administration's friendly gestures toward this potentially enormous source of oil and the enormity of its human rights record and mismanagement of revenues. They might also be better able to judge the hypocrisy of that same administration in claiming that its concern in Iraq was largely humanitarian.

1. David White, James Harding and John Reed, "Africans Await Bush's Visit with Suspicion" Financial Times, 6 July 2003 Martyn Wingrove, "West Africa the Target as US Seeks Fresh Crude Suppliers" Lloyd's List, 10 July 2003.

2. Foreign Relations of the United States, www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/frus/

3. "Oil Diplomacy" The New York Times 7 September 2002 Late Edition.

4. Energy Information Administration, eia.doe.gov/

5. Ken Silverstein, "U.S. Oil Politics in the ‘Kuwait of Africa'" The Nation 22 April 2002.

6. Carola Hoyos and Michael Peel, "Boost for UK-Led Plan to Increase Oil Payment Openness" Financial Times 18 June 2003. See also Terry McAlister, "Shell Opens Its Books on Nigeria" The Guardian 20 June 2003.

7. "Oiling the Palm Trees: Africa's Latest Oil State is Learning the Tricks of the Multinational Trade" Africa Confidential Vol. 44, 7 February 2003.

8. "Star-Struck" Africa Confidential Vol. 42, 29 June 2001.

9. David Hecht, "Gushers of Wealth, But Little Trickles Down" The Christian Science Monitor 21 July 1999.

10. Hecht Silverstein Augustin Velloso "Equatorial Guinea: A Few Rich, Many Poor" Counterpunch, 9 June 2003.

11. "Equatorial Guinea: Cabinet Meets Over Extension of National TV Countrywide" BBC Monitoring Service, 15 July 2003.

12. CIA World Factbook 2002.

13. Information on the history of Equatorial Guinea taken from Foreign Relations of the United States and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor's report on Equatorial Guinea dated 31 March 2003.

14. Amnesty International, "Equatorial Guinea Arrests Undermine Free Elections" 18 February 1999.

15. Amnesty International, "Equatorial Guinea: Fear of Torture/Possible POCs" 19 March 2002, and "Equatorial Guinea: Detainees Held Incommunicado Risk Being Tortured to Death," 28 March 2002.

16. Amnesty International, "Medical Care Urgently Needed for Over 60 Political Prisoners, Equatorial Guinea: New Information: Death of Juan Asumu Sima," 10 July 2002. Eleven were recently released, as shall be discussed shortly.

17. Nicholas Shaxson, "UN Accused Over Human Rights: Equatorial Guinea Oil Interests Blamed for Decision to Stop Monitoring" Financial Times, 20 April 2002. For China's diplomatic efforts in 2003, see Radio Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial, Malabo, 0600 gmt, 24 April 2003 reported by BBC Monitoring Service "Equatorial Guinea: Chinese Communist Party Delegation Ends Visit" 20 June 2003.

18. Radio France Internationale 0730 gmt 10 June 2003, reported in "Equatorial Guinea: Missing Opposition Leader Said to Have Been Abducted," BBC Monitoring Service, 10 June 2003.

19. RNE Radio 1, Madrid, 1600 gmt 2 August 2003, reported in "Equatorial Guinean President Pardons Jailed Dissidents," BBC Monitoring Service, 2 August 2003 and Radio Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial, Malabo, 0600 gmt 4 August 2003, reported in "Equatorial Guinea: President Releases Some Political Prisoners," BBC Monitoring Service, 8 August 2003.

Watch the video: Η Ιστορία των Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων (May 2022).