Obiang, Africa's other worst dictator (arguably worse than Mugabe, says article)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Location of Equatorial Guinea

That's what an article on from last week says, about Teodoro Obiang, the president of Equatorial Guinea. Equatorial Guinea is quite a sad story, because it's a very small country on the western coast of Africa near the equator (hence the name) that also happens to have access to a certain amount of oil that, while not particularly large in global terms, is huge for a country of its size. Kind of like a tinier Azerbaijan, both in size and oil supply. That gives it a high income per capita, but this is a deceptive number because the wealth is not divided at all equally. According to Wikipedia:

The discovery of large oil reserves in 1996 and its subsequent exploitation have contributed to a dramatic increase in government revenue. As of 2004,[11] Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its oil production has risen to 360,000 barrels/day, up from 220,000 only two years earlier.

Forestry, farming, and fishing are also major components of GDP. Subsistence farming predominates. The deterioration of the rural economy under successive brutal regimes has diminished any potential for agriculture-led growth.

Despite a per capita GDP (PPP) of more than US$30,000[12] (CIA Factbook $50,200[13]) which is as of 2008 the ninth highest in the world, Equatorial Guinea ranks 121st out of 177 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index.

When you see the ninth highest GDP along with 121st out of 177 nations in terms of development, you know something's wrong. And what's wrong with Equatorial Guinea is the government.

It's hard to say which situation is worse, that of Zimbabwe or Equatorial Guinea, but the article does make a good point in that the situation in Zimbabwe does tend to receive a lot more news and that Equatorial Guinea should receive its share of attention as well. Here are a few parts of the article:
But Mugabe may not be Africa's worst. That prize arguably goes to Teodoro Obiang, the ruler of Equatorial Guinea whose life seems a parody of the dictator genre. Years of violent apprenticeship in a genocidal regime led by a crazy uncle? Check. Power grab in a coup against the murderous uncle? Check. Execution of now-deposed uncle by firing squad? Check. Proclamation of self as "the liberator" of the nation? Check. Govern for decades in a way that prompts human rights groups to accuse your regime of murder, torture, and corruption? Check, check, and check.

Obiang, who seized power in 1979, had promised to be kinder and gentler than his predecessor, but in the 1990s, even the U.S. ambassador to Equatorial Guinea received a death threat from a regime insider, the ambassador has said, and had to be evacuated. Not long after that, offshore oil was discovered, but the first wave of revenues—about $700 million—was transferred into secret accounts under Obiang's personal control. The latest chapter, written in the last month, may be the least surprising, because Obiang's ruling party won 99 of the 100 seats in legislative elections. A government press release, hailing Obiang as the "Militant Brother Founding President of the PDGE," carried the headline, "Democracy at Its Peak in Equatorial Guinea."

If you haven't heard any of this, don't worry; as far as I can tell, the only American journalist who has reported on Obiang's electoral theft is Ken Silverstein, who writes for Harper's and has for many years poured out a primal scream of investigative reports into Obiang's misrule...True, Equatorial Guinea is a small country with a population of less than 1 million, its economy is expanding in an oil boom, and Obiang's "victory" did not require the obvious and crude violence of Mugabe's ongoing terror. But Obiang's enforcers don't need to club people on the streets. His would-be opponents are too frightened to openly demonstrate against him. His is the Switzerland of dictatorships—so effective at enforcing obedience that the spectacle of unrest is invisible.


For the usual and shameful reasons, the White House does not use its clout to condemn Obiang as it condemns Mugabe—there has not been a word of censure from Washington about Obiang's 99-for-100 triumph in May's elections. Yet that's only part of the reason Americans hear little about him. There isn't a gag order on America's media, after all. There is, however, a famous dictator trying to crush a peaceful uprising in a far larger country with a historical narrative that we're familiar with and fascinated by—in a dramatic fashion, Zimbabwe has gone from white rule to independence to destitution. Mugabe's government admits to an inflation rate of 150,000 percent, but that's the optimistic view, because unofficial estimates are a calculator-busting 1 million percent. This drama casts an unfortunate spell, because Obiang is not just a worse tyrant, he is a better story. The U.S. government is not propping up Mugabe, but with billions invested by American companies in Equatorial Guinea, it is propping up Obiang. The Equatorial Guinean minister who owns the building that houses the U.S. Embassy in Malabo has even been accused of torture by human rights organizations. Instead of seeking an indictment against the man, the U.S. government is putting rent money in his pocket. (A lot of rent money, actually—$17,500 a month.)

You haven't heard that before? The tragedy is that you might not hear of it again.

Though I understand there are constraints in the writing of article I would like to have seen some information on Severo Moto Nsá, the leader of the Progress Party and the government-in-exile of Equatorial Guinea. We all remember what a dud Ahmed Chalaby turned out to be after being portrayed as a hero for so long when Saddam Hussein was in power. Severo Moto Nsá's page is only in Spanish (he's also in exile in Spain), which I'm currently studying, so I'll enjoy going over it to try to figure out what kind of person he's supposed to be. Perhaps Ken Silverstein has also written about him.


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