Africa Cup

Africa Cup

January 13, 2012
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Oil-rich Equatorial Guinea co-hosts (with Gabon) the Africa Cup of Nations from January 21 to February 12, 2012, but the tournament is overshadowed by a history of human rights abuses and corruption.

Equatorial Guinea: Africa Cup Overshadowed
by Rights Abuses and Corruption

Oil-rich Equatorial Guinea co-hosts (with Gabon) the Africa Cup of Nations from January 21 to February 12, 2012. The regime of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo—Africa’s longest-ruling leader at 32 years—has a long history of human rights abuses, corruption, and misplaced spending priorities. The football tournament represents the latest in a recent string of high-profile international events that the government of Equatorial Guinea has hosted in an effort to polish its tarnished image, both at home and abroad.

Human Rights Abuses

President Obiang’s regime has a well-established track record of abusing the rights of Equatoguineans. While public executions are on the decline, international organizations continue to document significant human rights abuses. These include the use of torture, arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions, and the harassment of journalists and political opponents. In August 2010, the government executed four Equatoguineans after kidnapping them in Benin, holding them in secret detention with no access to their families or lawyers, and denying them the right to appeal the military court’s decision or to contact family members before their deaths. The four men were executed less than one hour after their sentences were handed down.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions are common in Equatorial Guinea. While President Obiang released 22 political prisoners in June 2011 during a ceremony to commemorate his birthday, at least 30 people—including several women and an infant—remained in detention without access to lawyers, family members, or medical care in October 2011, nearly one year after their arrests. The detainees, as reported by Amnesty International, were part of a group of some 100 people reportedly arrested without warrant in and around Bata following the escape of two political prisoners from a prison in the city of Evinayong in October 2010. Amnesty International received numerous reports that “authorities regularly arrest and hold close relatives of people sought until they surrender or are arrested,” a practice it labels as “tantamount to holding relatives hostage.” These practices violate rights enshrined in both Equatoguinean law and international treaties to which Equatorial Guinea is a party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

The Silencing of Democracy and Dissent

President Obiang has won more than 95 percent of the vote in every presidential election since assuming power in 1979. Although multiparty elections were introduced in 1991, international electoral observers have regularly reported significant electoral flaws. A deeply flawed referendum in November 2011 to amend the constitution was marred by numerous irregularities and voter fraud. While a number of self-described opposition parties claim seats in the country’s parliament, nearly all are closely allied with the ruling party Partido Democrático de Guinea Ecuatorial (Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea, or PDGE). The lone legitimate opposition party with representation in parliament, Convergencia para la Democracia Social (Convergence for Social Democracy, or CPDS) holds just one of that body’s 100 seats.

The government routinely curbs citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. All television and radio stations are controlled by the state or President Obiang’s family, and all regularly produced “independent” print publications are owned by the ruling regime or its close allies. In February 2011, the government issued a ban, subsequently eased, against reporting on the Arab Spring uprisings. In March 2011, the host of a live program on state-controlled radio was suspended for mentioning Libya during a broadcast. In June 2011, government security forces deleted footage that a German television crew had filmed while researching a story about the women’s World Cup football team. Government authorities claimed that footage the journalists had filmed of children playing football in a poor neighborhood portrayed the country “in a bad light.” Government authorities escorted the journalists to the airport to ensure that they left the country.

In March 2011, the government denied a request by opposition political parties to hold a peaceful protest to advocate for democratic reforms and improved social conditions. The government has used a variety of tactics to monitor, intimidate, and interfere with the activities of domestic civil society organizations. In November 2011, an opposition party member and civil society activist was arrested without warrant and detained for three days on dubious charges.

A Lack of Transparency Facilitates Corruption

Government institutions remain weak, non-transparent, and plagued by widespread corruption. The government does not publish budget information. In the past, President Obiang has called the country’s oil revenues a “state secret.” The country’s bid to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a voluntary global initiative to increase transparency in the oil, gas, and mining industries, was rejected in April 2010 after the government failed to meet the EITI’s standards.

Systematic corruption and mismanagement of the country’s oil revenues are ongoing problems. Transparency International ranks Equatorial Guinea as one of the world’s most corrupt countries. Corruption is a problem at all levels of government, most famously among members of President Obiang’s family and an inner circle of close associates. A February 2010 report by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that President Obiang’s eldest son and possible successor, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, used shell companies to evade money-laundering laws and channel more than $100 million in suspect funds into the United States. This money, which U.S. authorities concluded was illegally obtained from “extortion, or from the misappropriation, embezzlement, or theft of public funds,” was used to finance several luxury items that are the subject of two forfeiture claims filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in October 2011, including a $30 million seafront mansion in Malibu, California, a $38 million Gulfstream jet, and more than $3 million in Michael Jackson memorabilia. Members of the Obiang family are the subject of ongoing corruption investigations in France and Spain as well.

According to a recent report by Global Financial Integrity, Equatorial Guinea lost $6.27 billion in illegal financial outflows between 2000 and 2009. In his recent annual New Year’s address to the nation, President Obiang labeled as “enemies” those who suggest that the government diverts the country’s oil wealth.

Misplaced Spending Priorities

Equatorial Guinea is the third largest producer of oil in sub-Saharan Africa. Due to oil, the country’s per-capita income ranks as one of the 30 highest in the world. Despite the country’s wealth, however, poverty remains widespread, with many citizens lacking access to basic services. Meanwhile, in recent years the government has invested heavily in building showcase infrastructure projects. It spent $830 million on the construction of Sipopo, a luxury resort that hosted the African Union Summit in June 2011 and the Africa-South America Summit in November 2011. Sipopo features a private mile-long artificial beach, 52 beach-front villas, an 18-hole golf course, spa, heliport, and large conference center. 

Presidential palaces have been or are being constructed in at least ten cities across the country. While the expenses associated with this construction are unknown since the government does not publish its budgets, the costs likely have been considerable. The new glass and steel presidential palace complex in downtown Malabo covers an area equivalent to 12 city blocks. The palaces built across the country are sometimes complemented by the construction of a mansion nearby for President Obiang’s wife Constancia Mangue. The government reportedly also is financing the construction of a $77 million presidential guesthouse in the president’s hometown of Mongomo that will include a 150-person VIP theatre, beauty salon, fitness center, and casino.

Meanwhile, many citizens still lack access to adequate sanitation facilities, potable water, quality education, and affordable, modern healthcare. Nearly one out of every eight children dies before reaching age five according to the United Nations. 

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