Freedom in the World
Spanish authorities launched an investigation into alleged money laundering by Equatorial Guinea’s government in January 2009, and in February unidentified gunmen attacked the presidential palace, prompting the authorities to deny speculation that the incident was a coup attempt. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the longest-serving ruler in sub-Saharan Africa, easily won a new term in the November presidential election, which was widely regarded as rigged.
Equatorial Guinea achieved independence from Spain in 1968. Current president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo seized power in 1979 after deposing and executing his uncle, President Francisco Macias Nguema. International pressure forced Obiang to establish a multiparty system in 1992, though he and the ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) retained power over the next decade in a series of seriously flawed elections.
The president secured another seven-year term with nearly 100 percent of the vote in 2002, then formed a national unity government with eight smaller parties, though key portfolios remained with presidential loyalists. The PDGE won 68 of 100 seats in the 2004 parliamentary elections, and allied parties took another 30. The opposition Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) won the remaining two seats.
Also in 2004, the government thwarted a coup attempt that reportedly aimed to install Severo Moto, an exiled opposition figure, as president. The accused coup plotters included former British commando Simon Mann, British financier Ely Calil, and Sir Mark Thatcher, son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Equatoguinean authorities sentenced Moto in absentia to 62 years in prison, and in 2008 they issued international arrest warrants for Calil and Thatcher. Mann was extradited to Equatorial Guinea to serve a 34-year prison sentence, but he was pardoned in November 2009.
Obiang dissolved the parliament in February 2008 and called legislative and municipal elections for May. A new coalition comprising the PDGE and nine smaller parties won a reported 100 percent of the vote in many districts, taking 99 out of 100 seats in the parliament amid allegations of widespread irregularities. The CPDS, the sole opposition party, was reduced to a single seat.
Prime Minister Ricardo Mangue Obama Nfubea and his cabinet resigned in July 2008 over allegations of corruption and mishandling of the 2004 coup plot. However, Obiang reappointed most of the ministers to a new cabinet headed by Ignacio Milam Tang. Nfubea had taken office after a similar mass resignation in 2006.
In February 2009, a group of unidentified gunmen attacked the presidential palace in Malabo. The government blamed a Nigerian rebel group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), for the attack, although the group rejected the accusation. Despite the authorities’ denial that the incident was a coup attempt, they arrested several opposition figures in its aftermath.
Obiang swept the November 2009 presidential election with a reported 96 percent of the vote, though as with past balloting, the election was widely regarded as rigged. The president’s main opponent, CPDS leader Placido Mico Abogo, was left with less than 4 percent.
Equatorial Guinea’s abundant oil revenues do not reach the majority of its citizens; according to the watchdog group Global Witness, 60 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day. Equatorial Guinea became an Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) candidate country in 2008. It has until 2010 to be validated as a compliant country, but the International Monetary Fund has noted its lack of progress.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
Equatorial Guinea is not an electoral democracy and has never held credible elections. The 2009 presidential election reportedly featured intimidation by security forces and restrictions on foreign observers, among other irregularities. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who won a new seven-year term, marked his 30th year in power in 2009, making him the longest-serving ruler in sub-Saharan Africa. The 100 members of the unicameral House of People’s Representatives are elected to five-year terms but wield little power; all but one of the chamber’s seats are held by the pro-presidential coalition. The few opposition parties, in particular the CPDS, are closely monitored by the government. A clan network linked to the president underlies the formal political structure.
Equatorial Guinea is considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Obiang and members of his inner circle have amassed huge personal fortunes stemming from the oil industry. The president has argued that information on oil revenues is a state secret, resisting calls for transparency and accountability. In January 2009, Spanish authorities began an investigation after a Spanish human rights organization filed a complaint accusing the Equatoguinean government of engaging in money laundering in Spain; the investigation was ongoing at year’s end. Equatorial Guinea was ranked 168 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Although the constitution guarantees press freedom, the 1992 press law authorizes government censorship. A few private newspapers and underground pamphlets are published irregularly, but they face financial and political pressure. Libel remains a criminal offense, and all journalists are required to register with the government. The state holds a monopoly on broadcast media, with the exception of RTV-Asonga, a private radio and television outlet owned by the president’s son. Four journalists were dismissed from the state broadcaster in January 2009 for “insubordination” and “lack of enthusiasm.” In June, the only correspondent for foreign media in Equatorial Guinea, Rodrigo Angue Nguema, was imprisoned for four months after publishing an incorrect story about embezzlement by the head of the national airline. Satellite television is increasingly popular, and Radio Exterior, Spain’s international shortwave service, has a large audience in the country. The only internet service provider is state affiliated, and the government reportedly monitors internet communications.
The constitution protects religious freedom, although in practice it is sometimes affected by the country’s broader political repression, and official preference is given to the Roman Catholic Church and the Reform Church of Equatorial Guinea. Academic freedom is also politically constrained, and self-censorship among faculty is common.
Freedoms of assembly and association are severely restricted, and political gatherings must have official authorization to proceed. There are no effective human rights organizations in the country, and the few international nongovernmental organizations are prohibited from promoting human rights. The constitution provides for the right to organize unions, but there are many legal barriers to collective bargaining. While it has ratified key International Labour Organization conventions, the government has refused to register the Equatorial Guinea Trade Union, whose members operate in secret. The country’s only legal labor union, the Small Farmers’ Syndicate, received legal recognition in 2000. In 2008, protests by Chinese construction workers over wages led to clashes with security forces. The workers were deported and replaced by new Chinese personnel.
The judiciary is not independent, and security forces generally act with impunity. Civil cases rarely go to trial, and military tribunals handle national security cases. In October 2008, opposition figure Cipriano Nguema Mba, who had political asylum in Cameroon, was abducted by two Cameroonian policemen and handed over to Equatorial Guinea, where he was incarcerated. In 2004, a military court had sentenced Nguema in absentia to 30 years in prison for allegedly plotting a coup and absconding with government funds. Prison conditions are deplorable. The UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention cited the country in a 2007 report for holding detainees in secret, denying them access to lawyers, and jailing them for long periods without charge. A March 2009 Amnesty International report alleged that several opposition figures detained after the February attack on the presidential palace had been tortured. After visiting the country in 2008, the UN special rapporteur on torture criticized the penal and judicial system, highlighting systematic torture and appalling detention conditions. These issues were underscored by the UN Universal Periodic Review of Equatorial Guinea in December 2009.
Obiang’s Mongomo clan, part of the majority Fang ethnic group, monopolizes political and economic power. Differences between the Fang and the Bubi are a major source of political tension that has often erupted into violence. Fang vigilante groups have been allowed to abuse Bubi citizens with impunity.
All citizens are required to obtain exit visas to travel abroad, and some opposition figures have been denied such visas. Those who do travel are sometimes subjected to interrogation on their return.
Constitutional and legal guarantees of equality for women are largely ignored, and violence against women is reportedly widespread. Traditional practices including primogeniture and polygamy discriminate against women. Abortion is permitted to preserve the health of the mother, but only with spousal or parental authorization.
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)