Equatorial Guinea

Not Free
PR Political Rights 0 40
CL Civil Liberties 6 60
Last Year's Score & Status
6 100 Not Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

Equatorial Guinea holds regular elections, but the voting is neither free nor fair. The current president, who took power in a military coup that deposed his uncle, has led a highly repressive authoritarian regime since 1979. Oil wealth and political power are concentrated in the hands of the president’s family. The government frequently detains the few opposition politicians in the country, cracks down on civil society groups, and censors journalists. The judiciary is under presidential control, and security forces engage in torture and other violence with impunity.

header2 Key Developments in 2019

  • In May, 112 people, including exiled opposition leaders, were convicted of involvement in an alleged 2017 coup attempt. The trial was marred by irregularities, and defendants were reportedly tortured by the authorities in an effort to coerce their confessions.
  • Throughout the year, the government continued targeting opposition members and civil society leaders who are still active in the country. In March, human rights advocate Alfredo Okenve Ndoho was placed under house arrest to prevent him from attending an award ceremony, and his nongovernmental organization (NGO) was later shuttered. In April, opposition leader Andrés Esono Ondo was detained while visiting Chad, after Equatorial Guinea claimed he was plotting a coup d’état.
  • In late December, the government agreed to bolster its anticorruption efforts in return for a $283 million loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 0.000 4.004

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Africa’s longest-serving head of state, has held power since 1979. He was awarded a new seven-year term in the 2016 presidential election, reportedly winning 93.5 percent of the vote. The main opposition party at the time, Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS), boycotted the election, and other factions faced police violence, detentions, and torture. One opposition figure who had been barred from running for president, Gabriel Nsé Obiang Obono, was put under house arrest during the election, and police used live ammunition against supporters gathered at his home.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 0.000 4.004

The bicameral parliament consists of a 70-seat Senate and a 100-seat Chamber of Deputies, with members of both chambers serving five-year terms. Fifteen senators are appointed by the president, 55 are directly elected, and there can be several additional ex officio members. The Chamber of Deputies is directly elected.

In the 2017 legislative election, the ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) and its subordinate allied parties won 99 seats in the lower house, all 55 of the elected seats in the Senate, and control of all municipal councils. The opposition Citizens for Innovation (CI), led by Nsé Obiang, took a single seat in the Chamber of Deputies and a seat on the capital’s city council. The preelection media environment was tightly controlled, and a wave of arrests of CI supporters began when police dispersed an opposition rally ahead of the vote. Among other irregularities on election day, a ban on private vehicles prevented many voters from reaching distant polling stations, and polls closed one hour earlier than scheduled.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 0.000 4.004

Equatorial Guinea does not have an independent electoral body; the head of the National Election Commission is also the country’s interior minister and a member of the PDGE. Elections are not fairly managed in practice.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 0.000 4.004

The PDGE is the dominant party, operating in conjunction with a number of subordinate parties in its coalition. The opposition CI was officially banned as a political party in 2018, and its members face imprisonment and regular threats of imprisonment by the state.

Other opposition leaders and members are also subject to arrest, detention, and trial. Two members of the Coalition for the Restoration of Democracy (CORED), who were seized in Togo, and dissident members of the ruling PDGE were among a group of 130 defendants tried in March 2019 for their alleged involvement in a 2017 coup attempt. Opposition leaders living in exile, including Party of Progress (PP) leader Severo Moto Nsá and CORED leader Salomón Abeso Ndong, were tried in absentia. The court ultimately convicted 112 people and imposed harsh prison terms in May.

In April 2019, CPDS leader Andrés Esono Ondo was arrested in Chad while attending a conference. The government accused him of plotting a coup, but Chadian authorities released him later that month, and he returned to Equatorial Guinea. In July, CPDS member Luis Mba Esono was detained without charge and remained in custody at year’s end.

In November, the Movement for National Liberation of Equatorial Guinea 3rd Republic (MLGE3R) claimed that four members were abducted in South Sudan. According to Spanish newspaper El País, they were detained in a prison in the Equatoguinean city of Bata; two of them had received prison sentences in May as part of the mass trial of alleged coup plotters.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 0.000 4.004

Equatorial Guinea has never had a peaceful transfer of power through elections. President Obiang appointed his son, Teodoro “Teodorín” Nguema Obiang Mangue, as vice president in 2016, paving the way for a dynastic succession.

Nsé Obiang, the CI leader, was disqualified from running in the 2016 presidential vote on the grounds that he did not meet residency requirements. In the wake of the 2017 legislative election, the authorities intensified their crackdown on the CI, effectively removing it as a potential threat to the PDGE’s supremacy.

There was no opposition representative in the legislature as of 2019. Jesús Mitogo Oyono, the CI’s only lower house member, was not allowed to return to his seat after he was imprisoned on charges of sedition in 2018, even though he was pardoned and released later that year. Also in 2018, the CPDS rejected a Senate seat allocated by presidential appointment, saying the offer was made in bad faith.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 0.000 4.004

The regime routinely uses the security forces to attack and intimidate opposition supporters, and political loyalty to the ruling party is treated as a condition for obtaining and keeping public-sector employment.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 0.000 4.004

The ethnic Fang majority dominates political life in Equatorial Guinea, leaving minority ethnic groups with little influence; power is concentrated in the hands of the president’s family and regional group in particular. Women formally enjoy equal political rights, holding a number of positions in government, 21 percent of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and 17 percent of the seats in the Senate. However, they have little opportunity to independently advocate for their interests or organize politically. While no law prevents LGBT+ people from exercising their political rights, societal discrimination discourages them from participating openly and advocating for their community.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 0.000 4.004

The executive branch—headed by the president, who is not freely elected—sets and implements government policy, leaving the legislature with no meaningful role in the policymaking process.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 0.000 4.004

There are no independent anticorruption mechanisms, and the government is marred by nepotism and graft. Hiring and promotions within the government, army, and civil service favor those with ties to the president and his family. One of the president’s sons, Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima, is the minister of mines and hydrocarbons, granting him sweeping control over the country’s natural resources. Teodorín, the vice president, has been the focus of money-laundering investigations in other countries for several years. In 2017, a French court convicted him of money-laundering charges in absentia, handing him a suspended sentence and a suspended $34 million fine. The court also seized his assets in the country. In 2018, Brazilian authorities confiscated $1.5 million in cash from Teodorín during a visit with his entourage, along with watches worth an estimated $15 million. In February 2019, Teodorín surrendered cars worth $25 million and paid $1.5 million to Swiss authorities at the conclusion of a corruption probe.

The government has recently taken some steps to address corruption. In 2018, it signed the United Nations Convention against Corruption, though the agreement has not yet been ratified. In June 2019, the country did ratify the African Union’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption. In November, a government commission was formed to draft legislation that would bring the country into compliance with both conventions. The government also committed to strengthening its anticorruption efforts in order to receive a $283 million loan from the IMF in December.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 0.000 4.004

The government’s budget process and procurement system are opaque, as are the finances of state-owned companies. A significant percentage of revenue from the country’s oil reserves are funneled to Obiang’s allies through noncompetitive, nontransparent construction contracts, often for projects of questionable value. International financial organizations and human rights groups have criticized the government for pouring resources into wasteful infrastructure initiatives while neglecting health and social spending. A 2017 World Bank report noted that the country spent 2.3 percent of its gross domestic product on education during its 2015 budget year, far below the continental average of 4.8 percent.

In 2010, Equatorial Guinea failed in a bid to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which found that it did not meet the group’s standards. The country’s 2019 bid, which was a prerequisite for receiving financial support from the IMF, was successful.

The government’s personnel decisions also lack transparency. In April 2019, finance minister Lucas Abaga Nchama was dismissed over unspecified irregularities, but he returned to the government in September as a special economic adviser to the president.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 0.000 4.004

Press freedom is severely limited, despite constitutional protections. Journalists consistently exercise self-censorship, and those who do criticize the regime face dismissal and other reprisals. The handful of private newspapers and magazines in operation face intense financial and political pressure and are unable to publish regularly. The government has sought to block access to the websites of opposition parties and exile groups since 2013, and online versions of Spanish newspapers are regularly blocked. The government has obstructed access to the internet in times of political tension.

The country’s only private television and radio broadcaster, RTV-Asonga, is controlled by Teodorín. Two Asonga TV journalists were arrested in late August 2019 after interviewing a judge who was suspended while investigating an embezzlement case. A police officer later told the head of Asonga TV’s information service that the two were arrested for doing “a job they should not do.” They were released without charge in September.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 2.002 4.004

The constitution protects religious freedom, though in practice it is sometimes affected by the country’s broader political repression and endemic corruption. The Roman Catholic Church is the dominant faith and is exempt from registration and permit requirements that apply to other groups. Government officials have reportedly been required to attend Catholic masses on ceremonial occasions, such as the president’s birthday.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 1.001 4.004

Academic freedom is politically constrained, and self-censorship among faculty is common. University professors and teachers have reportedly been hired or dismissed due to their political affiliations.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 0.000 4.004

Freedom of private discussion is limited. The government uses informants and electronic surveillance to monitor members of the opposition, NGOs, and journalists, including the few members of the foreign press in the country. Critics of the government are subject to arbitrary arrest, physical abuse, and trumped-up charges.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 0.000 4.004

Freedom of assembly is severely restricted. Opposition gatherings are typically blocked or dispersed, and citizens are sometimes pressured to attend progovernment events.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 0.000 4.004

All associations must register with the government through an onerous process, and independent NGOs face state persecution. In March 2019, Alfredo Okenve Ndoho, a leader of the Center for Studies and Initiatives for the Development of Equatorial Guinea (CEID-GE), was prevented from traveling to Malabo to receive a human rights award at a ceremony hosted by the country’s French and German embassies. Instead, Okenve was placed under house arrest, and his passport and phone were seized. The NGO itself was dissolved in July by government decree.

Joaquín Eló Ayeto, a human rights activist and CPDS member, was arrested in February 2019 and tortured before he was tried for defamation in November. Eló remained imprisoned at year’s end, with no announced verdict. Activist Luis Nzó was arrested in December and remained in custody without charge at year’s end. Nzó was detained over text messages commenting on President Obiang’s travel plans and on a rumor that the president personally witnessed incidents of torture after the 2017 coup attempt.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 0.000 4.004

The constitution provides for the right to organize unions, but there are many legal and practical barriers to union formation, collective bargaining, and strikes. The government has refused to register a number of trade unions; a farmers’ organization is the only legal union.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 0.000 4.004

The judiciary is not independent, and judges in sensitive cases often consult with the office of the president before issuing a ruling. Under the constitution, the president is the nation’s first magistrate. He also oversees the body that appoints judges. The court system’s impartiality is further undermined by corruption.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 0.000 4.004

Security forces routinely detain people without charge. Those who are tried can be subjected to proceedings that lack due process. In April 2019, as the trial against alleged participants in the 2017 coup attempt was underway, President Obiang unilaterally appointed new magistrates and prosecutors by decree. The American Bar Association (ABA), which observed the trial, noted a dearth of evidence against the accused and reported that a military officer in the audience was seen relaying messages to prosecutors and judges. The court convicted 112 of the defendants in May despite these failings, with some receiving 97-year prison sentences.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 0.000 4.004

Beatings and torture by security forces are reportedly common. Defendants who were tried in 2019 for alleged involvement in the 2017 coup attempt claimed they were tortured in an effort to extract confessions. The ABA reported that two defendants died in custody. Prisons are overcrowded and feature harsh conditions, including physical abuse, poor sanitation, and denial of medical care.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 0.000 4.004

Women face discrimination in employment and other matters, particularly in rural areas. The ethnic Bubi minority suffers persistent societal discrimination. Immigrants, including irregular migrants, are subject to raids, physical abuse, and extortion by police. Same-sex sexual activity is not illegal, but LGBT+ people face social stigma and discrimination.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 1.001 4.004

Freedom of movement is protected by law but restricted in practice through measures such as police checkpoints, which often require the payment of bribes. Authorities have denied opposition members and other dissidents reentry from abroad or restricted their movements within the country.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 1.001 4.004

Pervasive corruption and onerous bureaucratic procedures serve as major impediments to private business activity. In 2018 the government demanded that oil companies increase drilling in 2019 or risk losing their permits to work in the country.

Property rights are inconsistently respected by the government, which is known to seize land and offer little recourse for those affected. Members of the Bubi minority have reported cases of land grabs by elites and the government in recent years.

Most women face disadvantages regarding inheritance and property rights under both the civil code and customary practices, though women enjoy greater customary rights among the Bubi.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1.001 4.004

The civil code and customary law put women at a disadvantage with respect to personal status matters like marriage and child custody, with some exceptions among the Bubi. Laws against rape and domestic violence are not enforced effectively. The government does little to collect data, raise awareness, or support civil society efforts to combat such problems. Child marriage is also common, with the UN Children’s Fund reporting that 30 percent of Equatoguinean women between the ages of 20 and 24 as of 2018 had been married before age 18.

The education ministry requires female students to take pregnancy tests and bars pregnant girls from attending school.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 0.000 4.004

The country’s oil wealth is concentrated among the ruling elite, leaving much of the population without access to basic services. Despite national economic growth driven by natural resource exploitation, Equatorial Guinea continues to score poorly on social and economic development indicators.

Foreign workers in the oil and construction industries are subject to passport confiscation and forced labor. Equatoguineans are also vulnerable to forced labor, including in the sex trade. Corrupt officials are often complicit in human trafficking, according to the US State Department.

On Equatorial Guinea

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  • Global Freedom Score

    5 100 not free