Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Equatorial Guinea's political rights and civil liberties ratings changed from 7 to 6 due to an easing of restrictions on political parties, the abolishment of a requirement that employees in the oil sector be ruling party members, and a general easing of repression.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in 2001 made some moves towards easing political repression by allowing a main opposition party, the Convergence for Democracy and Social Progress, led by Placido Mico Abogo, to hold a rally in February. Although the climate of fear has not entirely evaporated, members of the political opposition are more willing to speak out. Under pressure from U.S. oil companies, which have invested at least $5 billion in Equatorial Guinea since the mid-1990s, petroleum workers no longer have to be members of the ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE). The use of torture by security forces has abated, but widespread abuses are still committed. Equatorial Guinea called on the international community in 2001 to provide technical assistance to help strengthen its human rights institutions. However, it also failed to respond to requests for information by the United Nations on the human rights situation there and delayed a visit to the country by a UN special representative. The UN said there was no sustained rule of law in Equatorial Guinea and called on the government to guarantee basic freedoms.
Equatorial Guinea achieved independence in 1968 following 190 years of Spanish rule. It has since been one of the world's most tightly closed and repressive societies. President Obiang seized power in 1979 by deposing and murdering his uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema. Pressure from donor countries demanding democratic reforms prompted Obiang to proclaim a new "era of pluralism" in January 1992. Political parties were legalized and multiparty elections announced, but in practice Obiang and his clique wield all power. The right of people to freely elect the country's leaders does not exist.
Equatorial Guinea is the continent's third largest oil producer and boasts one of the highest figures for per capita gross domestic product in Africa. The International Monetary Fund estimated that Equatorial Guinea's economy could grow by more than 50 percent in 2001. The start of offshore oil production in 1995 helped replace subsistence farming and timber as the economic linchpins. Authorities have made some improvements to the country's infrastructure, and the oil sector has led to more jobs, but the lives of most people have yet to change. Obiang's family wields almost total power and any serious attempt to attack corruption would probably bring Obiang under pressure from the ruling elite that has benefited from the oil boom.
Equatorial Guinea's citizens are unable to change their government through peaceful, democratic means. The February 1996 presidential election was neither free nor fair, and was marred by official intimidation, a near total boycott by the political opposition, and very low voter turnout. The March 1999 parliamentary elections were also marred by intimidation and fraud and were neither free nor fair. Many opposition candidates were arrested or confined to their villages prior to the polls. The ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) won 75 of 80 seats. Led by the Convergence for Social Democracy and the Popular Union, seven opposition parties claimed massive fraud, demanding an annulment, and those that won parliamentary seats refused to take them up. Amnesty International said at least 90 opposition party activists were detained for short periods in 1999. The November 1998 legislative elections for the 85-member House of People's Representatives were also manipulated by the regime.
Opposition parties were widely believed to have won overwhelmingly in the September 1995 municipal elections. The regime's official results, released 11 days after balloting, reported an unconvincing but unsurprising landslide victory by the PDGE. Municipal elections held in April 2000 produced similar results. The government announced a turnout of 91 percent and that the ruling party had won 98 percent of the vote. The mechanics of the poll, however, were slightly better than in previous years. Opposition representatives were reportedly present at some polling stations as observers.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo wields broad decree-making powers and effectively bars public participation in the policymaking process. The November 1991 constitution prohibits the impeachment of the head of state. Opposition parties, while legal, may not be organized on an ethnic, regional, or provincial basis.
With partial exception for members of legalized political parties, freedom of association and assembly is restricted. Authorization must be obtained for any gathering of ten or more people for purposes the government deems political. Freedom of domestic and international travel is also restricted.
The judiciary is not independent, and laws on search and seizure, as well as detention, are routinely ignored by security forces, who act with impunity. Civil cases rarely go to trial. A military tribunal handles cases tied to national security. Unlawful arrests remain commonplace, although the routine use of torture by soldiers and police to extract confessions has diminished. Prison conditions are extremely harsh. Abuse combined with poor medical care has led to several deaths. In some cases, people attempting to assist their relatives in prison have been detained themselves. There are no effective domestic human rights organizations in the country, and the few international nongovernmental organizations operating in Equatorial Guinea are subject to restrictions.
Press freedom is constitutionally guaranteed, but the government restricts those rights in practice. Nearly all print and broadcast media are state run and tightly controlled. A few small independent newspapers publish occasionally but exercise self-censorship, and all journalists must be registered. Mild criticism of infrastructure and public institutions is allowed, but nothing disparaging about the president or security forces is tolerated. Some underground pamphlets appear irregularly. Few foreign publications are available. In February 2001, the government closed the offices of the country's press association, where two private weeklies, La Opinion and El Tiempo, are published occasionally. The 1992 press law authorizes government censorship of all publications. The shortwave programs of Radio France Internationale have been received in Malabo since 1995. Radio Exterior, the international shortwave service from Spain, airs interviews with opposition politicians.
About 80 percent of the population is Roman Catholic. Freedom of individual religious practice is generally respected, although President Obiang has warned the clergy against interfering in political affairs. Monopoly political power by the president's Mongomo clan, of the majority Fang ethnic group, persists. Differences between the Fang and the Bubi are a major source of political tension that often has erupted into violence. Fang vigilante groups have been allowed to abuse Bubi citizens with impunity.
Constitutional and legal protections of equality for women are largely ignored. Traditional practices discriminate against women, and few have educational opportunities or participate in the formal economy or government. Violence against women is reportedly widespread. There is no child rights policy.
Steps have been made to reform the labor sector. The country's first labor union received legal recognition in 2000, and it is independent. Foreign oil companies have gotten more control over hiring to eliminate political bias. Employees no longer have to be a member of the ruling party to be hired, and recent legislation mandates that oil workers receive 60 percent of their wages. The government employment agency used to keep two-thirds of salaries.