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)
In May 2013, Equatorial Guinea held elections for its lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, and its newly established Senate; it also held municipal elections. The results were a predictable landslide for the ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE), with one member of the country’s main opposition party, the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS), winning a seat in each chamber. Numerous opposition figures were summarily detained ahead of the elections and many other basic rights were curtailed.
The country’s president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, 71, is Africa’s longest-serving head of state, having taken power in 1979 after deposing and executing his uncle, Equatorial Guinea’s first president. His hold on power is considered absolute, and he is expected to run in the next presidential election, to be held in 2015 or 2016. In May 2012, Obiang appointed his eldest son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, known as Teodorín, to the newly created post of second vice president, putting him second in line for the presidency and, according to the government, providing him with diplomatic immunity from international corruption charges. Teodorín faces money-laundering investigations by France and the United States. Another of Obiang’s sons, Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima, is minister of mines, industry, and energy, and is also viewed as a potential successor but with more moderate tendencies. Mbega’s mother, who is Obiang’s second wife, is from São Tomé and is not Fang, unlike the rest of the Obiang clan, which could prove an insurmountable obstacle to becoming president.
Equatorial Guinea is sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil producer, and hydrocarbons account for some three-quarters of its gross domestic product (GDP). The country has the continent’s highest GDP per capita, yet it ranks 136 out of the 187 countries and territories in the 2013 UN Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index. According to the UNDP, per capita income in Equatorial Guinea increased more than 9-fold between 1985 and 2012, but the expected years of schooling for residents decreased to 7.9, from 8.7. The government has spent lavishly on selected infrastructure projects over the past five years, including work on a new capital, Oyala, located just west of Mongomo, the home city of Obiang and most of the rest of the political elite, near Equatorial Guinea’s border with Gabon.
Political Rights: 1 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 0 / 12
Under constitutional reforms approved in a November 2011 referendum, Equatorial Guinea replaced its unicameral system with a bicameral parliament consisting of a 70-seat Senate alongside a 100-seat Chamber of Deputies. Parliamentary and municipal elections were held on May 26, 2013, and Obiang’s PDGE won 54 of the 55 contested Senate seats (Obiang appointed the remaining 15 members), and 99 of the 100 seats in the lower house. The CPDS, one of two opposition parties that independently contested the election, took the two seats that were not won by the PDGE, as well as the five local councilor slots did not go to the ruling party, of more than 300 nationwide.
Voting was held amid widespread reports of irregularities and intimidation of opposition members, and independent monitoring was very limited. Equatorial Guinea does not have an independent electoral body; the PDGE oversaw the National Election Commission, which was led by the country’s interior minister, a prominent PDGE figure.
Obiang had swept the most recent presidential elections, in 2009, winning 95.4 percent of the vote. The election reportedly featured intimidation and harassment of the opposition by security forces and was widely regarded as rigged.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 1 / 16
Political opposition is limited and kept under strict control by the regime. The CPDS, the primary opposition party, is routinely denied access to the media and its access to campaign funds mandated by the constitution is routinely delayed.
The regime’s control of the media, judiciary, police, and military make it difficult for new opposition groups to take hold within the country. Opposition figures are routinely detained for indefinite periods without arrest warrants. Membership in the PDGE is generally a prerequisite for government and many private-sector jobs, and the country’s tiny middle class is kept mollified with generous fuel subsidies.
C. Functioning of Government: 0 / 12
Despite public praise of democracy and good governance by Obiang, progress toward these goals at home has been almost nonexistent, and graft is rampant. The constitutional changes approved in 2011 created a Court of Auditors to investigate corruption. Teodorín is under investigation by France and the United States for laundering tens of millions of dollars allegedly received through corruption in Equatorial Guinea, and using the proceeds to buy property and luxury goods.
Other members of Obiang’s extended family have been placed in key government positions. According to the country’s official website, there are nearly 90 ministers, vice ministers, and secretaries of state in a country with a population of just under 800,000, creating a ready source for patronage appointments.
The budget process is opaque, with even the most basic information difficult to find; the Open Budget Survey for 2012 gave the country a score of zero, the lowest possible result. The government generally negotiates directly with companies for oil concessions rather than awarding them on a competitive basis. Equatorial Guinea was delisted from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in 2010, and has not reapplied.
Civil Liberties: 7 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 4 / 16
Press freedom is severely limited in Equatorial Guinea, despite constitutional protections. Journalists who criticize the president, his family, or the security forces face reprisals and usually exercise self-censorship. Government press censorship is authorized by a 1992 law. Opposition party and exile group websites, along with Facebook, were blocked, presumably by the government, in the lead-up to the 2013 elections. Libel remains a criminal offense. There are only a handful of private newspapers or magazines, but they face intense financial and political pressure and are unable to publish regularly. The only private radio and television network belongs to the president’s son, Teodorín. The government on occasion has imposed news blackouts about subjects such as the Arab Spring uprisings.
The constitution protects religious freedom, though in practice it is sometimes affected by the country’s broader political repression. 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. University professors and teachers have reportedly lost their positions due to their political affiliations; one such professor was Enrique Nsolo Nzo, who was fired from his post at the National University of Equatorial Guinea after being beaten, detained, and released without charge on May 8 while preparing a banner for a political demonstration. The government reportedly uses informants and electronic surveillance to monitor members of the opposition, nongovernmental organizations, and journalists, including the few members of the foreign press in the country.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 0 / 12
Freedom of association and assembly are severely restricted, making it difficult for civil society groups and trade unions to operate. Associations and political parties were required to register with the government through a difficult process. Requests for peaceful protests against the government ahead of the May 26 elections were denied and several organizers were detained. These included Clara Nsegue Eyí (also known as Lola Mba Ndong), a founder of the Democratic Party for Social Justice, which the government has refused to register. She was arrested on May 13 and sent back to the town where she was born, Mongomo, in the mainland section of the country. She was released two weeks later, but re-arrested in late June after she defied an order to remain in Mongomo and returned to the capital, Malabo, where she lived. She was held until October 9. During that time, she was never charged with an offense or brought before a court.
In June, a request by the CPDS to stage a protest rally in Malabo against the election results was turned down by the interior minister, who cited “substantial grounds for danger.” Nevertheless, between 50 and 100 CPDS members demonstrated for half an hour outside their party headquarters in Malabo on June 25 before being dispersed by security forces. Several CPDS party members living in the country’s mainland were prohibited by security forces for several days from flying to Malabo ahead of the planned demonstration.
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 a number of trade unions. The country’s only legal labor union is the Unionized Organization of Small Farmers.
F. Rule of Law: 0 / 16
The judiciary is not independent, and judges in sensitive cases often consult with the office of the president before issuing a ruling. The government continued its policy of arbitrary arrests and detentions without trial in 2013, often holding prisoners incommunicado. The government often uses charges of “destabilization” of the country to justify arrests of political opponents. Agustín Esono Nsogo, a teacher and relative of a cofounder of the opposition Popular Union party, was arrested in October 2012, and accused of such activities; he continues to be held without charge or trial.
Torture and excessive force by the police occur routinely, and graft is endemic in the security forces. Military justice still operates under a system dating back to General Francisco Franco’s rule in Spain (Equatorial Guinea’s colonial ruler until 1968), and civilians can face trial in military courts for certain offenses. Prisons—several of which are located on military bases—are overcrowded and conditions harsh. The central prison in Malabo, known as Black Beach, is located inside a former military compound. The death penalty is legal, although no executions have been reported since 2010.
While discrimination and stigma against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) individuals exists, homosexuality is not illegal, and according to reports, discussions of sexual orientation are not completely off-limits.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 3 / 16
Freedom to travel within the country was impeded by the government. Equatorial Guinea has one of the most difficult business environments in the world. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business report for 2014, the country required 18 steps and 135 days to start a business, ranking it 185 among 189 countries.
Constitutional and legal guarantees of equality for women are largely ignored. Women won 22 percent of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies in the 2013 elections. Violence against women is reportedly widespread.
The U.S. State Department’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons report ranks Equatorial Guinea as a Tier 3 source and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and prostitution, particularly in Malabo and in Bata, the largest city on the mainland, and says the government does not fully comply with minimum standards to combat trafficking.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year