Freedom in the World
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo reshuffled his cabinet in April 2015. While he said the changes were meant to punish corrupt behavior and ensure implementation of austerity measures amid low oil prices, the move was seen by some observers as part of an ongoing effort to reduce the threat of a palace coup. Obiang promoted his eldest son, Teodoro “Teodorín” Nguema Obiang Mangue, to colonel in the army in August, adding to suspicions that Teodorín was being groomed to succeed his father. He also served as second vice president for defense and national security, a position that does not exist in the constitution.
Equatorial Guinea hosted the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament in January and February. Three individuals were arrested for distributing or possessing leaflets calling for a boycott of the event, but they were later released under international pressure.
Political Rights: 1 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 0 / 12
President Obiang, Africa’s longest-serving head of state and the leader of Equatorial Guinea since 1979, maintains an absolute grip on political and economic power in the country. He was credited with 95.4 percent of the vote in 2009, and as of 2015 he was expected to run in the next presidential election in 2016.
Under constitutional reforms approved in a 2011 referendum, Equatorial Guinea replaced its unicameral system with a bicameral parliament consisting of a 75-seat Senate and a 100-seat Chamber of Deputies. Fifteen senators are appointed by the president and five are ex officio members. Parliamentary and municipal elections were held in 2013. Obiang’s Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) won 54 of the 55 contested Senate seats, 99 of the 100 seats in the lower house, and all but five of the local council seats. The remainder went to the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS), one of two opposition parties that independently competed in the elections.
The 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 National Election Commission is led by the country’s interior minister, a prominent PDGE figure.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 1 / 16
The regime keeps the country’s small political opposition under strict control. The CPDS, the primary opposition party, is routinely denied access to the media. Ten other officially recognized parties are aligned with the PDGE. Campaign funds mandated by the constitution are regularly delayed. The regime’s politicized control of the media, judiciary, police, and military make it difficult for new opposition groups to take hold within the country.
Following a November 2014 national dialogue with both recognized and unrecognized political parties, the government agreed to facilitate multiparty politics by relaxing existing rules for creating and registering parties, among other changes. Several laws were consequently enacted during 2015, and at least two new parties were reportedly registered, but it remained unclear whether the reforms would have a substantial effect on the environment for the 2016 presidential election. Opposition figures continued to face arbitrary detentions and other forms of harassment in 2015.
The ethnic Fang majority—and the president’s family and regional group in particular—dominates political life in Equatorial Guinea, leaving minority groups with little influence.
C. Functioning of Government: 0 / 12
Despite Obiang’s public statements of commitment to democracy and good governance, movement toward these goals has been almost nonexistent, and graft is rampant. The government is marked by nepotism. While Teodorín has served as second vice president since 2012, another of Obiang’s sons, Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima, is the oil minister.
Teodorín remains the focus of a formal investigation into money-laundering allegations launched by France in March 2014. In December 2015, a French court denied a request for the charges to be dropped on the grounds of diplomatic immunity. Separately, in October 2014, the U.S. Justice Department announced a settlement with Teodorín that required him to hand over assets worth approximately $30 million gained through “bribes and kickbacks.”
The budget process is opaque, and even the most basic information is difficult to find. The government has spent lavishly on selected infrastructure projects in recent years, including the controversial, ongoing construction of a new national capital, Oyala, on the mainland; the site is located just west of Mongomo, the ancestral home of Obiang and most of the rest of the political elite.
Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa and has the continent’s highest per capita income, though most of the population lives below the poverty line, and low global oil prices have put pressure on the state budget and economy. The government generally negotiates directly with companies for oil concessions rather than awarding them on a competitive basis. The country was delisted from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in 2010, having failed to meet the requirements for validation.
Civil Liberties: 7 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 4 / 16
Press freedom is severely limited, despite constitutional protections. Journalists consistently exercise self-censorship, and those who do criticize the president, his family, or the security forces face dismissal and other reprisals. The websites of opposition parties and exile groups, along with Facebook, were blocked, presumably by the government, ahead of the 2013 elections. Libel remains a criminal offense. The handful of private newspapers and magazines in operation face intense financial and political pressure and are unable to publish regularly. The government on occasion imposes news blackouts about foreign events such as the 2014 ouster of longtime Burkina Faso president Blaise Compaoré. Online versions of Spanish newspapers are regularly blocked, especially El País. About 21 percent of the population has access to the internet.
In February 2015, two journalists at the only private broadcaster, Asonga, were dismissed for allegedly sharing their reports with foreign media. Asonga is owned by Teodorín. At least one journalist was arrested in March for covering university protests, and others who did so were fired. In July, government officials issued a warning to a national television reporter after the station covered a fuel shortage at the national oil company.
The constitution protects religious freedom, though in practice it is sometimes affected by the country’s broader political repression. Academic freedom is politically constrained, and self-censorship among faculty is common. There have been reports of university professors and teachers losing their positions due to their political affiliations.
Freedom of private discussion is limited. 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. No independent human rights groups are legally represented in the country. Associations and political parties are required to register with the government through an onerous process. Opposition assemblies are typically blocked, and citizens are sometimes pressured to attend progovernment rallies.
In March 2015, students at the National University of Equatorial Guinea mounted a protest over a reduction in stipends and the opaque manner in which the recipients were selected. After several hours, security forces stormed the campus, sprayed tear gas, and arrested 56 students. The detainees were held without charges and released after 12 days.
The constitution provides for the right to organize unions, but many legal barriers exist 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. Under the constitution, the president is the nation’s first magistrate. He is also in charge of the body that appoints judges.
The government continued its practice of arbitrary arrests and detentions without trial in 2015, often holding prisoners incommunicado. Torture and excessive force by the police occur routinely, and graft is endemic in the security forces. Military justice operates under a system dating to General Francisco Franco’s rule in Spain (Equatorial Guinea was a Spanish colony until 1968), and civilians may face trial in military courts for certain offenses.
Prisons, several of which are located on military bases, are overcrowded and feature harsh conditions, including beatings and denial of medical care. In one high-profile case, Italian businessman Roberto Berardi, who was released in July 2015 after more than two years in prison, reported torture and other forms of abuse against himself and fellow inmates. Berardi, a former business partner of Teodorín’s, had been convicted of theft in a flawed 2013 trial after a falling out with the president’s son; the authorities were accused of jailing him to suppress information that could be used in foreign corruption cases against Teodorín.
The ethnic Bubi population forms the country’s principal minority group. The Bubi are indigenous to Bioko Island, where the current capital is located, and suffer persistent societal discrimination. Immigrants, including irregular migrants , also make up a significant portion of the population. They are subject to regular raids, physical abuse, and extortion by police.
While discrimination and stigma against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) individuals exist, same-sex sexual activity is not illegal.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 3 / 16
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 also denied opposition members reentry from abroad or restricted their movements within the country. Two opposition leaders were arbitrarily confined to the Mongomo area beginning in March 2015.
Equatorial Guinea has one of the most difficult business environments in the world. Pervasive corruption and onerous bureaucratic procedures serve as major impediments to private business activity, and property rights are poorly protected.
Constitutional and legal guarantees of equality for women are largely ignored, although women won 22 percent of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies in the 2013 elections. Violence and societal discrimination against women are reportedly widespread. The civil code and customary law put women at a disadvantage with respect to property and inheritance.
Foreign workers in the oil and construction industries are subject to passport confiscation and forced labor. Equatoguinean and foreign women and children are also vulnerable to forced labor, including in the sex trade. Corrupt officials are often complicit in human trafficking, and authorities frequently extort or deport trafficking victims, according to the U.S. State Department.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year