Freedom in the World
Freedom in the World Scores
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.
Key Developments in 2017:
- In September the authorities arrested Ramón Nsé Esono Ebalé, a blogger and cartoonist who was based abroad and was frequently critical of the government, when he returned to the country to renew his passport. He remained in detention at year’s end.
- In tightly controlled parliamentary and municipal elections in November, the ruling party and its allies won all contested Senate seats, all but one of the lower house seats, and control of all municipal councils.
- During and after the elections, the authorities arrested dozens of opposition party supporters, claiming in late December that they had thwarted a coup plot.
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 1 / 40
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 0 / 12
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 0 / 4
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 April 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. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 0 / 4
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 November 2017 legislative elections, 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 party 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 voting. 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. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 0 / 4
Equatorial Guinea does not have an independent electoral body; the head of the National Election Commission is also the country’s interior minister, a prominent figure in the ruling PDGE. Elections are not fairly managed in practice.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 1 / 16
B1. 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? 1 / 4
The PDGE is the dominant party, operating in conjunction with a number of subordinate parties in its coalition. In July 2017, a PDGE congress reelected President Obiang to an indefinite term as the party’s leader.
The regime keeps the country’s handful of opposition parties under strict control. 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 May 2017, he was sentenced to six months in jail for insulting the ruling party; he was also ordered to pay financial damages and indefinitely barred from engaging in political activity.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 0 / 4
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.
In the wake of the 2017 legislative elections, the authorities intensified their crackdown on the CI, effectively removing it as a potential threat to the PDGE’s supremacy. Dozens of CI supporters in the cities of Malabo and Bata were arrested, and the party’s leaders were reportedly being held at the CI headquarters at year’s end, with the government claiming that it had foiled a coup plot.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 0 / 4
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. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 0 / 4
The ethnic Fang majority dominates political life in Equatorial Guinea, leaving minority groups with little influence, and 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, 20 percent of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and 15 percent of the seats in the Senate. However, they have little opportunity to independently advocate for their interests or organize politically.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 0 / 12
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 0 / 4
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. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 0 / 4
There are no independent anticorruption mechanisms, and the government is marked by nepotism and graft. One of the president’s sons, Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima, is the minister of mines, industry, and energy. Teodorín, the vice president, has been the focus of money-laundering investigations in other countries. In October 2017, a French court found him guilty in absentia on charges including money laundering and embezzlement, ordering the confiscation of more than €100 million ($120 million) in French assets. The court also imposed a €30 million fine and a three-year prison sentence, both suspended. Swiss authorities had already seized property traced to Teodorín in response to a French request, and in July a Swiss court refused to release 24 luxury cars and a yacht that Equatorial Guinea claimed were owned by a state company.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 0 / 4
The government’s budget process and procurement system are opaque, as are the finances of state-owned companies. In 2010, Equatorial Guinea failed in its bid to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which found that it did not meet the group’s standards. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have criticized the country for pouring resources into wasteful infrastructure projects while neglecting social needs. According to IMF data from 2011, the most recent year available, the government spent just 5 percent of its budget on education and health. The infrastructure projects allegedly enrich officials by steering public contracts to companies that they own.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 6 / 60 (−1)
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 3 / 16 (−1)
D1. Are there free and independent media? 0 / 4
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. Internet service was cut off for several days surrounding the November 2017 elections, and Facebook was inaccessible for a longer period ahead of the election day. The government has sought to block access to the websites of opposition parties and exile groups since 2013. The handful of private newspapers and magazines in operation face intense financial and political pressure and are unable to publish regularly. Online versions of Spanish newspapers are regularly blocked. The only private television broadcaster is controlled by Teodorín.
Two journalists were briefly arrested while covering an opposition press conference in June 2017. In September, the authorities arrested Ramón Nsé Esono Ebalé, a cartoonist and blogger who is critical of the government. He had been living abroad but returned to renew his passport. He was accused of money laundering and counterfeiting, and he remained in detention at year’s end.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 2 / 4
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. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 1 / 4
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. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 0 / 4 (−1)
Freedom of private discussion is limited. The government uses informants and electronic surveillance to monitor members of the opposition, nongovernmental organizations (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. In May 2017, security forces detained rapper Benjamin Ndong after he released a song in support of striking taxi drivers who faced government intimidation; Ndong, who had also complained of being followed by security personnel, was freed a day later. Such pressure on well-known figures can have a deterrent effect on others. The internet restrictions linked to the November elections also inhibited private discussion.
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 due to the continued deterioration of citizens’ ability to speak freely on politically sensitive topics amid government efforts to punish dissent and monitor or disrupt online communications.
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 0 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 0 / 4
Freedom of assembly is severely restricted. Opposition gatherings are typically blocked or dispersed, and citizens are sometimes pressured to attend progovernment events. Police allegedly used gunfire to disperse a CI campaign event in Aconibe in early November 2017, and some officers were reportedly injured in related clashes; the incident touched off the broader crackdown on the CI that was ongoing at year’s end.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 0 / 4
All associations must register with the government through an onerous process, and independent NGOs face state persecution. In March 2017, police arrested dozens of people participating in a training on International Women’s Day at the offices of the CPDS; some were beaten in custody, but all were later released. In April, the government detained Enrique Asumu and Alfredo Okenve, leaders of the Center for Development Studies and Initiatives (CEID), an NGO whose activities had been suspended by the authorities in 2016. They paid fines for allegedly violating the suspension order and were released after several days, though they were never charged or brought before a judge. In November, civil society activist Raimundo Nnandong, an artist and member of the cultural group Locos por Cultura, was arrested on election day for trying to take a photo outside a polling station; he was released a few days later.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 0 / 4
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. Security forces used arbitrary arrests and beatings to suppress a taxi drivers’ strike against high government fees in May 2017.
F. RULE OF LAW: 0 / 16
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 0 / 4
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. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 0 / 4
The security forces routinely detain people without charge or trial. Graft is endemic in the police and other law enforcement bodies.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 0 / 4
Beatings and torture by security forces are reportedly common. Prisons are overcrowded and feature harsh conditions, including physical abuse, poor sanitation, and denial of medical care.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 0 / 4
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. While LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people face social stigma and discrimination, same-sex sexual activity is not illegal.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 3 / 16
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 1 / 4
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 and other dissidents reentry from abroad or restricted their movements within the country.
A Ministry of Education order that took effect for the 2016–17 school year requires female students to take pregnancy tests and bars pregnant girls from school.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 1 / 4
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. 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 minority.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1 / 4
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 reportedly does little to collect data, raise awareness, or support civil society efforts to combat such problems.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 0 / 4
The country’s oil wealth is concentrated among the ruling elite, leaving much of the population without access to basic services. 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 U.S. State Department.