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 2018:
- In February, 21 members of the main opposition Convergence for Innovation (CI) party, including Jesús Mitogo, its only member of parliament, were sentenced to 30 years in prison on charges including sedition, attacks on authority, and causing serious bodily harm. The prosecutions were related to a late 2017 confrontation between CI demonstrators and police who had attempted to stop the rally, in which several police officers were injured.
- The same month, a court ordered the CI dissolved on grounds that it undermined state security.
- In October, the CI said 34 of its members including Mitogo had received presidential pardons. It said the detained party members had been subjected to torture, and one had died from resulting injuries.
- The political cartoonist Ramón Nsé Esono Ebalé was released in March after a police officer admitted that the state’s charges of money laundering and counterfeiting had been fabricated. There has been no accountability for the fraudulent arrest.
- In January, authorities announced that security agents, in cooperation with Cameroonian forces, had prevented armed attackers from launching a coup from Cameroon, and that the alleged attackers had been recruited by “certain radical opposition parties.”
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 0 / 40 (−1)
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 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 and a prominent figure in the ruling PDGE. Elections are not fairly managed in practice.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 0 / 16 (−1)
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? 0 / 4 (−1)
The PDGE is the dominant party, operating in conjunction with a number of subordinate parties in its coalition.
The regime keeps the country’s handful of opposition parties under strict control. In late 2017, dozens of CI members were arrested following a confrontation between police and CI members and supporters at a rally in Aconibe, which erupted when police tried to disperse the rally. In February 2018, 21 detained CI activists, including Mitogo, the party’s only member of parliament, were sentenced to 30 years in prison on charges including sedition, attacks on authority, and causing serious bodily harm, in connection with the Aconibe confrontation. The CI was also banned on grounds of being a threat to security. The country’s highest court upheld the sentences and dissolution ruling in May.
In July, President Obiang promised amnesty for political prisoners in advance of a “national dialogue.” However, only one CI member was subsequently released. Later, in October, the CI announced that 34 of its members including Mitogo were among those who received presidential pardons from Obiang and released as part of an amnesty marking the Independence Day holiday. The party claimed that some of those detained had been tortured in prison by security agents, and that party member Juan Obama Edu, who was among those to receive a 30-year sentence, had died in July as a result.
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because the main opposition Citizens for Innovation (CI) party was banned.
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.
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 elections, the authorities intensified their crackdown on the CI, effectively removing it as a potential threat to the PDGE’s supremacy. The CI was officially banned as a political party in 2018, and its members face imprisonment and regular threats of imprisonment by the state.
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 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, 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. While no law prevents LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people from exercising their political rights, societal discrimination discourages activism for LGBT-friendly policies and protections in the political sphere.
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. 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. In September 2018, Brazilian authorities confiscated $1.5 million in cash from Teodorín during a visit with his entourage, along with twelve watches worth an estimated $15 million.
International financial organizations and human rights groups alike have criticized the government for pouring resources into wasteful infrastructure projects while neglecting health and social spending. According to IMF data from 2011, the most recent year available, the government spent just 5 percent of its budget on education and health.
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 (EITI), which found that it did not meet the group’s standards. 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. (The International Monetary Fund [IMF] has estimated that the country’s current oil reserves will run out in 2035.)
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 6 / 60
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 3 / 16
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. 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.
Ramón Nsé Esono Ebalé, a political cartoonist arrested by the government on charges of money laundering and counterfeiting in 2017, was released in March after a police officer admitted that he had been ordered to fabricate the evidence.
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
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. The government has obstructed access to the internet in times of political tension. Access to social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp were blocked by the government in the aftermath of arrests of political opposition figures in December 2017 and January 2018. Earlier, in 2017, it blocked access to the internet as voting in the year’ presidential election took place.
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.
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 October 2018, the prominent anticorruption and human rights activist Alfredo Okenve of the Center for Development Studies and Initiatives (CEID) was beaten and stabbed, allegedly by plainclothes security forces.
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.
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. In 2018, dozens of opposition party members were detained without due process. The detention of Ebalé, the political cartoonist, was not investigated even after a police officer said he had been ordered to fabricate evidence against him.
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 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 denied opposition members and other dissidents reentry from abroad or restricted their movements within the country. In July 2018, a government order mandated that all parliamentarians must obtain permission from the vice president before travelling abroad.
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
Pervasive corruption and onerous bureaucratic procedures serve as major impediments to private business activity. In September 2018 the government demanded that oil companies must increase drilling in 2019 or risk losing their permits to work in the country’s oil fields. 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 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. 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.