Magazine article New Internationalist

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

Magazine article New Internationalist

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

Article excerpt

Job: President of Equatorial Guinea

Reputation: Ruthless kleptocrat but a good 'family man'

Some targets are just too obvious. For example, it's very easy to be sceptical of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea since he led a bloody coup against his uncle in 1979. It's easy to point out the ruthless suppression - arbitrary arrest, kidnapping, systemic torture and life-threatening prison conditions - of any opposition, and the reports of unlawful killings carried out with impunity by his security forces. But, as Benjamin Netanyahu is fond of saying about Israeli bad behaviour, 'hey, we live in a tough neighbourhood'. There is oil to protect, terrorists to deter, troublemakers to dispatch. Besides which, Obiang is a god, with 'all power over men and things', according to the State Radio in Malabo, which also says that the President is 'in constant touch with the Almighty' and 'can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell'. That's what the political scientists call 'a strong executive mandate'.

When it comes to economic policy, he shows similar acumen. He presides over an African country with an unbelievable (by the standards of subsanaran Africa) per-capita income of $30,000, but most of the oil revenues are gobbled up by his family and inner circle. Consequently, 70 per cent of the country's 680,000 people live below the poverty line, with little access to clean water and other basic necessities.

Obiang has also shown great foresight in economic management. Back in 2003, he took control of the public treasury and transferred half a billion dollars into family-controlled accounts at the Riggs Bank in New York - in order, he was quick to point out, to protect the money from civil servants tempted to engage in corrupt practices.

Accusing Obiang's son, Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue, of corruption, the US government last year ordered the seizure of his 11 sports cars (worth an estimated $10 million) and $1.8 million worth of Michael Jackson memorabilia, from his father's luxurious Avenue de Foch residence in Paris. But don't dare accuse Obiang junior of being a layabout spending his father's illgotten gains. Teodorin holds down an important job heading up the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in his dad's cabinet, for which he is paid a modest $6,800 per month.

And if Obiang senior were really as bad as all that, would he have been elected Chair of the African Union? …

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