18 February 2009

Sad dictatorship of the month- Equatorial Guinea

Most will not have heard of Macias Nguema, I knew little of him until recently. Macias Nguema was the first President of Equatorial Guinea. President from 1968 to 1979. With some healthy competition, Nguema is, I believe, the most brutal and insane dictator that Africa has ever had.

Equatorial Guinea was a Spanish colony granted independence following strong domestic pressure in the colony, and from the UN. Oddly, none of Equatorial Guinea lies on the equator. Macias Nguema was elected in 1968 as President, having previously been a member of the territorial parliament. Following his election, he rallied against Spain (which, given rule by the fascist Franco, was understandable), which extended to harassment of Spanish nationals and Spanish owned businesses, which started to flee. He then proceeded to create a one-party state (the in thing at the time). He arrested his election rival and started rounding up political opponents to be imprisoned and executed. By 1972 he declared himself President for life. However, it wasn't just being a dictator, harassing imprisoning and killing political opponents that made him different, nor the rampant corruption and installation of relatives into positions of power.

No, Equatorial Guinea was about to be referred to as the Dachau of Africa.

Some of the most notable events under his rule were:
- Virtually all of the (tiny) resources of the government were put into internal security. Maintenance of electricity, water, roads and hospitals dried up, resulting in the progressive breakdown of the entire economy;
- The use of the word "intellectual" was banned. It is believed that this is because Nguema three times failed the Spanish civil service exam in his youth. He began a Khmer Rouge style purge of intellectuals, anyone wearing glasses was rounded up and taken away. Owning books was seen to be a sign of being suspicious;
- A drug addict, he had himself called "Unique Miracle" and "Grand Master of Education, Science and Culture". He increasingly believed he had magic powers;
- These "powers" saw him demand that lubricating oil for Malabo's (capital city) power station stop being purchased, as he thought he could lubricate it with his magic. The power station exploded within days, and Malabo was without electricity for the next few years;
- In 1973 he replaced the Constitution with one granting him absolute power with his political party, explicitly;
- His monetary policy was simple. He had the Central Bank governor executed and took the entire contents of the bank himself to his rural home;
- He demanded that churches end their services with "Forward with Macias. Always with Macias. Never without Macias". Priests who refused faced imprisonment or execution;
- Executions were carried out at the capital's stadium to the song "Those Were the Days" by Mary Hopkins (you know the song) blaring over loudspeakers. 150 at a time would face the firing squads. You'll never think of that song the same way again;
- In 1975 he banned all schools. He regarded education to be subversive;
- Fishing was banned, and all boats destroyed to stop people fleeing the country (the capital is on an island);
- In 1977 all churches were closed, by now Franco had fallen and Spain stopped hiding the excesses of the regime (as little news reached the outside world before then) and broke diplomatic relations;
- In 1978 the national motto was changed to "There is no other God than Macias Nguema"
- He banned foreign travel.

In conclusion, a third of the population fled the country, and 80,000 were killed. Macias Nguema was deposed after he shot members of his own family, who visited him for money. His nephew arrested, tried and executed him, and became President of Equatorial Guinea. Allegedly the reason why news of Equatorial Guinea stayed away from the world was because most Africa watchers and analysts are Anglophone or Francophone, not Spanish speaking.

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo is still President of Equatorial Guinea. You wont hear about what he did when his uncle was President, but he participated extensively in the arrests, tortures and executions of that period. He released political prisoners, and stop running the country as a terror camp - but he did not stop oppressing opponents, and maintains an iron grip on power. Maps are hard to come by, because they are not permitted of the capital. The media is owned entirely by the state or relatives of the President. Newsagents do not exist, with only a very limited circulation of newspapers and magazines, largely not for domestic consumption.

The difference is Equatorial Guinea now has oil - third biggest oil exporter in Africa. The big oil companies have set up, and have their own compounds near the capital which are self contained. They have to be, as Malabo still has almost no reticulated water or sewage, yet Equatorial Guinea has the highest GDP per capita in Africa, akin to that of the Czech Republic and South Korea. The private wealth of the President is estimated to be around US$600 million, and he has designated his son his heir apparent. His son has bought properties in LA, Paris and Cape Town.

You may now know why Mark Thatcher, and a bunch of others, attempted a mercenary style coup against this regime. You also know why Condoleeza Rice called President Obiang a "good friend". Good friend of ChevronTexaco and ExxonMobil. Will Barack Obama treat him as a good friend too?

Bizarrely, Macias Nguema's daughter lives in the USA now, and defends him. She have birth to 19 children, starting at age 13. She went from a life of luxury, to being raped and tortured, to having to flee leaving most of her children behind. She has no contact with the country.

You just can't make half of this stuff up.

Sources: Daily Telegraph, Afrofiles

UPDATE: Seems some people are annoyed, so they tried to overthrow the President yesterday. The Daily Telegraph reports here. Though why you'd duplicate part of the story of Frederick Forsythe's "The Dogs of War", particularly when the President wasn't even in town, shows ridiculous incompetence.


Benno said...

Hey that was a great post, thanks! Found it googling around while punching in the latest entry at my own corner of Blogspot. Will keep an eye on you ;-)

Elijah Lineberry said...

Good post, Scott.

Equatorial Guinea has been an unsung neck of the woods, as you point out, with few realising the amount of money to be made there.

This is a perfect example of what should be one of the richest Nation's on Earth being third World because of a lack of freedom, and why it takes a lot more than money to become a rich country; as George Reisman says "money is not wealth".

Cameroon is another place where you can earn a quid from investments, although in Cameroon the Government are not lunatics and actually encourage investment.

Richard McGrath said...

I nominate Helen Clark to be our permanent ambassador to Equatorial Guinea.

Libertyscott said...

Indeed Elijah, classic kleptocracy with virtually all of the population kept in servitude. Also shows that having resources can mean no wealth without freedom and the basic instruments of a capitalist state - rule of law, independent judiciary. Hong Kong has no resources except hard working educated free people, and see the results!