Corruption, poverty, and repression of human rights continue to plague Equatorial Guinea under President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the world’s longest serving president, who has been in power since 1979. Vast oil revenues fund lavish lifestyles for the small elite surrounding the president, while little progress has been made on improving access to key rights, including health care and primary education, for the vast majority of Equatorial Guineans. Mismanagement of public funds, credible allegations of high-level corruption and repression of civil society groups and opposition politicians, and unfair trials, persist.
In April, police detained the two leaders of the Center for Development Studies and Initiatives (CEID), the country’s leading civic group and a member of the national steering group of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), creating yet another obstacle toward the government’s stated goal of reapplying for EITI membership. EITI promotes a standard by which information on the oil, gas, and mining industry is published, requiring countries and companies to disclose key revenue information. In September, police arrested an artist whose drawings frequently lampoon government officials; he remained in detention and had not been charged at time of writing.
Equatorial Guinea won a seat on the Security Council beginning in January 2018. Its victory was assured after the United Nations’ African group submitted a non-competitive slate for the annual election of non-permanent council members. Governments and rights groups in a number of countries have initiated money-laundering investigations against government officials.
In October, President Obiang’s eldest son, Teodorin, was convicted by a French court of embezzling more than €100 million (US$119 million) in state funds to purchase a Parisian mansion, exotic sports cars, and luxury goods. In an apparent attempt to shield him from accountability, Obiang appointed Teodorin vice president in 2016, shortly after French prosecutors concluded their investigation. Another money-laundering prosecution implicating government officials is making its way through the Spanish courts, and Swiss authorities started investigating Teodorin for alleged money-laundering activities in 2016.
Economic and Social Rights Equatorial Guinea is among the top five oil producers in sub-Saharan Africa and has a population of approximately 1 million people. According to the United Nations 2016 Human Development Report, the country had a per capita gross national income of $21,517 in 2015, the highest in Africa and more than six times the regional average.
Despite this, Equatorial Guinea ranks 135 out of 188 countries in the Human Development Index that measures social and economic development. Available data, including from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a 2011 joint household survey by government and ICF International, a US firm specializing in health surveys, reveal that Equatorial Guinea has failed to provide crucial basic services to its citizens.
In 2016, 42 percent of primary school age children were not registered as students, the seventh highest proportion in the world, according to UNICEF. Only half of children who begin primary school complete it. And according to the 2011 survey, about half the population lacks access to clean water and 26 percent of children exhibited stunted growth, a sign of malnutrition. Equatorial Guinea has among the world’s lowest vaccination rates; 25 percent of children received no vaccinations at all, according to the 2011 survey.
In August 2014, Equatorial Guinea reaffirmed its commitment to rejoin EITI, an initiative from which it was expelled in 2010, in part due to its failure to guarantee an “enabling environment” for civil society to fully participate in EITI’s implementation. Since then, the tripartite EITI steering committee made up of government officials, oil company representatives, and civil society has met five times, including in April and September 2017.
Freedom of Expression and Association
Only a few private media outlets exist in the country, and they are largely owned by persons close to President Obiang. Freedom of association and assembly are severely curtailed, and the government imposes restrictive conditions on the registration and operation of nongovernmental organizations. The few local activists who seek to address human rights-related issues often face intimidation, harassment, and reprisals.
On April 17, 2017, the police detained Enrique Asumu and Alfredo Okenve, who head the leading civil society group CEID. The two men visited the National Security Ministry after security officers prevented Asumu from boarding a domestic flight, apparently on the ministry’s orders. The minister interrogated them for five hours and then prevented them from leaving. Authorities did not charge them or bring them before a judge, as is required under Equatoguinean law, but, after several days’ detention, conditioned their release on a fine of 2 million CFA francs (US$3,325). Asumu, who has health problems, was released on April 25, and Okenve on May 3, after both paid the sum demanded.
The detentions are the latest in a series of government efforts to impede CEID’s work. In March 2016, the minister of interior, who also headed the National Electoral Commission, suspended the organization one week before the government called for early presidential elections. CEID resumed activities in September 2016, and prior to the detentions high-level officials attended its events and it took part in EITI meetings.
On September 16, state security arrested a political cartoonist, Ramón Nsé Esono Ebalé, whose drawings are harshly critical of President Obiang and other senior government officials. At time of writing, he remains in prison without charge.