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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The African Dictatorship you don't know about: Equatorial Guinea

This is an article I wrote for the Student Center for African Research and Resolutions, a student think tank in Washington, D.C. Check them out at for more student-produced news regarding African affairs. This article can also be accessed in SCARR's blog section.

This article was originally published on June 13, 2014. 

Freedom House recently published its 2014 report of every sovereign state’s government and the levels of freedom enjoyed by the citizens of those states. One of those, Equatorial Guinea, is a relatively unknown country. 
Equatorial Guinea is unique in that it receives next to no coverage from international media outlets. At first glance, it may not seem very important. It is smaller than the state of Maryland in the United States and less than one million people live within its borders. It gained independence from Spain in 1968, and in 1970, President Macias Nguema set up a one-party state, allying this new nation with the People’s Republic of China and the USSR. He was violently deposed in 1979 by Teodro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, but President Obiang established his own dictatorship rather than improving the lives of the people. His cult of personality is vast, even comparable to that of Kim Jong Un’s in North Korea.

The Financial Times considers Equatorial Guinea “perhaps the world’s best example of the resource curse.” Ninety-seven percent of Equatorial Guinea’s exported goods are either crude petroleum or liquified hydrocarbons, and Equatorial Guinea trades extensively with the United States, Canada, and the European Union. The United States considers itself an ally of the country, as President Obama recently visited and took photographs with President Obiang in Washington.

Infrastructure has benefited from oil wealth in Equatorial Guinea, and the country is hundreds of times richer than Burundi, the poorest Sub-Saharan African nation. The country’s potential, however, is still severely impeded by the immensely corrupt regime, which has hoarded much of the country’s oil wealth to itself while most Equatorial Guineans still live in poverty.

President Obiang is 71 years old, but as Zimbabweans know all too well, that doesn’t necessarily mean an end to his awful rule is nigh. He has tapped his son to succeed him, 42 year-old Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue.

An opposition exists in Equatorial Guinea, but it is far outmatched in terms of resources and media exposure. Despite the resource curse, Equatorial Guinea remains relatively stable, another entry in the list of oil-rich states with authoritarian governments.

Is there a way the international community could amass support for changing Equatorial Guinea? Oil wealth often ensures some degree of stability, even in countries like Iran where there exists an opposition with considerable influence. The country’s small size could make it easy for the international community to sanction and pressure the regime to loosen its iron grip on the people, but that may not sit well with the European Union, where nearly half of the country’s exports go to, but the crisis in Ukraine has shown how reluctant the EU is to sanction countries where they buy oil, even with geographical proximity. The Chinese, who account for 14 percent of EG’s exports, will probably be uncooperative. And while the country’s size may make it easy for the international community to pressure President Obiang to step down, it also may mean a lack of interest, considering that African countries with less than a million people are rarely on the top of superpowers’ priority lists.

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