When You Have Oil You Don’t Need Democracy
By Dr. Gary K. Busch 8/5/08
May 6, 2008 - 12:08:43 PM

Equatorial Guinea is a special place. The official name of the country is the Republic of Equatorial Guinea. The main languages are Spanish (official), French (official), pidgin English, Fang, Bubi and Igbo. The total population is under 500,000 about 24,000 of whom currently live in exile and about 8,900 of whom languish in jail or have been 'disappeared'. As in many Spanish-speaking countries, the verb 'to disappear' is a transitive verb. The currency is the Central African Franc (CFA). There are several administrative regions.

T he area of the country is 28,050 sq. km (10,940 sq. mi.), most of which is in the continental African area between Cameroon and Gabon which was formerly known as Rio Muni. On Bioko Island, formerly known as Fernando Po, the local people are primarily from the Bubi tribe while in Rio Muni the major portion of the population is Fang. There are substantial minorities of Fangs and Fernandinos on Bioko and a smaller number of Bubi in Rio Muni. The religion is primarily Catholic (85%) while the rest are traditional animists. For many years much of the plantation work was carried on by Igbo from Nigeria but, after a series of nationalist calamities, the Nigerians were driven out of the country and only a few Igbo remain. This has been a constant source of friction with the successive Nigerian governments.

  After the Spanish colonising power agreed to change, a constitution accepted by consensus of all political parties involved, was presented and ratified through a national referendum on August 11, 1968. A few months later, national elections were held, under the supervision of the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity (OAU).

In September 1968, Francisco Macias Nguema was elected the first president of Equatorial Guinea and Equatorial Guinea was granted independence from Spain on October 12 of 1968.

Macias was quick to form a single-party state, and by May 1971, key portions of the constitution meant to provide ethnic balance and democracy were abrogated. In 1972, the president assumed complete control of the government and took on the title of President-for-Life. A state of emergency was declared. By 1972, after Macias Nguema had declared himself leader for life, many thousands of people were tortured and executed in jails or beaten to death in labour camps. Priests were arrested and schools and churches were closed. Being a journalist became a capital offense. The leader even made fishing illegal and destroyed every boat he could find. For several years, Equatorial Guinea was effectively closed off from the world. By the time Macias' "rule for life" ended with the coup and his execution in 1979, about half of the population had either fled Equatorial Guinea or been killed. A sizeable portion of the remainder was to be found in jail.

The Macias regime was characterized by abandonment of all government functions except internal security, which was accomplished by terror. The country's economic structure fell into ruin. Religion was suppressed and education ceased. Since independence in 1968, Equatorial Guinea has effectively been the preserve of the Nguema family and its Mongomo clan. They are a subset of the majority Fang. The first president, Macias Nguema, was a true African Caligula, who escaped international condemnation primarily by the remoteness of his country and the competition for international press attention from his contemporaries, Idi Amin and Jean-Bedel Bokassa. Macias Nguema was overthrown and murdered by the present incumbent, his nephew Teodoro Obiang Nguema in 1979.

M acias Nguema is famous for removing the national treasury to his hut in his village where he stored the money on the bare ground. By the time of his nephew's coup, the bottom twelve inches of dollar bills had rotted from being stored in the hut. In August 1979, Lieutenant Colonel Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo led a successful coup d'etat against Francisco Macias Nguema, his uncle. The transition was fatal to Macias Nguema's ambitions and to Macias Nguema in person. Power was then transferred to a Supreme Military Council with the president having the power to rule by decree, upon approval of the cabinet.  A new constitution was drafted, and with the assistance of representatives of the UN Commission on Human Rights, came into effect August 15, 1982.

T he practice of being a politician in Equatorial Guinea is not without its risks. In an October 1978 appeal to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) concerning Equatorial Guinea, Amnesty International said that it "is known that one in every five hundred of the 300,000 citizens in the country has been executed in the last decade, most of them without trial". There can be no doubts, however, of the systematic practice of torture in the Equato-Guinean jails or of the responsibility of Teodoro Obiang over these facilities since 1975. The reports of Amnesty International on the matter are a collection of horrors. In the monthly bulletin for March 1978, Equatorial Guinea is defined as "an immense field of torture from which the only exit is the cemetery ". In 1990 Amnesty published a pamphlet titled Tortures in Equatorial Guinea that contains information dating from 1968 to 1988 and in which it affirms repeatedly that torture is normal practice in the military camps, jails and police stations in Equatorial Guinea. Page 28 of the pamphlet contains descriptions of ten distinct methods of torture used in one military camp in August of that year. Various reports recount numerous cases of lengthy beating, rape, death by starvation, absence of medical care, mutilations, crucifixion (the latter during the final period of Macias' rule in which the Equato-Guinean regime had decided to split with the church).

Torture continues to be common practice in Equatorial Guinea. It is fair to say that it is the method preferred by the authorities for dealing with the political opposition. All the leaders and good part of the membership of the Equato-Guinean opposition has been tortured on more than one occasion. Torture is applied without restriction, however, to any citizen whenever the authorities feel that person "needs a lesson". Politicians close to the president and members of his party do not escape this rule. Arrests in the first semester of 1998 --in the run-up to the trial against the Bubis-- saw the return of mutilations, the taking of hostages from the families of the prisoners, and deaths from lack of medical care. There have also been denunciations in the recent years of ritual murders, although the murders have not had a political significance in every case.

W hile in some other African countries democratization was emerging, Equatorial Guinea opened the new decade with a presidential elections in the 'old style', that is, with only one candidate, Obiang Nguema, who won the elections of 1989 with 99% of the votes, (voting not being conducted by secret ballot). However, some opposition seemed to emerge, and, for the first time, the Catholic Church directed criticisms toward the regime.

P erhaps due to international pressure, Obiang Nguema initiated some political reforms in 1991. In July he approved the principle of political plurality, while in November a national referendum was conducted to adopt the new constitution; it was approved by 98.36% of the votes, with a turnout of 94.26%. However the opposition claimed that "the few human rights safeguards contained in the 1982 constitution were removed." Nonetheless reforms were pursued, with the establishment of a transitional government, and the amnesty for political exiles. However the transitional government included only members of the single and ruling party Partido Democratico de Guinea Ecuatorial (PDGE). Also, the ruling party refused to accept the opposition's demand, that is, the holding of a national constitutional conference as was taking place in many other African countries.

T he next presidential elections took place on 25 February 1996. Obiang Nguema won with 97.85% of the votes. As Africa Confidential reported, the elections were completely unfair, since there were "blatant cheating, no secret ballot, a disputed electoral roll and the refusal to allow the opposition candidates to withdraw"; Obiang Nguema was thus "elected" for another seven years. Only eight journalists were present, and 14 electoral observers, including witnesses from Gabon, Cameroon, and the OAU. It also appears that the opposition parties, prior to the elections, were not able to present a single candidate.

The next election was much the same. This weekend Obiang managed to get closer to the 100% mark. Obiang seized power in a 1979 coup and his Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) has won every election since a multiparty system was introduced in 1991.

One hundred parliamentary seats and 230 municipal councillor posts were at stake on Sunday.  Casting his vote, Nguema himself said the most important factor in this election was turnout.  "That would mean that people have understood the concept of 'emerging democracy', which means training people in democratic practices," he told journalists. He insured this with the carrot and the stick. Polling stations were guarded by soldiers brandishing AK-47 rifles, while international election observers monitored polling.

During the campaign, which does not appear to have aroused much public enthusiasm, large sums of money were handed out in the president's name. Cash and consumer goods, from satellite dishes to flat television screens, were distributed at electoral rallies. In Ela Nguema, a working class district of the capital, about 20-million African francs (€30 000, $46 000) in banknotes were handed out, according to national radio and television. While money was distributed at election meetings, candidates confined themselves to reading out the president's "message" and policies.  State media reported that smaller parties had been given more than €1,1-million ($1,7-million) and luxury cars to campaign for "the expansion of Obiang Nguema Mbasogo's work".

Strangely enough there were no protests from a cowed and beaten population nor street demonstrations. Apathy and disgust were the rules. There was also no protest or demonstrations by the ‘international community’ against this travesty of the political process. No UN Security Council protests were made. There was more international publicity and fuss when Simon Mann, Nick de Toit and their Merrie Men attempted a coup against Obiang than at this election.

T he reason is clear. Equatorial Guinea is awash with oil and natural gas. Equatorial Guinea has experienced rapid economic growth due to the discovery of large offshore oil reserves, and has become Sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest oil exporter after Nigeria and Angola. According to the World Bank, oil revenues increased in value from $3 million in 1993 to $190 million in 2000 to $3.3 billion in 2006. From 2002 to 2006 the country experienced an average real annual GDP growth of 15.8 percent. Oil exports currently represent over 90 percent of total export earnings. However, a slowdown in oil production has caused GDP growth to decelerate to 6.8 percent in 2007.

This oil wealth has yet to reach the people. Despite the rapid growth in real GDP, allegations abound over how the Equatoguinean government has misappropriated its oil revenues. While the government has made some infrastructure improvements to bolster the oil industry, the average Equatoguinean has yet to experience a higher standard of living from the oil revenues as evidenced by the country’s ranking of 120 (out of 177) on the human development index in 2006. In January 2005, Equatorial Guinea pledged to increase transparency in its oil revenues and is currently implementing the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Currently, foreign oil companies are beginning to make development related investments in education (Amerada Hess) and malaria prevention (Marathon Oil and Noble Energy).

According to the Oil and Gas Journal, Equatorial Guinea had estimated proved oil reserves of 1.1 billion barrels as of January 2007. The majority of these reserves are located offshore in the oil rich Gulf of Guinea. Since the 1995 discovery of the Zafiro field, Equatorial Guinea's oil production has increased dramatically. In 1995, oil production was 5,000 barrels per day (bbl/d), which increased to 385,970 b/d in 2006. While there has been some discussion of capping oil production in order to extend the life of the fields and prevent economic instability, the government appears reluctant to implement any measures that would slow development.

According to the OGJ, Equatorial Guinea had 1.3 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven natural gas reserves as of January 1, 2007. The majority of the reserves are located offshore Bioko Island, primarily in the Alba and Zafiro associated natural gas fields. From 2001 - 2006, Equatoguinean natural gas production increased rapidly from 1 billion cubic feet (Bcf) to 46 Bcf as new projects came online. The country is currently marketing itself as a regional gas industry hub based on the recent completion of an LNG facility on Bioko Island and plans for its expansion.

A license to drill for oil or process natural gas in Equatorial Guinea is a prized achievement. Certainly it outweighs any concerns about democracy, equality under the law, the end of torture as a method of rule and such fripperies as free and fair elections.

Poor Zimbabwe doesn’t have oil, ergo it can be a target for the ‘international community’. Equatorial Guinea has masses of oil and this buys them immunity from scrutiny and protest. The ‘international community’ is corrupt and morally bankrupt. It is unlikely to change.

Source: Ocnus.net 2008