By Rainer Chr. Hennig
Equatorial Guinea’s Dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema has been elected to take over the post of chairman of the African Union (AU). “This is the darkest day in the AU’s history,” afrol News editors comment.
President Obiang, taking power in Equatorial Guinea from his uncle in 1978 in a coup, has the dubious honour of competing for the title as Africa’s worst dictator, only comparable to the Presidents of Eritrea and The Gambia.
The election of Mr Obiang as the next chairman of the African Union (AU) – taking over from Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika – comes as an unprecedented wave of popular democracy demands is shaking up authoritarian rule at the northern flank of the AU – for now in Tunisia and Egypt.
There was a fear among many African leaders gathered at the Addis Ababa summit that the same wave of rebellion may hit their countries. When the Egyptian protesters succeed, there will be attempts of revolution also in sub-Saharan Africa.
And how did these leaders react to the popular demand of democracy and human rights? They elected Teodoro Obiang Nguema to lead them through these upcoming times of unrest. This can only be described as the darkest day in the AU’s history.
Who is President Obiang?
He has ruled Equatorial Guinea as his private estate since 1978. A US Senate investigation revealed that he has channelled vast amounts of money from the impoverished country to private foreign accounts. Estimates of his wealth start at US$ 700 million, on foreign accounts alone.
His family members hold all major positions in the country, especially in the army and within ministries and companies managing natural resources as oil and timber, but also all national media. The President’s son “Teodor�n”, known as a playboy, has also acquired enormous wealth, including a US$ 35 million estate in California.
Opposition is not allowed in Equatorial Guinea, at least not in practical terms. Opponents end up in exile or in prison. Only one true opposition party – the CPDS – has been allowed to exist, although its leader is regularly jailed and elections are rigged to favour President Obiang.
Opposition views do not reach the people as the entire independent press is illegalised and even foreign media are blocked from the country. Secret police pick up those still daring to utter oppositional views. Torture is the norm at Equatorial Guinea’s feared prisons.
Until 2001, there was a special UN Rapporteur following the dire human rights situation in Equatorial Guinea and presenting one shocking report after the other. But at that time President Obiang had started to cash in significant oil revenues, spending much of it to improve his international standing. After a surprise UN vote, the special Rapporteur’s mandate was withdrawn.
Now making use of expensive US marketing and reputation agencies, President Obiang is now trying to sell in an image of himself as a respected elder African statesman. The US spin-doctors regularly overflow the internet with news of social and democratic progress in Equatorial Guinea.
He has had some victories. Together with Gabon, Equatorial Guinea will organise the 2012 CAN African football championship. Last year, the parliament of the Central African block CEEAC was opened in Malabo, the Equatoguinean capital.
But not everybody could be bought for Mr Obiang’s oil money, it was established last year. The Equatoguinean Dictator wanted to donate some of “his” funds to UNESCO to establish the “Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research.” The UN culture agency – also representing the world press – had originally agreed to accept the prize, but massive international pressure, including from Africa, forced UNESCO to drop it.
This is the man that now is to represent Africa at a global level. The man to voice the NEPAD initiative (which now should be termed officially dead) in the international community. The man that will be the chief of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The man that shall head the AU’s fight against corruption.
The African Union yesterday completely lost its credibility.