Guinean president is king of corruption
IN elections held in 2008 in Equatorial Guinea — if you can find it without a map, good for you — the party of President Teodoro Obiang, the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea, was returned to office. In some constituencies, the PDGE, as it is known by its Spanish acronym, a colonial legacy, won 100 per cent of the vote. In other, more restive ridings, it took only 99 per cent of the ballots.
In 2009, Mr. Obiang himself was re-elected president with only 95.4 per cent of the vote in a tight race against four opponents. Most international observers, most people with functioning brains, in fact, regard these elections as fixed, fraudulent and invalid. The African Union, however, appears to regard them as exemplary democracy — Mr. Obiang is currently president of that pan-African organization.
Although it is one of the richest countries in Africa — it is the continent’s third-largest oil producer, but most of its people must live on pennies a day — Equatorial Guinea is also one of its most obscure.
The last time it really made international headlines was in 2004, when a group of mercenaries organized by former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s son tried to launch a MontyPython kind of coup against Mr. Obiang, which, as you might expect from a Flying Circus, ended in ignominy at an airport in Zimbabwe before it even got off the ground.
Today, it is back in the news due to the extravagance of the president’s son, Teodorin Obiang. The junior Obiang is a man who knows how to stretch a dollar. As a minister in his father’s cabinet, he makes $5,000 a year and on that salary, plus what he calls a few “investments,” he has been able to buy a $35-million home in the United States, two South African homes valued at $7 million and has now ordered up a $380-million, custom-designed yacht, the second-most expensive yacht in the world after one that belongs to a Russian billionaire who makes no pretence about being corrupt. Welcome to Africa. Although Equatorial Guinea may be extreme in its brutality and corruption, it is hardly unique in sub-Saharan Africa. Astonishingly, in 2006, the United States government signed an aid agreement with Mr. Obiang and, even more astonishingly, it is Equatorial Guinea that is getting the money although the U.S. could certainly use it more.
About the same time, Canada revised its aid policy to focus less on Africa and more on South American countries. African governments are angry about that, but if they need to know the reason, they should take at least a quick look at Equatorial Guinea, home of the African Union’s president.