Guinean pres­i­dent is king of corruption

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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