After colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s fall a year ago in Libya, president Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea grabbed the sad crown of longest-in-office head of state in Africa. Indeed, the endurance and violence of his dictatorship, which began in 1979, has made the international community turn their eyes to this Spanish ex-colony.
Signs of regime collapse, though, are to be found everywhere in the country, and change is urgently needed.
For instance, Obiang has appointed as vice-president his son ‘Teodorín’ Nguema Obiang, who is a fugitive from justice after France issued an international arrest order for economic crimes. ‘Teodorín’ is wanted in US courts, too, and many of Obiang’s relatives and cabinet members (over 70 in a country with 600,000 population) are being investigated by Spanish authorities under accusations of money laundering and embezzlement. But the dictator challenges everyone.
He is being challenged as well by the citizens, though. Braving against the fear instilled into the society by the previous dictatorship of Francisco Macías, which was particularly cruel, students and civil organisations are beginning to complain openly about repression and chronic poverty. Up to 70 percent of people live on less than two dollars a day while 15 percent exerts control over 80 percent of resources like wood, fuel and fisheries.
The nation is the third oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, with 520,000 barrel per day, behind Nigeria and Angola. Its main trade partner is the US, after France, China, Russia and Brazil. Spain, on the other hand, has seen itself pushed away by the government, and companies like Repsol have been denied all options of doing business there.
An Arab Spring-like in Equatorial Guinea, nevertheless, is not expected. The country’s democrats aren’t organised and express themselves only on the Internet. Even so, after 44 years, there is a general agreement that democracy must find its way into the nation.
The new era will need dialogue to achieve stability in peace. Embryos of future political parties are already in place: Unión Popular on the right, Convergencia para la Democracia Social on the left, and a moderate progressive Partido del Progreso. There also is a federalist party, the Movimiento por la Autodeterminación de la Isla de Bioco.
The Partido del Progreso’s proposal is for Equatorial Guinea to become a democracy and a pro-free market economy. Local business must be promoted, and agriculture activity relaunched. Before 1968, the country produced 48,000 tonnes of cocoa and 8,000 tonnes of coffee. There is no reason why this couldn’t be replicated and bettered. Equatorial Guinea can avoid depending solely on its oil.
Spain and its companies, because of historical links, can be well placed to contribute in the new times to the infrastructure revolution that its former colony is ushering in. Everyone would win.