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World's longest serving President wins 6th term

BY: Mary Mensah
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

Africa's longest-serving President and the world's longest-serving head of state, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, has been re-elected for a sixth term as president of his country.

Confirmed for a sixth term as President to rule for another seven years, Mbasogo has ruled oil-rich Equatorial Guinea since August 1979, overseeing a regime notorious for crushing dissent.
Ruling for more than 43 years, the 80-year-old won last month’s election on November 20 with 94.9 per cent of the votes cast while election officials put turnout for the vote at 98 per cent. Obiang's ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) also won all seats in the National Assembly and the Senate.

The two opposing candidates, Andrès Esono Ondo and Buenaventura Monsuy Asumu, each received around 9,700 and 2,900 of the approximately 413,000 votes cast in Equatorial Guinea.

Two presidents

Equatorial Guinea is a country of around 1.5 million people but has had only two presidents since independence from Spain in 1968 as Obiang ousted his uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema, in a coup in 1979. The 80-year-old has never been officially re-elected with less than 93 per cent of the vote and in a country where there is only one legitimate opposition party, Obiang exercises near-total political control. Rights groups accuse him of silencing dissent and cracking down on rivals.

As the only candidate allowed to run for the Presidency, Obiang was elected initially to serve a seven-year term. He was re-elected in 1989, 1996, 2002, and 2009. He held the position of the 9th Chairperson of the African Union from 2011 to 2012. In 2016, he was re-elected with 93.7 per cent of the vote: this time, the official result gave him 94.9 per cent, on a turnout of 98 per cent.

As President, Obiang holds all governing power in the nation and presides over an authoritarian regime. Under his authority, Equatorial Guinea has become a major oil supplier to the United States and due to collecting several hundred million dollars in revenues annually from US oil companies, the country has one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa. Obiang, however, has been accused of unlawful killings by his security forces, government-sanctioned kidnappings, systematic torture of prisoners, and many other cases of abuse. To this date, however, no opposition has stepped forward to attempt to overthrow the President.

Political opponents

Protests are mostly forbidden, media is heavily controlled, and political opponents are often arrested and tortured, critics say. The discovery of offshore oil in the mid-1990s turned Equatorial Guinea into sub-Saharan Africa's third-richest country, in terms of per-capita income in 2021.

However, the wealth has remained concentrated in the hands of a few families. The country also has a reputation for graft, ranking 172 out of 180 nations on Transparency International's 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index.

He seized power from Francisco Macias Nguema, who in 1968 had become Equatorial Guinea's first president upon independence from Spain and later declared himself president for life. Macias, Obiang's uncle, was executed by firing squad two months after the coup. Obiang's opponents say that under his iron-fisted, hermetic tenure, the country has become the "North Korea of Africa".

The regime's ruthlessness is regularly condemned by rights watchdogs, who have documented mass, arbitrary arrests, dissidents held in nightmarish prison conditions and frequent sweeps against suspected plotters. In a country where there is just a single authorised opposition party, Obiang exercises near-total political control.

Background

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo is a former military officer who has served as the 2nd President of Equatorial Guinea since August 1979. Obiang was born in the town of Acoacán, in the Mongomo district, in former Spanish Guinea, on June 5, 1942.

His family is of the Esangui clan, and his name is derived from the Fang people naming customs. His father, Santiago Nguema Eneme Obama, and his mother, María Mbasogo Ngui, chose his surname. Both of his parents originate from Gabon.

Obiang graduated from military school while the country, as Spanish Guinea, was still under the rule of Spain's fascist dictator, General Francisco Franco. He then held a string of key jobs, including head of the notorious Black Beach prison a place of "living hell", in the words of Amnesty International. His violent path to power has bequeathed a deep fear of coups.

Additional security

His bodyguard comprises soldiers who are members of his clan but for additional security he has a close-protection unit who are reputedly Israelis. Zimbabweans and Ugandans have also been brought in to help guard the presidential palace.

Obiang says he has foiled at least 10 attempted coups and assassinations during his long spell in power, often blaming dissidents living in exile or "foreign powers". The authorities closed the borders ahead of the elections to thwart suspected plotters. Obiang has been buttressed by the discovery of oil in territorial waters in mid-1996.

Africa’s third richest country

The bonanza has turned Equatorial Guinea into sub-Saharan Africa's third-richest country in terms of per capita income. But the wealth is very unequally distributed — four-fifths of the population of 1.4 million live below the poverty threshold according to World Bank figures for 2006, the latest available. The country has a long-established reputation internationally for graft, ranking 172 out of 180 nations on Transparency International's 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index.

When questioned in a 2012 CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour whether he would step down at the end of his current term (2009-2016), he categorically refused. Forbes magazine has listed Obiang as one of the wealthiest heads of state in Africa, with a net worth of close to $700 million. Obiang is currently married to Constancia Mangue, and he reportedly favours his son, Teodoro Nguema, to succeed him as President.