The charmed life of Teodoro Obiang Mangue

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Femi Olugbile

Equatorial Guinea is a country located on the western coast of Central Africa. It has a tiny population of about one million three hundred souls. Since the discovery of oil in the 1990s, the citizens of Equatorial Guinea have become, per capita, the richest citizens in Africa.

Unfortunately, that is only on paper. In reality, Equatorial Guinea is a very poor African country, with most of its citizens living in ignorance and penury. It is ranked 135 globally on the Human Development Index. The quality of life of the citizens of this former Spanish territory is among the worst in the whole world. Less than half of the whole population have access to clean drinking water. One in five of the children born in the country die before the age of five years. Global surveys of political and civil rights consistently score the country among the worst places on earth to live.

From 1472 when the Portuguese explorer Fernando Po discovered the Island known to locals as Bioko, which would later be renamed Fernando Po, the area became a matter of interest to colonial powers.

In 1778, Queen Maria of Portugal and the Spanish monarch signed a treaty which ceded commercial rights to the area to Spain. Sadly, the Spanish Brigadier who was dispatched to take possession of the islands died of fever soon after arrival in the locality. His crew, most of whom also became ill with fever, mutinied. Four out of every five of them would soon die of the strange febrile illness.

It was not an auspicious beginning to colonial ownership, and it foretold the troubled relationship that would ensue between colonialist and colonised, right up to “Independence”, and even beyond.

The Spaniards eventually found use for the territory as a centre for slave-hunting forays into the hinterland.

After the abolition of slavery, the territory lost much of its importance to the colonialists. They earned some revenue from leasing the port as a base to the United Kingdom to carry out its anti-slavery enforcement and other activities. The bombardment and seizure of Lagos by John Beecroft, marking the beginning of British colonisation of Nigeria, was undertaken from Fernando Po.

The years leading up to eventual independence saw a struggle between the privileged minority “Fernandino” and “Bubi” groups and the majority ‘Fang’ nationalists.

In 1968, the country was granted independence by Spain. The ‘Fang’, led by Francisco Marcias Nguema, swept into power.

Nguema would go on to unleash a reign of terror on his people, executing one hundred and fifty political opponents for alleged coup plotting on Christmas Eve, 1969. He outlawed opposition parties and made himself President for Life. The economy collapsed.

In August 1979 Nguema was deposed by his nephew, Teodoro Obiang in a bloody coup d’état.

The nation’s fortunes changed dramatically in 1995 when Mobil discovered oil in Equatorial Guinea.

Teodoro Obiang has been in power for the past forty years.

The country has become an area of attraction for many people, but not always for the best reasons. In 2004 a plane load of mercenaries on their way to effect a coup was seized in Zimbabwe. There was suspicion that some foreigners, including Mark Thatcher, son of the British Prime Minister, were involved in financing the coup-attempt.

Teodoro Obiang – the elder, was “re-elected” as President for another seven-year term in 2016. His son – Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, is the First Vice President, in line to succeed his father.

It is the younger Teodoro, symbol of the future of this rich, much-abused African country that is the subject of this piece.

Young Teodoro loves the good life, and his appetites have become the stuff of legend. He once hired a super yacht for a princely sum of four hundred thousand pounds sterling to entertain a female rap artiste on a Christmas cruise. At another time, he spent ten million South African rand on a weekend splurge in South Africa. In 2011, the US Department of Justice went to court to seize seventy million dollars of Teodoro’s US assets. These included a Gulfstream Jet, yachts, Ferraris and the diamond-encrusted glove Michael Jackson loved to wear. The prosecutors held that Teodoro’s assets far exceeded what could be afforded on his official income of less than one hundred thousand dollars a year.

A settlement was eventually reached in which, after paying Uncle Sam on the estimated value of his assets, he was allowed to keep his jet and his Michael Jackson glove. He assured the Americans that thirty million dollars out of his money would be disbursed for the benefit of the masses of his country. To date there is no evidence that any money has been so disbursed.

In France, a mansion worth one hundred million euros, as well as luxury goods in it, was seized by the French authorities. Teodoro was indicted for corruption and money laundry. He was tried in absentia and given a suspended fine of thirty million euros. The mansion and seventeen luxury cars, including Ferraris and Bugatti’s, were seized by the French.

Teodoro is still the Vice President of his country. His father, the President, recently hosted other Presidents, including Nigeria’s leader, in Malabo, to discuss Oil and Gas.

One in five children in Equatorial Guinea still die before they are five, and half the hapless population still struggle to get potable water to drink. Teodoro, the epicure, is totally untroubled by empathy.

It is not hard to imagine ageing pan-Africanists of the ilk of Mo Ibrahim and Wole Soyinka struggling to hold on to the hope that the young will lead Africa better than the generations before them. They would shake their heads, surely, as they reflect on the charmed life of Teodoro, the future president of Equatorial Guinea.

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