Waiting for Godot in Equatorial
Guinea - the Rest of the World Waits Too
by Agustín Velloso
www.dissidentvoice.org, June 27th,
While members of the opposition to President
Teodoro Obiang's regime are detained and tortured in prison merely
for being in opposition, international human rights organizations
are denied entry to Equatorial Guinea. While some are set free
with neither charges nor trial or else pardoned after a lapse
of time, subsequently they are fined and their movement restricted
to their hometowns. While the supposed leader of a coup d'état,
Severo Moto, is tried in absentia, a handful of associates are
left to rely exclusively on the mercy of the court, their fate
decided by the Chief Justice of the Nation, who, not by accident,
presides over the trial (Art. 86 of Equatorial Guinea's Fundamental
If someone were to bet 100 Euros that
this account referred to events taking place in June 2008 they
would lose. The events in question took place in 1997, eleven
years ago. An Amnesty International Release on Equatorial Guinea
(AI INDEX: AFR 24/07/97), published on October 14th 1997 gives
a complete account of the events in question.
It seems the long decade since those events
has changed nothing. The failed coup has been repeated with the
same protagonist, the regime continues imprisoning and torturing,
Obiang continues in power and Amnesty International never fails
to publish similar reports year in, year out. However a couple
of changes have in fact taken place and for the moment one can
say that the first of them is for the worse.
This first change is that Obiang's political
acuity has sharpened. However much one dislikes the fact, he is
smarter than one might want to admit. He toys with his equals
around the world and with his rivals at home. Without counting
the high official posts he held during the precious regime of
his uncle Francisco Macias, Obiang has been in power for 30 years.
In this time, he has made himself immensely rich and has enriched
his family. He occupies an accepted place in the international
community. He has wiped out the meagre opposition and the only
doubts relating to his future stem from his health and his succession,
neither of which are completely under his control.
Amnesty International denounced in their
1997 report that the denial of access for international human
rights organizations to the country "contradicts the policy
of openness in relation to human rights issues publicly promised
by President Obiang in February 1997."
While Obiang's policy of broken promises
has lasted for more than 10 years, his policy on torture is much
older. In 1978 Amnesty International regarded it as a systematic
practice to the point that in its March Bulletin of that year
it defined Equatorial Guinea as "a huge torture camp whose
only exit is the cemetery." A report published in 1990 with
the title Tortures in Equatorial Guinea, collected information
for the twenty years from 1968 to 1988.
The Spanish Socialist Workers Party government:
the democracy of never-too-much dialogue
Obiang only fools people who let themselves
be fooled. Pronouncements made from time by Spain's Foreign Minister
Moratinos on "helping, accompanying, offering incentives
and motivating a country like Equatorial Guinea to move forward
the process of democratization and defence of Human Rights",
once more display the Kingdom of Spain as a dummy State led by
the interests of others and in contradiction to the aspirations
of its Constitution.
For years Moratinos has travelled to Equatorial
Guinea or received Obiang in Spain. Still, his opinion on "advances
in the democratization process" is as valuable today as those
of the US entertainment magazine Parade which also observes some
progress. It rates Obiang thirteenth in the list of the world's
worst dictators after having placed him eleventh in 2007 and tenth
The main difference is that the magazine
describes Obiang outright as a dictator and does not propose dialogue
about it. Meanwhile, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party seems
to be waiting for another decade to pass just so as to be completely
sure before uttering the word. Maybe for that reason the magazine
has a circulation of 42 million while the Minister's Press releases
are not even read by his own advisors. Nothing else explains really
the publication of his "somewhat impassioned" opinion
on Obiang's last visit to Spain.
Obiang has got to where he is by administering
dose after dose of broken promises wherever necessary, wrapped
up in oil contracts. The result has been murder, torture and other
serious human rights violations, but still Moratinos gets all
impassioned when he and Obiang meet up. It is true that his counterparts
in the US receive Obiang as a "good friend" and in China
and other countries they greet him with the red carpet, but that
does not make Obiang any less a criminal. Rather it turns those
hosts of his into aiders, abettors and accomplices of his barbarism.
If Obiang's declarations no longer fool
Foreign Ministers and Presidents, those of Moratinos fool no one
either. Who, outside the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, believes
that government policy towards Equatorial Guinea is adequate in
the light of the last thirty years? Nonetheless, on May 29th this
year, shortly after the rigged elections held in Equatorial Guinea,
the government again presented in the Congress of Deputies its
routine litany: "our only remedy is to continue insisting
on a constructive dialogue".
The opposition: still waiting for news
on Nkrumah, Mandela, Lumumba and Biko
The second change has taken place in the
political opposition. The leaders of the Convergence for Social
Democracy (CPDS) that held two seats in Equatorial Guinea's 100-seat
parliament - the remainder being taken up by Obiang's party members
- are going through moments of political and personal anguish.
Not surprisingly, since they ended up with just one seat, continue
to be harassed as usual and have been abandoned by the international
community, which prefers oil in the hand to democracy on the wing.
The opposition has shown its desperation
and fury via various communiqués from its National Executive
over the last month. These offer a mixture of denunciations, laments,
meditations after the fact on what happened, vague accusations,
unattainable proposals and reflections lacking self-criticism.
The CPDS denounces that "the electoral
process of Sunday May 4th 2008 in Equatorial Guinea surpassed
all forecasts of the brutality of the fraud prepared by Obiang
and his regime, marking a clear regression in the country's political
The CPDS laments the betrayal of the international
community, especially Spain and the United States since the elections
"were not held in conditions of liberty, transparency and
equality as was expected by the Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister,
Miguel Angel Moratinos or as the United States ambassador in the
The European Union is not immune from
the attacks since the release of funds (more than Euros 10m) intended
for Equatorial Guinea assigned to the ninth European Development
Fund to carry out projects in areas like human rights and good
governance is regarded by the CPDS as "the strongest insult
that could be received".
The CPDS Executive pauses to meditate
on "the unhappy history of Equatorial Guinea that repeats
itself cyclically" because in 2002 "when Equatorial
Guinea most needed the UN, this body decided to withdraw, as if
by chance, the Special Representative for Equatorial Guinea, leaving
the population defenceless and at the mercy of the arbitrary will
of Obiang. Many of the people arbitrarily detained then have only
just been pardoned in June."
Finally, they offer a very negative judgement
on the policy of dialogue. They consider that "the rapprochements
(by its bilateral and multilateral partners) made towards the
regime that governs Equatorial Guinea are made for other reasons,
not expressed in public declarations, perhaps possibly the benefits
obtained from the situation of a totalitarian and despotic regime,
not respectful of people's rights, reasons which favour the individuals,
institutions or countries that make such rapprochements, which
unscrupulously damage the legitimate interests of the people of
Equatorial Guinea, their right to live in freedom and to benefit
from their natural resources."
Despite admitting their desperate political
situation they still "call on the international community,
particularly the multilateral and bilateral partners represented
in Equatorial Guinea to recognise that their silence at the repression
and all the abuses perpetrated by Obiang and his regime on the
people of Equatorial Guinea, along with all the arbitrary abuses
inflicted on the opposition and on dissidents in the country seem
to amount to complicity in the damage the regime thus inflicts
on this people. The CPDS would like to see a pronouncement on
what happened in this country on May 4th this year, as well as
on the post-election harassment that followed."
What the CPDS describes is correct. It
even understates things. It has received the biggest blow in its
history not only for having lost one of its two seats at the hands
of its enemies but because it has been abandoned by those it considered
its friends. But in that case, why go running to them once more?
It does not matter now that what happened
was the chronicle of an abandonment foreseeable beforehand and
warned of at the time. But what sense does it make to make new
appeals that will themselves also be ignored? It hardly makes
any difference now to point out that the international community
is an accomplice of the regime against the country's people. But
more than anything, it does nothing to lift the population of
Equatorial Guinea out of their shameful situation.
The May 2008 elections have confirmed,
if any further confirmation was necessary, that the political
game played so far with such poor cards by the CPDS against experienced
criminals, bought judges and with an audience of observers watching
out for their own interests, is over.
It is not the moment for lament or roundabout
accusations. If the CPDS is not faithful to the logic of its own
analysis of the situation and gets caught up in absurd reproaches
and threats that show up its weakness even more, not only will
it be finished but, as its own National Executive says of other
actors involved, it runs the risk of being an accomplice in Obiang's
The struggle for the rights of Africans
in Africa has not been achieved mainly or even most importantly
in the sessions of corrupt parliaments or in meetings in offices
in Madrid or Washington with diplomats concerned about the people
of Equatorial Guinea in words but not in fact. Nor, obviously,
has the struggle advanced by repeating over and over again to
people who have not the least idea of the suffering of people
in Equatorial Guinea that "the CPDS is the only democratic
opposition and seeks political change by peaceful means"
The political strategy faced with murderers,
their accomplices and look-outs cannot consist of touring Europe
and the United States to complain to people without the least
intention of losing their own benefits so as to promote the rights
of others. Political action cannot base itself on making speeches
day after day in a parliament lacking legitimacy to deputies who
only heed to the person that pays them.
To design a new political action it is
more useful to consider the pantheon of African leaders. Nkrumah
based his political struggle on organizing the masses, which cost
him repeated spells in detention. Mandela directed a political
transition but not without first insisting on the right to self-defence
of the oppressed (what Western politicians call violence) to the
Supreme Court in Pretoria in 1964, for which he was condemned
to life imprisonment. Lumumba was assassinated by the CIA, the
armed wing of the United States government that specialises in
murdering popular leaders the world over for their opposition
to imperialism. Biko managed successfully to mobilise the inhabitants
of South African cities before being assassinated in police custody.
Conclusion: Neither dialogue with Obiang
nor political tours by the opposition will bring human rights
to Equatorial Guinea
It is told that years ago an old Equatorial
Guinean, unhappy at his country's evolution on which a Spanish
person was talking asked, "Hey, this independence stuff,
how long does it last?" One has to suppose that the passage
of time has given him the answer, although doubtless thousands
of Equatorial Guineans are asking the same question now about
this democracy stuff.
Democracy does not exist in Equatorial
Guinea nor will it under the current dictatorial circumstances
prolonged by external help from powerful economic interests in
exchange for oil.
Once the political game is exhausted,
or what is no more than the trappings of a democratic system,
for Equatorial Guineans to be able to see human rights respected,
requires a resistance struggle to be carried through against the
individuals who violate people's rights and those who abet them.
In other words, rights are taken, not
given. That most likely means dropping certain useless friendships
and support, working more in the street and in villages than in
Parliament and abandoning the parody of democracy for the drama
of popular struggle.
It is essential not to compromise the
enduring right of peoples and individuals to a life of liberty,
justice and peace via a political slogan to the liking of corrupt
leaders like "a peaceful political alternative" - fine
for the oppressor, not so great for the oppressed.
Agustín Velloso is Professor of
Education Sciences at the National Univeristy of Education in
Madrid. His English version of this article was revised by toni
solo. Read other articles by Agustín.