Equatorial Guinea tests Obama vow to hold African leaders accountable
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo – who today pardoned British mercenary Simon Mann – is widely seen as one of Africa's most corrupt leaders. But will oil interests prevent a shift in US policy?
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Rights advocates press ObiangSkip to next paragraph
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Advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch are keeping up the pressure, though.
A recent report accused Obiang's government of using the country's oil wealth to entrench itself while most of the country suffers on less than a dollar a day.
The director for the group's business and human rights program, Arvind Ganesan, says Equatorial Guinea could be a test of the Obama administration's policy toward Africa.
"President Obama made clear that corruption is not acceptable anymore, and that the rule of law is critical and democracy is important in Africa and elsewhere. If you look at Equatorial Guinea, it has none of those things," Ganesan said.
If a harder-line US policy forced Obiang to relax strict limits on free speech, this would be good news for someone like Fabian Nsue Nguema.
Mr. Nguema, who is not related to the president, is one of the few human rights lawyers in Equatorial Guinea.
"The situation is catastrophic," Nguema told the Monitor after triple bolting the door to his apartment, where the shades were also drawn. "They would prefer that you kill someone here than talk about politics."
Nguema was imprisoned for his criticism of the president.
Poverty and abuses amid oil wealth
In a run-down Malabo neighborhood with a wooden passageway winding above open sewers and mounds of trash, children run naked. Their dirty clothes pile up in heaps on the ground. Their mother points to her water tap, which has been dry for three days. She has been unable to do the laundry or wash or have anything to drink during that time. She smiles bravely, but said she did not want to speak to journalists.
Most Equatorial Guineans seem afraid to speak to foreign media, especially about the government, and the only major local media outlet is run by the state. When they get their reporting accreditation, foreign journalists are told they can only go to touristy areas.
Robert, a young educated man who says he can't get a decent job because he says he has no connections, strolls the streets, looking to help foreigners as a freelance guide. He didn't want to give his last name because he is afraid of government retaliation.
English is one of the many languages Robert speaks, but he says he has no future in his own country.
"The president is just lying to the international community so people will think that he is [improving] democracy and that he is [having legitimate] elections," he says. "He is just closing the eyes of international opinion like the United States, the UN, the European community and so on. It is a game so he can benefit from all of those organizations so that they will think this president is a good man."