Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mark Thatcher & Simon Mann's African Coup

President Obiang, a.k.a. God

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema
President Teodoro Obiang

Where is the oil money going? By all accounts, into the pocket of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, target of the ill-fated coup plot, and his relatives.

Obiang is the nephew of the nation's first president, Francisco Macías Nguema, whose oppressive regime is estimated to have to have exterminated or exiled one-third of country's population during his 11-year tenure.

He was killed in 1979 in a military coup led by Obiang, who was regarded early on as a legitimate reformer, lifting restrictions on religious expression, freeing political prisoners, restoring broken diplomatic ties and encouraging refugees to return home.

But President Obiang soon took his own stranglehold on power through violence, intimidation, patronage and election fraud. Human Rights Watch rates Equatorial Guinea among the world's worst human rights violators.

As Frank Ruddy, U.S. ambassador to Equatorial Guinea under President Reagan, put it, "It's a corrupt, rotten government."

In 1995, President Clinton closed the American embassy in the country.

In 2002, Obiang won reelection with 97.1 percent of the vote, down from 99.2 percent in 1996. After that 2002 election, state radio declared Obiang to be "in permanent contact with the Almighty." An aide referred to the president as "like God in heaven."

The aide went on, "He can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell because it is God himself with whom he is in permanent contact and who gives him this strength."

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund long ago cut off its aid program to the needy nation, charging that Obiang hoarded the money for himself. He apparently did the same when oil money began pouring in during the mid-1990s.

"There is strong evidence that oil revenues have been misappropriated by the government," concluded a 2004 report by the U.S. Department of Energy. "Furthermore, the government's failure to direct oil revenues toward development — especially to fund urgently needed infrastructure improvements — has undermined economic and social progress in the country."

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