Failure of Democracy in Africa: The Case of Equatorial Guinea

By Allison Johnson

How Dictatorship has wreaked havoc, poverty and deprivation for the people of Equatorial Guinea


Throughout my 25 years in and out of Africa, working in international development, democratization, economic, social and political development, I have come across, time and time again, the deplorable results of bad governance, inexistent rule of law and rampant corruption across the continent. Yet, the case of Equatorial Guinea is particularly acute.

Since it only gained political independence from Spain on October 12, 1968, it is a relatively young nation, yet in its short history the country has been riddled by brutal dictatorship and extreme deprivation and poverty.  In 1968, the then political leadership chose Francisco Nguema as President, who subsequently declared himself President for Life in 1972; and who was betrayed by his nephew - Lieutenant Colonel Teodoro Obiang - a low ranking military official, who graduated last in his class at the military academy in Zaragoza, Spain, prior to his return to what was then known as Spanish Guinea. On August 3, 1979 there was a coup d’etat in which Obiang became the ruler, making him now the longest dictator oppressively serving, in Africa.

Misused Oil Revenues

After the discovery and extraction of oil in 1995, by a small Texas oil company called Walter International, which would be later be acquired by ExxonMobil, the dictatorship became even more entrenched in its brutal, despotic governance, as the Obiang regime began to use new found oil wealth to enrich the inner circle and leave the people in dire poverty. The legacy of both the uncle Nguema and the nephew Obiang has taken African kleptocracy to its greatest lows.

Lack of Transparency

According to Transparency International, the country is ranked as number 172 out 183 countries in terms of being one of the most corrupt in the world. There is no transparency in this government, nor accountability as to how the profits in oil revenues are being used and distributed. In point of fact, President Obiang has declared that the petro revenues are a state secret, thereby precluding the public from knowing the exact amounts filling state coffers. Meanwhile, the people of Equatorial Guinea live in extreme poverty, with no electricity, no running water and inadequate nutrition in a country that, in 2013, had one of the highest per capita incomes in the African continent. Moreover, there's a clear misappropriation of the people’s money, particularly in a country which makes an estimated $3.3 billion dollars a month from oil revenues. With a small population of just over 700,000 and a size equivalent to the state of Maryland in the USA, it is discouraging to see how this dictatorship has used these funds to enrich itself and squander the wealth on its own vices and whims.

The French Government, in cooperation with the USA in 2012, seized over $4.9 million dollars of luxury goods from the President's son, TeodorĂ­n, which is only a small fraction of the close to $4 billion under his suspected control, all of which is believed to have been secretly stolen and stashed in banks all over the world by the Obiang family and regime.

Human Rights Violations

The abuses of the dictatorship have been well documented by the Human Rights Watch, during Equatorial Guinea’s false and rigged elections. Amnesty International has documented extrajudicial killings, torture and clandestine operations to quash the opposition. Even the US government has voiced its opposition to the Obiang regimes’ human rights abuses, killings of opposition leaders and unlawful detentions of nationals and foreign nationals.
So, at this point, one might ask what is the international community doing to aid a population in such dire straits. It must be taxing on the USA, after so many challenges across the Middle East and Central Asia, to then turn to Africa and take on the dictatorships that rape, pillage and pawn their countries for fodder. An estimated 15 percent of USA oil imports originates from Africa - after Nigeria and Angola, the third most important country is Equatorial Guinea.
Now that globalization has pushed the oil market to a level of importance for countries like China and India, there is little political pressure from the international community to end this reign of terror; but something must be done, in order to usher change on the African Continent; and Equatorial Guinea is a perfect place to start, with a manageable geography, coupled with its strategic location in the Gulf of Guinea, it is a prominent trading zone in Central West Africa.

Opposition Movement: Light at the End of the Tunnel

When I first began my career working in Africa, I served briefly for an advisory firm that represented the interest of dictators in Gabon, Cameroon and Nigeria, and after a short stint of pure frustration about how global politics really works, I vowed that the future of Africa was not in dictatorship. I proclaimed that I would no longer serve the interests of despots, while the people of Africa were suffering. But that was 22 years ago when I left that firm and unfortunately not much has changed when it comes to the crisis of democracy in Central and West Africa.

But there can be a beacon of light in the small central west African nation of Equatorial Guinea. There is an opposition movement swelling across the world of citizens of Equatorial Guinea that long for true freedom, independence and democracy in their country. They are organizing themselves to raise a united flag for democratization and a clarion call to put an end to this dictatorship. It is my hope that they can spread the call for true democracy and pressure the international community to demand the ouster of the Obiang Regime. It is time for a new Equatorial Guinea. It is time for a new democracy in Africa.

A New Presidential Candidate

Since 1991, there is a champion for human rights, democracy and dignity for the people of Equatorial Guinea and that is Gustavo Envela Jr. who has been fighting tirelessly to usher in regime change in his country. He calls on the USA and the global community to end the rampant rage and unaccountable scourge of dictatorship in his country, and bring an end to the dictatorial pandemic across the continent of Africa, which has infected the continent since colonialism.

We are now jointly appealing, both here in the North America as well as in Europe and Africa, to the entire opposition landscape across the world, to join forces and resources in creating an environment in which democratic space will be achieved; where the tenant of good governance, rule of law, respect for human rights and human dignity and instruct that free, fair, open and transparent elections be mandated as the standard for the will of the people to be expressed in Equatorial Guinea and throughout the African continent.

The future of Africa is in our hands and so we hope to initiate an African Renaissance. The future of Equatorial Guinea will be determined by the actions or inactions that we take this year to organize the opposition movement in a massive coalition to push for elections and finally transition this ruthless, vindictive and corrupt regime out of power. The will of the people must triumph. Those who have died for true freedom and democracy, in Equatorial Guinea, must not have died in vain.

Allison Johnson is a Senior Vice-President of Business Development at Global Business Solutions Inc. 

[The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dissecting Society]


  1. Nothing guarantees us this candidate won't do the same as Obiang. I recall Kim Jong Un, also raised in the West, the US had high hopes in him and what happened?

  2. Hi Allison,

    Thank you for giving us a glimpse into the situation in EG. I'm no longer in favour of a single liberal democratic paradigm for the whole world, after the lessons learned since 2003; however, I'm in favour of respecting the people's will and if the EG people want democracy, in whichever form they choose, then by Jove they should have it. As long as it is their choice, and not external entities choosing for them.

    I can't stand corrosive corrupt leaders and I can't stand African leaders who neglect the human development of the people they are supposed to be serving (having said this, Mr Obiang needs to leave). However, I will challenge you on one issue: are you sure that colonialism is the root of African corruption? Wasn't it the Soviet ideology most liberation movements adhered to?

    Colonialism, at least the Portuguese and French ones, evolved into giving nationality and the same rights white people enjoyed to black Africans and those who were educated and "assimilated" (that was the term used at the time) enjoyed a great life; but after the independence (and most French colonies did not go through independence wars) white people were forced to leave the country (in the Portuguese colonies' case) and black people's lives deteriorated ever since. So was it colonialism or was it independence (based on Soviet ideology) the one to blame?

    I really needed to know more about Mr Envela. I am still not satisfied and there's not much about him online. Loving his country and democracy is hardly any credential to run for president; so why should we all support him exactly?

    "The future of Africa is in our hands and so we hope to initiate an African Renaissance."

    Loved this statement.

    Thank you, once again, for this interesting post.


  3. Interesting stuff but it smells like planting an agent to me. And let me tell you why: I looked for this guy online and he's known for being a sprinter. An athlete. I'm not saying he's not a good guy or he wouldn't do a great job but if he's a human rights and democracy activist where are the deeds to back it up? Where's the record to legitimize his ambitions? How can we be sure he won't end up being another Obiang when reality sets in?

  4. The comments here express an extremely valid concern. Indeed, how are we to know that Mr Envela Jr is a better candidate and how many others are there? And wouldn't Spain want to see one of their own preference sitting in power? Europe would probably have a say in it too. Too many considerations, I suppose, but we'll see, won't we?
    I'm pleased to see a wider range of topics here.

  5. Envela was raised in the US and now he wants to go back to Equatorial Guinea to help his people? Very noble of him but what does he know about "his" country? What makes him more capable than others who have endured the regime and are equally knowledgeable? Importing presidents can be a very dangerous precedent!


Post a Comment

Dissecting Society welcomes all sorts of comments, as we are strong advocates of freedom of speech; however, we reserve the right to delete Troll Activity; libellous and offensive comments (e.g. racist and anti-Semitic) plus those with excessive foul language. This blog does not view vulgarity as being protected by the right to free speech. Cheers