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Africa’s longest-serving head of state who is 77 years old to celebrate 40 years in office

August 02, 2019 at 09:30 am | News

Mildred Europa Taylor

Mildred Europa Taylor | Associate Editor

August 02, 2019 at 09:30 am | News

Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Pic credit: New Zimbabwe.com

At a time when pressure is mounting on Africa’s longest-serving leaders to consider bowing out, one of them is going strong and has even announced activities to mark his decades in power.

Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema will be celebrating his 40 years in power this Saturday to highlight his status as Africa’s longest-serving head of state, reports the AFP.

Most people in Equatorial Guinea, a small country on the west coast of Africa, are going through tough times under Nguema, who has been described by rights organisations as one of Africa’s most brutal dictators.

He has been in power since he seized control in a 1979 military coup. Nguema ousted his uncle and the country’s first president, Francisco Macias Nguema, who caused a major disaster for the country in the 20th century, virtually destroying all of the country’s political, economic, and social institutions, and compelling a third of the population to flee.

In the four decades that he assumed power, Teodoro Obiang Nguema has been accused of abusing his power by imposing government-directed kidnappings, subjective arrest, impunity and has been proven to be involved in embezzlement and corruption by the United States Department of Justice.

The self-proclaimed “God” has maintained a “dominant-party state” which ensures a specific political party – Nguema’s Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) stays in power for an indefinite amount of time.

In his recent election in 2016, he won more than 90 per cent of the vote, a result many opposition groups protested.

During his 40-year celebration in power this weekend, a series of events will be marked in three main cities, including Bata, the economic capital, Mongomo, the president’s hometown, and Djibloho – a new city built with oil-money in the middle of the jungle, according to the AFP.

Ahead of the celebrations, human rights group Amnesty International has called on the Nguema administration to “halt decades of human rights violations and abuses including torture, arbitrary detentions and unlawful killings.”

Nguema’s rule has been regarded as non-democratic, especially since the country’s opposition is hardly tolerated.

In February 2018, authorities banned the biggest opposition group, the Citizens for Innovation (CI) party and arrested 21 members of the group, including the party’s only member of parliament. They were then sentenced to 30 years’ jail for “sedition, public disorder, attacks on authority and serious bodily harm”.

“For decades, President Nguema’s muzzling of dissent has had a devastating and chilling effect on human rights defenders, journalists and political activists. They have been persistently targeted solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” said Marta Colomer, Amnesty International West Africa Senior Campaigner.

“It is time for President Nguema to close this gruesome chapter of his government’s human rights record and usher in a new era where human rights are fully and effectively respected, protected, promoted and fulfilled.”

77-year-old Nguema, who thwarted an attempted coup against him in 2017, is said to be paving the way for his son, Teodorin, to succeed him as president. Teodorin was promoted to the position of vice president in 2016; a year after, he was convicted by a court in France of corruption and money laundering.

He was given a suspended jail term and a suspended fine of €30 million ($33 million). In 2019, Swiss prosecutors dropped charges of financial wrongdoing against Teodorin but 25 of his luxury cars were confiscated.

Corruption in Equatorial Guinea, one of Africa’s poorest countries, has been a major impediment to the country’s economic development as the small revenue generated from the nation’s oil deposits ends up in the pockets of a handful of greedy government officials and bureaucrats.

The Human Rights Watch has accused the country’s ruling elite of syphoning off the oil wealth by owning stakes in companies that are usually awarded vastly inflated public infrastructure contracts.

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