Most people in Equatorial Guinea, a small country on the west coast of Africa, may be going through tough times under their current leader, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been described by rights organisations as one of Africa’s most brutal dictators.
Citizens would, however, not forget the reign of terror by 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.
Equatorial Guinea had been the only Spanish colony in sub-Saharan Africa and was made up of two parts: Rio Muni, on the mainland of Africa, and Fernando Poo (renamed Bioko), a volcanic island off the Cameroonian coast.
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An article by The Telegraph says that in the last few decades of Spanish colonial rule towards the start of decolonisation, Equatorial Guinea had “the best medical services, the lowest death rate and the second highest per capita income of any sub-Saharan African country.”
Nguema, who came to power in 1968, after being democratically elected would, however, reverse the status quo while unleashing terror on opponents and critics, particularly the Spaniards and all those he described as intellectuals.
Running what has been described as a family-government, Nguema appointed Teodoro, his nephew, as the head of the National Guard, making him one of his many relatives to be given a top job in government. Teodoro would, in the long run, fall out with his uncle and lead his ouster in 1979 by a military coup.
Nguema was born in Nsegayong, Rio Muni, then Spanish Guinea in 1924 and belonged to the country’s majority Fang ethnic group. Through the 1950s and early 1960s, he rose through the political ranks as a civil employee for the Spanish colonial government.
In 1951, he gained a post as an assistant translator in the Racial Court of Mongomo before being elected Vice-President of the local government of Equatorial Guinea in 1964.
Four years later when the Spanish government announced that Equatorial Guinea was going to be granted full independence, Nguema ran for president and won, becoming the first president of Equatorial Guinea in October 1968. Within a year, Nguema began his brutal and dictatorial rule when he established a single-party system and seized all powers, including the legislature and judiciary.
“As early as 1969, Macías Nguema unleashed a campaign to persecute his political opponents who where arrested, their goods looted and extorted. A fierce political repression was implemented, in particular through the terrible “Youth on the March with Macías” militia who was responsible for numerous atrocities, including massacre of civilian population, torture, looting and burning of villages,” writes Trial International.
Declaring himself “President for Life” and the “Unique Miracle” in 1972, Nguema also acted as a chief judge who sentenced thousands to death, including 11 members of the autonomous government that had ruled the country before independence between 1964 and 1968.
Twenty-two members of his own administration, including 67 civil servants and scores of cabinet ministers who were accused of planning movements to oppose his rule, were also killed. Dozens of students, businessmen, farmers, and traditional rulers were not spared.
Nguema, through his cruel administration, frightened the Spaniards away and took over their assets, and between 1974-79, he had begun harassing scores of Nigerian contract workers who were employed on the cocoa estates of Fernando Poo.
By 1972, 60 Nigerians had been killed in a clash with local workers and authorities, forcing about 40,000 of them to flee. Thousands of Bubi tribesmen in Equatorial Guinea were also targeted by Nguema’s administration, forcing them into exile in other African states, a journal article by Simon Baynham said. Catholics were also persecuted and the church was reportedly banned.
A Newsweek report in March 1969 said that in only a few months after independence, the Nguema government had brought the country to “the verge of ruin… The treasury was empty. The Cabinet was rent by violent quarrels… His Foreign Minister and UN Representative were beaten to death.”
The Telegraph adds that Nguema, who trusted no one, spent most of his time in his ancestral village of Mongomo, where he kept the national treasury under his bed or in suitcases in his hut.
To make matters worse, he introduced forced labour for all citizens, particularly girls over 15 and banned all private education as “subversive”.
“His persecution against intellectual drained the educated class out of the country. Approximately one-third of the population was either exiled or murdered. His human right abuses were denounced by the UN and by the European Commission, as well as by several NGOs,” said Trial International.
On August 3, 1979, the ruthless leader and kleptocrat was eventually deposed by Teodoro, his nephew, in what was described as “a case of execute lest thou be executed.”
Teodoro, the head of the National Guard, was compelled to take that step because of an earlier incident in 1979. Six members of the National Guard had gone to Nguema in Mongomo to ask him for money to pay the men and officers of the National Guard who had not been paid for some time.
According to The Telegraph, the six men met their deaths after this meeting, forcing Teodoro to stage a coup as a form of defence and seized power in 1979. Nguema, who was arrested in his home village, would eventually be tried and executed on September 29, 1979.
Thirteen years after the coup, oil was discovered offshore, and soon the family of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo became rich while a large proportion of the population, till now, still lives in poverty.
Teodoro, who has earned the title of the second longest-serving non-royal national leader in the world, 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.