Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo is expected to extend his 36-year rule after allegedly winning over 90 percent of the national vote during this past Sunday’s elections.
Mr. Obiang, Africa’s longest-serving leader, has ruled the small Central African country since 1979 after ousting his uncle’s government in a military coup.
Opposition leaders and civil society organizations have denounced the elections as “not credible.” The 73-year-old leader faced six obscure candidates, while most opposition parties either boycotted the election in protest or were barred from participating.
Critics have condemned Mr. Obiang’s oppressive and corrupt tactics leading up to the elections.
Human Rights Watch reported that on March 16, 2016, the government ordered the Center for the Study and Initiatives for Development (CEID), a leading independent civic group, to cease operations indefinitely.
The organization also noted that the Minister of the Interior, who also serves as First Deputy Prime Minister for Political Affairs and Democracy, was recently appointed to head the National Electoral Commission tasked with supervising the presidential elections.
According to the Washington D.C.-based EG Justice, the campaign coordinator for the opposition party Union Centro Derecha, Rafael Mbela, was illegally detained and beaten on April 15, 2016.
The group also reported that the government blocked 12 journalists from Africa24 from entering the country. The journalists had the proper paperwork from Equatorial Guinea’s Ministry of Information, but were illegally detained in the airport for 5 hours before eventually being granted entrance.
“The violence and crackdown on independent voices by the Obiang regime tarnishes an election that already lacked any legitimacy. The time has come for the African Union, the Unites States of America, Spain and the European Union to send President Obiang a clear message that genuine political reform is long overdue, and that human rights violations would no longer be cost-free,” said Tutu Alicant, Executive Director of Equatorial Guinea Justice.
Since its discovery of offshore oil in 1996, Mr. Obiang’s government has also been criticized for its failure to evenly distribute the country’s oil wealth. As the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, the country boasts the highest gross domestic product per capita of any African nation. However, Equatorial Guinea remains one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 144 out of 187 countries on the United Nations’ 2014 Human Development Index.
The United States government has come under criticism for its lackadaisical attitude towards the Obiang regime. As the number one foreign direct investor in the country, the U.S. has the leverage to pressure Mr. Obiang to implement economic and democratic reforms but has rarely done so.
“The Obama administration, and certainly those that come hereafter, needs to take a hard, honest look at its so-called allies in the region,” according to Jeff Smith, an international human rights consultant.
“Continuing to cozy up with retrograde dictators like Obiang sends a horrible message, particularly when one considers the large gap between the U.S. government’s lofty rhetoric on human rights and democracy,” he told a SaharaReporters correspondent.