Equatorial Guinea’s Obiang Extends Three-Decade Rule

Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo won yesterday’s presidential elections, extending his three-decade rule of the sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth-biggest oil-producing nation. Obiang, 67, is set to win 96.7 percent of the vote, with about a quarter of ballots counted, according to results posted on the government’s Web site. The country has an estimated 291,000 

registered voters. Groups including New York-based Human Rights Watch said before the vote that conditions were not in place for free and fair elections.

“We are pleased with the victory of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and the proper conduct of the presidential election in Gabon because my compatriots have voted calmly,” Manuel Mbela Bama Ndong, the country’s ambassador to neighboring Gabon, said in an interview today from Libreville, the Gabonese capital.

The former Spanish colony has been ruled by Obiang since 1979, when he seized power from his uncle in a coup. In the last presidential election in 2002, Obiang took 97.1 percent of the vote. Earlier this month, he vowed to exceed that margin, calling himself the “candidate of the people.”

With a population of 500,000 and an $8.56 billion economy, Equatorial Guinea has Africa’s highest rate of gross domestic product per capita, at $7,470, according to the World Bank. At the same time, 70 percent of the population lives in poverty, medical coverage is poor, power distribution unreliable and water supply and sanitation systems dilapidated, according to the Web site of the African Development Bank.

Money Laundering

A 2004 U.S. Senate investigation into money laundering found that Washington-based Riggs Bank was holding as much as $750 million in accounts controlled by Obiang, his family members or government officials. On at least two occasions, the bank accepted $30 million in suitcases.

Equatorial Guinea pumped about 361,000 barrels a day last year, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, ranking it behind Angola, Nigeria and Sudan among sub-Saharan African oil producers. Most of the investment in the nation’s oil industry comes from U.S.-based oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp.Marathon Oil Corp. and Vanco Energy Co.