Libreville – Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema will celebrate forty years in power on Saturday, highlighting his status as Africa’s longest-serving head of state.
Since he seized control in a 1979 military coup, rights groups have described Obiang Nguema, 77, as one of the continent’s most brutal and corrupt dictators.
In his most recent reelection, in 2016, he won more than 90 percent of the vote, according to the official tally.
Opposition groups said the vote was highly flawed.
His 40th anniversary in power will be marked by a series of events 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.
Amnesty International last month called on Obiang Nguema’s government to take steps to “respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights of everyone in the country”.
But critics say there are few signs the Equatorial Guinea will open up.
A survivor of multiple coup and assassination attempts, Obiang Nguema has cracked down ruthlessly on opponents and suspected plotters in the former Spanish colony.
In December 2017, the government reported thwarting a coup allegedly orchestrated by foreign exiles.
In June this year, a court handed down sentences of up to 96 years to more than 130 people convicted of being involved.
The biggest opposition group, the Citizens for Innovation (CI) party, was banned by authorities in February 2018.
Twenty-one CI members, including the party’s sole member of parliament, were subsequently sentenced to 30 years’ jail for “sedition, public disorder, attacks on authority and serious bodily harm”.
Obiang Nguema is believed to be preparing his son, Teodorin, to succeed him as president.
Teodorin was promoted to the position of vice president in 2016 and is in charge of defence and security.
With a reputation for a playboy lifestyle, Teodorin received a three-year suspended jail term from a Paris court after being convicted of siphoning off public money to buy assets in France.
He was accused of spending more than 1,000 times his official annual salary on a six-storey mansion in a posh part of the French capital, a fleet of fast cars and artworks, among other assets.
He was also given a suspended fine of 30 million euros ($33.5 million, Sh3.35 billion).
In 2019, Swiss prosecutors dropped charges of financial wrongdoing against Teodorin but confiscated 25 luxury cars as part of the case.
Last October, he was promoted from colonel directly to division general, without passing through the normal intermediary rank of brigade general.
The following month, he presided over a cabinet meeting for the first time.
The tiny West African nation is one of the continent’s top petroleum producers and has a population of 1.2 million.
Equatorial Guinea struck oil in 1995 and that has helped give the country one of the world’s highest GDP per capita ratios, although rights groups point out most Equatorial Guineans live in squalor.
The country is regularly cited by NGOs as one of the most corrupt in the world.
It ranks 141st out of 189 countries on the UN’s 2018 Human Development Index, and 172nd out of 180 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
Obiang Nguema has regularly displayed his contempt for what he characterised as “Western” criticism of his country.