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Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Worst African Dictator of Them All?

Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Worst African Dictator of Them All? July 1, 2008

I bet you are thinking: Robert Mugabe. If so, you would be wrong. Do not consider this in any way a defense of the loathsome Mugabe regime, run by a man who cares only about personal power while the people suffer immensely. Zimbabwe is a true humanitarian tragedy. But no, the man I am talking about is Teodoro Obiang, the ruler of Equatorial Guinea.

Obiang, who has been in power in this small country since 1979, runs a thuggish dictatorship where dissent is non-existent. Murder, torture, and corruption are the routine tools of power. Somewhat clownishly, he has declared himself a “god”, who is “in permanent contact with the Almighty.” But the implication of this is anything but amusing– according to a presidential spokesman, “he can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell because it is God himself, with whom he is in permanent contact, and who gives him this strength.” There is no Equatorial Morgan Tsvangirai, because he would have been killed immediately. There is no opposition. Reporter Peter Maass notes the docility of the people, unusual by African standards, evidence that they live in fear, matched only by experiences in North Korea. A few years back, the US ambassador to Equatorial Guinea received a death threat and had to be evacuated.

Given this situation, one would expect that the US was strongly condemning Obiang, pushing for democracy (remember Bush’s second inaugural speech?), and calling for sanctions. If so, one would be wrong. You see, Equatorial Guinea is awash in off-shore oil. ExxonMobil, Marathon Oil, Chevron, and other companies have invested more than $10 billion in this country. This oil bonanza has had no impact whatsoever on the people, who remain as poor and unhealthy as ever. Instead, Obiang siphoned off the money and continues to hoard it in a personal account at Riggs Bank in Washington DC.

And the US turns a blind eye. Not only is his record ignored, but Condi Rice once referred to Obiang as a “good friend.” And US embassy leases its building in Malabo from a man accused of torture. This is truly a case of “blood for oil”. And it is shameful and deeply hypocritical.

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