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Two longest serving African dictators who await their fall

LAGOS, Nigeria – Dictatorship in Africa is facing tremendous challenges, as citizens of several African nations have generated the courage to object to such tendencies, especially after the Arab spring events that brought down former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, former Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali who stepped down after 23 years in power as protests over economic issues snowballed into rallies against him, former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, late Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi, and of course former Sudanese President Omar al Bashir who is currently serving jail time after he was removed from office on April 11, 2019 by the Sudanese Armed Forces after multiple months of protests and civil uprisings.

Despite these events, two long time African dictators, Paul Biya of Cameroon and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equitoral Guinea have turned a blind eye, refusing to relinquish power while also looting and mismanaging their respective countries.

In “Tyrants, the World’s 20 Worst Living Dictators”, by David Wallechinsky, Paul Biya and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo along with two other African leaders:  Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and King Mswati of Swaziland ranked in the top tiers.

 Wallechinsky describes Cameroon’s electoral process in these terms: “Every few years, Biya stages an election to justify his continuing reign, but these elections have no credibility. In fact, Biya is credited with a creative innovation in the world of phony elections. In 2004, annoyed by the criticisms of international vote-monitoring groups, he paid for his own set of international observers.”

In a 2005 interview William Quantrill, a retired member of HM Diplomatic Service, argued that the reluctance of Biya to delegate responsibility seriously hampered the quality of governance, with trivial decisions often delayed until he got round to delivering them, and that there was too much government interference in the economy in general.

Born Paul Barthélemy Biya’a bi Mvondo on 13 February 1933, Biya began serving as the President of Cameroon since 6 November 1982.

A native of Cameroon’s south, Biya rose rapidly as a bureaucrat under President Ahmadou Ahidjo in the 1960s, serving as Secretary-General of the Presidency from 1968 to 1975 and then as Prime Minister of Cameroon from 1975 to 1982. He succeeded Ahidjo as president upon the latter’s surprise resignation in 1982 and consolidated power in a 1983–1984 staged attempted coup in which he eliminated all his rivals.

Today, President Biyahas a net worth of $200 million.  As e ruler of an extremely poor country (with 48% of Cameroonian’s citizens living below the poverty line), Biya is said to belong to the list of leaders with ill-gotten wealth.

He used his power to falsify the term limit laws twice, just to make sure he stays in power. Thus, he had the chance to amass huge personal fortune ranging between $200 and $300 million.  In the process, he has made sure to keep Cameroon’s close relationship with France, the country’s former colonial ruler.

For his part, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea runs his country like a personal and family property.

In July 2003, a state-operated radio declared Obiang “the country’s god” with “all power over men and things.” It added that the president was “in permanent contact with the Almighty” and “can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell.” He personally made similar comments in 1993. Macías had also proclaimed himself a god.

Forbes magazine has said that Obiang, with a net worth of US$600 million, is one of the world’s wealthiest heads of state.

Born 5 June 1942, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has been President of Equatorial Guinea since 1979. He ousted his uncle, Francisco Macías Nguema, in an August 1979 military coup and has overseen Equatorial Guinea’s emergence as an important oil producer, beginning in the 1990s. He is the longest consecutively serving current non-royal national leader in the world.

He has been widely accused of corruption and abuse of power. In marked contrast to the trend toward democracy in most of Africa, Equatorial Guinea is currently a dominant-party state, in which Obiang’s Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) holds virtually all governing power in the nation. The constitution provides Obiang sweeping powers, including the right to rule by decree, effectively making his government a legal dictatorship.

Abuses under Obiang have included “unlawful killings by security forces; government-sanctioned kidnappings; systematic torture of prisoners and detainees by security forces; life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention facilities; impunity; arbitrary arrest, detention, and incommunicado detention.

The few private media outlets in the country are largely owned by persons close to Obiang. Freedoms of association and of assembly are severely curtailed, and the government imposes restrictive conditions on the registration and operation of nongovernmental organizations. The few local activists who work on human rights-related issues often face intimidation, harassment, and reprisals.[

In 2003, Obiang told his citizenry that he felt compelled to take full control of the national treasury in order to prevent civil servants from being tempted to engage in corrupt practices. Obiang then deposited more than half a billion dollars into more than sixty accounts controlled by himself and his family in foreign banks.

A picture taken on June 25, 2013 shows Teodorin Nguema Obiang (R), the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president Teodoro Obiang and the country’s vice-president in charge of security and defense, arriving at Malabo’s Cathedral to celebrate his 41st birthday

Beginning in 2007 Obiang and several other African state leaders came under investigation for corruption and fraudulent use of funds. He was suspected of using public funds to finance private mansions and other luxuries for both himself and his family. He and his son, in particular, owned several properties and supercars in France. Several complaints were also filed in US courts against Obiang’s son. Attorneys stressed that the funds appropriated by the Obiangs were taken quite legally under Equatoguinean laws, even though those laws might not agree with international standards.

Obiang reportedly favors his son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue , born June 1969, and who appointed as vice president, to succeed him.  His son, the de facto political heir who is the Vice President of Equatorial Guinea and has a net worth of $200 million.

A collection of luxury cars belonging to Obiang’s son

Prior to becoming Vice President, his son served as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, and became Second Vice-President under his father in 2012 in charge of security and defense. He was later promoted to First Vice-President in 2016.

He is a member of the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea and attended Pepperdine University in the United States. In the 1990s, he was an Adviser to the Presidency.

His son, the current Vice President has drawn criticisms for spending lavish amounts of money on trips, cars, and other luxuries. He has also faced embezzlement charges after secret bank accounts were exposed. He has also been investigated by Swiss prosecutors after landing in Geneva eight times in 2016. He is in line to succeed his father for the Presidency of Equatorial Guinea.

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Dave Okonjie

Dave Okonjie is a public affairs analyst, researcher and senior issues correspondent.

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