United States policy towards Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo, the dictator/ President of Spanish-speaking Equatorial Guinea, is a perfect case study in the hypocrisy of Western leaders when it comes to African strongmen. Even as Hillary Clinton wraps up her seven country African tour promoting democracy and good governance, representatives of her government and international development organizations continue to ignore many corrupt practices in oil-rich, democracy-poor Equatorial Guinea.
The Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, a U.S. based non-profit, will hold their 9th Biennial Africa Rising Summit from August 20th to the 24th in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. According to the foundation’s website, the Summit, hosted by President Obiang will:
“Bringing together government and corporate communities for the benefit of the African people. Summit IX will re-connect the displaced Diaspora and generate solution-oriented dialogue while discovering the tools to empower businesses, entrepreneurs and the African youth while instilling the Sullivan Principles as necessary standards of corporate and government responsibility.”
The Sullivan Foundation claims to “empower underprivileged people worldwide by promoting the principles of self help and social responsibility. “ The Foundation’s strategic African development goals include “creating opportunity through dialogue, and to advocate for the poor and disadvantaged.” Why then is the Sullivan Foundation working with Obiang, a corrupt dictator who has kept his people under his thumb since 1979 and who holds the crown as Africa’s longest serving sitting president?
Equatorial Guinea’s is wholly dependent on oil and mining. Despite the fact that it is Sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth largest producer of oil, the vast majority of Equatorial Guinea’s 720,000 people live in abject poverty. One in three Equatorial Guineans die before the age of 40. According to a 2009 Human Rights Watch report, the under-5 mortality rate is 206 per thousand. Arvind Ganesan of Human Rights Watch has said that Equatorial Guinea, “is a country where people should have the per capita wealth of Spain or Italy, but instead they live in conditions comparable to Chad or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” There is no freedom of the press. The government operates the countries’ only television station. People who speak out against the Obiang regime are beaten, jailed, and put at risk of being killed.
Obiang’s personal fortune is estimated to be about $600 million, largely from oil wealth. There have been multiple U.S. investigations of corruption and abuses against the Obiang regime and against members of his family. In 2011, the United States’ Department of Justice made moves to seize more than $70 million in assets from President Obiang’s son, Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue. Justice Department lawyers alleged Nguema used his position as a minister in Equatorial Guinea to amass more than $100 million through corruption and money laundering, on top of his official government salary of $100,000. The complaints stated Nguema possessed among his assets a $30 million dollar mansion in Malibu, California, a $38.5 million Gulfstream jet, and more than $2 million in Micheal Jackson memorabilia. U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer stated that “While his people struggled, he [Nguema] lived the high life…we are sending the message loud and clear: the United States will not be a hiding place for the ill-gotten riches of the world’s corrupt leaders.”
Just last week, agents of the French government seized Nguema’s $124 million Paris villa. French authorities have issued an international search warrant for Obiang, on allegations that he, his father, and other African leaders are using illicit state assets to buy property in France.
Western development agencies appear to be at least tacitly cooperating with the Sullivan Foundation’s promotion of Obiang. The Foundation has a long history of involvement with leaders of oil-rich African countries, a lavish awards ceremony in December 2011 where Obiang was honored with a democracy award, along with Olusegun Obasanjo, and John Kufuor, former presidents of Nigeria and Ghana respectively. Raj Shah, the head of USAID gave opening remarks. Former World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz was also in attendance.
The Sullivan Foundation claimed that Obiang accepted the award on behalf of the African Union and was not being honored personally. Regardless, CEO Hope Sullivan Masters praised Obiang and spoke of Equatorial Guinea’s “progress” and new roads.
Fast forward to August 2012. The Sullivan Foundation is again giving Obiang a platform in Equatorial Guinea, a country Africa scholar Geoffrey Wood describes as “one of the few African countries that can be correctly classified as a criminal state.” Sources inside the Sullivan Foundation summit planning organization say that former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and representatives from U.S. government agencies such as USAID have been invited to the Summit.
The Sullivan Foundation is acting as a public relations outlet for Equatorial Guinea. Its leaders are using their resources to put a favorable spin on conditions in the country. Sullivan Foundation spokespeople claim that Obiang is building low income housing for his people and aims to enact democratic reforms. The Sullivan Foundation admits that they receive funds and resources from the host country in order to put on such summits
Despite the efforts of human rights activists to stop the summit from occurring, the fete will proceed as planned. Human rights lawyer Tutu Alicante of Equatorial Guinea Justice has spoken out harshly against the Sullivan Foundation and tried to stop the summit from happening. “Now we just want to draw attention to the prominent Western officials who will be going and publicly criticize them for supporting a dictator. We want to make it difficult for them.”
If the sham Sullivan Foundation December awards ceremony is any indication, VIPs from the U.S. government and international development organizations will be wining, dining, and summit-ing at lavish Malabo hotels with Equatorial Guinea’s wealthy dictator while the people outside remain oppressed and mired in poverty.