Tag Archives: Equatorial Guinea

Alicante: make business with Obiang conditional on a free radio station

The Guardian interviews Tutu Alicante, a prominent Equatoguinean human rights activist based in the US. Excerpts:

Do any organisations like EG Justice exist within Equatorial Guinea?

There is not a single human rights organisation or anti-corruption organisation in the country. [...] If you were to try and register one, your paperwork would lie in the ministry of interior forever. You wouldn’t get authorised to exist.

Inside the country you can register NGOs to do children’s education work, women’s empowerment work, anything the government perceives as non-threatening. Anything involving democracy or human rights will get you beaten or harassed. [...]

Although there is an official opposition party, its influence is negligible [...]. Civil society too is neutered. Are there any other organisations or institutions – perhaps religious, cultural or labour – that could instigate change?

It’s a very small country. Any group that the government perceives as sufficiently powerful is immediately co-opted. [...] So churches, for instance, which in many other places have provided an avenue for people to gather and discuss issues and organise, are completely co-opted by the government. There are no unions or labour organisations. So you don’t have spaces for citizens to come together and organise, or even assemble – any meeting you want to hold in Equatorial Guinea with more than five people, you have to have a permit from the government.

So where will change come from?

Change must come from a few different places, one is young people. We have to find creative ways of organising them. In Egypt for example, social networks played a key role in getting people to the street at the right moment, getting messages out, not just to people in the country but outside the country. So finding creative ways of organising people who still have very limited access to internet but still have a mobile phone is something we are looking at. How do we get to these young people inside the country? There are a growing number of young people using Facebook and other forums to discuss issues that inside the country you cannot discuss, and people are starting internet-based radio [stations].

Another avenue is supporting the decrepit political opposition group that exists. The US for instance has a long history and tradition of supporting political parties, in places like Cuba, Venezuela. Equatorial Guinea needs that. Equatorial Guinea needs [organisations like] the National Institute for Democracy and International Republican Institute to find creative ways of working with the opposition inside… if you are going to continue to do business with Obiang, you should be able to make that contingent on having a radio [station] or something that allows for freedom of expression inside the country.

Qorvis and its shameful work for Equatorial Guinea

The work by American PR firm Qorvis for the government of Equatorial Guinea is what Teju Cole would call surrealistan.

Qorvis runs the @EGEmbassy twitter handle, and just tweeted the following:

Tweet from twitter handle run by Equatorial Guinea's PR firm, Qorvis.

Tweet from twitter handle run by Equatorial Guinea’s PR firm, Qorvis.

 

 

 

 

The link is to a YouTube video from the account FocusWashington.com. What is FocusWashington.com, you might ask? It’s a site run by Qorvis to publish videos like this one.

qorvis2

What shows up on the tab when you open focuswashington.com

In the 8 minute video, the interviewer, Chuck Conconi, a Qorvis vice chairman who used to be a legitimate journalist, throws softball questions to the ambassador of Equatorial Guinea to the US such as: “Since there has been petroleum there have been many accomplishments. What have your accomplishments been?” The ambassador says that since 1979 one of the biggest accomplishments has been education. What does he mean by this? He means that the country has sent hundreds of people to universities abroad. I will note here that according to UNDP the mean number of years of schooling of Equatoguinean adults is 5.4 years.

Conconi, who honestly should be ashamed of himself, says, at one point, “So I assume you would use this as the kind of advice you would give to other developing countries on what to do?” (As a not-so-random aside: Life expectancy in Equatorial Guinea? 51.4 years.)

Conconi asks: “Your president made legal reform a priority. What have been some of the most significant reforms?” The ambassador says the biggest reform is the new constitution. This constitution, he does not mention, was passed amid wide allegations of voter fraud and lifted the age limit for presidents, which will allow Obiang (who has been in office for almost 35 years) to run again. Conconi, of course, asks no follow ups. The ambassador concludes by saying: “The principal of rule of law is fully observed and respected,” and the interview ends there.

Watch the interview here:

My previous post on Qorvis and Equtorial Guinea is here.

U.S. Human Rights Report on Equatorial Guinea

The State Department’s Human Rights Reports on Equatorial Guinea are among the most fact-filled open-source documents on the country that exist. The 2013 report, which came out two months ago, is full of countless examples of human rights abuses that are otherwise impossible to find out about, given the lack of any independent media in the country.

On unlawful killings:

On August 21, police shot and killed a taxi driver after he did not pull over
immediately when flagged down at a checkpoint. The driver had already stopped
when he was shot. The police officer was awaiting trial at year’s end.

No action was taken to end impunity for arbitrary killings from 2012, including
those of Nigerian citizen Prince Mathew Adekanmi and Malian citizens Oumar
Kone and Alit Togo.

Given the lack of independent media, harassment of opposition leaders is the opposite of subtle, as there is no fear of domestic of international embarrassment. The government beats protest organizers and then interviews them on TV.

A big theme is harassment of foreigners. The government extorts from them, arrests them, deports them (and makes foreigners pay for these costs) and sometimes deports them to a country that is not their home country.

And apparently the government has started to play around with internet censorship:

The government appeared to block access to websites maintained by the domestic
political opposition and exiled groups and to social media in the months leading up
to the May elections. Users attempting to access these sites were redirected to the
government’s official press website.

Subtle.

Bizarrely pro-Equatorial Guinea editorial

A Spanish news site, elmundofinanciero.com, has a bizarrely positive editorial on Equatorial Guinea. An excerpt (as translated by Google):

Equatorial Guinea has earned freehand a growing recognition in the area of the Central Foreign Affairs, and has not been precisely with the aid of Spain. Advances in electrification, water or social housing are notorious [sic?], being one of the neighboring countries that has advanced rapidly in recent years. It is also the only one that has succeeded in controlling pandemics such as malaria, or who has achieved a high dimension of child schooling. Equatorial Guinea faces a promising future [...]

I wonder what role EG’s PR firm had to play in this…There’s also an extremely positive response in the comments from someone named “Joaquin.”

Equatorial Guinea president’s son under formal investigation in France

The president of Equatorial Guinea’s son, Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue, has been placed under formal investigation by the French government for money laundering.

The Equatoguinean government released a statement on their blogspot.com blog, possibly the only post on that blog that has ever been written by an Equatoguinean and not an American PR firm.

The government’s position has nothing to do with the money laundering claim. Rather they argue Obiang has diplomatic immunity and that there is a protection of property agreement between France and Equatorial Guinea.

More in a Human Rights Watch press statement here. A press release from SHERPA, the French NGO that originally filed the legal complaint is here. If you read French, I think this article has more details on holes in Obiang’s defense; Google translate has trouble with legal phrases.

His French lawyer is Emmanuel Marsigny, who has been representing him since at least 2012.  Marsigny founded a firm that specializes in part in “foreign corruption and money laundering.”

The Equatorial Guinea government press release ends, without irony: “We have always trusted the justice system and the presumption of innocence.”

How American PR firms work for African dictatorships

Equatorial Guinea makes extensive use of American PR firms. (Follow links here for examples.) Up until recently (and maybe still?), they worked with Qorvis. Qorvis’ reported activities on behalf of Equatorial Guinea to the Department of Justice from a few years ago are here (starting on pdf page 31; h/t ThinkProgress). Qorvis appears to have had hundreds of meetings and other interactions with US-based reporters to discuss Equatorial Guinea in 2011 alone.

Excerpt from Qorvis' report on activities they conducted on behalf of the Government of Equatorial Guinea.

Excerpt from Qorvis’ report on activities they conducted on behalf of the Government of Equatorial Guinea. Here they note all of the news outlets they sent a press release to.

Qorvis also reports that they “corrected errors and provided factual content for blogs and internet databases.” Someone from Qorvis has responded in some way to virtually every blog post or Tweet I have ever written on Equatorial Guinea. They have also responded to comments I have made on other sites. Someone from Qorvis who follows me on Twitter used to re-tweet tweets I would write that were unrelated to Equatorial Guinea, seemingly trying to ingratiate himself with me so that I would engage with him more on Equatorial Guinea. 

I think Qorivs is required to report literally every expense associated with foreign government consulting. Below they report a GoDaddy.com charge, which I suspect is for this site which I think they started up a few years ago, along with iPhone charges for the specific person who would often reach out to me to discuss my blog posts or tweets. Go America and our Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 for requiring this degree of financial reporting!

Qorvis expenses associated with consulting for Government of Equatorial Guinea

Qorvis expenses associated with consulting for Government of Equatorial Guinea

 

2 years ago Global Voices picked up a blog post I did on Equatorial Guinea. I had noted that there was a fear among African immigrants in EG that the government would crack down on illegal immigration following the Africa Cup of Nations. Here a seemingly innocuous comment from a Qorvis employee.

2 years ago Global Voices picked up a blog post I did on Equatorial Guinea. I had noted that there was a fear among African immigrants in EG that the government would crack down on illegal immigration following the Africa Cup of Nations. Here a seemingly innocuous comment from a Qorvis employee.

Based on this Reuters article, Equatorial Guinea’s new PR firm is Richard Attias and Associates.

The perils of working with Obiang’s son

Roberto Berardi, an Italian business partner of the Equatoguinean president’s son (Teodoro Obiang) has been sentenced to over 2 years in prison on Equatorial Guinea’s mainland. The partner was arrested after broaching with Teodoro the issue of US asset forfeiture against Teodoro’s US-based properties. Teodoro was perhaps afraid Berardi would testify against him in the future. Berardi is allegedly being held in solitary confinement and tortured. via the World Organisation Against Torture:

According to the information received, Mr Roberto Berardi, business partner of Mr Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mangue, Second Vice President of Equatorial Guinea and President Obiang’s eldest son, was arrested without a warrant late at night on 18 January 2013 at his home in Bata. He was held without charges for 21 days during which he was subjected to violence and denied access to a lawyer and family members. Mr Roberto Berardi was only later informed that his business partner had accused him of misappropriation, swindling and fraud of their company assets, Eloba Constuccuion S.A., which is operating in the construction sector. On 26 August 2013, the Bata Provincial Court sentenced him to 2 years and 4 months imprisonment for misappropriation. His trial was reportedly marred by irregularities.

According to the same information received, Mr Roberto Berardi had found out early 2013 about the asset forfeiture action by the United States Department of Justice against the US-based properties that his business partner had purchased by using accounts in Equatorial Guinea banks in the name of Eloba Construccion. Mr Roberto Berardi had subsequently raised the issue with his partner Mr Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mangue. There are reasons to believe that Mr Roberto Berardi could be a very damaging witness in the US investigation and was therefore arrested and imprisoned.

The battle to succeed Obiang in Equatorial Guinea

Africa Confidential on Equatorial Guinea [gated]:

In May 2012, Obiang appointed a new government and started a constitutional row. By naming his son [Téodorin] vice-president, Obiang would have made Téodorin his official successor. Instead. he named two vice-presidents, Téodorin and the former Prime Minister, Ignacio Milam Tang. Téodorin is Vice-President for National Defence and State Security, but government press releases named Tang constitutional successor.

[...]

Constancia Mangue Nsue Okomo, another of Obiang’s wives, is a driving force behind Téodorin’s takeover bid. She is younger than her husband and has a network of businesses to protect. Outside the family, no one has dared to raised their head above the parapet.

Statement on upcoming elections in Equatorial Guinea

Amnesty International, Equatorial Guinea Justice, and Human Rights Watch have issued a joint statement on the upcoming Equatoguinean elections. The election environment appears so textbook-dictatorship it’s almost not interesting. I’m sure there is heterogeneity amongst these authoritarian electoral strategies, but to someone who doesn’t know much about this it seems pretty cliche to me. One interesting thing to note: there is a fear that foreign journalists might get denied visas. But Americans don’t need visas! So American journalists should be able to enter the country without trouble. It’s not very expensive to get there either. Go!

The May 26 elections will include voting for local council members and a new parliament, including for the first time 55 senators (Obiang appoints an additional 15 senators).

It doesn’t matter what happens on May 26. There is simply no way the elections can be considered free based on the current state of the media (virtually no way to hear or see any message that criticizes the government in the country except via the internet); the ruling party’s ability to use state resources for the campaign; the fear that you and your family won’t get government jobs if you publicly support either of the two parties that are not part of the ruling coalition etc. etc. etc.

Some highlights from the report:

The country has no independent and impartial body to oversee the electoral process or consider election-related complaints. The National Election Commission is controlled by the ruling party and is headed by the interior minister, a prominent member of the governing party.

[...]

[Election] observers will be permitted to travel to witness the vote only “in accordance with the program established for that purpose by the government” (arts. 11, 12, and 18).

Their [election observers'] ability to speak to the “official news media” about their “activities” during voting is subject to approval by the Information Ministry (art. 21).