Ruler beset by 'corruption and abuse' wins another term

World Focus: Equatorial Guinea
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The Independent Online

Possibly the least surprising result in a year of predictable elections in Africa was another victory for Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

Admittedly, the brutal autocrat, who has ruled the oil-rich West African nation for 30 years, lost votes – but only in so much as his share of the vote slipped from 97 per cent to 96.7 per cent. Even this setback is open to question as yesterday's provisional results in the capital Malabo were announced with only a quarter of the returns counted.

It was another election in which the voters had a gun held to their heads – literally, in the case of one opposition official, who had a pistol applied to his temple to encourage him to sign off on rigged returns.

Foreign observers and media were kept out of the former Spanish colony but the opposition Convergence for Social Democracy claimed wholesale abuses took place, while witnesses reported military presence on the street and a low turnout.

The electoral charade confirms another seven-year term for Obiang, whose government is rated by Human Rights Watch as "one of the most abusive and corrupt in the world". It offers further time to entrench the extraordinary wealth which flows from the third largest oil exporter in Africa into the private coffers of the president's inner circle. And it confirms the nature of Western relations with oppressive African regimes.

US Justice Department memos leaked to the New York Times recently revealed that the president's son and agriculture minister has transferred at least $73m (£44m)into America to pay for a $35m Malibu mansion and private jet. Teodoro Obiang Nguema junior is said to have imposed a tax on timber payable not to the national treasury but directly to him.

Whereas the US has visa travel bans imposed on officials from Zimbabwe and Kenya, the Equatorial Guinea leadership travel to the US dozens of times each year. Former US ambassador to Malabo, John Bennett, said that if Harare had oil the doors to the US would be open to the Mugabes as well.

"Both countries are severely repressive," Mr Bennett told the New York Times. "But if Zimbabwe had Equatorial Guinea's oil, Zimbabwean officials wouldn't still be blocked from the US."

US oil giants ExxonMobil, Hess and Marathon are joined by Dutch giant Shell and Brazil's Petrobras among the companies making millions along with the Obiang family. Even the former SAS soldier Simon Mann is set for a windfall on book rights for the story of his part in the "Wonga Coup". Meanwhile the 650,000 citizens of the country continue to live in abject poverty.

However, oil production has peaked according to analysts and the windfall which should have transformed a country could be tailing off, leaving ordinary people with nothing but a place in one of the worst case studies on Africa's resource curse.