On December 27, 2017, thirty eight heavily armed men were taken into custody in Cameroon, at the border with Equatorial Guinea. Reports indicate that the men were mercenaries, armed with rocket launchers and heavy assault weapons and were en route to unseat Africa’s longest ruling head of state, Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
The State Security Minister, Nicholas Obama Nchama, stated on public radio that “Mercenaries… were recruited by Equatorial Guinean militants from certain radical opposition parties with the support of certain powers.” The Minister noted the plot had been foiled due to collaboration with Cameroon security services.
This attempt follows arrests on December 24 of the country’s Ambassador to Chad Enrique Nsue Anguesom, along with Chadian, Sudanese and Central African citizens on suspicion of plotting a coup. Mr. Nchama, stated a group of Chadians, Sudanese, and Central Africans “infiltrated Kye Ossi, Ebibeyin, Mongomo, Bata and Malabo to attack the head of state, who was in the Koete Mongomo presidential palace for the year-end holiday [sic].”
Chad’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Mahamat Zene Cherif, stated that the coup attempts in December were “not just an affair that only concerns Equatorial Guinea,” but a “major threat” to the sub region of Central Africa. He went on to state that the 60 Chadians arrested during the attempts are mercenaries “and should be treated as such.”
The United Nations has dispatched its West Africa envoy to Equatorial Guinea.
The Role of Corruption
Corrupt control over Equatorial Guinea’s globally significant oil deposits by the ruling elite has been a defining feature of the politics in one of Africa’s wealthiest countries. The widespread looting of state resources helps explain why in spite of its comparably high GDP per capita in Sub-Saharan Africa, 44 percent of Equatorial Guinea’s population lives in poverty.
The extent of corruption in Equatorial Guinea was most recently illustrated in a French court, when Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the President’s son and current Vice President, was convicted in including a $120 million yacht, a $28 million Parisian property, and a fleet of rare cars. In 2014 US authorities seized $30 million of Mangue’s assets.
Corruption also extends to the country’s electoral processes and is often accompanied by a crackdown on dissent. This was recently evident after the 12th of November 2017 legislative elections that the ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea won with 92 percent of the vote in an election deemed fraudulent by the Citizens for Innovation opposition party. The ruling party responded by arresting 50 opposition members in the capital city of Malabo and the port city of Bata.
The President Responds
Teodoro Obiang Nguema has ruled Equatorial Guinea for over 38 years, with 2016 marking the start to his sixth seven-year term. In an address on state television, he noted that his length of tenure of office might be a factor behind this latest coup attempt, stating that a “war” was being planned to oust him “because they say I have spent a lot of time in power.” He went on to state:
I want a happy transition, I do not want war. I am not in power because I want to be. When you want to, you can tell me: 'President Obiang Nguema, you have already worked a lot' and I will go away.
In the wake of the destabilization attempt, reports indicated a military presence at the opposition party’s headquarters.
History of coup d'état in Equatorial Guinea
President Nguema is no stranger to coup d'état. This is how he came to power in 1979 leading a coup against his own uncle, the independence leader President Francisco Macias Nguema. Nguema was summarily tried and executed.
The most widely publicized coup attempt took place in 2004, led by former British soldier, Briton Simon Mann, and funded by Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark Thatcher to install exiled opposition politician Severo Moto. The coup attempt was foiled when a plane full of mercenaries heading to Equatorial Guinea was intercepted in Zimbabwe by authorities. The 2004 coup plotters were prosecuted in several countries including South Africa and Zimbabwe. Some were extradited to Equatorial Guinea and after serving part of their prison sentences, were released early. Disputing claims that bribes had been paid for their early release, the Equatorial Guinea government stated the release was premised on humanitarian grounds.