Ghana-Equatorial Guinea: Petrol deals between a democracy and a kleptocracy?

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President of Ghana, John Evans Atta Mills, recently held bilateral talks with President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea. And according to the west African country’s national newspaper, the Daily Graphic, President Mills “impressed on the central African country to share the best practices in oil and gas industry with Ghana”. This is no doubt one of the worst decisions the Ghanaian President has made yet!

“President Mills indicated that his government would be delighted to learn from Equatorial Guinea the various safeguards that Ghana should put in place to prevent misappropriation of oil revenue by people in position of trust and responsibility, as well as the various interest groups associated with the industry”, the paper, dated Wednesday December 9, quoted Mr. Koku Anyidoho, director of communications at the Ghanaian presidency, as saying. This statement does not only reveal a frightfully inaccurate analysis of Obiang’s government but also a direction that will, much sooner than later, spell doom to the laudable but young and fragile Ghanaian democracy.

The fact that President Mills is in Equatorial Guinea not only attending a questionable Presidential inauguration but also possibly signing deals with the leader of the extremely oil rich but poverty ridden country, behind closed doors, should induce panick waves and send tempers into overdrive, especially within the free Ghanaian press. Out of 175 countries, Ghana is in 27th position, and rated above some highly respected Western European countries (France for example), on the new international press freedom index. Needless to say, Equatorial Guinea is in 158th position and not far from Somalia, which takes a dismal 164th position.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has been in absolute control of Equatorial Guinea since 1979. His 2009 election “landslide” victory, as referred to by the Daily Graphic, was coldly calculated to silence the opposition, not only politically but economically as well. The local media sang “the president’s praises” whilst taking care to pay “little attention to the opposition’s activities” during the whole presidential campaign, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) indicated on November 30. In fact, in a speech ahead of what RSF termed as “closely-controlled elections”, Obiang announced that he expected no less than “97 per cent of the total votes”. Teodoro Obiang Nguema has never scored anything below 95 per cent of the votes in his country. An extraordinary feat, even by Afghanistan standards!

Equatoguineans should, normally, be among the most economically successful populations in the world given that their country sits in an enviable 29th position on the international income per capita index; a very high rank even by international standards. “In 2009, GDP per capita was estimated by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) at a staggering $39,916 dollars in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, which is among the highest in the world and on par with Spain and Italy,” Arvind Ganesan, a specialist on corporate social responsibility at Human Rights Watch, wrote in an incriminating report. The report reveals that institutional corruption is the bane of the country, and it continues to rob Equatorial Guinea of an essential economic development.

Transparency International (TI) does not hide the fact that petrol money is at the heart of Equatorial Guinea being the 12th most corrupt country in the world! An investigation carried out by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to ascertain the existence of shady deals, in 2004, revealed that a total of 700 million dollars from petroleum companies including ExxonMobil Corp, Amerada Hess Corp, ChevronTexaco, Devon Energy Corp and Marathon Oil Corp had been cashed by Obiang after his U.S. bank (Riggs Bank) blurred transfer details.

“Given Equatorial Guinea’s enormous oil wealth and its relatively small population of approximately 527,000 people, the country should be a model of development. In 1991 Equatorial Guinea had some of the worst socioeconomic indicators in the world, but given the dramatic growth in GDP it would be reasonable to expect a commensurate improvement in social indicators. Sadly, that is not the case. According to the United Nations Development Programme, as of 2009 Equatorial Guinea had the third-largest gap between its per capita GDP and its Human Development Index (HDI) score, ahead of only Botswana and South Africa,” says Arvind.

Having made so much money that could not possibly be spent by several superfluously spendthrift family generations, Obiang continues to bleed his country’s economy dry. Described as a kleptocratic president by TI, the late Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now, Democratic Republic of Congo) haboured similar cash-raking instincts; instincts that pushed him to amass wealth to the detriment of his country’s economic welfare, even when that wealth served no purpose other than fuelling the growth of Swiss Banks and thereby making the Swiss richer! A report released in 2005 indicated that for each dollar given to Africa in aid, 80 cents were stolen by corrupt leaders and transferred back into Western bank accounts! In the same year, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said that an estimated “$140 billion” has been “stolen” by “corrupt African leaders” from their people since independence. In 2004 about $94 billion was deposited into Swiss accounts, most originating from African politicians, and in 2005 the amount increased to $150 billion.

African leaders like Obiang, by virtue of their positions and national resources, continue to enrich the West while a majority of Africans either make do with less than a dollar a day or go on empty stomachs. Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the Late President Omar Bongo of Gabon, and Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso were, this year, implicated in a legal case that sought to incriminate them for their ill gotten wealth; a case brought against them by the French chapter of Transparency International. They were accused of stashing away millions of dollars in massive properties across France. Unfortunately, the case fell through due to circumstances that surpass the understanding of many analysts.

The irony of the Ghanaian government communiqué is all so glaring as we come to terms with the situation in Equatorial Guinea. It leaves a lot to worry about. Indeed, if this partnership is to “prevent misappropriation of oil revenue by people in position of trust and responsibility, as well as the various interest groups associated with the industry,” the Ghanaian government should look elsewhere. The laudable and strong Ghanaian press is duty-bound to question the Ghana-Equatorial Guinea petrol relationship, especially one that takes place behind closed doors!

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