Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Christiane Amanpour Interviews Obiang

Since the opening of the 67th Session of the United Nations General Assembly last week, Equatorial Guinea's longtime dictator (33 years and counting) Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been making the rounds in the United States in an effort to burnish his image. Yesterday he sat for an interview with CNN's veteran reporter Christiane Amanpour. The video is available here.

Regarding the corruption charges in France and the United States against his son and vice president, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, President Obiang contended that these were the work of his country's enemies. (All dictators have enemies--sometimes unnamed, as in this case--who provide a rationale for repression and an excuse for external criticisms.) He said that his son's wealth was earned from businesses that he owned in Equatorial Guinea and Malaysia. In fact, according to the Justice Department's filing in its suit to recover proceeds of corruption from the younger Obiang, President Obiang granted his son a timber concession in Equatorial Guinea (involving public lands) that he then used to sell timber to a Malaysian lumber company. This arrangement continued even after the younger Obiang was appointed to the newly created position of Minister of Forestry and Environment (later designated Minister of Forestry and Agriculture), a position involving oversight of the timber industry in Equatorial Guinea.

Amanpour asked Obiang about the special referendum under which a limit of two seven-year presidential terms was added to Equatorial Guinea's constitution. Specifically, she wondered if Obiang was prepared to step down in 2016 as this new constitutional provision would seemingly require. Obiang, while noting that the law would not be retroactive (i.e., it would not apply to him), said that the people would decide. (Dictators generally promote the illusion--and sometimes come to believe themselves--that they are the embodiment of the will of the people.) Interestingly, at the United Nations Treaty Event last week, Obiang urged respect for the rule of law in his brief remarks. The government's press release about those remarks says that in Equatorial Guinea "respect for the rule of law is a firm principle and constant aspiration of the government. Upholding the law is the primary responsibility of a nation's political system."

Obiang has clearly become more comfortable addressing diplomatic gatherings and reporters, but the message, which is the same as it's always been, is the message of dictators everywhere: My people love me but everyone else is out to get me.