Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Africa’s longest-serving head of state, appears poised to formally extend his rule over oil-rich Equatorial Guinea later this year. The septuagenarian strongman has confirmed his intention to run in November’s presidential election, a contest no one expects him to lose, since the political opposition is marginalized and the state is firmly under the control of Obiang and his family.
Though the election results already look certain, volatile energy revenues and Obiang’s ongoing efforts to position his son as the heir apparent threaten to jeopardize the regime’s future stability. The oil slump undermines Obiang’s long-established strategy of using petrodollars to secure greater legitimacy abroad and bolster domestic support. The troubled personal history of his son, Second Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, also known as Teodorin, coupled withTeodorin’s toxic image in the West, has reportedly raised questions among members of the elite in the capital, Malabo, over his fitness to lead. If unfavorable economic conditions persist, the Obiang regime could be riven by internal dissent, as those opposed to Teodorin seek to derail his accession.
Equatorial Guinea has only known two rulers since gaining independence from Spain in 1968: Obiang and his uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema. In governing the small Central African state as its first president, Macias—a member of the country’s largest ethnic group, the Fang—concentrated power into the hands of his kinsmen from the Esangui clan. His government violently targeted any political threats, both real and imagined, which led to thousands of deaths and economic ruin. Macias’ increasingly erratic behavior convinced Obiang and other senior officials that their benefactor had lost his mind. In an act of self-preservation, Obiang staged a coup in August 1979; a month later, Macias was sentenced to death by a special tribunal and executed.