Equatorial Guinea: The Obiang family’s secret agreement over the presidential election

By Jeune Afrique

Posted on Thursday, 29 September 2022 11:19
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo at the PDGE congress in Bata, 22 November 2021. ©Steve Jordan/AFP

Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has formalised his candidacy for a new term in the 20 November elections. The result of a secret agreement between the president and his son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, his announced successor. A glimpse behind the scenes.

After many months of negotiations, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has put an end to the suspense. Equatorial Guinea’s head of state, who has been in power since 1979, will run for a new presidential term on 20 November. On 23 September, the elected representatives of the ruling Parti démocratique de Guinée équatoriale (PDGE) unanimously chose him as their candidate.

Three days earlier, a decree issued by the presidency of the republic had formalised the date of the election. It has been brought forward to November and will now coincide with the legislative and local elections. To justify this move, Obiang invoked the economic crisis, which he attributed to “the war in Ukraine” and “the Covid pandemic”.

According to our sources, this new timetable is actually the result of a compromise within the president’s family, after several months of discussions. In November 2021, the last PDGE congress was indeed the scene of a fracture between supporters of maintaining Obiang’s power and those in favour of the accession to the presidency by his son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, also known as Teodorín, currently vice-president in charge of defence.

Two family clans

The latter had been hoping for the nomination as candidate for the country’s top job. After intense lobbying within the party, with the help of the networks of his mother, First Lady Constancia Mangue de Obiang, he failed. The appointment was postponed with the agreement of the president himself, whose family – notably his brother Armengol Ondo Nguema, former defence minister – oppose Teodorín’s ambitions.

Since then, the two clans have been trying to find a compromise, one arguing for continuity and the other for renewal. Teodorín has become increasingly present on the international scene, multiplying meetings with diplomats and businessmen in order to improve his reputation, tainted by a conviction in France in a case of ill-gotten goods. Which of course provides fodder to his detractors, who see him as a threat to the country’s stability.

PDGE Secretary General Jerónimo Osa Osa Ecoro has been at the forefront in terms of finding common ground between Armengol Ondo Nguema and Constancia de Obiang. Close to both the first lady and Teodorín, while remaining a loyal collaborator of the president, Ecoro was partly responsible for the solution that emerged: proceeding with early elections and getting the president to organise the handover of power to his son within a reasonable period of time.

Early succession

Teodorín has indeed obtained assurances from his father that the latter will step down and hand power to him within one to two years. As vice-president, Teodorín would first serve as interim president before organising an election in which he would be the PDGE candidate. “This will allow us to prepare the succession more calmly and to work on Teodorín’s image, to give him credibility,” confided a source close to the ruling party.

The president himself is well aware he is not eternal.

Has the principle of a handover already been approved? “Of course, promises can always be broken, but, unless the situation changes, the succession seems inevitable. In November 2021, Teodorín’s opponents scored points by delaying the deadline. His supporters have just retaliated by obtaining this agreement and by pushing the presidential forward”, says a diplomatic source in Malabo.

Once thought to be a contender, Teodorín’s half-brother, Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima, who was notably in the good graces of Armengol Ondo Nguema, is no longer in the race. “No one can contest Teodorin’s succession today,” concludes our source close to the PDGE.

“His networks and those of the first lady have locked up the political game. Speeding up the calendar is a symbol of their influence. Teodorín believes he has been waiting too long and, for his part, the president is well aware that he is not eternal”.

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