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Wednesday, 27 November, 2002, 09:42 GMT
Equatorial Guinea leader offers voters oil
President Theodoro Obiang Nguema
President Obiang keeps a close eye on the opposition

Presidential elections are due in Equatorial Guinea on 15 December, and last week President Theodoro Obiang Nguema launched his official campaign.

The time of the fat cows is here, because this is our prosperity

President Obiang Nguema
President Nguema came to power in 1979 after staging a coup.

At the last presidential elections in 1996, president Nguema won 99% of the vote.

This time, President Nguema is telling the voters that he should be voted back in for another seven years because he has brought foreign companies to the country.

This is because United States companies have made a series of large oil discoveries off the coast since the late 1990s and the president feels this is all due to him.

'Times of plenty'

President Obiang Nguema has little reason to fear losing power at these elections.

He has been taking personal credit for the oil money now cascading into his country, and in a speech in Malabo last week at the official start of his campaign, he told a cheering crowd that the times of plenty had arrived at last.

He compared the new situation to the dreams of the Egyptian pharaohs of ancient times.

"In the sacred story when the Pharaoh had the dream, he said: There'll be fat cows, which will represent times of abundance. And then, other thin cows will eat the fat cows, representing the times of hunger," he said.

"Now we've passed the area of the thin cows. The time of the fat cows is here, because this is our prosperity."

Veiled threats

But aside from the oil, Mr Obiang has other reasons to be confident.

The top political posts in Equatorial Guinea are held by members of his family, and the only opponents with any real following are in exile in Europe or in prison.

At last week's rally, flanked by Moroccan bodyguards and gun-toting members of his family, Mr Obiang made veiled threats against his opponents, suggesting that they might leave the country or even be chased from their homes.

Slum area of Equatorial Guinea
Some people have not benefited from the oil bonanza

"You can go out, they're singing, but how can you sing when at home there are people who are not good? First, you must clean your house, because when your house is clean, everyone will have a clean vote."

After the rally, the president spoke to me and another journalist.

Before being allowed to see him, his bodyguards checked my camera for booby traps and even unscrewed my pens to look inside.

But we did not have to wait long for him, and when he arrived, Mr Obiang was relaxed and cheerful.

Family business

He denied reports that his security forces used torture in mass trials earlier this year following an alleged coup plot, which opposition officials say was fabricated to justify a crackdown ahead of these elections.

These reports, Mr Obiang said, were cooked up by a malicious press in Spain, the former colonial power.

The coup plot, he said, was a terrorist attempt to kill him and those around him.

Social security headquarters
Impressive structures seem important to those at the top

We also asked why his family had so much power.

He replied that his own safety could not be entrusted to foreigners.

"But who are these foreigners?" we asked, reminding him that his own bodyguards include Moroccan soldiers.

Ah no, he replied, when he said foreigners, he was talking about people who are not from his own family.

Supremely confident, Mr Obiang was not embarrassed to have won 99% at the last election in 1996 and gave no hint whether that kind of score might be repeated this time.

It is not up to him, he said, to order a reduction of the number of votes in his favour.

See also:

13 Nov 02 | Business
04 Apr 02 | Business
29 Jun 02 | Country profiles
29 Jun 02 | Africa
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