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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 March, 2004, 09:50 GMT
Profile: Equatorial Guinea's great survivor
By Nicholas Shaxson
Journalist specialising in the Gulf of Guinea countries

Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
President Obiang is serving a third seven-year term
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, who says he has just foiled a coup plot by foreign mercenaries, is one of the great survivors among Africa's leaders.

Since he overthrew his bloodthirsty uncle Macias Nguema in a military coup in 1979, President Obiang claims to have survived numerous coup attempts over the years.

Now, oil production is rising fast, but this has not, apparently, helped him preserve stability in this former Spanish colony.

He won the last two presidential elections, in 1998 and 2002, with over 98% of the vote, and if you attend his rallies, you might almost believe he is that popular.

Huge crowds in the capital Malabo wait for hours in the sun to see him, then raise their fists and cheer wildly when the great leader speaks.


But locals will tell you - quietly that it is not so much affection, as fear, that motivates these public shows of support.

Protected for years by Moroccan bodyguards, President Obiang has presided over several waves of repression.

A badly-scarred man told me how the president's soldiers cut his ears off with scissors.

Some brave local opposition officials describe killings and torture in prisons, often after alleged coup plots they say are fabricated, to justify crackdowns.


Despite his brutal reputation, President Obiang is different in person.

Children playing in Equatorial Guinea
The benefits of oil have been slow to trickle down
At rallies he favours relaxed baseball caps and scarves in ruling party colours, and he hands out wheelchairs for the sick.

In interviews he prefers dark, sober suits and he is calm and measured; sometimes he speaks so quietly you have to lean forwards to hear him.

Faced with a difficult question, he will not get angry but arch his eyebrows quizzically, patiently denying abuses or blaming his enemies for planting misinformation.

What has struck me is President Obiang's apparent lack of concern about his image overseas.

Before the 2002 elections I asked him why so much public oil money had apparently disappeared.

This, he said simply, was a state secret. He did not have to tell anyone where it had gone.

Family ties

President Obiang has put close family in the key positions of power and local politics has recently been dominated by tensions between his son Teodorin, and other close relatives with powerful positions in the security forces.

Perhaps oil has given him a new source of strength that enables him to rely less on the family than before.

This shift, some say, may have stoked anger in his clan.

The thwarting of the latest apparent coup attempt has preserved his position for now, but the family tensions still simmer.

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