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When Teodoro Obiang seized power by a putsch in Equatorial Guinea - RFI

2019-08-03T04:15:32.349Z

40 years ago today, Teodoro Obiang seized power in Malabo, ending Equatorial Guinea's "Unique Miracle". Story.


By Michel ArseneaultPosted on 03-08-2019Modified on 03-08-2019 at 06:01

40 years ago today, Teodoro Obiang seized power in Malabo, ending Equatorial Guinea's "Unique Miracle". Story.

On August 3, 1979, soldiers announced that they had overthrown the life president of Equatorial Guinea , Francisco Macias Nguema. In Malabo, people are taking to the streets to celebrate the end of their bloodthirsty regime.

The ambassador of France, the only Western ambassador living in the capital, is in the front row. His telegrams, recently "declassified" by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, shed new light on the putsch that signals the coming to power of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has become the oldest serving president in the world.

At 8 pm, Radio Malabo broadcasts a military communiqué signed by a single officer: Lieutenant-Colonel Obiang. The "number two" of the fallen regime blames the president that he has just overthrown - a distant cousin he considers an uncle - his "systematic" violations of human rights. The officer announces a new era of rights and freedoms.

Francisco Macías Nguema, "father" of independence became effective in October 1968, the first elected president, is on the run. The " coup d'état of freedom, " as the supporters of the new junta say, provokes scenes of jubilation in the capital. " If the soldiers crisscross the city, people noisily show their joy in the street by lacerating the portraits of the president (Macías), " said Ambassador Hubert Cornet in a telegram for the Quai d'Orsay.

Under the former head of state, one in 500 people was executed, according to Amnesty International. 12-year-old boys were enlisted in the army. Out of a population of about 380,000 people, a quarter exiled, including Spain, the former colonial power. Francisco Macías, capable of all excesses, went so far as to ban Catholicism. His regime is officially atheist, but in fact, Equatorial Guinea is under the yoke of the cult of its president. Francisco Macías even gave his name to the island of Bioko (formerly Fernando Po) ...

In these times of cold war, Equatorial Guinea, though a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, is close to the Eastern bloc. Trawlers fishing in its waters are Soviet. The guard of the " Gran Camarada " is Cuban. In the statement read on Radio Malabo, a detail is not immune to attentive listeners: the term "comrade", hitherto attached to the official titles, has been removed.

Hope blooms in a capital without water

The cathedral, closed for ten years, is reopened. Catholics flock there to have their children baptized. Under the old regime, those who still wanted to give Christian names to their children were fined.

In 1979, Teodoro Obiang, the former confidant of Francisco Macías, inherits a country on the brink. The economy is bloodless. Since independence, cocoa production - which was considered one of the best in the world - has been divided by nine. That of coffee has almost disappeared. The officials have not been paid for months. The central post office is closed. The director of the Central Bank was tortured in full view of everyone behind the Panafrica Hotel in Bata - the only hotel in the country, with the exception of Bahia, in Malabo.

In the capital, there is no electricity for nearly a year. In the taps, the water runs for one hour a day. A foreign visitor will say of the largely depopulated capital, a city whose houses are in good condition, however, that it gives the impression of having been struck by the plague. Ambassador Cornet summarizes in his own way the Macías era: " Eleven years of aberration, obscurantism and regression. "

The pronunciamiento pushes the president, who lives entrenched in his native village of Nsangayong for five years, to flee towards Gabon. But when Loyalist troops understand that they are not fighting foreign invaders - as Francisco Macías has made them believe - but insurgents, they desert. The Cuban and North Korean instructors who supervise them can do nothing for the " Steel Leader ".

The coup d'état is wrongly presented as a bloodless coup. But clashes between Loyalists and putschists will make 200 to 300 dead, according to Ambassador Cornet. Civilian and military prisoners were also shot. Two weeks after the coup, Francisco Macías will be captured in the forest near the border with Gabon and taken prisoner in the port city of Bata.

A trial for genocide and selfishness

Teodoro Obiang will have his predecessor tried by a military court that will sit in a Malabo cinema. Indicted at first genocide (including the murder of 441 prisoners in the prisons of Bata and Malabo) and appropriation of public funds for " selfish " purposes, he will be charged with other crimes as the trial progresses. indictment continually changing.

In the box of the defendants, the " Unique miracle " of the past has lost its beauty. " The hoarse voice, a less secure behavior (...) suggest that Francisco Macías, as affect to call the members of the tribunal, loses foot in front of the flow of accusations and testimonies which overwhelm him ", notes Hubert Cornet . The former head of state can not be disassembled however, especially since he handles with skill " the indignant conviction, the irony, the innuendos (and) a certain sense, " notes the diplomat . In order to destabilize the prosecution, the defense shows that the summary executions were lower than the figure advanced by the prosecutor and that they were the result of " junior officers " who acted on their own.

The sentence falls: the ousted president is found guilty of genocide, high treason and mass killings, among others. He is absent from the court, where a thousand people have made an appointment. " The hall (...) erupted in prolonged applause when the hearing was lifted, " said Hubert Cornet. Soldiers of the Moroccan Royal Guard, on the spot to lend a hand to Teodoro Obiang, will execute Francisco Macías and six acolytes, the same afternoon. It is September 29, 1979.

The " warmest congratulations " from Europe

The European Economic Community , which has suspended its cooperation programs (at the instigation of the United Kingdom), is enthusiastic about Lieutenant-Colonel Obiang. " Wholeheartedly with the Guinean people ," Claude Cheysson, European Commissioner for Development (and future French Minister of Foreign Affairs), sent a telegram to Teodoro Obiang to express his " warmest congratulations " only five days after the coup 'State.

France, more cautious, will eleven days to make known its intention to " collaborate " with the new authorities. Seen from Paris, do not hang around, either ... Spain, we think the Quai d'Orsay, will try to take advantage of the arrival to power of a new team to advance its pawns.

Two months after the coup, Paris sends to Malabo his Minister of Cooperation, Robert Galley, the man who represented France at the coronation of Emperor Bokassa in the Central African Republic in 1977. In a country " at the edge of the "Abyss ", the situation " exceeds all that I have seen so far in Africa in terms of deprivation and latent terror ," he wrote to President Valery Giscard d'Estaing.

The minister takes advantage of his stay to remind his guests of the interest that France has in petroleum permits and mineral exploration. " We know that very serious indices of uranium, gold, tantalum and large deposits of anthracite have already been discovered, " he said in his letter to Valéry Giscard d'Estaing .

Teodoro Obiang sees no objection to the coming together between Paris and Malabo. On the contrary. A few days after his coup, the new strong man was already communicating with President Giscard d'Estaing to show him admiration for what France had done in her colonies. Difficult to stand out more clearly from Macías, an anti-colonial activist!

France will soon invite to Paris the second vice-president of the new regime, Captain Salvador Ela Nseng, a former director of the prison of Bata. Descended to the hotel de Crillon, a Parisian palace, he will visit the castle of Versailles in the company of a cadre of ... the oil company Elf Aquitaine.

"He was crying bitterly"

Before his trial in Malabo, deposed President Francisco Macias was detained for a few days in a prison in the port city of Bata. Despite their Cuban and North Korean instructors, the soldiers who remained loyal to him failed to prevent his capture, near the border with Gabon, on August 18, 1979.

Injured by bullets in the left arm, the " Gran Camarada " sees and hears more and more badly. Lieutenant Pedro Esono Masie, an officer who lives in exile in the United States today, is one of the soldiers in charge of the surveillance. He remembers a broken man who was angry with the people of Mongomo District who, in his eyes, allowed Obiang to come to power.

" He was crying bitterly, he was crying, and he cursed the people of Mongomo," recalls Pedro Esono. He said that the people of Mongomo would be cursed until the end of time if they did not get rid of Teodoro. He said it was not a way to get into power and that he was being mistreated. That's what he said crying. "

Before his totalitarian drift, Francisco Macias was democratically elected.

Follow Michel Arseneault on Twitter .

To be continued :

  • Has Teodoro Obiang been forced into a coup in Equatorial Guinea?
  • When Madrid took advantage of a putsch to return in force in Central Africa
  • Equatorial Guinea: ill-gotten power to ill-gotten gains

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