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This post is joint with Julie Walz

Yesterday, the African Union chose Equatorial Guinea’s dictator of 31 years, President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, to serve as their chairman; a move that will undoubtedly undermine the AU’s attempt to bring stability to the African continent and to confront leaders who cling to power./

Obiang has been criticized for violating the basic human rights that the AU swears to uphold and is consideredone of the world’s worst dictators. Having ruled the country since 1979, Obiang claims to have won 97 percent of the vote in 2002 and 95 percent in 2009. And despite their oil wealth, the people of Equatorial Guinea have seen little benefit. Life expectancy is a mere 50 years, half of the children who live in that country do not complete primary school, and about 15 percent die before age of 5. The country ranks 118 out of 182 in the UNDP Human Development Index.

Obiang and his cronies, on the other hand, have made themselves fabulously wealthy. Reports issued by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 2004, and again in 2010, contain substantial evidence that Obiang and his family members have diverted tens of millions of dollars from their country’s natural resource earnings for their private gain.

Despite this track record, President Obiang claims that he can help Africans take the lead in resolving conflicts and instability. In his acceptance remarks, President Obiang said, “The crisis of the values of the African culture is reducing the unity and solidarity among our people. Africa must focus on the dialogue for a peaceful negotiated solution to the conflicts that ravage our towns. Africa must assume, more than ever, a leading role not just on the continent but in the international arena.”

A crisis of values indeed. It is unclear how someone with Obiang’s track record can address the ongoing crisis in Cote d’Ivoire, the deteriorating conditions in Darfur or the stalemate in Zimbabwe. In particular, he will have little credibility when confronting heads of state who have remained in power for decades, while their people have become increasingly impoverished and disenfranchised. By choosing a dictator to lead them, the members of the African Union have done themselves no favors.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.