Small country, big money, and even bigger inequality

Image by Cody Cobb

Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue is the vice president – and the son of the president – of Equatorial Guinea, a small country on the west coast of Central Africa. Equatorial Guinea is a nation that has become one of the largest oil producers in Sub-Saharan Africa in the last two decades, and as a consequence, its GDP per capita has become the highest of the entire continent. Yet, despite the quick accumulation of wealth that invaded the country, Equatorial Guinea remains plagued by poverty: life expectancy and child mortality are below the area's average, there’s limited access to clean water, and its infrastructure is old and malfunctioning.

“Teddy”, that’s the vice president’s nickname, embodies his own country’s paradoxes: his lifestyle – nonchalantly portrayed on social media platforms – is that of a full-time jet setter: He’s flying around the world in private jets, residing in luxurious villas, and generally indulging in a lot of parties with a lot of champagne. Theoretically, there would be nothing wrong with living a life of expensive vices and extravagant pleasures, if the wealth involved wasn't directly responsible for his country’s financial depression.

In 2009 the New York Times published an article questioning the vice president’s right to enter the US border to vacate in his $35 million estate in Malibu, California. Just five years prior, the United States Senate has in fact investigated Riggs Bank, a bank from Washington where the Equatorial Guinea's oil revenues were paid until some time ago (Riggs Bank also banked Chile's long-time dictator Augusto Pinochet). The Senate’s investigation revealed that at least $35 million was taken by the Obiang family and regime senior officials for their own personal purposes.

The story of Nguema Obiang living the life of a spoiled billionaire – which he is – isn’t a particularly unique case of evident political corruption. Dictators living lavish lifestyles thanks to the exploitation of their country’s resources, is an unfortunate old tale. We’ve heard, and we continue to hear, many stories like the this one, many countries in the world have their own Obiang; only some aren't as visible. It’s undeniable, though, that the case of Equatorial Guinea strikes for its characteristics, for the wealth gap that resides between the nation’s population and the nation’s government, for the unashamed boasting of the leader's exploitation and for the little interventions from international forces to slow down the Obiang family’s long-term dictatorship.