A policy of plunder: the development and normalisation of neo-patrimonialism in Equatorial Guinea

Foot, Anne (2014-04)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2014

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Equatorial Guinea has, since the mid-1990s, been an oil-rich state. With the highest GDP per capita it should be a continental leader in terms of development. Instead, it ranks in one of the worst positions on the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI). This study employs the theory of neopatrimonialism to explain why such a discrepancy in these development indicators is evident. As a result of examining the post-independence regimes in Equatorial Guinea through the theoretical lens of neo-patrimonialism it is possible to conclude that the country is afflicted by a governance curse, rather than the more narrowly defined ‘resource curse’ that has become the central explanation of the situation in the country since the discovery of oil favoured by the existing literature on the subject. Instead, this study highlights the fact that the neo-patrimonial nature of the regime in Equatorial Guinea has developed steadily over the years since independence was granted by Spain in 1968, and indeed, the seeds of this system were in fact evident during Spanish colonial control. Whilst the existing literature has focused on the role of oil in explaining the dire state that Equatorial Guinea finds itself in, this study argues that there are other central factors that need to be examined. These include: the Spanish colonial legacy that led the way for such a system to take root; the role of the first post-independence president, Macías Nguema (1968-1979) and; the regime of Obiang Nguema (1979- present). By looking at these factors in addition to the role of oil it is possible to conclude that the neo-patrimonial system in place in Equatorial Guinea has much deeper roots than the existing literature acknowledges. It is vital to examine these deeper roots in order to discover an understanding of and effective solution to the current situation. Moreover, through examining the central features and operations of the ‘predatory’ neo-patrimonial regime in Equatorial Guinea, most notably the profligate spending and evident capital flight, it is possible to acknowledge the international nature of the problem: a factor that has heretofore been neglected in the literature. A greater focus on this issue is necessary in order to understand why the regime is sustained and what prospects there can be for future regime change. The outcomes of the study suggest that a ‘predatory’ neo-patrimonial regime is the central explanation for how the political sphere operates in Equatorial Guinea. This means that there can be no distinction made between the central features of the state and the personal property of those that rule it. It is a classic, modern-day example of ‘L’État c’est moi’. As such, the Nguema family have since independence treated the state resources as their own private property to do with as they wish. This means that there has been no attention paid to the development of Equatorial Guinea as it is not in the interests of the ruling elites to do so. Instead, they utilise state resources for their own self-enrichment. Such behaviour accounts for why despite having the highest GDP per capita on the African continent, Equatorial Guinea has such a low rank in the UNDP Human Development Index. It can therefore be concluded that Equatorial Guinea is affected by a governance curse that has decimated the state since independence, rather than the popularised theory of a ‘resource curse’ which has been used in explanations since the discovery of oil in the mid-1990s. iii

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Ekwatoriaal-Guinee is reeds sedert die middel negentigerjare ’n olieryke staat. Met die hoogste BBP per capita behoort dit die leier op die vasteland te wees wat ontwikkeling betref. Dit beklee egter een van die laagste plekke op die menslike ontwikkelingsindeks (HDI) van die Verenigde Nasies se Ontwikkelingsprogram (UNDP). In hierdie studie is die teorie van neopatrimonialisme gebruik in ’n poging om die teenstrydigheid in hierdie ontwikkelingsaanwysers te verklaar. Op grond van ’n ondersoek van die regimes na onafhanklikheid in Ekwatoriaal- Guinee deur die teoretiese lens van neopatrimonialisme kan die gevolgtrekking gemaak word dat die land onder ’n regeringsvloek gebuk gaan, eerder as die eng gedefinieerde ‘hulpbronvloek’ wat die vernaamste verklaring geword het vir die situasie in die land sedert die ontdekking van olie, soos in die huidige literatuur oor die onderwerp aangevoer word. Hierdie studie beklemtoon hierteenoor die feit dat die neopatrimoniale aard van die regime in Ekwatoriaal-Guinee met verloop van tyd ontwikkel het sedert Spanje die land in 1968 onafhanklik verklaar het. Die sade van hierdie stelsel was inderwaarheid reeds sigbaar tydens Spaanse koloniale beheer. Waar die bestaande literatuur fokus op die rol van olie in die verklaring van die nypende toestand waarin Ekwatoriaal-Guinee verkeer, word in hierdie studie aangevoer dat ander kernfaktore ook ondersoek moet word. Dit sluit in die Spaanse koloniale erfenis wat die weg gebaan het vir die groei van so ’n stelsel; die rol van die eerste president na onafhanklikwording, Macias Nguema (1968–1979); en die regime van Obiang Nguema (1979 – tans). Deur hierdie faktore tesame met die rol van olie in oorweging te bring, kan die gevolgtrekking gemaak word dat die neopatrimoniale stelsel in Ekwatoriaal-Guinee veel dieper wortels het as wat in die bestaande literatuur erken word. Die ondersoek van hierdie dieper wortels is noodsaaklik ten einde begrip van en doeltreffende oplossings vir die huidige situasie te verkry. Deur die ondersoek van die kernfaktore en -bedrywighede van die ‘roofsugtige’ neopatrimoniale regime in Ekwatoriaal-Guinee, vernaamlik die roekelose verkwistinge en sigbare kapitaaluitvloei, is dit moontlik om die internasionale aard van die probleem te identifiseer – ’n faktor wat tot op hede in die literatuur nagelaat is. Groter fokus op hierdie kwessie is nodig ten einde te begryp waarom die regime volgehou word en watter vooruitsigte daar is vir toekomstige regimeverandering. Die uitkomste van hierdie studie doen aan die hand dat ’n ‘roofsugtige’ neopatrimoniale regime inderwaarheid die vernaamste verklaring is vir die werking van die politieke sfeer in Ekwatoriaal-Guinee. Dit beteken dat geen onderskeid getref kan word tussen die kerneienskappe van die staat en die persoonlike eiendom van diegene in bewind nie. Dit is ’n klassieke, hedendaagse voorbeeld van ‘L’Etat c’est moi’. As sodanig hanteer die Nguema-familie sedert onafhanklikwording die staat se hulpbronne as hul eie private eiendom wat hulle na willekeur aanwend. Dit beteken dat geen aandag gegee word aan die ontwikkeling van Ekwatoriaal-Guinee nie, aangesien dit nie in die belange van die heersende elite is om dit te doen nie, en hulle staatshulpbronne vir selfverryking gebruik. Sodanige gedrag verklaar die land se lae posisie op die UNDP se HDI. Die gevolgtrekking kan dus gemaak word dat Ekwatoriaal-Guinee onder ’n staatsvloek ly, wat die staat sedert onafhanklikwording afmaai, eerder as die gewilde teorie van ’n ‘hulpbronvloek’.

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