The EU's complex and dwindling diplomatic presence in Obiang's Guinea

Malabo continues to drag its feet with the EU representative, and Spain, France and Portugal are the only European countries with an ambassador in the country
Barnuevo conversa con Obiang tras la presentación de credenciales PHOTO/MIGUEL ÁNGEL MBA ONVA/EQUIPO DE PRENSA PRESIDENCIAL

PHOTO/MIGUEL ÁNGEL MBA ONVA/PRESIDENTIAL PRESS TEAM  -   Barnuevo talks to Obiang after the presentation of credentials

Germany has just closed its embassy in Malabo and the regime continues to drag its feet over the proposed representative of the European External Action Service (EEAS). At present, only three European Union (EU) states - Spain, France and Portugal - have embassies in Equatorial Guinea, but even in these cases diplomatic relations are still pending court cases and allegations of human rights violations from these countries.

In the case of the EU, relations began to deteriorate in 2008, when Teodoro Obiang Nguema's regime entered a reservation against Article 11 of the Cotonou Agreement, which refers to the International Criminal Court and requires states to ratify the Rome Statute governing the court. Because of this reservation, Malabo's ratification of the 2000 Cotonou Agreement (signed by Equatorial Guinea in 2005 and defining trade and cooperation relations between the EU and 78 African, Caribbean and Pacific states) was rendered ineffective and Equatorial Guinea could not benefit from the tenth and eleventh European Development Funds.

For the same reason, the EU did not send a delegation to Malabo. Recently, the EEAS asked the Equatoguinean government to grant accreditation to the current EU representative in Cameroon, Philippe van Damme, but the regime continues to drag its feet and the decision is stuck in the hands of Foreign Minister Simeon Oyono Esono Angue, according to the prestigious pan-African digital newspaper Africa Intelligence on 21 July. In the meantime, the EU is represented by its delegation in Gabon and the EU is represented in Equatorial Guinea by the embassies of its member states.

At present, only three European countries have an embassy in Malabo: Spain, France and Portugal (with a diplomatic mission since 2015 and ambassador since September 2020, in the person of Frederico da Silva). The presence of only three European countries should not be surprising, given the size of the country and the possibility of representation from neighbouring countries (Malabo has barely thirty embassies, from 16 African countries and countries from other continents, such as the United States, China, North Korea, India, Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil and Turkey). The problem is that Germany, which did have an embassy, closed its representation on 15 July, after ten years in operation, as part of a process of reorganisation of German diplomatic representations in Africa.

France and Portugal

The other problem is that the presence of the three European embassies does not guarantee stable diplomatic relations, and some of them are even in serious danger of disappearing. This is the case of France, whose relations with Equatorial Guinea have deteriorated in recent years due to the proceedings brought by the French justice system against the vice-president of the government, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue (popularly known as Teodorín and son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema), for the so-called "ill-gotten gains" case. Teodorin was sentenced in 2020 by the Paris Court of Appeal to three years in prison for embezzlement of public funds.

(former minister and former spokesm The sentence is suspended, but Equatorial Guinea's ambassador to France, Miguel Oyono Ndong Mifumuan for Obiang to the Spanish press), has threatened to break diplomatic relations and close the embassy. Ambassador Olivier Brochenin was summoned last April by the Presidency of Equatorial Guinea after the French Prosecutor's Office rejected an appeal by Teodorín's defence. In any case, this situation did not prevent President Obiang himself and the French Embassy from signing an agreement in early June to increase bilateral military cooperation in the fight against terrorism and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

Things are not much better with Portugal, whose Prime Minister António Costa has demanded that Equatorial Guinea respect human rights (with special attention to the death penalty) if it wants to remain part of the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries (CPLP). "We are a community based on the values of freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and human dignity, which is absolutely incompatible with the existence of the death penalty in any of the member countries", he declared in mid-July in Lisbon on the occasion of the CPLP summit.

Spain

With regard to the former colonial metropolis, relations deteriorated considerably in 2019, when the then Spanish ambassador, Guillermo López Mac-Lellan, received at Malabo International Airport the secretary general of the opposition group Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS), Andrés Esono Ondo, who had been arrested and subsequently released in Chad on charges of acquiring "arms, ammunition and terrorists to commit a coup d'état in the Republic of Equatorial Guinea with foreign financing". The Spanish government expressed its "concern" over the arrest of Esono Ondo and the Malabo regime described this statement as "unacceptable interference".

In February 2020, the ambassador experienced another tense moment after becoming personally involved with his French and US colleagues in an operation to prevent the apparently irregular arrest of former Supreme Court President Juan Carlos Ondo Angue (son of the former Equatorial Guinean ambassador to Spain, Purificacion Angue Ondo Ondo), who is being investigated by the regime in connection with an alleged coup attempt in December 2017. The day after the events, Simeon Oyono Esono Angue denounced the "interference" of the three ambassadors "in the internal affairs of Equatorial Guinea".

These diplomatic incidents are compounded by the legal cases opened in Spain (including arrest warrants) against Cándido Nsue Okomo, resident in Dubai and brother of the first lady, Constancia Mangue Nsue Obiang, in relation to an alleged payment of 5.3 million euros to former Spanish police commissioner José Manuel Villarejo in 2013 in exchange for compromising information about Gabriel Obiang Lima, Minister of Petroleum and another son of the president (and a loyal ally of the US oil majors).

Despite the fact that Nsue Okomo is a declared political enemy of Teodorin (who has withdrawn his diplomatic immunity), the Foreign Minister (at the behest of the First Lady) met in December 2020 with Alfonso Barnuevo, Spain's ambassador since November 2020, to try to stop the extradition order requested by the Spanish justice system against Constancia Mangue's brother. Finally, the Spanish Ministry of Justice annulled the arrest warrant for Cándido Nsue Okomo on 5 January and asked Interpol (which had been asked for the international arrest warrant, executed by the Dubai police on 19 December) to release him.