Obiang new AU chairman


President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea has taken over chairmanship of the African Union from Malawian President Dr Bingu wa Mutharika. The rotating post of AU chairmanship has gone to the Central Africa region for the year 2011.

Delivering a speech at an event to mark the handing over, Obiang expressed his firm commitment to consolidating the economic, social and political activities for the betterment of the livelihoods of Africans, the South African state BuaNews agency reported. It added he said he would discharge responsibilities of the office with diligence and dedication.

The president told the summit that he would carry out his duty with the inherited responsibility of the commission. He called on all development partners and friends of Africa to further enhance the positive spirit they have had for the cause of Africa.

The US Bloomberg news service reported human rights groups saying the appointment undermined the 53-nation bloc’s commitment to democracy. Obiang has ruled sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth-biggest oil- producer since 1979, when he seized power from his uncle in a coup. The uncle was subsequently murdered. Obiang “won” a fourth term in elections in November 2009, securing more than 95 percent of the vote. Groups including Human Rights Watch said conditions weren’t in place for a free and fair contest, an allegation Obiang denies.

Bloomberg adds a 2004 US Senate investigation into money laundering found Washington-based Riggs Bank was holding as much as $750 million in accounts controlled by Obiang, his family members or government officials. Obiang says he is unaware of any public funds being diverted from the country and that allegations made against his government and family are untrue.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch decried the move, saying “Obiang’s leadership of Equatorial Guinea has been disastrous.” In a statement yesterday it added “For the more than 30 years that he has been in power, Equatorial Guinea has been plagued by appalling human rights violations and corruption,” with vast oil revenue being “diverted to fund lavish lifestyles for the small elite surrounding the president.”

Only 10 countries ranked below Equatorial Guinea on Transparency International’s 2010 list of global corruption perceptions. Last year, Equatorial Guinea was ejected from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, an organisation of companies, governments and civil groups that aims to clean up the oil and mining industries, for failing to meet its guidelines.

Oil revenue has given Equatorial Guinea, with a population of about 840 000, Africa’s highest gross domestic product per capita. Even so, latest World Bank data shows average life expectancy is 52 years and 81 out of every 1000 children die before the age of five. Alioune Tine, president of the Dakar, Senegal-based African Assembly for Human Rights, added to Bloomberg the AU and Africans generally did not deserve a leader “whose regime is notorious for abuses, corruption and a disregard for the welfare of its people.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese Xinhua news agency reports AU Commission chairman Jean Ping as saying the body is “closely following” the situation in Egypt. The AU “have been preoccupied with following the situation in this country (Egypt) closely,” said Ping. But he said the AU was not currently in a position to take action. “We cannot go in every country to do the job of the country. But if you have a crisis, then we (AU) are concerned and we have to give our opinion and take actions,” he said.

Tens of thousands of protesters, inspired by the Tunisian “Jasmine Revolution”, have taken to the streets in Egypt in the past few days, demanding Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the government step down. The demonstration started peacefully last Tuesday afternoon, but later turned violent. Egypt’s cabinet officially resigned during a meeting on Saturday at the request of President Mubarak. But, Mubarak, who has been in office for 30 years, refused to step down. He has instead appointed a deputy and a prime minister.

The AU summit, held under the theme “Towards Greater Unity and Integration through Shared Values”, saw Heads of State and Government from AU member states discussing issues including Africa’s integration as well as peace and security.