It was Christmas as usual this year in Equatorial Guinea, a small, oil-rich country on the west coast of Central Africa that boasts the world’s longest serving leader, President Teodoro Obiang, who has ruled for the past 36 years. Like in years past, Teodorín Obiang—President Obiang’s son as well as his hand-picked vice president—took to the streets with the purported mission of delivering toys and gifts to “every child in the country.”
Sounds generous, right? Sure, if you overlook the fact that most people in Equatorial Guinea live in abject poverty and lack access to basic social services, despite the country’s vast oil wealth. Or the fact that Teodorín has been repeatedly accused of massive corruption.
The US government, for instance, alleges that Teodorín spent more than $300 million on luxury goods around the world between 2000 and 2011 using money stolen from the people of Equatorial Guinea, including a $30 million Malibu mansion, a $38 million Gulfstream jet, and nearly $3 million on Michael Jackson memorabilia, including a diamond-studded glove from the Bad tour. (In an October 2014 settlement with the US Department of Justice, Obiang agreed to forfeit the mansion, a Ferrari, and some MJ memorabilia).
In 2012, French authorities seized Teodoro’s 101-room mansion in a chic Parisian neighborhood, along with millions of dollars of high-end artwork, furniture, and wine.
Meanwhile, in a country that boasts the highest per capita income in Africa, most citizens lack reliable access to electricity, drinking water, and health services.
Corruption is an all-too-familiar menace in the lives of most Africans. In an Afrobarometer survey of African citizens, 81 percent responded that they think at least some government officials are involved in corruption. An alarming 36 percent believe that most or all government officials are corrupt.
This is a particularly pernicious problem in countries with vast reserves of natural resources like oil and diamonds that generate lots of money for government officials to steal. The fact that most resource-rich governments are terribly non-transparent—and the oil and mining sectors are notoriously secretive—is a recipe for corruption.
Currently, it is difficult for citizens in many resource-rich countries to know how much their governments receive from the sale of natural resources, making it difficult to hold governments accountable for the use of that money. To end extreme poverty, citizens in poor countries need to be able to ensure that government revenue ends up in hospitals and schools and not the pockets of the criminal and corrupt.
That is why ONE is pressing governments to pass transparency laws that would make it more difficult for corrupt African government officials to steal money. One important step is to require oil, gas, and mining companies to report the payments they make to governments. This first, commonsensical, step toward greater transparency will help enable citizens in Africa and beyond to hold governments accountable for the ways in which money from oil and minerals get used.
The US passed such a law in 2010, demonstrating true global leadership in the fight against corruption. The European Union passed similar measures in 2013, and Canada followed suit in 2014. Sadly, some companies intent on preserving the status quo of secrecy have been shamelessly fighting to weaken the US’s law, which would make it less effective in stamping out corruption.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is currently working to implement the law (its first effort was derailed by a lawsuit brought by some oil companies in 2013). ONE, with your help, is pushing back against some companies’ brazen attempts to keep African citizens from accessing information critical to curbing corruption. We are calling on the SEC to say: #NoSecretDeals.