The reappointment of key allies of Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue to the government of Equatorial Guinea signals the heir apparent to the world’s longest-serving president is consolidating power before a succession.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, 78, signed a decree for the return of many of his top ministers after forcing them to quit last week over a deepening economic crisis. The cabinet reshuffle, announced on Wednesday, shows the growing clout of the vice president, who’s known as Teodorin.
“The reappointment of allies of vice president Obiang and his father to the cabinet is indicative of his side being in the lead in the succession battle,” said Theophilus Acheampong, a senior analyst with IHS Markit Ltd. That suggests “a higher likelihood of government stability and policy continuity,” he said.
Teodorin, 52, is the frontrunner to succeed his father, who has ruled the oil-producing OPEC member state since wresting power from his uncle in a bloody 1979 coup. The constitution forbids President Obiang from seeking a another seven-year term in elections scheduled for 2023.
The cabinet reshuffle included the reappointment of Teodorin’s half-brother Gabriel Obiang Lima, who is also seen to be vying for the presidency, as mines and oil minister. That move is likely to be welcomed by investors in the West African nation.
“It means investments in major downstream infrastructural projects to diversify the economy to stem the decline in oil production and revenue are likely to continue,” Acheampong said.
Obiang Lima is known among oil executives as “The Godfather” for his tough “drill or drop” position. He’s had to soften his tone to entice oil majors including Exxon Mobil Corp., Marathon Oil Corp., Kosmos Energy Ltd., and Trident Energy to keep investing after a sharp drop in crude prices as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Even before the disease outbreak, the country was engulfed in a crisis that shrank its economy by half since the last oil-price downturn in 2014. Once as rich in per-capita terms as its former colonial master Spain, Equatorial Guinea has some of the world’s worst development indicators, with nearly a quarter of children dying before reaching the age of five.
Critics blame Obiang and his family for plundering much of the country’s oil wealth to remain in power. His administration is also known for torturing and killing dissidents, earning it a human-rights record comparable to that of Syria and North Korea in the latest rankings by U.S.-based thinktank Freedom House.
Teodorin, who is in charge of national security, was convicted in absentia by a French court in 2017 for embezzling more than $100 million of Equatoguinean public money to buy a fleet of supercars and a mansion near the Champs-Élysées.
He spent more than $300 million from 2004 through 2011 on luxuries including Michael Jackson memorabilia, U.S. Department of Justice lawyers said in a separate money laundering case settled in 2014. That sum amounted to slightly less than 10% of Equatorial Guinea’s annual oil revenues at the time.