In the early 1990s a wave of democracy swept through Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and much of the African continent. While hopes were high that democracy would take hold across the globe, many nations made little progress towards real democracy. In many cases the dictators of the former regimes became the central political figures in supposed multi-party democracies. Unfortunately, Equatorial Guinea was one of these countries.
After the Spanish departed in 1968 and made way for Equatorial Guinean independence, the country suffered harsh political and economic times. The country was ruled by Francisco Macias Nguema, who quickly established a one-party state. Nguema contained any possible opposition, declaring himself president for life and the "Unique Miracle of Equatorial Guinea." Nguema cut off ties to the West and aligned the country with the socialist bloc countries.
The Partido Democrático de Guinea Ecuatorial (PDGE), the country's only political party prior to 1991, was created by Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo after a successful coup in 1979. After the brutal Nguema regime, internal and external pressure forced the ruling elite to reform the constitution and hold democratic elections. Even after a movement towards multi-party democracy along with much of Africa in the early 1990s, the PDGE remained the central political party, retaining the vast majority of parliamentary seats and Obiang the powerful presidency. In the 1999 elections, the PDGE won over 80 percent of the vote and gained 75 out of the 80 seats in the parliament.
Outside of the formal systems of political parties, clan networks complicate the transition to democratic rule. Some groups, such as the minority Bubi population, have been all but left out of politics. These marginalized groups have become more active in recent years. The militant Movimiento para la Autodeterminacion de la Isla de Bioko (MAIB), for example, has been accused of attacking government installations throughout the country.
Obiang's rule continues to be centered on personality, not ideology. Obiang and the PDGE have maintained tight control over the economy, although they have begun to allow higher levels of international investment.
Equatorial Guinea has been a target of human rights activists in recent years. The current regime has been accused of harassing political opponents, limiting freedom of expression, limiting the development of new political parties, and inhumane conditions in the country's prisons. In 1999 Amnesty International, an international human rights organization, issued reports on the arrest of 3 citizens for "insults against the government and the Armed Forces" stemming from their activities with Amnesty International and their attempt to establish a political party.