We spoke to Armengol Engonga Ondo, president of the Progressive Party of Equatorial Guinea (PP) since the resignation of its founder, Severo Moto, in 2020. The PP was born in 1983, “the first Equatoguinean party because at that time there were only movements”, a party in exile as a result of the dictatorial regime under which Equatorial Guinea (GE) has lived since its independence in 1968.

Since then, the Guinean people have suffered two dictatorships: that of Francisco Macías and, since 1979, that of Teodoro Obiang, following a coup d’état. Armengol recalls with a certain nostalgia the time when they were a Spanish colony (comparing it to the present), during which “remarkable progress was made in education, a middle class was created, the country progressed”, and he is in favor of a democratic transition like the one that took place in Spain after the Franco dictatorship.

The Partido del Progreso de Guinea Ecuatorial is a party in exile?

Yes, it is a party in exile, founded by Severo Moto in 1983. It was the first party, at that time there were only movements. Its political ideology is based on Christian Democracy, in whose International we participate.

As a party, I understand that you want to govern. What steps do you see to establish a democratic regime that defends human rights?

In 1988, Severo Moto arrived in Equatorial Guinea to challenge the regime and promote three decrees: the release of all political prisoners, the promotion of the democratic process, and the organization of free and democratic elections. He stayed for 21 days and then returned to Spain. The regime could do nothing against him because he had the support of the Christian Democratic International and the government of Felipe González, but behind him, there was a series of arrests. It was the first time that the foundations of the dictatorship were shaken.

A second trip took place in 1992. Severo stayed in the country for four years. During those years, more than 60,000 people joined the movement. It was very clear what the people wanted. In those years he could only hold 4 meetings, the last one in Bata with more than 20,000 people. The people were vibrating for freedom; as soon as the dictatorship was tied down, the people would express themselves.

Severo was arrested and released four months later under pressure from Spain. The party was banned and returned to Spain.

So how can the country be democratized today?

On the one hand, international support is essential, especially from the United States, Spain, France and the European Union in general. On the other hand, we must continue to make progress in uniting the opposition to the regime, which is already underway and involves parties and civil society organizations.

An opposition which, during the transition period, will propose a Justice and Reconciliation Commission, as was done in South Africa, to clarify everything that has happened. The only people responsible for everything are Obiang and his family, who are acting against the entire population. If there is no reconciliation, there is nothing else we can do.

Tell us more about the joint opposition project.

We have always had a relationship and several platforms have been set up since the end of the 1980s. There have been several attempts, but because they did not have [international] support, they did not go ahead. The dictator had the support of the powers.

In terms of international support, there were mobilizations in the early 1990s that were supported by the then US ambassador, John Bennett, but they did not go ahead and ended in a massacre in which many people were imprisoned and tortured. What is the difference today?

John Bennett put pressure on the government to defend democratization and asked for support from Spain and France, but they did not support him, they went at a different pace, and Obiang took advantage of that. This, and the fact that the oil concessions were being divided up at the time, led the US to change its ambassador, and the opportunity was lost.

[The exploitation of oil, gas, and various minerals is in the hands of multinationals from different countries, with the US having the largest presence.]

So far there has been no international pressure because of economic interests. This has brought us to the present moment, where we have enormous expectations.

What are these expectations?

In February 2023, the entire European Parliament will vote on a resolution denouncing the human rights situation in Georgia. And here, in the Spanish Parliament, the same thing is happening. Last July, the European Union invited five opposition parties (PP, CPDS, III República, MAIB and Ciudadanos para la Innovación) to a special conference on GE. At a dinner, they were told that the US was looking for an alternative.

After that, parliamentary questions continued and, in parallel, the Audiencia Nacional issued arrest warrants for Obiang’s son, his security minister, and his security secretary. This was in response to the complaint filed by the Third Republic Party when four people (two of them Spanish) turned up dead after being kidnapped and taken from Spain to Guinea on a plane that Obiang’s son was traveling in. This judicial operation was then paralyzed by Spain, but the fact remains. We know that the international community is at work.

As far as the international community is concerned, we are moving towards a multipolar world. The presence of various powers in Africa (USA, China, Russia, France…) is remarkable, what is your position on this presence?

It seems normal to us everyone defends their interests. Logically, we are defending the Western culture in which we have been educated and with which we have done well. In the opposition, there are parties of different political persuasions, which we respect. This is what freedom is all about. We defend Greek democracy: “everything from the people and for the people”.

What exactly does that mean?

In a system of parties and alternation of power, with separation of powers. We defend human rights, we see basic education as the basis for progress, a health system, a housing, communications, and infrastructure plan, energy (water and electricity), the defense of women, the promotion of agriculture, etc. Our model is the Spanish transition [after Franco’s dictatorship], with the participation of the whole of society, ethnic groups, and all political parties… we are not sectarian.

We defend the free-market economy because it is the one that drives the economy, generates work, and wealth and allows people to live.

Coming back to the international support needed to democratize the country, if you give it, will you allow Guineans freedom of movement?

We are grown up now, growing up is done in the head, in the education, and that is what these wimps [dictators] who blame Spain, have taken away from us. But did anyone tell them to take away the schools? Colonization brought us education, training, agricultural development… we were doing well in that sense.

What are your relations with other African organizations?

Through the Christian Democratic International and the African Union, but our natural relationship is logically with Europe.

A message for the future

The immediate future is encouraging for the first time because the international community has taken it seriously: the US, Spain, France, and the EU, as I said.

We want to tell people to be a little more patient. There is a part that does not depend on us and that is in the hands of the international community because they are the ones who can neutralize the Obiang family. They are the ones who negotiated the treaties. If they want to put an end to it, they will, and we know they will, as they have done in Gabon, where they are in a two-year transition process.

They should be prepared because we are all going to make the transition to democracy. We are going to invite everyone to form a government of national unity, to prepare the legalization of all the parties, and a democratic constitution in which we define what kind of Equatorial Guinea we want.