Equatorial Guinea’s authoritarian president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, has called for “national dialogue,” a move that comes on the heels of a thwarted coup and a crackdown on the opposition.
In a speech broadcast nationally on state television on Tuesday, the 76-year-old leader said “dialogue and political interaction” would take place in July.
“(They) constitute the ways to preserve peace and development,” he said in the speech which he delivered on Monday.
He called on Guineans living abroad “to come home, to the country of our birth, to look for all-embracing, inclusive strategies.”
The offer also applies to those who are in exile, he indicated — “to all Equatorial Guineans who are dispersed in the diaspora for political reasons, for certain political crimes.”
A former Spanish colony of 1.2 million people, awash with oil but mired in poverty and a reputation for corruption, Equatorial Guinea has been ruled with an iron fist by Obiang since August 1979.
He seized power by ousting his own uncle, first post-independence president Francisco Macias Nguema, who was shot by firing squad.
Obiang has since seen off at least half a dozen assassination or coup attempts. He won a fifth seven-year term in 2016 with nearly 94 percent of votes.
The most recent attempted coup, in December, involved a group of men from Chad, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Sudan, according to the authorities.
The operation was followed by the arrests of scores of opposition activists and the banning of their party, the Citizens for Innovation (CI), purportedly over scuffles that took place before legislative elections last November.
Dozens were tortured, according to the CI, which says two died in custody. In February, 21 CI members including the party’s only MP, were sentenced to 30 years in prison for “sedition, public disorder, attacks on authority and serious bodily harm.”
Obiang’s proposed “dialogue” is the sixth in his 38 years in office.
The preceding exercise, in 2014, saw the legalisation of five political parties, including the CI. The main opposition party at the time, the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) boycotted the forum.
The country currently has 17 officially recognised political parties.