African business, politics and lifestyle
Equatorial Guinea’s PR crisis
Four months into a public relations offensive, Equatorial Guinea is still struggling to get good press.
The government of the tiny West African state, eager to shake a reputation as one of the most corrupt and repressive on the planet, hired a high-powered U.S. communications firm Qorvis in May in the hope of rebranding itself as a progressive nation and a good place to do business.
But, despite a volley of press releases since with headlines like “Equatorial Guinea Advances Public Health Through Education” and “Equatorial Guinea celebrates music festival”, the country continues to draw almost exclusively negative attention in the media.
Do a Google news search on Equatorial Guinea, and you’ll find stories like “Four executed in Equatorial Guinea coup plot” and “Equatorial Guinea: Human Rights Drowning in Oil”.
Earlier this year, the country made international headlines when the United Nations’ culture and education body suspended a prize sponsored by President Teodoro Obiang, apparently to avoid tarnishing its own reputation.
When the country hired Qorvis, political analysts said the rebranding effort would only work if it was backed by genuine reform – a serious crackdown on the corruption that has prevented its oil wealth from benefiting the impoverished masses, for example, or an opening up of political dialogue in a country run by the same man since a 1979 putsch.
This week, Equatorial Guinea was faced with another barrage of unwanted publicity. Human rights group Amnesty International announced four men were executed in the country on the same day they were sentenced for their alleged role in a coup plot, after thugs abducted them from their hiding place in Benin.
The government, while acknowledging capital punishment is practiced in the country – as it is in the United States and elsewhere – has yet to confirm or deny whether the men were killed and under what circumstances, allowing speculation to run rampant that Obiang’s iron-fisted rule remains intact despite the flurry of feel-good Qorvis press releases.
A source at Qorvis said he thought it was unfair newspapers were running with Amnesty’s statement without confirmation from Equatorial Guinea’s government. “It’s just crazy,” he said.
Is Equatorial Guinea being treated unfairly? Or is its PR campaign just a thin plastering over the cracks?
(Photo: Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo attends a wreath laying ceremony at Havana’s Revolution Square. Reuters/Enrique de la Osa.)