Francisco Macías Nguema

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Francisco Macías Nguema
Don Francisco Macias.jpg
Macías Nguema in 1968
1st President of Equatorial Guinea
In office
12 October 1968 – 3 August 1979
Vice PresidentEdmundo Bossio
Miguel Eyegue
Bonifacio Nguema Esono Nchama
Preceded bySpanish colonial rule
Succeeded byTeodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
Personal details
Born1 January 1924
Nsegayong, Rio Muni, Spanish Guinea
Died29 September 1979(1979-09-29) (aged 55)
Black Beach, Malabo, Equatorial Guinea
Cause of deathExecution by firing squad
Resting placeMalabo Cemetery
Political partyUnited National Workers' Party
Other political
Popular Idea of Equatorial Guinea (until 1970)
ChildrenAt least 2 daughters and 1 son[1]
Criminal details
TargetEquatorial Guinean people
Victims50,000 - 80,000
PenaltyCapital Punishment
Apprehended18 August 1979
ImprisonedBlack Beach Prison

Francisco Macías Nguema (born Mez-m Ngueme; Africanised to Masie Nguema Biyogo Ñegue Ndong; 1 January 1924 – 29 September 1979) was an Equatoguinean politician who served as the first President of Equatorial Guinea from the country's independence in 1968 until his overthrow in 1979. He is widely remembered as one of the most brutal dictators in history.

A member of the Fang people, Macías served numerous positions under Spanish colonial rule before being elected the first president of the soon-to-be independent country in 1968. Under his rule, he established an extreme cult of personality, a one-party state ruled by his United National Workers' Party and in 1972, declared himself president for life. Due to his dictatorship's severe human rights abuses and economic mismanagement, tens of thousands of people fled the country to avoid persecution while Equatorial Guinea was internationally nicknamed the "Dachau of Africa" after a Nazi concentration camp. His rule also led to significant brain drain as intellectuals and educated classes were particular targets for his persecution. In 1979, he was overthrown in a coup d'état by his nephew Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and was subsequently tried and executed.[2]

Depending on the source, during his government, anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 of the 300,000 to 400,000 people living in the country at the time were killed. He has been compared to Pol Pot because of the violent, unpredictable, and anti-intellectual nature of his government.[3]

Early life[edit]

Born as Mez-m Ngueme to parents from Gabon,[4] Macías Nguema was the son of a witch doctor who allegedly killed his younger brother. He belonged to the country's majority Fang ethnic group.[5]

As a boy of 9, Nguema saw his father punched to death by a Spanish colonial administrator when he tried to use his title of chief to negotiate for better wages for his people. Nguema was orphaned a week later when his mother committed suicide, leaving the boy and 10 siblings to fend for themselves.[citation needed]

Early political career[edit]

Macías Nguema failed the civil service exam three times.[6] However, he eventually rose to the position of mayor of Mongomo under the Spanish colonial government, and later served as a member of the territorial parliament. In 1964, he was named deputy prime minister of the autonomous transition government. He ran for president of the soon-to-be independent country against Prime Minister Bonifacio Ondó Edu on a strongly nationalist platform in 1968. In what has been the only free election held in the country to date, he defeated Ondó Edu in the runoff and was sworn in as president on 12 October. Ondó Edu briefly went into exile in Gabon and was officially reported to have committed suicide on 5 March 1969, although it is reported that Edu was actually executed soon after his return on trumped-up charges of having been planning a coup.[3]


On 7 May 1971, Macías Nguema issued Decree 415, which repealed parts of the 1968 Constitution and granted him "all direct powers of Government and Institutions", including powers formerly held by the legislative and judiciary branches, as well as the cabinet of ministers. On 18 October 1971, Law 1 imposed the death penalty as punishment for threatening the President or the government. Insulting or offending the President or his cabinet was punishable by 30 years in prison. On 14 July 1972, a presidential decree merged all existing political parties into the United National Party (later the United National Workers' Party), with Macías Nguema as President for Life of both the nation and the party.[citation needed]

In a plebiscite held on 29 July 1973, the 1968 Constitution was replaced with a new document that gave Macías Nguema absolute power and formally made his party the only one legally permitted in the country. According to official figures, 99 percent of voters approved the new document. Three months later, a fresh "presidential election" confirmed Macías Nguema as president for life.[citation needed]

Macías Nguema declared private education subversive, and banned it entirely with Decree 6 on 18 March 1975.[7]

During his presidency, his country was nicknamed "the Dachau of Africa".[8] He was known to order entire families and villages executed.[citation needed]

Three important pillars of his totalitarian regime were the United National Workers' Party, the Juventud en Marcha con Macías (English: "Youth on the March with Macías") militia/youth group, and the Esangui clan of Río Muni. The country's instruments of repression (military, presidential bodyguard) were entirely controlled by Macías Nguema's relatives and clan members. The president's paranoid actions included mandating the death of those who wore spectacles,[9] banning use of the word "intellectual" and destroying boats to stop his people fleeing from his rule[6] (fishing was banned).[10] The only road out of the country on the mainland was also mined.[11] He Africanised his name to Masie Nguema Biyogo Ñegue Ndong in 1976 after demanding that the rest of the Equatoguinean population replace their Hispanic names with African names. He also banned Western medicines, stating that they were un-African.[11]

Macías Nguema was the centre of an extreme cult of personality, perhaps fueled by his consumption of copious amounts of bhang[3] and iboga,[6] and assigned himself titles such as the "Unique Miracle" and "Grand Master of Education, Science, and Culture". The island of Fernando Pó had its name Africanised after him to Masie Ngueme Biyogo Island; upon his overthrow in 1979, its name was again changed to Bioko. The capital, Santa Isabel, had its name changed to Malabo. In 1978, he changed the national motto to "There is no other God than Macías Nguema".[12]

During Macías Nguema's rule, the country had neither a development plan nor an accounting system for government funds. After the killing of the governor of the Central Bank, he carried everything that remained in the national treasury to his house in a rural village.[3] On the Christmas Eve of 1969 soldiers publicly executed criminals by shooting at the football stadium in Malabo, while amplifiers were playing Mary Hopkin's song "Those Were the Days."[13]

Macías Nguema's dictatorship forced tens of thousands of citizens to flee in fear of persecution and to protect their personal safety. Intellectuals and skilled professionals were a particular target, due to which human rights researcher Robert af Klinteberg, in a 1978 study that examined the government's repression in detail, called it a policy of "deliberate cultural regression." Af Klinteberg reported that as of 1978, at least 101,000 persons, out of a contemporary population that the World Bank estimates totalled 215,284 persons—nearly 47% of the population—had fled the country.[14][15] Other reporting, such as a 1979 Time magazine account stating that "perhaps 150,000" persons fled, suggests that the proportion of the population that sought safety in exile may have approached 70%, based on the World Bank's estimate of the population in 1979.[16]

Macías Ngema depicted on the 1969 1000 Pesetas banknote.

By the end of his rule, nearly all of the country's educated class was either executed or forced into exile—a brain drain from which the country has never recovered. Two-thirds of the legislature and 10 of his original ministers were also killed.[17]

The entire culture of the country, including for example popular music ("Revolutionary Songs", full of praise for his person), should glorify the regime. Macías carefully supervised what was broadcast on the radio. Literary production was banned, so many authors had to develop their careers in exile.

Statisticians were also heavily repressed, and as a consequence, little economic data was generated on Equatorial Guinea during the 1970s. When the Equatorial Guinean director of the Institute of Statistics published demographic data considered too low by Macías, he was mutilated to "learn to count".[18][failed verification]


By 1979, Macías Nguema's government had garnered condemnations from the United Nations and European Commission. That summer, Macías Nguema organised the execution of several members of his own family, leading several members of his inner circle to fear that he was no longer acting rationally. On 3 August 1979 he was overthrown by Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who was Macías Nguema's nephew (and the brother of one of the victims) and who served previously as the military governor of Bioko and Vice-Minister of the Armed Forces.[6]

The deposed ruler and a contingent of loyal forces initially resisted the coup, but his forces eventually abandoned him, and he was captured in a forest on 18 August.[19] Prior to his overthrow, he sent his three younger children, Monica, Maribel, and Paco, to North Korea for safety. They lived there for the remainder of their childhood and now live in various other countries.[1]

Trial and execution[edit]

The Supreme Military Council opened Case 1979 on 18 August 1979, and began interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence against the Macías Nguema government. The Council subsequently convened a military tribunal on 24 September to try Macías Nguema and several members of his government. The charges for the ten defendants included genocide, mass murder, embezzlement of public funds, violations of human rights, and treason.[20]

The state prosecutor requested that Macías Nguema receive the death penalty, five others receive thirty years in prison, and four others receive a year in prison. Macías Nguema's defence counsel countered that the other co-defendants were responsible for specific crimes, and asked for acquittal. Macías Nguema himself delivered a statement to the court outlining what he viewed as the extensive good deeds he had performed for the country. At noon on 29 September 1979, the Tribunal delivered its sentences, which were more severe than what the prosecution had requested. Macías Nguema and six of his co-defendants were sentenced to death and the confiscation of their property; Nguema being sentenced to death “101 times”.[21] Two defendants were sentenced to fourteen years in prison each, and two others to four years each.[22]

With no higher court available to hear appeals, the decision of the Special Military Tribunal was final. 55-year old Macías Nguema and the six other defendants sentenced to death were executed by a hired firing squad at Black Beach Prison at 6 pm on the same day.[23][24][25] During his execution, he was reportedly "calm and dignified".


Some observers have posited that Macías Nguema may have been a psychopath, a disorder potentially enabled, in part, by reported childhood psychological trauma, and that his behaviour could have been affected by other possible mental illnesses, as well as his reported periodic use of the psychoactive plant Iboga and large quantities of cannabis.[26][27]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b Choe Sang-Hun (11 October 2013). "Fond Recollections of Dictators, Colored Later by the Lessons of History". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  2. ^ "Equatorial Guinea 'thwarts coup attempt'". 3 January 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d "Macias Nguema: Ruthless and bloody dictator". Archived from the original on 4 November 2014. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  4. ^ Pauron, Michael (12 October 2018). "Ce jour-là : le 12 octobre 1968, le Tigre de Malabo arrive au pouvoir" (in French). Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  5. ^ BODJEDI, ENÈNGE (2010). "El sexo y la violencia: el caso de Masié Nguema Biyogo" (in Spanish).
  6. ^ a b c d Gardner, Dan (6 November 2005). "The Pariah President: Teodoro Obiang is a brutal dictator responsible for thousands of deaths. So why is he treated like an elder statesman on the world stage?". The Ottawa Citizen (reprint: Archived from the original on 12 June 2008.
  7. ^ Alejandro Artucio. The Trial of Macias in Equatorial Guinea. International Commission of Jurists. pp. 6–8.
  8. ^ Roberts, Adam. The Wonga Coup, p. 21
  9. ^ If you think this one's bad you should have seen his uncle
  10. ^ "Equatorial Guinea Background Info". Lonely Planet. 2007. Archived from the original on 9 March 2007.
  11. ^ a b Roberts, Adam. The Wonga Coup, p. 20
  12. ^ "Macias Nguema: Ruthless and bloody dictator". Archived from the original on 13 March 2016. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  13. ^ Suzanne Cronjé (1976). Equatorial Guinea, the forgotten dictatorship: forced labour and political murder in central Africa. Anti-Slavery Society. ISBN 978-0-900918-05-6.
  14. ^ Robert af Klinteberg, "Equatorial Guinea--Macias Country: The Forgotten Refugees," Geneva, International University Exchange Fund, 1978.
  15. ^ World Bank, "Equatorial Guinea," World Development Indicators; see download file.
  16. ^ "Despot's Fall". TIME Magazine. 20 August 1979.
  17. ^ Dickovick, J. Tyler (2008). The World Today Series: Africa 2012. Lanham, Maryland: Stryker-Post Publications. ISBN 978-1-61048-881-5.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Alejandro Artucio. The Trial of Macias in Equatorial Guinea. International Commission of Jurists. p. 20.
  20. ^ Alejandro Artucio. The Trial of Macias in Equatorial Guinea. International Commission of Jurists. pp. 20–27.
  21. ^ Bloomfield, Steve (13 May 2007). "Teodoro Obiang Nguema: A brutal, bizarre jailer". The Independent. London.
  22. ^ Alejandro Artucio. The Trial of Macias in Equatorial Guinea. International Commission of Jurists. pp. 52–55.
  23. ^ Alejandro Artucio. The Trial of Macias in Equatorial Guinea. International Commission of Jurists. pp. 54–55.
  24. ^ John B. Quigley (2006) The Genocide Convention: An International Law Analysis, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd, ISBN 0-7546-4730-7. p.31, 32
  25. ^ Max Liniger-Goumaz (1988) Small is Not Always Beautiful: The Story of Equatorial Guinea, C. Hurst and Company, ISBN 1-85065-023-3. p.64
  26. ^ David Casavis, "Teasing Out Psychopathic Behaviors of African Leaders: Francisco Macías", conference paper presented at "Between Three Continents: Rethinking Equatorial Guinea on the Fortieth Anniversary of its Independence from Spain," 2009, at Hofstra University's Cultural Center.
  27. ^ Rene Pelissier, "Equatorial Guinea: Autopsy of a Miracle," Africa Report, Vol. 25, No. 3, May–June 1980.
Political offices
Preceded by
(Spanish Colonial Rule/Indigenous Tribal Rule)
President of Equatorial Guinea
Succeeded by
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo