MALABO, January 16 – Opposition parties in host nation Equatorial Guinea called Thursday for residents to boycott matches of the African Cup of Nations in protest against the human rights situation in the country.
The parties “ask citizens not to go to football stadiums during the African Cup of Nations, which is going to make us poorer and more enslaved”, they said in a statement issued two days before the competition gets underway.
The appeal has little hope of gaining much political traction as it was launched by three opposition parties — the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS), Popular Union (UP) and Republican Democratic Force (FDR) — which have only one parliamentary deputy between them.
The country’s autocratic leader Teodoro Obiang Nguema was re-elected in 2009 with over 95 percent of the vote.
Andres Esono Ondo, spokesman for the three parties, also called for the immediate release of two opposition figures held in Bata, the country’s economic capital.
“There is no freedom of speech, the surviving media are at the exclusive service of the (ruling) PDGE party. Obiang blocks opposition websites and others that criticise him,” complained Ondo.
Morocco, the original hosts of the tournaments, had initially asked the Confederation of African Football to postpone the event to avoid any risk of a spread of the Ebola virus, which has killed more than 8,000 people in the worst-hit countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
However, that request was dismissed, and Morocco were thrown out of the competition.
The Guinean government have taken measures to prevent Ebola from reaching their soil, including hiring the expertise of a team of Cuban doctors, but as for the football, many matches are likely to be played in front of largely empty grounds in the former Spanish colony, which has a total population of just over 700,000.
The country is not a footballing hotbed, although it does have experience of organising the African Cup of Nations, having co-hosted the 2012 tournament with Gabon.