* Obiang wants Africa to renegotiate ties with developed
* Says African democratic process should reject meddling
* Call for United Nations reform draws applause from leaders
By Daniel Flynn
MALABO, June 26 The president of oil-rich
Equatorial Guinea lambasted foreign interference in Africa on
Thursday, calling on the continent's leaders to shake up their
relationship with the West.
Teodoro Obiang Nguema, hosting a two-day summit of the
54-nation African Union, urged leaders to put an end to economic
dependence on Western nations since independence, saying this
was holding back the continent from sustainable development.
The 72-year-old president, who is Africa's longest serving
head of state after overthrowing his uncle in a 1979 coup, has
overseen an economic boom in the tiny Central African nation
since offshore oil was discovered in the mid-1990s.
The former Spanish colony, with a population of less than
800,000 people, is Africa's No. 3 energy producer behind Nigeria
and Angola, hosting a slew of oil companies including Marathon
Oil and ExxonMobil.
Thanks to the oil boom, Equatorial Guinea boasts the highest
GDP per capita in Africa but international aid agencies and
rights groups say this masks a high wealth gap between the
ruling elite and the country's poor majority.
"Times have changed. Africa has more than 50 years of
independence submitted to a neo-colonial system which
perpetuates the old colonial one," Obiang told the continent's
leaders at the summit's opening ceremony. "Africa should
renegotiate relations with developed world."
Speaking in front of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Obiang cited the pricing
of natural resources and the "barriers to international trade"
as examples of Western domination of Africa.
He also criticised the exchange rate of the CFA franc used
by 14 countries in West and Central Africa, including Equatorial
Guinea, as being fixed too low against the euro.
Equatorial Guinea ranked 136 out of 187 states on the U.N.'s
2013 Human Development Index. Obiang's eldest son Teodorin, a
vice-president and potential successor, has faced corruption and
money-laundering investigations in the United States and France.
This year, Obiang has declared his country open for more
business outside of oil and gas, widened its alliances by
joining a global community of Portuguese-speaking states, and
offered a political dialogue to domestic and exiled opponents.
Towering new offices and residential blocks - often built by
Chinese or Arab construction firms - are springing up around the
verdant island capital Malabo, though many citizens still live
in tin-roofed homes.
"Africa is engaged in a process of democratic progress which
is irreversible and adjusted to African realities, and it should
not allow foreign meddling," he said.
Obiang has pointed in the past to a botched 2004 coup
attempt by former British Special Forces officer Simon Mann -
with financial backing from former British Prime Minister
Margaret Thatcher's son Mark - as evidence that foreign powers
want to control his oil-rich nation.
To applause from fellow heads of state, including Zimbabwe's
Robert Mugabe, Obiang called for an overhaul of the United
Nations system "so that it no longer serves as a support for
some countries to legalise their agenda of meddling".
He also criticised the International Monetary Fund and the
World Bank for facilitating "the monopolies of the world
Speaking before Obiang, Rajoy said that Spain's trade with
Africa had more than doubled over the past 10 years.
"Every year we buy African products totalling over 28
billion euros, almost twice as much as we export to the
continent," the Spanish prime minister said. "The more
prosperous Africa, is the more prosperous Spain will be."
(Reporting by Daniel Flynn; Editing by David Lewis)