Human Rights Watch calls Obiang's rule a "dictatorship."
By law, the next presidential elections are to be held in 2016. But Envela—in a view not shared by many others who follow the political situation in Equatorial Guinea—thinks Obiang could be removed before then.
"The time has come for him to step aside," Envela said, "and to usher in the 21st century of African democracy."
The 21st century for Equatorial Guinea has been a time largely shaped by the discovery of oil, which happened in 1996. Since the discovery, the tiny republic the size of Maryland has become the third-largest oil producer in Sub-Saharan Africa. With a population of 650,000, the country's income per capita has risen to one of the highest in the continent.
Much of the oil wealth, however, is concentrated in the hands of only a few people, namely Obiang, his family, and his associates, according to a 2005 Senate investigation, which found that Obiang had funneled millions of dollars into offshore accounts.
Riggs Bank, the D.C.-based bank that allowed Obiang to put through a $35 million transaction from the country's oil revenues, was forced to close in the wake of the investigation.
A Department of Justice investigation in 2011 found that Obiang's son, Teodorín, spent millions that he could not possibly have made as the country's Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, including the purchase of a Malibu, California home, a Michael Jackson glove, and extravagant cars. He mused about buying a yacht for $300 million, three times the amount of Equatorial Guinea's health and education budget, according to anti-corruption group Global Witness.
(Teodorín also reportedly plied his girlfriend, American rapper Eve, with a number of gifts. She was later named in the DOJ investigation, and believed to have broken up with Teodorin over reports his father was a cannibal.)
As a result of Teodorin's shopping sprees, he is wanted for international arrest. He is also Obiang's likely successor.
Envela acknowledges that "taking on a multibillion dollar dictator" has been "difficult." Complicating the story is that Envela has a criminal past of his own.
In 2000, Envela was convicted of battery after lashing out against his wife. "I overreacted to a situation and I accept full responsibility for it,” Envela says of the conviction, sounding instantly remorseful. “My two daughters have taught me the importance of respecting women and this is something that I deeply regret.”
He received a year of counseling and served three years probation for the conviction, which numerous media reports about Envela list as his only crime. But a U.S. News & World Report investigation found that Envela has more on his record. In 2011, Envela was charged with forgery, theft by unlawful taking, and access device fraud outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
According to a police criminal complaint, Envela took a man's credit card from a FedEx copier in Pittsburgh after it was left there. Envela then used the card to pay for items at Wal-Mart, as well as charges at gas stations in Pennsylvania and Maryland, according to the complaint. Envela will soon finish a year-long stint in a Pennsylvania "Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition" program, which seeks to divert first-time offenders from the criminal justice program.