Tainted African Ruler May Get UN Prize in His Name
Rukmini Callimachi, Associated Press, September 29, 2011
The African heads of state who converged on the capital of Equatorial Guinea this summer are used to life’s finer things–yet even they were impressed.
The minuscule nation located on the coast of Central Africa spent several times its yearly education budget to build a new $800 million resort in which to house the presidents attending this summer’s African Union summit.
Besides an 18-hole golf course, a five-star hotel and a spa, the country built a villa for each of the continent’s 52 presidents. Each one came with a gourmet chef and a private elevator leading to a suite overlooking the mile-long artificial beach that had been sculpted out of the country’s coast especially for them.
Western diplomats say that the charm offensive worked, and on Friday the United Nations’ cultural arm may be forced to create a prize named after Equatorial Guinea’s notoriously corrupt president, due to a resolution passed in June by the presidents staying at the lavish resort.
If that happens President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, a man whose regime is accused of gross human rights violations, will be associated with an organization whose stated mission is the promotion of peace and human rights through cultural dialogue.
During the AU summit this summer, Obiang succeeded in getting the body to pass a motion calling on UNESCO to approve a prize named in his honor.
Armed with this resolution, the 13 African delegates on UNESCO’s executive board are threatening to force a vote on the UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo Prize for Research in the Life Sciences as early as Friday when the board meets in Paris, said five officials taking part in the discussion.
The $3 million prize was first proposed in 2008 and UNESCO initially agreed to create it, only to suspend it as outrage erupted over the provenance of the money and accusations of abuses by Obiang against the people of his Maryland-sized nation.
Obiang seized power in a coup 32 years ago after toppling the former leader, who was executed. The United Nations Rapporteur on Torture toured the country’s prisons in 2008 and determined that torture is systematic, including using electroshocks through starter cables attached to the detainees’ body with alligator clips.
In February, the government imposed a blackout on news regarding the Arab Spring uprising. A disc jockey who dared refer to Libya during his music program had his microphone cut off minutes into his show and the program was pulled off the air for two months.