More Writers, Activists and Scientists Oppose UNESCO-Obiang Prize

Eighteen more prominent writers, activists, and scientists have joined a call for UNESCO to definitively kill a proposed science prize honoring Teodoro Obiang, the autocratic president of Equatorial Guinea.

On the eve of a decision by UNESCO’s governing executive board that will determine the fate of the contested prize, Nobel Prize winner Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, UNESCO laureates Abdallah S. Daar and Belita Koiller, Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood, and 14 others called on UNESCO to abandon the planned prize honoring President Obiang, now Africa’s longest serving ruler after 32 years in power.

"UNESCO should never take part in the self-glorification of tyrants, wherever they are," Le Clézio said.

The letter, whose signatories already included Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Chinua Achebe and former Mexican UNESCO Ambassador Homero Aridjis, says they are “deeply troubled by the well-documented record of human rights abuse, repression of press freedom, and official corruption that have marked [President Obiang's] rule”.

The five scientists who have joined the letter have affirmed that they would reject the prize if it were implemented.

The $3m UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences was set up in 2008 but has never been awarded. Implementation of the prize was frozen pending further discussion in June 2010 after protests from human rights groups, authors, scientists and other leading figures. 

In October 2010, the UNESCO Executive Board voted to suspend it until a consensus on the matter could be reached by member states. Although no consensus ensued, the prize resurfaced on the UNESCO agenda after an African Union summit held in Equatorial Guinea this summer called for its launch.