Amidst UNESCO Scandal, President Obiang Gives Schools Notebooks in His Image

In the last several months, the UNESCO-Obiang Prize in Life Sciences has generated more controversy than the organization has seen in decades.  Nobel laureates, previous UNESCO honorees, journalists, scientists, parliamentarians, human rights defenders, and ordinary people have all joined in criticizing the award.

It seems that almost everyone who hears about it is moved to protest the disconnect between UNESCO’s noble mission and its cuckoo plan to slap its name onto a science prize named for and funded by President Teodoro Obiang, a dictator linked to criminal or regulatory money-laundering investigations in three countries, a man whose 31-year reign has saddled the country with some of the worst health and development indicators in the world—despite oil revenues that put its per capita GDP in line with Italy or Spain.

Facing a global outcry against the award, Obiang has tried to fire back with some good old-fashioned do-gooding to prove he is a worthy namesake.

As any good philanthropist would do, the president looked around and saw a critical need no one was filling—the country’s educational system. It certainly could use the help: net enrollment in primary education dropped from 96.7 percent in 1991, prior to the discovery of oil, to 69.4 percent in 2007, in a school system often described as corrupt and incompetent. In 2009, for example, the U.S. Department of State reported that “[t]eachers with political connections but no experience or accreditation were hired even though they seldom appeared at the classes the purportedly taught.”

It’s also a school system whose budget—4 percent of government expenditures, lowest portion in the world according to UNDP—apparently can’t even cover the cost of notebooks for the kids. So the president generously “donated” from his own pocket a "wealth of" notebooks for every one of the country’s school districts. And in case the kids or their parents have trouble remembering who their benefactor was, the president thoughtfully placed his own picture on the cover.

Still, you might say, at least the notebooks seem to have gotten to the kids. But last week also saw another, harsher side to the government’s educational interventions. On October 3, twelve eager high school graduates gathered at Malabo airport to head off to Spain and begin their long-awaited university education. Chosen from a group of 300 top-performing students in a transparent, merit-based process, Spain had agreed to finance the students’ studies as part of a program established last year between the two governments.

But, unfortunately for the students, a key government figure was left out of the selection process—Education Minister Filiberto Ntutumu Nguema, the former secretary-general of President Obiang’s ruling “Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea” (PDGE) and campaign manger of the president’s landslide 95.6 percent re-election victory last November. Just as the students were getting on the plane, EG security forces, reportedly acting on the orders of the Minister, barred them from boarding and confiscated their passports. The same thing happened to another group of students the following day.  Opposition political figures accused Ntutumu of throttling the scholarship program because he opposed an objective selection process, preferring, instead, to control allocation, directing scholarships to the politically favored and/or those who would pay for them.

You can take that opposition view with a grain of salt. But we do know how the U.S. scholarship programs financed by the oil companies in 2001–2003 were run: after a close look at the programs, a U.S. Senate subcommittee found that “Many of [the 100-plus EG students receiving the scholarship] appeared to be children or relatives of wealthy or powerful E.G. officials,” and these silver-spooners apparently didn’t have to fret about academic pressures. Only five of them, bank files showed [view pdf] (see Annex 18), were able to maintain the supposedly required minimum “B” grade average.

3 Comments

This report was an excellent read: exposing the political intrusion on these worthy students is needed. Hopefully, these students will get another opportunity to travel and study in Spain. It is this kind attention which you have iluminated, that is needed to keep political heads in place, especially when it come to the educational uplift of the youth. Thank you again, Dwain Jones, Dir - Spirit Uplift Corp.

Thank you Dwain. It is unfortunate that some people give more credit to a few million dollars and a few words about benefiting humanity than about "nonsense such as dictatorship, lack of human rights and corruption," as Liz (below) characterizes the overriding concerns. Worth noting that the $35 million Malibu, California mansion of Mr. Obiang's son and possible successor as president, Teodorin, cost almost as much as the EG government's much-touted "Social Development Fund" has spent("more than $40 million") in the areas of "health, education and women's affairs"). (See the EG government's advertorial in the June 10, 2010 issue of USA Today (p. 2), available at http://www.unitedworld-usa.com/pdf/guinea.pdf.) Not to mention Teodorin's $38 million private jet, his $867 wine glasses and his fleet of 32 motorcyles and automobiles, including “seven Ferraris, five Bentleys, four Rolls Royces, two Lamborghinis, two Maybachs, two Mercedes, two Porches, one Aston-Martin, and one Bugatti, with a collective insured value of $9.5 million.” (P. 6 of our briefing paper: http://www.soros.org/initiatives/justice/focus/anticorruption/articles_p....)

I am really outraged with the way UNESCO has allowed hypocrites to influence its decision on dropping MR Obiang Nguema Mbasogo science award. "The prize was created to find cures that preserve human lifes, there are diseases that people say they are incurable today, but I think no disease is incurable as is the case with HIV Aids, the scientist who discover the disease must also be able to find a cure for it, that is why we have allocated significant funding s for this price ,for scientists to conduct studies and so they have the resources they need to find cure for those diseases. The purpose of the price is to find scientific remedies that will preserve human life"We all know that Equatorial Guinea has made tremendous strides in all 15 years of them discovering oil. They have a high literacy rate and E.G President has fought hard to put his country on the map of the world, from being the poor relation of the Central Africa region...the country has now become a leading player in sub-saharan Africa, with it holding 50% of the BEAC Bank. What is wrong with him wanting to save life, and eradicate Aids. Aids knows no discrimination, nor does it chose who to attack... Therefore, why should he be vilified because he has decided to bring his participation to the scientific community. Mr Obiang has been accused of not tackling the problem of Hiv-Aids in his country, now that he is giving $3.000000 dollars to aid research is again seen as an attempt from him to sell himself. How contradictory is this! People are claiming that he is someone who does not respect human rights, I am asking Graca Machel if those people living in township with Aids would not welcome a cure to their plague, who is committing human rights violation? the people sleeping with babies in South Africa to cure themselves of Aids or someone wanting to dedicate time, effort and resources to find a cure...
The business of Aids is not only for Americans or Europeans to capitalize only, the difference between all these hypocrites and president Obiang is that he puts his money where his mouth is. Had it been an hollywood star or a European president's wife people would have found it legitimate. But the truth of the matter is, the cleavage between North and South is still very wide, therefore all these supposingly human rights activists do not want to recognize that something meaningful can come from Africa, so they hid behind nonsense such as dictatorship, lack of human rights and corruption, to undermine any good will emerging from Africa. Because they still live in colonial times. They think President Obiang should beg for their permission to want to help his people. When Macias Nguema was in power, he used to torture and kill people, nobody ever said anything. E.G was not a rich country. UNESCO has shown that they are just another manipulated organisation easily swayed by political motivated antagonism. We have witnessed country such as China, Libya, Russia getting prices out there, they were considered as evil and now they are celebrated... Frederick De klerk received a nobel prize although he conducted an apartheid regime... him allowing nelson mandela out, does not take away the wickedness they inflicted on black South African. Please stop this vilification... This is all political manipulation and power struggle. When Nigerians such Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe join to sign petitions against President Obiang, they have to remember about their own Delta, with the oil company that have been there for more than 40 years and still do not benefit the people from the delta state.

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