Equatorial Guinea’s Obiang Prepares for New UNESCO Prize Bid

After 32 years of dictatorial and repressive rule, President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea is Africa’s longest serving leader. At age 69, he is also apparently increasingly focused on his legacy. One bid to memorialize his name foundered last year: UNESCO, the UN’s chief education, science, and culture body, abandoned plans to inaugurate a “UNESCO-Obiang” science prize after vigorous protests from civil society and human rights groups.

But Obiang is not giving up. U.S. consultants hired last year continue to issue glowing news releases, highlighting a charity dinner held in its capital Malabo; the president’s infrastructure plans; or the country’s preparedness for hosting the 2012 African Nations soccer championships. The official line, with a link to an Equatorial Guinea embassy’s Flickr photo page, is always that “Equatorial Guinea is now working to serve as a pillar of stability and security in its region of West Central Africa.”

Now there are signs that Equatorial Guinea is also laying the groundwork for a new bid to persuade a new slate of UNESCO board members that its president is indeed a man worth honoring.

The campaign so far has included taking advantage of the country’s current position holding the presidency of the African Union. Obiang secured a courtesy resolution of support from African Union heads of state when they met in Equatorial Guinea in July: the resolution urged UNESCO to implement its earlier decision to set up the prize, which would “contribute to research in the life sciences.”

Then on August 17, the six central African states (Angola, Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, DRC, Chad, and Equatorial Guinea) agreed to support Equatorial Guinea for a two-year seat on the UNESCO executive board, when it meets in Paris in October. At the meeting UNESCO will name 27 new representatives to its 58-member board, as well as a new board president.

But UNESCO must still know that resuscitating the prize would mean publicly associating itself with the Obiang government’s extraordinary and now infamous record, that includes unlawful executions, tortureinternational kidnappings, repression, corruptionnepotism, censorship, and questionable 95 percent plus election victories.

Equatorial Guinea’s current claims to be a pillar of stability and security in the region also ring hollow, given the facts:

  • Drug trafficking: The highly regarded Observatoire Géopolitique des Drogues (OGD), in Paris, first identified President Obiang’s government as a “narco-state” in 1994, in which “the States or sectors of the State apparatus…profit directly, in a substantial degree, or even essentially, from the revenues of narcotics trafficking.” In a 2001 report prepared for the Canadian Parliament, OGD’s former head, Alain Labrousse, explained that “in the case of Equatorial Guinea, diplomats belonging to the president’s family or clan used the diplomatic pouch and their immunity to engage in cocaine and heroin traffic around the world. Tens of them have been arrested over the past two decades, particularly in Spain.” President Obiang’s current Attorney General, Carlos Mangue Elunku, is one Equatoguinean notable who was, according to Spanish press, detained for drugs in Spain—once in the 1980s and again in 1996. Lucas Nguema Esono, current Secretary General of President Obiang’s ruling political party, the Partido Democratico de Guinea Ecuatorial, was expelled from Spain in 1988 after trying to retrieve a suitcase with 340 grams of heroin and 18 kilos of marijuana.

As President Obiang renews his bid to resuscitate the proposed $3-million science prize, UNESCO’s board members should make it clear that they will not honor such a deplorable record.

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I could not agree with you more Ken. Thanks for this excellent piece.

This is just juvenile reasoning. In the U.S., nasty folk like Carnegie and Rockefeller laundered their image by giving to charity - Obiang is trying to do the same. And Open Society would have a little more credibility if it went after the UNESCO Awards named after two other heads of state - the King of Bahrain and the Sultan of Oman, both long-ruling Arab dictators. Or does initiatives such as this only target black Africans?

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