African Union could take on Obiang-UNESCO prize

23 August, 2010, Esther Nakkazi

The African Union (AU) is ready to take on the Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo $3 million life sciences prize

Africa’s politics is synonymous with corruption, human rights abuses and embezzling state funds, so it is little wonder that the African Union (AU) is ready to take on the Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo $3 million life sciences prize.

The $3 million-per-year for five years Obiang-sponsored prize was offered to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).[frax09alpha]

The UNESCO board is yet to make the final decision, by October this year, on the fate of the award – but people in the know say it will inevitably drop it because the prize has already been deemed to hurt UNESCO’s reputation by Human Rights organization.

Now, feigning ignorance and turning a blind eye at the vices, AU leaders say they have been approached by the Equatorial Guinea government and since they have a like-minded agenda, that of promoting science in Africa, they will take on the prize.

“We will accept it immediately because we want to push science forward in Africa,” Jean-Pierre Ezin, commissioner for Human Resources Science and Technology (HRST) of the African Union told The EastAfrican.

“Promoting science in Africa is crucial but should it be done at the expense of the most vulnerable in society,” asked Tutu Tutu Alicante, an Equatoguinean lawyer, the executive director EG Justice.

Human rights organizations have said the prize does not uphold UNESCO’s values and would hurt its reputation, especially because Mr. Obiang accumulated the $3 million through theft of oil money.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, in a letter dated June 11th, condemned UNESCO, an organization, which is a beacon of hope and development around the world for accepting to ‘burnish the unsavory reputation of a dictator’.

“The rule of President Obiang, the prize’s namesake, has been marked by corruption and abuse,” said Desmond Tutu a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, in his letter to UNESCO.
After his comments UNESCO decided to rename the prize after a prominent African leader like Mandela or African scientist, from Obiang-UNESCO as was first proposed, but human rights organizations could not hear of it either.

Human rights organizations have also said the prize is meant to polish Mr. Obiang’s reputation and its money is oil money stolen from state coffers. AU says it has no proof of those allegations.

“We do not have proof of where the money is coming from and we do not know its origin,” emphasized Ezin.

The Obiang family, like most African leaders’ families, is reportedly extremely wealthy but without any other well-known source of legitimate income; it is safe to conclude that they are pilfering state resources.

Therefore, the money up for the prize is either part of the stolen wealth or is money coming from state coffers to which Mr. Obiang has unrestricted and illegitimate access.

Another AU official who did not want to be named said this is not a problem, after all Mr. Obiang is even trying to clean his image unlike other African leaders who steal money and do not bother about public opinion at all.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has ruled oil rich Equatorial Guinea since 1979, one of the longest serving presidents in Africa.

The government of Guinea, in response to human rights groups and other critics of the prize, said they are displaying a ‘hidden racist, arrogant and neocolonial attitude’ to an Africa country and relegating it to inferior status.

Scholars in Uganda have argued that it would be wrong for the AU as an institution to accept the money because it would be seen to be supporting the President’s pilferage of national resources.

“But the AU, not unlike its predecessor, the OAU, is a grouping that never wants to be seen not to support an African leader under attack,” said Dr. Fredrick Golooba-Mutebi, a senior research fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR).

That, unfortunately, more than questions of the justifiability and origin of the money, could be the reason that the AU will support Mr. Obiang and take on the prize.

After all, even under the UNESCO board, as the developed countries voiced their opposition to the prize, the African bloc at first supported it, not bothered that Mr. Obiang is a dictator until Desmond Tutu reigned in on them.

Nobelist Tutu argued that the UNESCO-Obiang prize’s $3million endowment should be used to benefit the people of Equatorial Guinea, from whom these funds have been taken, rather than to glorify their president – ‘The people should share in the wealth generated by their oil reserves’.

Many Africans from every corner of the continent have spoken out against this ‘dictator prize’.

“As Africans we believe we would all be diminished if we closed our eyes and washed our hands of the problems that other African brothers and sisters are facing,” Tutu Alicante, an Equatoguinean lawyer based in the US told The EastAfrican by email.

“The best outcome, it seems to me would be to decline the money,” said Dr. Golooba-Mutebi.

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