afrol News, 15 June - The US$ 3 million award money donated by Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Dictator of Equatorial Guinea since 1978, is put on ice by UNESCO, fearing its reputation. Mr Obiang is foaming against "a hidden racist and neo-colonial attitude."
Ever since the Dictator's donation to UNESCO was made known, human rights and science organisations have protested. The UN's agency of culture and science - which also represents the press and free expression - should not lend its prestigious name to one of the world's worst human rights violators, it was said.
President Obiang had made the donation to establish the UNESCO-Obiang Prize for life-sciences. The UN agency, first accepting the donation, was set to announce this month the first winners of the annual US$ 300,000 prize.
Protests against the UNESCO-Obiang prize soon became global. It was questioned where the funds came from. President Obiang and his clan rule the oil rich Central African state as a family hacienda, accumulating enormous wealth while the Equatoguinean population remains utterly poor.
First protests came from press freedom groups, reminding UNESCO that there existed no independent press in Equatorial Guinea. These were followed by a global alliance of almost 200 human rights group. "By creating a UNESCO-Obiang award, UNESCO is effectively endorsing his regime and undermining its own support for human rights," the organisations wrote in a letter to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon last week.
But also the global scientific community, which was to benefit from the new award, strongly protested the UNESCO-Obiang connection. Even a large number of previous recipients of other UNESCO prizes have called the credibility of the UN agency into question. On Monday, even Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu urged UNESCO to reconsider.
As the UN body now was starting to fear for its reputation, member countries and a growing number of ambassadors to the UN late last week started to take action. US delegate at the Paris-based UNESCO, Stephen Engelken, was among members demanding the agency reject the prize money. "The damage being done to UNESCO's reputation is serious," Mr Engelken today warned. The groups that had protested the award "are usually supporters of UNESCO. There is a real risk that this organisation could find itself friendless," he added.
Today, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova announced that the UN agency's board had given into the global pressure. While she did not call off the UNESCO-Obiang prize altogether, she said the upcoming award ceremony was put on ice.
"I have heard the voices of the many intellectuals, scientists, journalists and of course governments and parliamentarians who have appealed to me to protect and preserve the prestige of the organisation," Ms Bokova told board member at today's meeting. "I have come to you with a strong message of alarm and anxiety," she added. The board agreed to discuss the future of the possible UNESCO-Obiang prize at its next meeting in October.
In the Equatoguinean capital Malabo, the news was not well received. The unfortunate controversy "forces us to relive the mistrust generated about Africa during centuries of slavery and colonialism. Equatorial Guinea senses that behind the controversy caused by the generous aid offered by our President for science and research, are the concealed intentions of Western institutions and lobbies continuing to relegate an African country as an inferior," an Equatoguinean government release said today.
"In other words, we believe that this controversy contains a hidden racist, arrogant and neo-colonial attitude and agenda from lobbyists who do not want Africans to be able also to possess wealth, and even share it, and to position ourselves at the same level as Western governments," the foaming government statement went on.
It was sad to see, the statement continued, how "certain lobbyists and international institutions are still treating us as uncivilised beasts and insulting us because we were a small country that until oil was discovered; we have not been able to evolve as fast as Europe, in terms of freedoms and democracy."
According to President Obiang's government, those groups protesting the award - an almost united global coalition of human rights, press freedom and scientific organisations - "are unknown to our country and Africa." Indeed, their presence in Equatorial Guinea is not accepted.
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