UNESCO – Obiang : a risky relationship

This blog post was written by Rachel Leenhardt. Rachel is Communication Officer of Sherpa, a Paris-based, non-profit organization that aims to protect and defend the victims of economic crimes in developing countries. SHERPA’s overall focus is deploying legal expertise to fight the injustices caused by economic crimes and to bring about effective changes to public policy and legal frameworks in order to ensure fair and sustainable development for citizens in developing countries.

The UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences was created in 2008, but was never attributed. Civil society organisations and individuals from all over the world immediately reacted, stating UNESCO was endangering its own reputation and credibility by getting acquainted with President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, whose regime is considered one of the most corrupt and repressive worldwide. Offering an “image laundering” opportunity to a dictator is clearly counter to UNESCO’s very mission.

Equatorial Guinea, a small West-Central African petro-state, has the highest per capita income in Africa, comparable to that of Spain, yet the majority of the population has no access to drinking water or electricity, let alone education and health care. Meanwhile, the ruling class lead lives of outrageous luxury.

Pressure from both campaigns denouncing the Prize and diplomatic action defending it deeply embarrassed the Organisation. Internal debate between those against and those in favour only resulted in the postponement of the decision. But as the protest grew and the situation remained blocked, President Obiang decided to “make a concession”: the Prize would be named UNESCO-Equatorial Guinea International Prize. Read more

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