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Thoughts on the UNSECO Obiang Prize

Another view of the controversy surrounding the UNESCO Obiang Prize.

Most recently, as part of Equatorial Guinea’s efforts to improve health in the country and promote scientific research on the African Continent, President Obiang announced the donation of USD$3.0 million from the Government of Equatorial Guinea to the World Health Organization, as well as the allocations of a headquarters facility for the organization to expand its work in the country. President Obiang also recently signed an agreement with the African Union for the creation and installation of the first Headquarters of the African Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation in Equatorial Guinea.

Recently, the UNESCO OBIANG Prize has come under attacks from western countries and mainly western vocal human rights organizations, requesting that Prize be withdrawn. Under such growing incomprehensible pressure, the organization’s executive board met in Paris and decided to put the award on hold “…and continue consultations among all parties concerned, in a spirit of mutual respect and until a consensus is reached.”

The UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences, named after the President of Equatorial Guinea, was created in 2008 and aims to reward the projects and activities of individuals, institutions or other entities for research that improves the quality of human life.

The prize is designed to be an annual accolade, with up to three laureates chosen each year and granted $300,000 between them, and focuses on efforts to find remedies or solutions to major illnesses and pandemics.

It should  be recalled that a taskforce was established by the UNESCO Director General Mrs. Irina Bokova to review all 43 current UNESCO prizes after the row over the Obiang prize erupted. The group delivered an internal report last September that failed to mention the prize as one that needed to be reconsidered.

Furthermore, it said that:  “there are inherent difficulties in assessing the integrity of the private or individual donor” as requested by UNESCO’s own internal rules on prizes, adding that “there is no specific procedure applied when the integrity of a private or individual donor of a UNESCO prize comes into question”.

Much of noise comes from “democratic” developed countries and their vocal Human Rights organizations, many of which are complaining that Equatorial Guinea is not “democratic enough” (according to their own subjective concepts of democracy), and is not respecting human rights.

About this line of criticism, a Swedish politician made the following comments: “The hypocrisy is so thick you could cut with a knife. In fact, that position does not prevent those countries from fighting for business economic opportunities in Equatorial Guinea; some defending turf, others trying desperately to get in”.

What is sad about the whole situation is that some developing countries are blindly following this unfounded and selfish outcry of those developed countries. How often have we seen some of those developed countries blocking their contributions to the annual budget of different UN Agencies including UNESCO, for the simple reason that on a given issue, the institution has followed the view of the majority of its members instead of that of the developed country concerned?

What should we make of the attitude of western countries and western human rights organizations? More cynical is the fact that, 2 years ago, the concerns being raised now were not discussed; and the executive board accepted Equatorial Guinea’s proposal for a prize. It is difficult to believe that member states didn’t think about these issues when they took that decision.

The pity is that this  prize has such potential to lessen the suffering of people worldwide, and particularly in developing countries including Africa. It is to help research in areas that affect humanity, such as HIV, malaria, and other endemic diseases. It is known that the jury had already met and chosen winners from Africa, Latin America, and the Arab states, essentially from developing countries. What message is it being sent by  blocking the whole thing? Is it because the winners are from developing countries?

The pity is that this  prize is to help research in areas that affect humanity, such as HIV, malaria, and other endemic diseases; and these are the domains which are the focus of any considered and respectable international NGO.

While some go so far as to question with cynicisms the source of the funding President Obiang pledged for the UNESCO prize, no one questions the source of resources that many developed countries‘ companies operating in Equatorial Guinea are transferring daily back to their countries and on which they are paying taxes to their respective governments.

If there were so much misery in Equatorial Guinea, why are those NGOs screaming for human rights violations not there to help on humanitarian grounds?

A respectable Canadian politician also asked the following question: “would the same concerns be raised if such contribution was from an individual from a western country”?

The United States, by putting forward a resolution to the 58-nation executive board  calling for the withdrawal of the prize, has ignored the widespread support for the prize by African and Arab delegations to UNESCO who stated that such moves, including the US resolution, will only delay the prize further, rather than lead to its withdrawal.

The United States, contrary to its habits, did not approach the discussion in a spirit of mutual respect for the African countries, and did not show the proof of its commitment to the goal of building scientific capacity in Africa as often stated by Secretary of States Hillary Clinton; which is regrettable.

Even U.S. Senator Leahy, (Chairman of the Senate Sub-Committee responsible for appropriating money to the State Department for UNESCO) who wrote to UNESCO in May 2010 in protest was definitely ill advised and did not even bother to travel or send his aids to Equatorial Guinea where EXXON has the monopoly of oil exploitation (which some European countries depict as a “scandal” in fair trade) to find the truth.

An Arab delegation to UNESCO even raised the question whether the value of a proposal is based on the relative power of who submits it or on its unbiased analytical foundation and the number of those supporting it, independently of their origins. This legitimate and pertinent question could not be answered by the UNESCO Administration.

China recently funded the UNESCO Asia Pacific Program for Educational Innovation for Development (APEID) award, known as the UNESCO-APEID Wenhui Award for Educational Innovation, which was to announce its first winner last  October. Why didn’t the United States put forward a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Award funded by China? Maybe the Nation-State interest were too high?

  • Why didn’t the western countries and the those vocal human rights organizations opposed the award?
  • Why didn’t the UNESCO establishment adopt the same attitude vis a vis the Award funded by China?
  • Why did the Western countries and their Human Rights organizations  openly accepted the  L’Oreal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science prize, whose founder Liliane Bettencourt was involved in a corruption probe involving an alleged massive tax rebate in France?

As stated by a delegate from Asia echoing an African delegate, “consideration of any facet of the ongoing debate, points clearly to the fact that the entities that created this controversy are showing their true colonialist, discriminatory, racist and prejudiced identity by not accepting than an African president can confer an award of this kind.”

It is clear that, when you analyze the facts without any preconception, it’s difficult to arrive at a different conclusion. There are many prizes in all UN institutions including  UNESCO; some of those prizes are named after people from developed as well as from developing countries. Should there be discriminations in applying specific criteria (if they exist)? The answer is no!

What is the reason for singling out Equatorial Guinea in the case of UNESCO if not for discrimination? The position of those targeting President Obiang, can only be explained by ignorance and nations’ disguised non-democratic politics; which is quite regrettable.

If US instead of blindly following France, Spain, or other European countries and had taken into account facts, it would for pure objectivity have voted in favor of keeping the Obiang Prizes and avoided the embarrassment of putting forward a resolution under the pressure of some vocal human rights’ NGOs. Some European countries, instead of taking the lead role and being accused of colonialism and racism, decided to hide behind the United States, which had no colonies and is a well-recognized melting pot with more than 25% of its population Latino and African American.

We still believe that once the US and the majorities of UNESCO Member countries analyze the facts with objectivity they will avoid more embarrassment to UNESCO and maintain the Obiang UNESCO Prize. Let’s give it time.

Dignitaries, politicians and individuals from developed and developing countries are strongly urging President Obiang not to change course, but rather to pursue the efforts his government is making to contribute to the global community and advance the welfare of the citizens of its country and to pursue the far-reaching democratization process which his country has embarked upon (which is bearing fruit) making the Equatorial Guinea one of the most democratic and stable countries on the Continent, and which is building the base for a sound and sustainable economic and social development program, applauded even by the Breton Woods Institutions (the IMF and the World Bank).

From our Correspondent in London, UK.

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