Washington Babylon — June 2, 2010, 8:44 am

UNESCO for Sale: Dictators allowed to buy their own prizes, for the right price

In the face of intense pressure from human rights and advocacy groups and a barrage of bad publicity, the lunkheads who run UNESCO are apparently reconsidering their decision to allow a corrupt dictator to endow a prize in his own name. The story involves Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has ruled oil-rich Equatorial Guinea since 1979 and who has stolen just about every penny in the national treasury since then. He wants to give UNESCO $3 million to create the “Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences.”

Outside of UNESCO, the prize is a joke. In a May 20 letter to Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director general, Senator Patrick Leahy wrote: “I am concerned that by sponsoring this prize, UNESCO is associating itself with a dictator who has spent thirty years doing little more than consolidating his power and enriching himself and his family. It seems highly likely that the $3 million donated to UNESCO by President Obiang for the Obiang International Prize came from corruption, kickbacks or other theft from the public treasury.”

The Economist suggested that other international agencies follow suit, proposing the creation of the World Food Program “Robert Mugabe award for agricultural productivity,” the World Health Organization “Silvio Berlusconi medal in sex education,” and the International Atomic Energy Agency “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prize for the peaceful sponsorship of nuclear power.”

A group of scientists, public health organizations, and professionals called on UNESCO to abolish the prize, saying, “We believe the most perfunctory examination of President Obiang’s record on human rights and meeting the needs of the people makes it clear that he is cynically attempting to use UNESCO to legitimize his abusive regime.” A coalition whose members range from Human Rights Watch to EG Justice suggested that “the $3 million that UNESCO has accepted from President Obiang to be applied to the education and welfare of Equatoguineans, rather than the glorification of their president. We respectfully propose that these funds be used to provide rudimentary educational supplies for primary schools and to address other long neglected needs in Equatorial Guinea.”

I’ve been told that following recent urgent meetings in Paris, Bokova has decided to raise the matter at a June 15 “informational meeting” of the organization’s Executive Board. It appears that Bokova might be ready to back away from the prize — “The Director-General has expressed her serious concern over UNESCO’s prestige and has urged Member States to live up to their responsibilities and discuss the future of the prize,” reads press guidance that UNESCO HQ in Paris sent to the agency’s New York office a few days ago. But one source told me that despite the public flogging UNESCO is taking, Bokova will approve the prize unless the Board gives her clear guidance to do otherwise.

The Obama administration (and some European governments) have opposed the prize behind-the-scenes, but the U.S. hasn’t taken a public stance on the matter since objecting to the original decision to create it back in late-2008. If the U.S. and other governments don’t take more aggressive action before June 15, UNESCO will likely move forward with this travesty and confirm its reputation as an agency that sells itself to the highest bidder.

(Note: For those following this story, see the excellent coverage at the Turtle Bay blog.)

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

Weed Whackers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Goose in a Dress

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Genealogy of Orals

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Romancing Kano·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:

The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
creativity

Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

Article
The Prisoner of Sex·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Gangs of Karachi·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Article
Weed Whackers·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
Article
The Neoliberal Arts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today