Washington Babylon — June 14, 2010, 11:12 am

Will UNESCO hop in bed with dictator for $3 million? Obama administration comes out against award

Tomorrow UNESCO will decide if it has any shred of dignity or if it will allow itself to be used by a corrupt African dictator for PR purposes. As I’ve been covering here, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has ruled oil-rich Equatorial Guinea since 1979, wants to give UNESCO $3 million to create the “Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences.” Only a growing global protest against the idea has prompted UNESCO to rethink this harebrained scheme.

Here’s the latest update, courtesy of Lisa Misol at Human Rights Watch:

Seven recipients of UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom prize sent a letter to UNESCO opposing the prize. The Cano prize laureates cited “severe repression in Equatorial Guinea.”

A global coalition of more than 170 organizations wrote to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanding that he cancel the UNESCO-Obiang award.

Desmond Tutu issued a statement saying, “The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization is a beacon for hope and development around the world. I am appalled that this organization, which holds such promise, is allowing itself to burnish the unsavory reputation of a dictator.”

The European Union sent a letter to UNESCO expressing “serious concern” about the award. Government officials in Canada, France and the United Kingdom have made statements opposing the award.

Incidentally, the Obama administration (representing American oil companies with billions invested in Equatorial Guinea) has not taken a public stand as of yet.

Here is the official statement of the government of Equatorial Guinea, crafted by its Washington lobbying firm, Qorvis Communications:

“The Government of Equatorial Guinea deeply regrets the controversy currently taking place in the international community regarding the UNESCO Prize—particularly among friendly nations such as France, which have even recently praised us for our progress. There exists a great deal of misperception about Equatorial Guinea, an issue that is partly our fault since we have not always responded to inaccuracies that have appeared in the international press or have been perpetuated by our critics. This will now change.”

It appears that Qorvis has convinced Obiang to stop branding critics of the award as racist, which was not a brilliant move given that so many of the critics were Africans, like Desmond Tutu. And there are no “misperceptions” about Equatorial Guinea. Other than Obiang and Qorvis, there’s universal condemnation of the horrible regime there.

Update: This afternoon David Killion, the U.S. representative to UNESCO, wrote a letter to the organization asking it to suspend the prize. “The United States supports a strong and effective UNESCO,” he wrote. “To carry out its mandate UNESCO must maintain public support, but I fear it is now in danger of losing it.

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