The New York Times had a story today about a topic I have covered here several times lately: how Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the dictator of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, is seeking to give UNESCO $3 million to create an award in his name.
The Times says that Obiang’s adviser for international organizations, Agapito Mba-Mokuy, claimed that “critics are unfairly singling out Equatorial Guinea for scrutiny” and quotes him as saying, “There are around 30 prizes in UNESCo. Why is it that so many additional criteria are added only to this first, and so far only, scientific donation of this kind from an African member state?”
In other words, the criticism is due to the fact that Obiang has black skin.
In fact, the criticism is because Obiang’s regime is the worst of the worst. As the Times noted, “According to the African Economic Outlook, 77 percent of Equatorial Guinea’s population fell below the poverty line in 2006. The country has one of the highest infant-mortality rates in the world and an average life expectancy of 62. It ranks among the bottom 13 countries on Transparency International’s corruption index, and ninth on the Freedom House list of the world’s most repressive countries.”
“I haven’t looked at all of the awards, but the ones I know about are not controversial and some are really great, like the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize for courageous journalists,” Lisa Misol of Human Rights Watch told me. “I’d be totally shocked if anything else came close, in terms of being named after a despot.”
It’s hard to say who comes off looking sleazier in this, Obiang or UNESCO, though probably the latter. Obiang has offered the organization $3 million to endow the “Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences.” Half of that will go to five recipients and UNESCO gets the other half — $1.5 million — to administer the prize, which basically consists of signing checks and vetting candidates. Sweet deal.