September 27, 2011

Am I Not Human? UNESCO-Obiang Science Award

Most of us know so little about Africa. For example, I didn't know very much about Equatorial Guinea. I didn't realize that the leader of Equatorial Guinea is now the longest serving ruler on the continent. What I sadly do realize is that being in office for a long time does not make you a good person.

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the president of Equatorial Guinea, is not a good person. Obiang and close family members have diverted tens of millions of dollars from their country's natural resource earnings to their private benefit. In spite of having attained the highest GDP per capita in Sub-Saharan Africa, 60 percent of Equatoguineans live on less than $1 a day in conditions comparable to Haiti or Chad. President Obiang has neglected to invest available resources in basic social services, resulting in declining primary school attendance, poor health indicators, and needless poverty.

President Obiang is trying to purchase a good image for himself by funding a life sciences prize via the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The $3 million UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences was set up in 2008 but has never been awarded. Implementation of the prize was frozen last year after an outcry from concerned Equatoguineans, human rights groups, anti-corruption campaigners, and prominent literary, scientific, and cultural figures. That action came about after prominent African figures, Latin American writers, Nobel laureates, scientists and public health professionals, press freedom groups, Cano prize winners, and rights organizations from around the world came together in an unprecedented effort to challenge the prize, citing serious concerns about Obiang’s record of corruption and abuse.

This issue is back on the UNESCO agenda at their next meeting in Paris on October 6, 2011. 

An effort by the Obiang government to reinstate the prize in May failed to make it onto the agenda.

But the current initiative has the nominal support of other African countries following an African Union (AU) resolution at its summit meeting in Equatorial Guinea in July, which Obiang hosted as this year’s AU chairman.
"UNESCO should not honor President Obiang," said Tutu Alicante, executive director of EG Justice, an organization based in Washington, DC. "If he wishes to fund science and education around the world, he should start with his own country, where many still lack basic services such as electricity and clean water, while the president and his family flaunt an extravagant lifestyle that is the subject of legal investigations around the world."
Public figures involved in the campaign against the prize have included: Nobel laureates Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Wole Soyinka, Mario Vargas Llosa, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and John Polanyi; author Chinua Achebe; human rights advocate Graça Machel; and over 60 professionals from Equatorial Guinea.

You can join these world leaders by signing an online petition against the prize. 

I encourage all of our villagers to learn more about Equatorial Guinea. My hope is that UNESCO will put an end to this transparent effort by President Obiang to change the narrative of his life.

Roots of Humanity feels that each of us can fight against human rights abuses in the world. We simply need to do something. Protest. Meditate. Pray. In the case of bloggers ... we want you to blog on the 27th of each month. Just share information on behalf of our human siblings in all suffering areas who are either barred from communication by their governments, or lacking in technology to ask: Am I Not Human?

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