UNESCO Gives Award Named for One of World’s Worst Dictators

Thursday, June 17, 2010
Teodoro Obiang with Michelle and Barack Obama

For two years the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been trying to create a life sciences award in the name of the dictator of the West African nation of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who donated $3 million to the international body. American and European leaders, as well as human rights activists, have objected to the naming of the honor on behalf of Obiang, who has ruled his country for more than 30 years.

The controversy arose again in April when UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova announced her intention to select the award’s first three winners. That action prompted U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), chair of the subcommittee overseeing U.S. funding to UNESCO, to question Bokova’s decision in a letter. Leahy brought up the issue of whether the money donated by Obiang was part of the billions of dollars in oil revenue that he has allegedly stolen from the Equatorial Guinea treasury.
Between 1995 and 2003, Obiang transferred at least $700 million into personal accounts in U.S. banks. When asked why he maintained total control of the money, he explained that he needed to do so in order to “avoid corruption.” Obiang once declared that there is no poverty in Equatorial Guinea. Rather, "The people are used to living in a different way."
One of the critics is Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who accused UNESCO of “allowing itself to burnish the unsavory reputation of a dictator.” Tutu recommended the money be returned to Equatorial Guinea “rather than to glorify their president.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff


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