The four-year-long skirmish at the United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) over whether to give a “life sciences” award funded by Equatorial Guinea “President” Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Africa’s longest-serving dictator, continues.
Obiang won the latest round, as a UNESCO board meeting in Paris Thursday voted 33-19 to remove his name from the prize and replace it with his country’s name, thereby likely allowing the prize to be given.
The United States voted no, but African countries, an Arab bloc and traditional democracies such China, Cuba, Belarus, Pakistan and Russia voted in favor.
Human rights groups, western democracies and prominent African leaders such as Archbiship Emeritus Desmond Tutu had strongly objected to the award, noting that the State Department constantly slams Obiang for things like “arbitrary arrest, detention” and judicial corruption.
But Obiang, who put up $3 million for the award (to be given over five years), kept trying, most recently taking his name off the award and just having the country’s name on it.
UNESCO kept stalling, hoping he would just go away or maybe might somehow be embarrassed by charges the money came from Obiang’s preposterous looting of the oil-rich country’s treasury.
Detractors cited a Justice Department effort to seize a Malibu mansion worth $30 million, a fleet of luxury cars, a $38.5 million Gulfstream jet, Michael Jackson clothing and various other items owned by the dictator’s playboy son, who has a yearly salary of $81,000.
Just weeks ago French authorities, investigating alleged embezzlement, reportedly seized truckloads of art and antiquities said to be worth more than $50 million from the son’s six-floor mansion in a tony Paris neighborhood.
But, despite Thursday’s vote, the fight over the prize may not be over. Despite UNESCO’s inspired effort to discredit itself, the organization’s legal office has determined that legal problems related to the name change and other matters may make it impossible to award the prize.
Washington stopped paying $80 million dues and contributions to UNESCO after the organization granted membership to the Palestinian Authority in October.
Thursday’s action sure isn’t going to help efforts to somehow restore that funding.