The Emperor Needs New Clothes

Equatorial Guinea's longtime head of state, Teodoro Obiang, wants to buy legitimacy internationally. Will he succeed?

Unless it is for the cameras and "protocol," not sure why Lula is fake smiling to one of Teodoro Obiang's jokes (Wiki Commons).

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been Life President of Equatorial Guinea for 32 years. He is facing increasing pressure both at home and abroad. To counter this resistance he has tried a bunch of things. He got himself elected chairperson of the African Union. But what else do we expect from the AU. He also has a PR firm in Washington DC on retainer. That may be where his latest scheme originates from: to have a major prize named for him: the $3 million UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences. The prize is to be funded by the “Obiang Nguema Mbasogo Foundation for the Preservation of Life.” More like it is funded from state coffers where the rest of his and his family as well as his associates’ fortune originates from.

Last year was the prize was going to be awarded, but UNESCO’s Executive Board decided to suspend it after its members states failed to reach a consensus and probably after vocal protests by “concerned Equatoguineans, human rights groups, anti-corruption campaigners, and prominent literary, scientific, and cultural figures.” (Some of the “prominent” protesters include Desmond Tutu [who is still agitating against Obiang], Wole Soyinka, Mario Vargas Llosa, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, John Polanyi; Chinua Achebe; and Graça Machel.)

That’s where it would have ended, but as the Committee for the Protection of Journalists reports: “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 resolution at its summit meeting in Equatorial Guinea in July, which President Obiang hosted as this year’s AU chairman.”

On Sunday, October 6, Obiang’s bidders are trying again. UNESCO does not list who’s on the members of the executive board, which is a shame. Anyway, a new campaign by nine prominent human rights organizations hope Obiang does not succeed. Read their statement here.

Further Reading

An unfinished project

Christian theology was appropriated to play an integral role in the justifying apartheid’s racist ideology. Black theologians resisted through a theology of the oppressed.

Writing while black

The film adaptation of Percival Everett’s novel ‘Erasure’ leaves little room to explore Black middle-class complicity in commodifying the traumas of Black working-class lives.

The Mogadishu analogy

In Gaza and Haiti, the specter of another Mogadishu is being raised to alert on-lookers and policymakers of unfolding tragedies. But we have to be careful when making comparisons.

Kwame Nkrumah today

New documents looking at British and American involvement in overthrowing Kwame Nkrumah give us pause to reflect on his legacy, and its resonances today.