UNESCO, the U.N. body whose mission is to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue, is suspending plans to name a science fellowship for the corrupt despot ruling Equatorial Guinea.
Teodoro Obiang Nguema had offered to put $3 million towards the prize, money suspected of coming from illegally sequestered oil profits.
The suspension bows to concerns of human rights and anti-corruption campaigners who had mounted relentless struggle against the awards sponsored by the corrupt African leader who instituted a regime of graft and corruption in his home country.
Nobel laureates Desmond Tutu and Wole Soyinka, Graça Machel and Chinua Achebe plus over 100 other concerned Africans, all came out against the prize in an open letter addressed to UNESCO. "Not all Africans believe that a dictator should be able to purchase legitimacy through a prize created in Paris,” they observed in the letter.
Teodoro Nguema Obiang, the scion’s eldest son, is linked with a series of scandals around the world including his questionable ownership of a $35 million mansion in Malibu.
While the West African country is oil-rich, some 77% of the population falls below the poverty line. Maternity and infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world.
UK-based rights watchdog Global Witness welcomed the suspension of the dictator's prize. Simon Taylor, Director of Global Witness, said: “We’re pleased the board has seen sense and decided not to award the prize. But we still believe they should definitively cancel it for good – and while they are at it, ensure that this shameful period is never repeated again. A dictator who has impoverished his citizens and enriched himself and his family by plundering the country’s oil wealth has no place sponsoring a UN prize."