Money for good causes: does the source matter?

Kabanda’s Musings In May 2009, Human Rights Watch (HRW) made two fundraising drives in Saudi Arabia and among the more than 50 guests in one reception in Riyadh were three the spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior; the deputy head of the Human Rights Commission and a member of the Shura council (a government-appointed consultative body), three government bodies. 
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

Kabanda’s Musings

In May 2009, Human Rights Watch (HRW) made two fundraising drives in Saudi Arabia and among the more than 50 guests in one reception in Riyadh were three the spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior; the deputy head of the Human Rights Commission and a member of the Shura council (a government-appointed consultative body), three government bodies. 

David Bernstein of George Mason University argued that something is “wrong when a human rights organization goes to one of the worst countries in the world for human rights to raise money...”  HRW is   reported to have responded to the criticism thus; “that any money from Saudi Arabia is tainted because it comes from a country with a totalitarian ruling regime is a gross generalization.

The ethnic background of our donors is irrelevant to the work we do...”  Nathan Wagner argued that : “Surely there is a moral difference between raising funds in free nations through appeals to ideals of universal human rights and raising money in repressive nations...”

Prior to the 14th session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union in Addis Ababa from January 31 to February 2, 2010 there was speculation that the “Brother Leader”, “Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”, “creator of the eighth wonder of the world”, “the King of Kings of Africa”, “leader of the Arab leaders” and “Imam of the Muslims” Colonel Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi would seek  to ‘change the Constitution of the African Union’  and give himself another one year  term as its Chairman.

The argument many proponents pushed forward was that Gaddafi had the monetary resources, legacy, hard-nosed no-nonsense attitude, respect of fellow African leaders and clout to be the “class monitor” of the implementation of the decisions of the Union. One proponent had earlier compared the Colonel to “the Prophets of the Bible and the Koran” and requested the Heads of states to “follow the guide who is showing us the way”.

Besides, no wannabe revolutionary would disrespect the Colonel by carrying out a coup during his tenure as AU chairman, after all  the 2009 AU summit in Tripoli, Libya had declared 2010 the Year for Peace and Security in Africa.

Opponents argued that any extension of the Colonel’s stay would be detrimental to the AU Charter and did not augur well with efforts to make African rulers respect term limits in their national constitutions.

Thankfully Colonel Gaddafi handed over chairmanship to Dr. Bingu Wa Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi saying that, “The AU chairperson doesn’t have any prerogative actually...There is no need for any title, I’ll remain in the front struggling.”

In his address UNESCO’s annual meeting of governments on 30th   October, 2007 the “Gentleman of the great island of Bioko, Annobón and Río Muni,  El Jefe (the boss), “a  god who is ‘in permanent contact with the Almighty’” and “can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell” His Excellence, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, possibly concerned about his advancing age and fear of  death,  proposed to the Director-General of UNESCO the establishment of a prize entitled “the UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences” to reward projects and activities of individuals or groups, institutions, or non-governmental organizations who have contributed, through research in the life sciences to improving the quality of human life.

Obiang Nguema Mbasogo Foundation for the Preservation of Life – would deposit the amount of US $3 million in an account with UNESCO, in accordance with the Financial Regulations of the latter.

UNESCO’s executive board which is comprised of representatives of 58 states under director general Irina Bokova approved the fund in 2008.

Of the three million dollars endowment cash, half of the money, $1.5 million, will go to awardees while the other half will be used to cover the costs of organizing the competition.

According to the terms of the UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences, a winner or group of winners shall be presented by UNESCO a cheque amounting to US $300,000 in addition to a diploma and a medal. UNESCO will announce the name of the prizewinner(s). In case of work produced by two or more persons, the prize will be jointly shared however winners cannot be three.

The prizewinner/s are expected to give a lecture ‘on a subject relevant to the work for which the prize’ and shall be organized during the ceremony to award the prize.

The work produced by a person since deceased shall not be considered for a prize. The deadline for application was 30 April while the award ceremony is slated for late June 2010.

Individuals and human rights groups has condemned UNESCO for associating itself with a prize sponsored by Obiang Nguema, arguing that his record before and during his 30 year rule is a disgrace.

“The prize’s $3m endowment should be used for the education and welfare of the people of Equatorial Guinea, rather than the glorification of their president,” Tutu Alicante of the human rights organization EG Justice was quoted as saying. Another commentator, Kenneth Hurwitz, observed “UNESCO should have pulled this prize long ago.
Instead, it acts as a public relations firm for Obiang’s brutal and kleptocratic regime.

A presidential advisor to Obiang Nguema, Agapito Mba Mokuy countered that, “Some people may not be used to having African countries donating funds in science. This is a humanitarian action on behalf of the president”.  The award “is a very important gesture for the member states” he was quoted.

Large oil reserves estimated at 1.1 billion barrels of oil were discovered in Equatorial Guinea in 1996 whose exploitation has contributed to a change of fortune for the country ranking the country the third largest exporter among Sub-Sahara African countries only behind Nigeria and Angola.

It produces more than to 360,000 barrels of oil per day.  Forbes Magazine declared Obiang one of the “wealthiest Heads of state” with a fortune of 600 million dollars. 
In 2003, Obiang took full control of the national treasury in order to prevent public employees from corruption consquently deposited more than half a billion dollars on accounts controlled by his family in a Riggs Bank in Washington, D.C.

In November 2006, Obiang Nguema’s son bought a house worth $ 35 million in California, USA.

The house has the highest property tax in Malibu. Since 2004, President Obiang Nguema has employed a Public Relations firm Cassidy & Associates at a rate of at least $120,000 a month. Revenues from oil have been spent on mansions in Spain, and Luxembourg, private jets and expensive cars.

On the other hand the Republic of Equatorial Guinea has one university, the Universidad Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial (UNGE).

There are five shortwave and three FM radio stations. The country produces 23 MWh of electricity and water is only available in a few major towns. Equatorial Guinea ranks 121st out of 177 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index despite a per capita GDP of more than US$30,000.

The state-owned media and the main private radio station are under the directorship of the president’s son. Land line telephone service is poor with only two lines available for every 100 persons.

Should UNESCO have turned down the offer of money the “UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences” because it is from a dictator? Would not it be used to buy other expensive mansions and cars in Luxembourg and Malibu? If not spent on the award would it remain in the national coffers?

Does the source of money for good causes mean much as the use it is put to?

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