Jul 20th, 2012 10:15 AM UTC
By Guest Blogger
Tutu Alicante, founder and executive director of EG Justice, a NGO that focuses on improving human rights and governance in his native Equatorial Guinea, reports on the latest news on the President Obiang’s UNESCO prize.
It’s been a troubling week for those of us concerned with corruption and bad governance. And it is a troubling day for most Equatoguineans.
On Tuesday evening, UNESCO awarded the controversial prize sponsored by President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, my native country. The decision to do so is an embarrassment for the organization and a setback in the effort to press for good governance and government accountability in Equatorial Guinea.
The UNESCO-Equatorial Guinea International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences was awarded despite an unprecedented global outcry from a myriad of actors, including Nobel Laureates, Cano prize winners, prominent African and Latin American intellectuals and literary figures, scientists, public health professionals, press freedom groups and civil society organizations.
Many Equatoguineans bravely spoke out against the prize, as did many other Africans, including prominent champions of social justice like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, and the renowned writer Chinua Achebe. Their voices were ignored by UNESCO delegates, apparently more concerned with strengthening their diplomatic and business ties to the Obiang regime and standing up for a false idea of “African Solidarity” than with upholding the principles espoused by UNESCO.
In moving forward with the prize, UNESCO is helping to launder the image of a man who has tightly controlled power since 1979, and who appears intent on creating a family dynasty by eventually handing power over to his son. That son, commonly referred to as Teodorín, is the subject of a corruption investigation in the United States and is wanted under an international arrest warrant issued last week in France –- the same country in which the prize ceremony took place.
The stated goal of the UNESCO prize is “contributing to improving the quality of human life.” Having been in power for 33 years, President Obiang has had ample time to improve the quality of human life inside my country. Yet the vast majority of Equatoguineans remain mired in poverty without reliable access to clean drinking water or good healthcare. President Obiang, his family, and close associates, on the other hand, enjoy outrageously luxurious lifestyles with the money obtained from Equatorial Guinea’s vast oil wealth.
The hypocrisy of the prize is further outlined by the politically motivated detention of Dr. Wenceslao Mansogo Alo, a well-respected medical doctor in a country with too few qualified doctors. Dr. Mansogo, who is also a human rights activist and leading member of an opposition party, has had his medical license revoked and his clinic closed, despite receiving a pardon by President Obiang in June 2012.
The harassment of Dr. Mansogo is not unique: Equatoguineans are kept in a state of fear by a regime that uses arbitrary arrest, harassment, and torture to intimidate critical voices inside the country.
Back in March, when UNESCO approved the prize, some of the 33 UNESCO delegates who voted in favor (18 voted against and six abstained) claimed that the prize demonstrated that developing countries could help themselves. Yes, that is true. They can. And they should. But developing countries are not helped by a prize that reflects bad governance.
Despite its name, this is not a prize supported by the people of Equatorial Guinea.
This is President Obiang’s prize. He unilaterally decided to give UNESCO $3 million from the state treasury in an effort to polish his tarnished international image.
UNESCO’s decision to suspend the prize in 2010 and 2011 in response to overwhelming pressure was eye-opening for many of my fellow countrymen and women. For perhaps the first time, they realized that President Obiang wasn’t invincible. It opened a crack in the façade of his all-powerful regime.
I fear that UNESCO’s unfortunate geopolitically-driven decision to award the prize will close that crack, extinguish that ray of hope, and give root to a hardened cynicism in which Equatoguineans believe that the international community has turned its back on them. In one sense, UNESCO already has.
Follow EG Justice on Twitter: @EGJustice
Mar 1st, 2012 1:23 PM UTC
By Malaka Gharib
Over the past few months, ONE has become very interested in the government affairs of Equatorial Guinea, a tiny Spanish-speaking country off the Western coast of Africa. The country, home to sizeable petroleum reserves, is one of the richest on the continent — but also has the most uneven distribution of wealth. Approximately 70 percent of the country lives below the poverty line, while those in power are living a life of incredible opulence.
The cause for this disparity is unquestionably corruption, specifically in the extractives (oil, mining, gas, etc.) industry. To learn more about this issue in Equatorial Guinea and beyond, we spoke to Tutu Alicante, an Equatoguinean human rights lawyer and the executive director of EG Justice, an NGO devoted to fighting corruption in Equatorial Guinea. You might recognize his name from our email at the beginning of our extractives transparency campaign, where he expressed his outrage at companies denying millions the chance to escape extreme poverty.
In our interview, he talks about how he got started in the anti-corruption business, EG President Obiang’s crazy antics, and how ONE members can get more involved in promoting transparency.
How did you get started?
I grew up in Equatorial Guinea and witnessed a lot of horrendous things. In 1993, there was an incident in Annobón, my hometown, where two young men were killed and several men were tortured severely. Many of the young men ran into the forest in fear, including my cousin. When the government couldn’t find him, they burned down our family’s house.
I had a conversation with my father when I asked him what we should do, and he said there is nothing we can do. As a young man, those were shocking words, that the government could just do whatever they want — with absolute impunity — and there’s nothing you can do. I came to the US a year after that, thinking I’d become a journalist. But during college, when oil was discovered in Equatorial Guinea, I realized that oil was going to be central to the future of my country. I wanted to know what would happen to the revenues of that natural resource, knowing it would create an economic, political and social fissure. So, I became a lawyer, thinking that the law would give me the tools to advocate for the rule of law, human rights and transparency.
Can you talk to us a little more about the idea of “secret deals” between oil companies and governments? I think for many Americans, this came a bit as a surprise.
When oil is found in a place like Equatorial Guinea, the government signs an agreement with multinational energy companies to explore, produce and distribute that oil. As part of the contract, the energy companies are obligated to make several payments to the government of the host country; including bonus payments, royalties, national income taxes and various other types of taxes.
In countries with an established tradition of rule of law, and checks and balances, these payments are accounted for and done in a transparent manner. In the case of Equatorial Guinea, however, where the president and his family are above the law and make no distinctions between the state and their personal accounts, information about payments is kept secret. So people — including parliamentarians — today don’t know how much oil is being produced, or how much is being collected in revenues.
ONE has been following the antics of President Obiang for some time now. Doesn’t he ever drive you absolutely crazy? Why don’t EG citizens do anything about it?
He doesn’t drive me crazy. I do not let things within my control drive me crazy. Obiang’s government has come to represent secrecy and human rights violations, but those are issues that we in Equatorial Guinea and the global community, know how to solve. EG, as bad as it is, is not the only case is systematic corruption and impunity. Similar regimes in Libya and Egypt have been toppled, and others, like in Burma, appear to be moving in the right direction, and that’s why he doesn’t drive me crazy.
As far as corruption goes, have you seen EG change for the better or worse? Why?
So far, Equatorial Guinea has gotten worse. The reason being when you have a small country, with limited resources, in which most people are poor and corruption is systematic, the amount of damage of that corruption has is comparably small. But, when you have a country with a per capita GDP comparable to that of the UK or Germany, and yet one family mismanages all that wealth, the disparity or inequality soon becomes one of criminal proportion. Corruption in this later context has a cumulative that cannot and should not be ignored.
We’re talking about government officials who are taking millions of dollars through extortion and bribes and assert that the law authorizes it. We are also talking about government officials whose position depends on their unquestionable loyalty to the presidential family. Until we, the people of Equatorial Guinea realize that corruption is hurting us all, the presidential family and their cronies will continue to engage in it.
How can international activists like our ONE members help improve transparency in EG and beyond aside from signing our petition?
We need the global community to pitch in. We can’t solve this problem alone. By far the most important thing you can do is to be vocal in your communities. Government authorities in the US are responsive to you as their constituents and if you make global transparency in the extractive industry a priority agenda for them, then you will be helping to address issues of poverty and inequality in faraway places like Equatorial Guinea.
So, we have more than 130,000 signatures on our extractives transparency petition. How does that make you feel?
Elated, extremely happy. We need all the support we can get to make extractive transparency a cornerstone of international relations, foreign policy and trade globally. I really thank the ONE for picking this issue up, and bringing it to the attention of your supporters around the world.
What is the most interesting thing that people need to know about corruption as a phenomenon?
Corruption is more than about money and lavish lifestyles. It is about human beings. I often tell the story of an sister who died when she was 21, in the central hospital of Malabo—the capital of Equatorial Guinea—without a doctor present, the needed medicine that could have saved her, or electricity. Similarly, a cousin, three years younger than me, died in the same way. Almost every family in my country can tell that story about a relative. And for me, that is a problem with corruption. When money that is supposed to be used to guarantee peoples basic dignity and life is diverted to purchase mansions, private jets and luxury cars, human beings die. Corruption has a tremendous price.
Stay in touch with Tutu Alicante on Twitter at @EGJustice. And take action by asking european leaders to stand up to corporate lobbying against proposed EU laws requiring oil, gas and mining companies to publish payments to foreign governments.
Feb 8th, 2012 10:15 AM UTC
By ONE Partners
Guest blog post from EG Justice’s Tutu Alicante:
I spend each day of my life fighting corruption. I’ve seen friends beaten and jailed for highlighting fraud and abuse. There are many people like me across Africa. But we can’t win this fight alone. Corruption is a global problem. That’s why I’m writing to ask you to add your voice.
Right now, a few of the world’s biggest oil, gas and mining companies are fighting hard to keep some very big secrets. They are lobbying against proposed laws supported by major European leaders that would lift the lid on trillions of dollars paid to governments across Africa – secret payments which can sometimes get into the wrong hands. This money should be going into vital services like schools, health clinics and roads that could help lift hundreds of millions out of poverty, not into the pockets of a few.
Government ministers from across Europe meet in less than two weeks to discuss this legislation. It could save lives in Africa and help build a future where nobody needs to rely on aid. But some corporate lobbyists have swung into action and are trying to kill this effective legislation. Don’t let them win.
Please stand with me and sign the petition telling European leaders not to give in to corporate lobbying
The full petition reads:
Dear European Leaders,
Please stand up to corporate lobbying against proposed EU laws requiring oil, gas and mining companies to publish payments to foreign governments. Pass strong laws that will help citizens spot corruption and ensure the money is used to lift millions of people out of poverty.
Over the last decade, multinational companies have paid trillions of dollars to African governments in exchange for their natural resources. This is set to continue well into the future, providing a massive opportunity to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. When African citizens like me can see what our governments are paid, we can make sure money is being spent on vital services.
Corruption deprives nations of their future. If enough of you join with me we can help put an end to this trillion dollar scandal.
ONE member and Executive Director of EG Justice
EG Justice is an African organization that campaigns for human rights, the rule of law, transparency and citizen participation in Equatorial Guinea.
Jan 21st, 2012 10:12 AM UTC
By Katie Martin
Today, world famous footballers from clubs across the world are gathering in Equatorial Guinea for the Africa Cup of Nations – the world’s third most watched football tournament.
Thanks to oil, Equatorial Guinea’s per capita wealth is similar to that of most European countries, yet poverty remains endemic and the vast majority of people can only dream of being able to afford tickets to the games. Many in the country have little or no access to running water, affordable health care or quality education. Nearly one out of every eight children dies before reaching their fifth birthday.
ONE has joined forces with African civil society group EG Justice to call on Europe’s leaders to take swift action to help combat the corruption and misuse of funds that has led to this extreme inequality in Equatorial Guinea. The European Commission has proposed legislation that would require oil, gas, mining and forestry companies to publish all the payments they make to governments – broken down to the level of individual projects – so that they can be held accountable by groups like EG Justice. We’re asking MEPs and member states to fully support these proposals, and ensure that essential aspects like project by project reporting are not watered down in the face of heavy corporate lobbying.
Tutu Alicante, the executive director of EG Justice, said:
“The government of Equatorial Guinea hopes that the recently completed luxury hotels, golf resorts, and shiny monuments will disguise the grinding poverty that dominates the lives of most people in the oil-rich nation. They must not be allowed to get away with this deception.
“Government secrecy allows officials in Equatorial Guinea to spend money according to their whims. The government spent 580 million Euros on Sipopo, a luxury resort with a private golf course. At least 13 presidential palaces have been or are being constructed in ten cities across the country, a rate of one palace for every 54,000 people in this country. This shows a shocking disregard for the needs of the people in Equatorial Guinea.”
We’ve already managed to get some media coverage of the issue in the UK, France and Spain, which will help put the issue on the radar of European leaders. But we’ll be keeping up the pressure until we get the legally binding measures that we need.
Mar 3rd, 2011 7:50 PM UTC
By Joseph Powell
When a government minister on an official salary of $6,799 a month commissions plans for a super-yacht worth $380 million, there are bound to be questions asked over where the money is coming from. When that minister happens to be the son of a notorious dictator in one of Africa’s most oil dependent countries, it fits an unfortunate pattern that links embezzlement with natural resource revenue.
In Equatorial Guinea, the rich live very well indeed. However most of the population still lives in poverty and one-fifth of children die before their fifth birthday. In a country with huge oil deposits the inequality is sickening. Indeed the yacht Teodorin Obiang made plans for costs more than the combined spending on health and education in the country.
It is situations like this that sparked into ONE into action on promoting transparency in the extractive industries. We want all payments made to resource-rich countries from companies to be published, so that local activists can hold their governments accountable for revenue received. The US passed a law along these lines last July, and now we are asking European governments to follow suit. Transparency in itself is not the whole answer, but it is a crucial first step towards empowering the brave citizens who stand up to corruption with the information they need. In that way, we can move towards a world where it is much harder for the Obiangs and Gaddafis to secretly use their country’s natural resources for their own enrichment.
Nov 11th, 2010 2:35 PM UTC
By Guillaume Grosso
Ill-gotten gains never prosper; except, it would seem, when falling into the hands of leaders of the some of the world’s poorest countries. It is estimated that the fortune misappropriated by some leaders in recent decades represents at least 100 billion dollars. Perhaps even 1,000 billion, according to the former head of the IMF, Michel Camdessus: money that could be used for the development of those countries who need it most.
The scourge appears to be even worse in countries with abundant mineral resources, petroleum and gas. In oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, for example, the GNP per capita is around 30,000 dollars, 10 times more than the average in Africa and almost as much as in country such as France. Yet, according to a World Bank study, 77% of the population live below the poverty line; and the African Development Bank assesses the maternal mortality rate to be among one of the highest in the world.
The looting organised by corrupt elites can be seen put to use in their lavish lifestyles, with luxury villas on the Côte d’Azur, limousines and expensive jewellery. In an attempt to bring an end to such practices the non-profit organisations Transparency International and Sherpa lodged a complaint in 2008 regarding the conditions under which very sizeable amounts of moveable and immovable assets were purchased in France by the Heads of State of the Congo, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, as well as by members of their entourages.
The complaint was quickly blocked by the Paris Court of Appeal, which declared it inadmissible. But earlier this week, following months of uncertainty, the Court of Cassation finally ruled the complaint admissible, meaning that justice may now finally be done.
Good news is sometimes hard to come by, and so it’s with great pleasure that I’m able to share this news with you. It’s a wonderful victory for all of those men and women who believe that together we can build a fairer world.
The International ONE Blog is a daily log of the anti-poverty movement. The site is operated by ONE staff, with guest contributions from ONE volunteers, members and allies.
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