The vote of the Executive Council of UNESCO to accept funds from the government of Equatorial Guinea to establish an international prize for research in the life sciences marked the end of a successful diplomatic campaign by the African nation to gain international support for the prize.
The government of Equatorial Guinea celebrated a diplomatic victory when it received news that the council had voted on March 8 to adopt the prize. The vote was 33 votes in favor, many of them from the African group, 18 against and 6 abstentions.
“We are grateful for the support of our many friends, not just in Africa, but in Asia, Latin America, and other part of the world,” said Minister of Information Jeronimo Osa Osa Ecoro. “This vote was a result of our successful diplomatic work and a victory for common sense over ideology and intransigence.”
Equatorial Guinea had worked feverishly to gain international support and to accommodate other nations’ reservations about the prize, which had been accepted by UNESCO in 2008. UNESCO later rescinded its acceptance. The vote to rescind was a result of pressure by human rights and political organizations critical of the government of Equatorial Guinea.
Originally titled the Obiang-UNESCO Prize for Research in the Life Sciences, the award will now be called the UNESCO-Equatorial Guinea International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences.
When objections arose over the name of the prize, President Obiang agreed to withdraw his name. “His position is that he conceived of the prize to encourage scientific research, not to memorialize himself,” said Mr. Osa Ecoro, “and his commitment to promote scientific research in Africa through UNESCO has not wavered through this process.”
The prize is intended to fund research in diseases afflicting the African continent, such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Equatorial Guinea has been recognized by international health organizations such as the United Nations’ Roll Back Malaria campaign for its dramatic progress in combatting malaria.
Once the campaign to rescind the 2008 UNESCO vote gained momentum, what began as an initiative to promote science soon became a matter of national pride and a foreign-policy priority for Equatorial Guinea, and for many African governments, a matter of defense of the African identity. Equatorial Guinea was enjoyed steadfast support from the African bloc countries, which endorsed the prize from the beginning and encouraged Equatorial Guinea to fight for acceptance.
The government of Equatorial Guinea sees the campaign to pressure UNESCO to refuse its offer as part of a larger problem.
“We are very aware of criticism over conditions in our country, and we accept that many criticisms of us are legitimate, but we should also be recognized for the great efforts we are making to improve the situation in Equatorial Guinea and to do what we can to promote progress in Africa and offer humanitarian assistance far from home,” said Mr. Osa Ecoro.