Tuesday, March 13, 2012

UNESCO VOTE A SIGN OF EQUATORIAL GUINEA’S ACTIVE FOREIGN POLICY

Nation has been slowly raising its profile through engagement, humanitarian aid, exchanges


Last week’s UNESCO vote to institute a $3 million prize for biological research sponsored by the government of Equatorial Guinea was a sign of that nation’s increasingly active—and successful—foreign policy.

Equatorial Guinea offered to fund a prize to promote studies related to the most important health problems affecting Africa, such as malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS, in 2008. UNESCO initially had accepted the donation, but later reversed itself when some member states came under pressure from human-rights and political groups critical of Equatorial Guinea’s government.

Equatorial Guinea never wavered in its determination to establish the prize and mounted a diplomatic campaign to gain support for its position, finally offering to remove the name of the country’s president, Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, from the prize in order to accommodate the reservations of some nations.

Last week, UNESCO’s Executive Council again reversed the institution’s position, agreeing to establish the prize by a vote of 33 to 18, with 6 abstentions. Equatorial Guinea prevailed on the strength of support from African, Latin American, and Middle East nations.

On March 12, the government of Equatorial Guinea issued a statement expressing its gratitude to the nations that supported it and its respect for UNESCO, adding that the country “would have also respected it if the result had been the opposite.” The statement said that the people of Equatorial Guinea “are proud to be able to contribute with their current wealth to the development of studies on diseases that are also experienced by some of their inhabitants, and are looking forward to recovering the lost years of research to find, in the near future, results and new hope in the fight against these illnesses.”

But while the UNESCO prize may have drawn international attention to Equatorial Guinea, it was not the country’s first international humanitarian initiative. Equatorial Guinea made donations for earthquake relief in China in 2008 and Haiti in 2010, and for tsunami relief in Japan and famine relief in Somalia last year.

The government announced today that it would send a shipment of food, medicine and clothing to the Republic of Congo to aid victims of the explosion in the neighborhood of Mpila, in the northern part of Brazzaville, which killed more than two hundred people and injured many others.

Equatorial Guinea has also been busy building diplomatic relationships through exchanges of high-level visits—including state visits—with nations ranging from Brazil and Suriname to Russia and China. It has been particularly active in African diplomacy, which has featured exchanges of state visits with many of its fellow African states aimed at increasing trade as well as cooperation in regional political and economic matters, technology, agriculture, petroleum issues, and forestry.

Last year, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to mediate a maritime-boundary dispute, which both nations characterized as a dispute between friends.

Recently, the Republic of Korea announced that it would open an embassy in Malabo, joining Spain, France, China, Cuba, Morocco, and the United States. Several sub-Saharan African countries, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon and Ghana, also have embassies in Malabo.

Equatorial Guinea has also sought a leadership role in multilateral affairs and has made the country a venue for pan-African and other international events.

It was at the center of African politics during President Obiang’s tenure as chairman of the African Union, during which time he frequently urged African nations to work together to resolve African problems rather than seek assistance or cede responsibility to outside powers and organizations.

The African Union Summit inaugurated Equatorial Guinea’s new international conference center in Sipopo in July 2011. At that time, Equatorial Guinea offered to host the headquarters of the African Union Youth Corps. It currently hosts the headquarters of the Confederation of National Non-Governmental Organizations in Africa.

Sipopo will be the site of the Africa-South America Summit in May, and President Obiang announced on December 22 that the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation will hold its summit in Sipopo in August 2012, which will bring 2-3,000 people to the country. Equatorial Guinea was broadly praised for its preparations in co-hosting—with neighboring Gabon-- the Africa Cup of Nations in January and February 2012.

Equatorial Guinea has also taken advantage of international exchanges to educate young people to take positions in an increasingly modern society. Hundreds of students study each year in Spain, Cuba, the United States, Morocco, Russia, France and other nations. The government recently announced that 254 Equatoguinean students will travel to the Dominican Republic over the next five years for studies in agriculture.