Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Controversy over a proposed UNESCO Science Prize

An earlier photo of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

Principle source for this post: "African Union 'would consider taking on UNESCO-Obiang science prize'," Yojana Sharma, SciDev.Net, 27 August 2010

There is a controversy now over the proposed UNESCO-Obiang Prize. According to UNESCO, the proposed purpose of this Prize was "to reward the projects and activities of an individual, individuals, institutions, other entities or non-governmental organizations for scientific research in the life sciences leading to improving the quality of human life."

"UNESCO member states agreed in 2008 to establish the award with a US$3 million endowment from Equatorial Guinea's president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, but the decision on the first prize due to be awarded last March was postponed because of a public outcry over apparent association with the Obiang regime."

According to the New York Times, one of the precipitating actions that encouraged UNESCO's Director General, Irina Bokova, to request that the Executive Board reconsider the prize was a letter from U.S. Permanent Representative to UNESCO, David Killion, urging UNESCO to suspend plans to award the prize.

Now it appears that the African Union may be willing to step in and award the prise instead of UNESCO. A formal decision by UNESCO is expected  in October.

Clearly such a prize has the potential to recognize important scientific achievements, and equally clearly there are significant issues in associating UNESCO with the donor of this prize in so public a manner, as well as accepting funds from such a source. Were the African Union to accept the responsibility of awarding the prize, it might choose to limit the award to African scientists, which might be helpful in stimulating useful scientific research where it is so badly needed.

John Daly
(The opinions expressed in this posting are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Americans for UNESCO.)

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