The response from Leon H. Sullivan Foundation CEO Hope Sullivan Masters to the criticisms surrounding the groups’ summit is nothing more than a desperate attempt to defend the indefensible: the aiding and abetting of one of Africa’s worst dictators.
Hope Sullivan Masters, daughter of the late Leon H. Sullivan, is under intense international criticism for the decision to host the Sullivan Foundation’s 9th Biennial Africa Rising Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. The four-day summit will be hosted by none other than President Teodoro Obiang, who has been in power since 1979, and whose plunder of Equatorial Guinea’s oil revenues has enriched him and his family to the tune $600 million. Numerous African American VIPs from the worlds of politics, business, media, and entertainment are planning to attend.
Sullivan’s response posted Monday evening lashed at out her critics: journalists, bloggers, and human rights organizations. She calls the Foundation’s detractors “misinformed individuals who are clearly hell-bent on throwing rocks at others.” She also questions their professionalism and integrity: these journalists and human rights organizations make claims “without fact checking…of their outrageous claims of ongoing abuse and corruption [in Equatorial Guinea]”.
But it is her facts that need checking.
Masters claims that Obiang’s 2011 election as head of the African Union by other African leaders represents the democratic voice of Africans. She states that the election of Obiang as AU chair is an example of the “nations of Africa speak[ing] in one voice, in the great tradition of democracy Africa has been encouraged to adopt.” The reality is, the President of the African Union is chosen by member heads of state, not by any electorate or parliament, and those members include such bastions of unfreedom as Sudan, Eritrea, Togo, Central African Republic, Seirra Leone, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, and Chad. Previous chairs have included Muammar Gaddafi, and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria.
Masters urges critics to come and learn about Equatorial Guinea. The Sullivan Foundation is fact paying a number of journalists to come and cover the Summit. I was offered a full trip to Equatorial Guinea by the Sullivan Foundation myself and was told I would have access to whatever I needed for my story. But, the programmers organizers repeatedly told me they “didn’t want any bad press” and that I must write a “good story.” I declined the offer as I feel any journalist must if she wishes to remain objective.
As for Obiang’s well-documented corruption, Masters waves these accusations away as “outdated news accounts”, “blasphemous statements” and “tawdry details of legal matters concerning the family of the President of Equatorial Guinea”. Actually, the charges of corruption, money laundering, and use of illegal assets from the United States are fairly recent, with the official investigations launched last October. Just last week, France began to seize the assets of Teodorin Nguema Obiang, the son of the President, beginning with a $124 million Paris villa.
Hope Masters claims that Equatorial Guinea under Obiang is a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Inititative (EITI) and has “elected voluntarily to comply with rules and obligations…govern[ing] the use of resources provided by oil, natural gas and other extractive industries.
False. EITI expelled Equatorial Guinea from EITI in March of 2010. In a letter (trib.al/6cwLHd ) to President Obiang from EITI Chairperson Dr. Peter Eigen, the EITI board decided that “Equatorial Guinea is no longer and EITI implementing country”, after the country failed to meet validation deadlines.
The third and perhaps the most egregiously outrageous claim by Hope Masters is that Obiang’s election as president of Equatorial Guinea was free and fair. Teodoro Obiang is Africa’s longest serving head of state. He enacted a constitution that guarantees the president a seven-year term with no limits on re-elections. In the three presidential elections since Obiang assumed power, he has “won” the vote by no less than 95% of the votes cast. In the most recent 2009 elections, Obiang predicted he would gain 97% of the vote, but only managed to come away with a measly 95.76% of registered voters. Human Rights Watch said at the time: “[the government] has stifled and harassed the country’s beleaguered political opposition … [and] imposed serious constraints on international observers.”
Outspoken Equatoguinean human rights lawyer and executive director of EG Justice, Tutu Alicante, has been working relentlessly to denounce corruption and human rights abuses by the Obiang regime. He said, “Out of Equatorial Guinea’s 100 ministers of parliament, only one belongs to an opposition party. People who speak out against Obiang are harassed, arrested, detained, and risk being killed.” When I asked Alicante over the phone if he is allowed to travel to Equatorial Guinea, he said, “I am not worried about being able to travel to Equatorial Guinea. What I fear is that I wont come back. I fear for my safety and the safety of my family.”
Hope Masters (@Yorubagal) tweeted that EG Justice has been invited to Equatorial Guinea to see the conditions on the ground for themselves. Alicante says this is untrue, that in fact, the Sullivan Foundation has ignored their letters and attempts at dialogue over their involvement.
Teodoro Obiang is enlisting the help of the Sullivan Foundation to clear up his image and whitewash the oppressive conditions in Equatorial Guinea. The registration booklet for the summit describes Malabo, Equatorial Guinea as “the epicenter of African transformation.” In a country that has been listed by many watchdogs as one of the most corrupt and impoverished places in the world, that is a impossible claim to defend.
The sad story stemming from the Sullivan Summit saga is one that reveals the dark side of the Diaspora influence. By renting out public relations services to one of Africa’s most corrupt dictators, the Sullivan foundation is an example of a Diaspora organization that is “contributing” to Africa in a twisted way. The use of partners, (whether those partners realize it or not). in the Diaspora to act as funders and mouth pieces for wealthy and abusive African leaders is a travesty.
Hope Sullivan Masters asserts that: “there is a new threat to Africa, and it is the threat of the opinionated albeit totally irrelevant journalists and bloggers who are armed only with an ax to grind and an arrogance which leads them to believe that they, more so that the African people are better able to determine who should lead the nations of Africa.”
By attempting to frame criticism of the Sullivan activities as mere screeching of evil, ignorant Westerners trying to muzzle Africa again is belied by the voices of many Equatoguineans, Africans in the continent, Africans abroad, and others who believe that people everywhere should have the right to live with dignity, regardless of whether they were born in a country blessed with the “resource curse” of oil.
I myself am saddened at the thought that the genuine goodwill of African Americans who are interested in the plight of Africa could be hijacked by such a morally unscrupulous organization. The Sullivan Foundation is targeting African Americans in the diaspora in their attempt to legitimize the Obiang regime. It is my sincere hope that all people, both Africans and non-Africans, will take the time to fully research the history and of Equatorial Guinea and ignore the propaganda-for-rent of Hope Sullivan Masters.