Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Phelps Stokes withdrew from summit hosted by ‘dictator’ Obiang

Equatorial Guinea’s president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. Photograph: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

The Washington District of Colombia-based NGO Phelps Stokes has announced it has turned down an invitation to attend the biennial summit organized by the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation being held in Equatorial Guinea.

The summit offers an opportunity for world leaders to convene and talk about solutions for Africa. However, following the foundation, which earned enormous respect due to its namesake, the iconic civil rights leader Reverend Leon Sullivan, choosing Equatorial Guinea as host for the 2012 summit, many politicians, civil rights leaders and organisations say they won't be attending.

The reason being the “high-profile summit” is hosted by Africa's longest-serving “dictator”, Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who is widely accused of presiding over human rights abuses in the oil-rich West African country.

The latest to bow-out of the summit held August 20-24 is Phelps Stokes. 

On behalf of Phelps Stokes, I regret to inform you that representatives of our organization will not be attending the Sullivan Foundation Summit in Equatorial Guinea,” announces Mr. Pape Samb, President and CEO of Phelps Stokes.

Phelps Stokes, one of the major supporters of the Global Youth Innovation Network (GYIN), told its supposed delegates to the summit that it was withdrawing because “the recent negative media attention and criticism amongst public figures has put our organization in a difficult position.”

“As fellow non-profit organization, we have an obligation to those we serve to present ourselves in the best possible way in the public arena,” Mr. Samb said. “While we greatly admire the work of the Sullivan Foundation and the legacy of Leon Sullivan, we believe it is in our best interests to not participate.”  
The US-based NGO which turns 101 years since its establishment said it was alarmed “not to attend” by news articles citing the withdraws of politicians and civil rights leaders and the alleged human rights abuses in E. Guinea.

Phelps Stokes mission is to builds self-sustainable global communities, by nurturing a new generation of global leaders, educators, entrepreneurs, students, and citizens, with particular attention to people of color and indigenous affiliation. 

Since it began two decades ago, the Sullivan summit attracted high-profile attendees in the persons of US Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, General Colin Powell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In 2010, President Clinton was listed as an honorary member of the foundation's board.

The E. Guinea leader Teodoro Obiang and his Government are accused of rights abuses including "abridgement of citizens' right to change their government; instances of physical abuse of prisoners and detainees by security forces; arbitrary arrest, detention, and incommunicado detention." 

In fact, Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s leading rights agencies calls Obiang's rule a "dictatorship."
However, Sullivan Foundation President and CEO, Hope Masters, who is a daughter to the late Rev. Sullivan, in a statement described the criticism as "misguided rants".

“The truth is that President Obiang has modernized his country and has implemented major political reforms,” she argued, citing his election in 2011 as African Union president.

"My father did not agree with those who believed that solutions could be achieved by ignoring the issues that exist," she is quoted as saying by US media. She also hoped the summit would be what she called a "teachable moment" for those who doubted the progress of Equatorial Guinea.

“The Sullivan Foundation is destroying the legacy of its namesake by working hand-in-hand with one of the most repressive, exploitative regimes in Africa’s history,” the president of the Washington-based Human Rights Foundation, Thor Halvorssen is quoted as saying.

Nonetheless, the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation-organised summit went ahead at what has been described as a “lavish complex” that includes an 18-hole golf course, a five-star hotel and a spa in a West African country where media reports say “many lack access to electricity and running water.”

The Foundation said the gathering is intended to “create an atmosphere of open dialogue about the state of human rights” in Africa. But rights activists protested holding the event in Equatorial Guinea, a country said to have “one of the worst human rights records in Africa.”

Written by Modou S. Joof


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