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Obiang visit ‘further blow’ so SA’s battered rights reputation

The Business Day

EQUATORIAL Guinea’s controversial head of state Teodoro Obiang Nguema will receive a red carpet reception in Pretoria tomorrow as alarm over SA’s foreign policy decisions grows.

The visit comes days after the government dragged its feet in granting the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, a visa to attend Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday earlier this month.

Mr Obiang, who came to power in 1979 through a coup, has run Equatorial Guinea with an iron fist, with widespread claims of gross human rights violations.

Rights watchers have accused his regime of kidnappings, torture and the systematic and arbitrary killings of opponents.

In a bid to salvage his questionable human rights record, Mr Obiang somehow convinced the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) to sponsor a USD three million science prize in his name.

Earlier this month Unesco had to withdraw the prize after pressure from human rights groups.

“This visit is aimed at reciprocating the visit President Jacob Zuma paid to Equatorial Guinea in November 2009, and at consolidating existing cordial relations between the two countries”, International relations spokesman Clayson Monyela said.

Nicole Fritz, director of the Southern African Litigation Centre, said it was difficult to say if SA had a “human rights reputation to safeguard anymore”.

“The only hope that human rights again takes any real place in our foreign policy is if, domestically, South Africans start saying: Yes, of course we want investment for development but our choices aren’t limited to odious leaders and regimes who have earned capital on the back of their own citizens”, she said.

Francis Kornegay, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue, said Mr Obiang as chairman of the African Union was also likely to discuss with Mr Zuma challenges affecting the organisation which has been criticised for being ineffective.


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