afrol News, 1 February - Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, whose election as new Chairman of the African Union (AU) caused widespread outrage by human rights groups and media, hits back at the criticism, calling it un-African.
President Obiang, holding a brutal grip on power in Equatorial Guinea since 1978, this weekend was elected the new Chairman of the AU. The decision caused outrage among human rights groups world-wide, but also in Africa, with reference to Mr Obiang's very poor human rights record.
The Senegal-based African Assembly for the Defence of Human Rights protested already at the AU Summit in Addis Ababa, calling the Obiang regime "notorious for abuses, corruption and a total disregard for the welfare of its people." Strong protests were also issued by the US group Human Rights Watch and Equatorial Guinea Justice.
Exiled Equatoguineans equally expressed shock at the AU decision, some calling it an "insult". A sizable portion of the country's citizens, including most of the opposition and media practitioners, live in exile since the 1970s.
Plácido Micó - Equatorial Guinea's main opposition leader, who has been imprisoned several times - was equally outraged, saying it now was clear the AU "doesn't care about what the people of Equatorial Guinea are going through." Mr Micó claimed President Obiang owed his appointment to "his generosity and material and financial aid to other heads of state."
Many international media, including African, voiced the same concerns. An afrol News editorial yesterday referred to the event as "the darkest day in the AU's history," listing the abuses of the Obiang regime.
Today, afrol News received a statement directly from government spokesman Jerónimo Osa Osa Ecoro, expressing Equatorial Guinea's dismay at the "criticism published these last days" against President Obiang's appointment as AU Chairman.
"The government of Equatorial Guinea again answers all these organisations and media that have abuse, in the usual way," the election of President Obiang, "to launch criticism and thus marketing for themselves based on this news," spokesman Osa says.
The criticism, government holds, "again demonstrates the great cultural ignorance with which the world and these Western institutions still treat the African wo
Campaign poster of Equatorial Guinea's opposition leader Plácido Micó
rld." President Obiang was to stand against this un-African criticism and "maintain the African spirit" during his AU leadership, as he had explained in his inaugural speech in Addis Ababa.
Indeed, Mr Obiang had focused on "African values" in his speech, as the Equatoguinean Presidency communicated through its exclusive Washington communication firm Qorvis yesterday. "The crisis of the values of the African culture is reducing the unity and solidarity among our people," he said at the summit, adding several times that Africa should not accept outside interference on the continent.
The government spokesman's reply goes on praising President Obiang's popularity in Equatorial Guinea and the great progress made under his rule. President Obiang not only was "a loved leader in his country," but also "especially valued and recognised" in the Central African region.
President Obiang, it was learnt, had "excellent relations" with countries all over Africa. "Proof to this is the support which President Obiang .. received form all African countries and other world regions during the polemics created by some few Western groups surrounding the issue of the UNESCO prize."
Indeed, the UNESCO prize controversy last year was a major diplomatic setback for Mr Obiang. However, the protests against UNESCO accepting his prize money were mainly driven from African civil society groups. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu headed the international campaign against the Equatoguinean Dictator.
Government spokesman Osa finally pointed out that the election of President Obiang as AU Chairman had "been by majority and was totally lacking any type of polemics." Africa was behind him, the government message was.
Meanwhile, however, AU officials have been quick to downplay the same election, following the outrage. AU Commission chief Jean Ping emphasised that "it was the turn of the Central African region" to lead the Union. "Rules are binding upon us," Mr Ping further pointed out, explaining why the Central African region's candidate had to be accepted.
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