6/14/2011 update: A commenter forwards us one UO connection: The US Ambassador to Gabon, Eric Benjaminson, is a UO history grad.
6/14/2011 update: Latest word is that the details of the donation are not set, and may be government funds – though apparently in Gabon there is no distinction between government money and Bongo family money:
A spokesman for President Bongo insisted to ABC News that he is a reformer who is working to fight corruption in the country. The spokesman offered no explanation to ABC News, however, as to how Bongo’s family has been able to amass such a great fortune.
6/13/2011 update: Apparently a member of President Bongo’s inner circle is a UO alum and is giving $20 million to support this Center. I think the phrase is “Avec quel argent?” Not clear if anyone at UO has done due diligence as to the source of the money. People are thinking about the Grayson Hall donation 10 years ago. The US Senate report on Bongo family corruption is here, pages 108-173.
6/11/2011: President Lariviere posted on his blog yesterday:
Today I am meeting with Gabon’s president, Ali Bongo Ondimba, at Blair House across the street from the White House in Washington, D.C., where we are formalizing an agreement to establish the Gabon-Oregon Transnational Research Center on Environment and Development.
I can see an argument that would justify UO making a deal with the head of a notoriously kleptocratic government, if there is hope our efforts will move it even a little in the right direction or just do something incremental to improve people’s lives. But those benefits are only going to come if we are honest about the problems. We’re not off to a good start. Read the insulting fluff in UO’s press release:
The partnership was established as part of the UO’s Global Oregon Initiative, an internationalization effort that was selected as one of five “Big Ideas” to define university-wide priorities for interdisciplinary research and teaching.
Gabon, with a population of 1.5 million, is one of the richest nations in its region after 50 years of coastal and offshore oil production. But its leaders acknowledge that oil will not last forever, and its democratically-elected president (Ali Bongo) has introduced a sweeping “Gabon Emergent” program to shift the country’s economic focus, eliminate government corruption that existed before his 2009 election, and modernize the country’s workforce.
Plus, it’s about sustainability! It’s green! It’s a wonderful partnership! We are honored!
“Oregon and Gabon share abundant natural beauty, economies traditionally based on natural resources and a strong commitment to green, sustainable development,” Lariviere said. “These similarities will make for a wonderful partnership.
“Gabon is at an economic crossroad that can never be revisited,” he said. “The University of Oregon is recognized as a world leader in research and teaching in the areas of sustainable development, environmental conservation and green business. We are honored to be able to share our experience and expertise with the Gabonese government as it strives to make critical decisions about the country’s future.”
Matt Cooper, in a front page story in the RG, is not buying it:
… But critics said Bongo’s rise to power in a 2009 election was riddled with fraud, according to The New York Times. In a profile of Gabon it published in 2009, the Times wrote that 60 percent live on less than $2 a day and only 10 percent of roads are paved.
“While the Bongo clan has reveled in its possessions, including more than three dozen of the most sumptuous real estate holdings in Paris, the vast majority of people in Gabon have been left behind in the dust that chokes the sprawling hillside slums here,” the Times report stated.
ABC’s story on Gabon on Wednesday is called “‘Grand Theft Nation': Ali Bongo Goes to the White House”:
… Omar Bongo and now his son Ali Bongo have for more than 40 years run a regime in Gabon which diverts their country’s wealth for their family’s personal use,” Sen. Carl Levin, D.-Michigan, told ABC News. Sen. Levin said that a 2010 Congressional report on foreign corruption from an investigative committee that he chairs “shows how the Bongos misused U.S. financial institutions to carry out suspicious transactions involving millions of dollars.”
The Bongos have literally dozens of luxury homes worth millions of dollars everywhere from Beverly Hills, where they own three homes, to the French Riviera. After a criminal complaint filed by a human rights group, authorities in France found that the family had more than 30 luxury properties in that nation alone, including a $120 million, 14-bedroom townhouse in Paris that Ali Bongo bought just last year.
The Telegraph details the corruption:
Gabon, with a population of only 1.5 million and a per capita income of just $1,438, has never been a key US “partner”, as Carney ludicrously spins it, and as for “reform efforts”, they are nowhere to be seen. But it does have a reputation for being a massive kleptocracy governed by a ruling family that has been in power for more than four decades, since 1967. According to UN consultant Jack Blum in an interview with ABC, the Bongo family and its cronies have “siphoned off 25 percent of the gross domestic product of the country… the people who are running the country are guilty of grand theft nation.”
Human Rights watchdog Freedom House classifies Gabon as “not free”, with a political rights score of 6 (on a scale of 1 at the top, and 7 at the bottom), and a civil liberties score of 5. As Freedom House points out, Gabon is a classic one-party state:
Gabon is not an electoral democracy. The 2009 presidential election was marred by irregularities, including allegations of vote rigging and intimidation of the press. The president is elected for seven-year terms, and a 2003 constitutional amendment removed the two-term limit imposed in 1991. The president has extensive powers, including the authority to appoint judges and dissolve the parliament.
And as the US State Department points out in its latest annual report, Gabon has an appalling human rights record (UOM: though better than under Bongo’s dad.)
The following human rights problems were reported: ritualistic killings; use of excessive force by police; harsh prison conditions and lengthy pretrial detention; an inefficient judiciary subject to government influence; restrictions on privacy and press; harassment and extortion of African immigrants and refugees; widespread government corruption; violence against women; societal discrimination against women, noncitizen Africans, Pygmies, and persons with HIV/AIDS; and trafficking in persons, particularly children.
You would think an important and obviously controversial decision of this sort would be carefully considered and debated by the UO faculty, and that UO’s communications about it would honestly address the obvious and important issues and the problems with Gabon’s government and President whom we are now going to be working with.
Nope. The UO press release reads like North Korean propaganda, with a little Eugene sustainability pap on top. It appears the decision was made by Provost Bean and President Lariviere without consultation with the UO Senate or with the Faculty Advisory Committee. I looked through Provost Bean’s 5 pet ideas website – nothing mentioning this. No draft agreements, committee discussions or anything but press releases on the UO website.
Here’s a bit of the $120 million house Bongo bought in Paris. I’m no romance language professor, but I’m pretty sure the gentleman holding the chains is not a Realtor giving Bongo a walk through. Apparently a legal dispute between the sellers and Bongo led to public disclosure that he had bought it, and then paid another $50 million for renovations. The money apparently comes from stolen oil revenues.