UO and the kleptocratic "President" of Gabon

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.

Here’s another. Here’s the Freedom House report on Gabon: rated not free. Thanks to an anonymous UO professor for the info on this. Also see BoJack’s post.

If anyone knows more, post a comment. 

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12 Responses to UO and the kleptocratic "President" of Gabon

  1. GW Bush says:

    Reagan would only deal with bastards like this if they were anti-communists. Me and Dad would only do it if they were our allies in the global war on terrorism. Now they just need to say they are green and sustainable?

  2. Anonymous says:

    UO has not business helping crooks look more legit ….

    There is no way that our cooperation with crooks like that can potentially be worth it. It is well known that such “cooperation” tactics are regularely used by those regimes to make themselves look more legitimate in the West. Yet the more legitimate they look from the outside, the less incentives they have to change anything domestically. Basically cooperation with the West makes the rulers stronger, and makes their populations worse off. Examples are aboundant: Egypt, Syria, Russia … you name it. I think this is an awfull deal all around.

  3. UO Matters says:

    Word down at the faculty club is that Chancellor Pernsteiner will sign for OUS as soon as Bongo agrees to house-swap the $120 million Paris “Pozzo di Borgo” he bought with stolen money for Pernsteiner’s Tree-Tops mansion in Eugene, 2 weeks a year. Seems appropriate.


  4. Anonymous says:

    UOMatters might be missing an obvious connection – the Big Ideas were set up, in part, as a way to establish priorities for fundraising. Think again about who/what might be driving this partnership.

  5. Anonymous says:

    See this State Dept. article: http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/article/2011/06/20110610172311eiznekcam0.1509668.html

    The picture with the article should look familiar, but with an additional someone who might also be familiar to some Oregonians.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Dennis Galvan got a $20 million donation from a member of Bongo’s inner circle for this program. One of the largest donations in UO history. I suppose it’s possible he came by the money honestly. Not sure when this will be announced publicly.

  7. Anonymous says:

    No wonder our President is too busy to pay attention to ORSA!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Hey, all you ANONS plus GW Bush: Money is money, right? Why is Bongo’s money any dirtier than the money we take for research from the US War Department (currently calling itself the “Defense Department”). Both are taken from the Citizens to enrich a few. On the balance, the money that buys mansions plus chaos and death might be considered dirtier than the one that buys mostly mansions. This Old Man sometimes sees it that way.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Do you remember the movie “Big,” starring Tom Hanks? The scene I like best is the one in which Hanks attends a business meeting and someone makes a presentation about an obviously ill-conceived product. Hanks raises his hand and says “I don’t get it,” and then explains why.

    We really need that guy in Johnson Hall. Otherwise, we get. . . Ali Bongo.

  10. Andy Stahl says:

    Is any money too dirty for the UO? That seems a policy question that, under the UO’s new constitution, the faculty senate should exercise its governance muscle. Alternatively, the senate could do nothing, which says “no, any and all money is good by us.”

    PS: In my day job, I run a non-profit, educational institution. Some money is too dirty for us because the strings attached run counter to our mission or the donor is noxious, which damages our effectiveness. Apparently the UO has no such concerns, which may mean that its mission is survival and its effectiveness is irrelevant.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Here’s the scene from “Big.” Imagine that the “action figure” is Ali Bongo.


  12. University of Oregon just accepted a gift of $20M from Gabon! As a gabonese citizen, this is a shameful decision by a university in the US profiting from poor people of Gabon. In my country, infants die for anecdotal deseases and women still give birth on the floor because the kelptocratic, corrupt and dictatorial president in power is robbing the country! How can a state university in the US accept to deal with crooks? How can money be so more important than people? The US is supporting a dictator that people of Gabon never elected; a man who imposed himself as president with support of France and US (in some extend).

    This an insult to the people of Gabon struggling for justice and democracy and also to survive, even if their country is rich with all sort of natural resources. U of Oregon students should ask their leaders to give them answers about why they are dealing with a dictator from Gabon!

    Again, shame on U of Oregon!