Halvorssen and Ayittey’s letter attracted widespread attention (as did their article about this travesty that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on August 8). Around the world, people familiar with Sullivan’s legacy expressed shock at the cozy relationship that appears to exist between the Sullivan Foundation and the Obiang dictatorship. What, many wondered, would Sullivan have made of this spectacle? The attention had some effect: the summit’s keynote speaker canceled, as did others who had apparently planned to attend. The name of Bill Clinton, who had been identified on the organization’s website as an honorary chairman, suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. And Andrew Young, in a curious response to a letter from the Human Rights Foundation, claimed that he is no longer chairman of the Sullivan Foundation (even though he is identified as such on its website) and added that he has “not attended Sullivan Foundation Board meetings in 2012” and consequently “was not a party to the decision to hold the Summit in Equatorial Guinea” – a decision announced, note well, in 2011.
Yet Masters, far from changing her tune, shot back at her critics on August 6 in a semi-literate blog post in which she avoided all the matters of substance that they had raised and instead played the – um – postcolonialism card. How dare these Westerners criticize Obiang, whose people had made him their president and whose fellow African leaders had picked him to lead the African Union? “For centuries,” she thundered, “Africa has been exploited, denigrated, and treated as the habitat of people of inferior intellect…. It would appear that some would still like to be in the position of controlling the people and the resources of Africa.” As if she feared that she wasn’t making her point obvious enough, she spelled it out in a tweet (later deleted): “Racism is alive and well.” On August 10, in the face of rising criticism, she posted a You Tube video – also semi-literate – reaffirming her determination to go ahead with the summit.
I may be wrong, but from what I have read and seen about Leon Sullivan, he would have been repulsed by the now-familiar argument that the way tyrants treat their subjects in a non-Western country is no business of Westerners – that the history of Western colonialism compels Westerners to keep their mouths shut about even the most egregious human-rights abuses in former Western colonies. Certainly there’s no question that he’d be appalled by the shady dealings that his daughter’s feeble attempt at a cultural-relativist smokescreen seem designed to obscure. As Joe Kraus of the human-rights group Equatorial Guinea Justice charges, the Sullivan Foundation is “being used to launder the image of the world’s longest-serving ruler”; or, to quote Halvorssen, the foundation “appears to be running a disinformation campaign for a dictator.” In return, apparently, that dictator is bankrolling the foundation, which, according to U.S. News and World Report, is desperately in need of the dough. The level of support is such that the Equatoguinean summit is even being advertised on buses in Washington, D.C. linking Obiang’s dictatorship with Leon H. Sullivan’s name. (It is interesting to note, by the way, that the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation was not founded by Sullivan: instead, he founded an Arizona-based group that apparently does in practice what the Sullivan Foundation claims to do in its mission statement.)
If things are as they seem to be, then, Hope Sullivan Masters has made the ultimate deal with the devil: in exchange for cold, hard cash, she’s using the cachet of her father’s name to give one of the world’s most savage governments a squeaky-clean human-rights image – briefly put, she’s lining her pockets by running a propaganda operation for a thug. If this is indeed what’s going on here, Masters is committing a multiple betrayal: she’s besmirching her father’s heroic legacy; she’s doing something that will, to some degree, and in some quarters, taint the image of all human-rights organizations; and, most important, she’s cynically and selfishly trampling on the already trampled people of Equatorial Guinea, whose greatest hope for the future lies with groups, such as the Human Rights Foundation, that actually care about them.
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