Attempt to Use MPs to Puff Equatorial Guinea Backfires

November 2010: Chelgate Ltd’s Executive Vice-President, Adrian Yalland, enthuses on the BBC about “the importance of the Magna Carta”, noting the document’s enshrining of “basic human liberties” . Chelgate handles communications for the Magna Carta Trust.

July 2011: Chelgate Ltd attends the unveiling of “Grosvenor Square’s new statue of President Reagan”; the company’s website notes “Ronald Reagan’s legacy of human freedom”.

August 2011: Yalland praises Equatorial Guinea; the Observer‘s Ian Birrell reports from a visit to the country:

…”Fantastic infrastructure here, isn’t it, compared with the rest of Africa” enthuses one of my companions… This is Adrian Yalland, an ebullient former spokesman for the Countryside Alliance who now speaks up for this West African dictatorship. He has not visited the country before.

…The cream-suited Yalland chipped in: “One of the misconceptions of Equatorial Guinea is that you don’t have a functioning democracy, but you obviously do with state funding and functioning political parties. One of the other major misconceptions is over civil liberties and human rights.”

However, despite such a glowing account of one of the most corrupt and vicious dictatorships in Africa, Yalland has assured the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (“a not for profit organisation based at City University in London”) that “Chelgate was not carrying out public relations work for the government of Equatorial Guinea”. Instead, he was there merely to provide “short-term logistical support and liaison” for a delegation of MPs to the country.

That delegation included none other than Nadine Dorries MP, who has previously worked with Yalland on abortion-law reform activism (he’s a director of the “Right to Know” campaign, which I blogged here). However, Dorries is not happy with the way things subsequently turned out:

The five-day trip, which cost more than £7,000, was paid for by the government of Equatorial Guinea via a Malta-based organisation, the Triarius Foundation.

The think-tank subsequently used the trip and the MPs’ attendance to promote the government of Equatorial Guinea in a report suggesting criticism of the regime is uninformed, trivial and self-interested. Leading human rights activitists including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch frequently attack the government for its human rights abuses and use of torture.

Dorries, who headed the delegation that visited the country in August 2011, was furious that the trip had been used to promote the regime. She said the report was ‘completely contrary’ to her own findings and that of the MPs who accompanied her including Steve Baker MP for Wycombe and Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North.

Dorries also said she had not known about the report before being contacted by the Bureau.

Imagine that – a country paying for British MPs to visit turns out to have a self-interested motive for doing so! The Bureau adds:

In another twist the Triarius Foundation is run by Greg Wales, who was named in connection with an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea in 2004.

Also listed by the Triarius Foundation as part of the delegation is “Rupert Allason (former MP)” – Allason was involved in the 2009 negotiations to free Simon Mann, who was Wales’ former business partner and the organizer of the plot.

The report is laughably bombastic and self-serving – here’s a taste:

EG is a more cohesive society than the UK or the USA, which observers from those states, used to a dysfunctional society  lacking common values and objectives, can find difficult to grasp. The population of EG shares common attitudes and norms – derived from African traditions and their shared Roman Catholicism – to a considerable extent, which gives considerable commonality of views. Their attitude to human rights as they are understood in the UK and USA therefore differs. They place a higher priority on families; family life; the duties and obligations of family members to each other; and the preservation of families as viable social units, than is now fashionable in the West. They also share strong value-systems – they have a stronger sense of “right and wrong” than is now allowable in Western liberal ideology.

…EG has been criticised on [freedom of speech grounds], although most widely at the trivial level of the self-interested, unrepresentative, and unaccountable pressure groups whose business models require them to generate  indignation and concern among those from whom they rely for funding. Their analyses normally lack  rigour, objectivity, and  solid grounding in fact…

It seems that this report was cobbled together when it was realised that the MPs would not be playing ball. Birrell notes:

By the time I returned to the hotel after another meeting, the party was polishing off pizzas and wine. Dorries ended the meal by telling Wales they were not being shown a proper picture of the country and would not write a “whitewash” report; he replied that they had been rude to their hosts and did not understand Africa. A furious row broke out.

On her blog, Dorries has refrained from mentioning Yalland or explaining how she came to be part of the delegation, but she assures her readers that her own report will be available imminently:

I  hope to have the report submitted to the House of Commons library by the close of play today. A copy will also be submitted to Amnesty International and a link placed on my blog when available.

This is doubtless a very annoying outcome for Wales – his own report repudiated, and MPs and journalists subjecting the country to further highly-critical scrutiny. Still, given that we’ve been assured that concerns about human rights in EG are “trivial”, there’s no need to worry too much about how President Obiang will respond to news of the fiasco.

Unfortunately, however, the public release of the MPs’ report has been delayed due to Dorries’ inability to upload a pdf to her website (“We are scratching our heads over this one”). She has also submitted a press release to the PA, although no sign of it has so far emerged.

The Triarius Foundation describes itself thus:

The Foundation’s mission is to encourage a wider and deeper understanding in the West of African and Islamic States. It aims to increase awareness of societal, cultural and political norms and practices, and an understanding of their origins, strengths and value to Western countries.

A core belief is that Western norms and practices are not invariably superior, nor universally applicable to other societies; and that the West has much to gain from an understanding of the values, strengths and competence of other social and political models.

The Foundation, as its name implies, was set up by a group of individuals with long experience of African and Islamic States, and a respect for their peoples, cultures, history and and political institutions.

The Foundation is headquartered in Malta – symbolically where Europe and Africa meet and co-exist – and is non-profit-making. It works with Governments, elements of civil society, and cultural and ethnic groups. It does not solicit, nor will it accept, donations or grants from Western individuals or corporations.

Curiously, none of these “individuals with long experience of African and Islamic States” are named, although there is a “registered office”: “Stonecroft”, Dr Gruze Micelli Street, Gzira GZR1723, Malta. The street has variable spellings: other sources call it “Guze Miceli Street” or “G. Miceli Street”.

So far, the foundation appears to be little more than a vehicle for the pro-EG report: the foundation’s website was created on 31 May, and the report is the only item listed on the Foundation’s “projects” page.