The bizarre story of the fake human rights award, the Bahamian conman and the Swazi Prime Minister

I have to admit that it is difficult to imagine a stranger story involving fake identities than this “bizarre, sad tale of Togo’s fake national team” (via Twitter). The latest saga coming from Swaziland, this time involving the Prime Minister, Barnabas Dlamini, could nevertheless resist comparison…
It started with this September 25th post on the Swazi Media Commentary blog (on which the whole story can be followed in detail):

Barnabas Dlamini, who earlier this month advocated torturing people who disagree with his government, is to get an international award given to ‘distinguished individuals or groups worldwide with exemplary contributions to peace and human rights’.
The World Citizen Awards, which organisers call ‘the world’s most prestigious award’, are to be handed out in the Bahamas next Saturday (2 October 2010) (…)
Whatever the procedure, the WCA has clearly made a massive error of judgement. Dlamini has a long history as an enemy (not a supporter) of human rights and peace.

Now, this by itself was bizarre enough, but there was indeed the possibility that the WCA would have got things horribly worng – and after all there was attempts to have an Obiang-UNESCO prize… When word of this got out, human rights advocacy groups were quick to react, and the Danish NGO Africa Contact wrote a letter demanding that the decision was reconsidered. It was when the response to the letter came, that things got really strange:

According to one of the persons alleged to be a board member of the World Citizen award that is to be presented to Swazi Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, Peter Bell, the World Citizen award is a hoax, however. “I regret to say that you and I – among others – have been victims of a hoax”, Peter Bell, a senior research fellow at Harvard, commented in a reply to an email sent to him yesterday by Danish organisation Africa Contact. The hoax is that the award is not given by the alleged board members of the World Citizen Award, but that the recipients of the awards are in effect paying to receive a bogus award. There has as of yet been no response to the claims that the award is a hoax from the Swazi government, nor has there been any statements from the World Citizen Award organisation.

Two days later, on October 1st (that is, last Friday), a news story from the Associated Press gave more details on the bizarre story:

The kingdom of Swaziland says its prime minister is receiving an award for “contributions to humankind” on Saturday, but the group apparently bestowing the honor appears to be little more than a Florida phone number and website. (…)
The World Citizen Award website also included a listed of trustees that a respected peace group said was used without its permission.
Richard C. Allen, a lawyer for the World Peace Foundation, said in an e-mail to the AP that the trustees list on the World Citizen Award site was “lifted without authorization from the web site of my client, the World Peace Foundation, a well-respected NGO in the U.S. Neither the World Peace Foundation nor its Board members are connected with the ‘World Citizen Award.'” (…)
The Internet domain name for the World Citizen Award website is registered to a man named Rudolph Laroda. A man identifying himself as Laroda’s spokesman declined to answer questions and a few hours later the list of trustees had disappeared from the website.
News reports in the Caribbean say questions have been raised for some time about the activities of a man using the names Rudolph King, Rudy King-Laroda and Kermit Rudolph Casito Laroda.
A report of a 2006 press conference he apparently held at a Bermuda hotel quoted him as announcing that retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Hollywood stars Halle Berry and Will Smith would be among luminaries coming to Bermuda for a “Global Vision Awards of Excellence” event.
Tourism officials and spokesmen for the celebrities involved denied any involvement, and the event was never held.

This news however, did not appear to reach Dlamini, who on the same day this was published, was on his way to the Bahamas – a stop on his trip to Washington to try to secure an IMF loan that would relieve the country’s strained finances.
And last Saturday, as it was originally planned, and despite it being well known that the award was not endorsed by the World Peace foundation, the ceremony was held. According to Rudy King (a colourful character it seems, according to this account by The Tribune newspaper), the prize was intended for:

“Swaziland (…), not the prime minister. The Kingdom of Swaziland was chosen for their strides to combat AIDS in their country. The honour was placed on him because he is the present Prime Minister,”

And the award placed on Dlamini it was, as the picture below shows. Whether the whole thing amounts to an “honour” however, is more doubtful. And the question that still needs to be answered is whether this whole “award fiasco” was worth the money spent on the trip by Swazi taxpayers, given that all what the PM and the country have got from it, is the negative publicity of totally disregarding real human rights activists, as well as being associated with shady characters like King.
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AWARD CEREMONY: Prime Minister of Swaziland Barnabas Dlamini with businessman Rudy King during Saturday’s award presentation.

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