13 Jun 2002
THE THIEVES THAT GOVERN AFRICA
The late Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti decried the fact that Africa’s VIPs (‘vagabonds in power’) were employing what he aptly termed ‘authority stealing’ to ruin the continent. He alluded to the effect that while an armed robber would use a gun to steal two thousand dollars, the ‘authority man’ would use a pen to steal two million dollars. The ills that he sang about them more than twenty years ago are still with us today in an even magnified form.
The October 2002 report on the plunder of Congo’s riches by a U.N.-appointed panel comes as no surprise to any informed African. The report details how criminal groups linked to Rwandan, Ugandan, Congolese and Zimbabwean governments have exploited the war in Congo to pillage the resources of this country. Said the report; “The elite networks derive financial benefit through a variety of criminal activities, including theft, embezzlement, diversion of public funds, under evaluation of goods, smuggling, false invoicing, non-payment of taxes, kickbacks to public officials and bribery.” The 59-page report named 29 companies and 54 individuals (many of them highly placed officials of the countries that participated in the Congo conflict). Behaving as the real thieves that we know them to be, they are all denying the accusations.
The issues raised in this report are a microscopic representation of what is happening in most of black Africa. The people that are governing us have formed a clique that cooperates with their cronies outside the continent to divert Africa’s resources to their private pockets. In many of these countries, governance is a game of graft. The situation has reached such embarrassing levels that in some countries, the unwritten criteria to qualify for a ministerial appointment is that you must have had a criminal record. Membership of some African governments has been restricted to a close circle of thieves. That is why they have mapped out all the strategies to always stay in power and cover-up their criminal deeds. Even in such countries like Nigeria, where there is a semblance of democracy today, only such a person that shall be sponsored by oil money stolen during the previous regimes shall most likely become the president of that country. The rulers in some countries are using sit tight methods like rigging elections or manipulating the constitution. Others that either are ailing or under pressure to relinquish power, usually hand pick their successors. Many other African elites create micro wars within either their borders or their neighbour’s and profit from the resultant confusion to steal national resources.
Greed is at the root of Africa’s problems. The riches of this continent have become paradoxically a curse rather than a blessing to her peoples. There is a direct link between the suffering of Africans and the continent’s resources. The absence of dedicated people in government circles coupled with weak institutions has left us at the mercy of both local and foreign economic predators. These wolves can only set us free when they must have finished exploiting our gems, minerals, forest and other resources. Until then, Africa’s surface will continue to be littered with amputees hopping on crutches, emaciated victims of hunger, humiliated victims of multiple rapes, and other wretched relics of this unfortunate era. For those of you who do not know, be informed that real democracy, good governance and accountability in Africa is not for tomorrow. The forces of evil on the continent are very strong and resilient.
Copyright ã2002 by Njei Moses Timah
See Apr.2005 Human Rights Watch report at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4601213.stm
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Njei Moses Timah [e-mail]