Africa Ranks First Under the Burden of Thieves
By Tom Kamara

Sept 20, 2000

Five African countries have been named winners as the world's most corrupt nations. Nigeria, defeating Cameroon, which held the cup last year, now ranks number one, graduating from the 27th place one year ago, according to Transparency International (IT), a group that specializes in investigating how corrupt countries are. Transparency International sees corruption as the abuse of power for personal gain. In nearly all Africa, now more than ever before, abuse of power for personal gain is the most vital impetus in opting for public office, thus the bedrock of the continent's continuing collapse and horrors.

Nigeria's victory comes in the wake of allegations of corruption against its officers and officials serving in the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone. The allegations, denied by the country's military establishment, came from the Indian commander of the UN force, Maj-Gen. Vijay Jetley who the Nigerians want dismissed since they provide the bulk of the men in the UN force.

According to the BBC, other victorious African countries in this game of theft breeding death and destruction, among 90 states surveyed, are Cameroon, Kenya, Angola, and Mozambique. It is however not clear which African states were surveyed in the contest. But Africa's ranking partners in corruption are the Ukraine, Yugoslavia, Indonesia, Russia, and Azerbaijan.

On the humane and cleaner side, Finland took the first place as the world's cleanest (in terms of corruption) state. New Zealand and Sweden tied for the second place, while Canada took third place. Britain came 10 as the least corrupt country while USA took 14th place and France 21st place.

Transparency International said the verdict was reached by world economic institutions such as the World Bank and the World Economic Forum. The BBC quoted IT chair, Peter Eigen, as saying, "Our index is vital reminder to the international community that far more must urgently be done to fight bribery."

As usual, there are many Africans ready to wrap themselves in race garment to condemn the verdict, but many others, the ordinary people and therefore victims of the continent's corrupt political dinosaurs, are disappointed by the limited number of winners. The era when every criticism of Africa was labeled as racism, imperialism and neocolonialism, is gone on many issues. Africans must accept the fact that the continent has fallen prey to corrupt, savage and inept individuals in leadership. To defend them on the basis of skin color is to condemn the millions of Africans who are dying from wars, hunger and disease born mostly out of corruption as a few individuals get away with billions.

The World Bank has just announced giving Africa US$500m to fight aids. Liberia's Charles Taylor, according to many reports, made that amount from Sierra Leone's diamonds by 1995. Abacha and Mobutu left billions in European banks. The circle of theft in politics is simply widening at an alarming rate as poverty is entrenched around the continent.

Nigeria's elevation from 27th to the #1 spot place questions on the prevailing mantra of democracy necessarily meaning accountability and transparency. The nature of African elections, which in most cases bring to the surface the most corrupt and crude, makes it impossible to have clean governments even though they come to power in the name of democracy. The absence of viable machinery to scrutinize those vying for public office in African countries, since those with the means for violence determine electoral outcomes, provides the groundswell for breeding thieves in politics. Thieves will remain thieves no matter the titles bestowed upon them. Whatever the glamour tied to Nigeria's transition to democracy, we must not forget that Obasanjo is a graduate from the College of Coup D'etats. He did not enter politics from his own honest means and without first seizing state power. He rose from head of state after a coup to president after elections, the common yardstick around the continent. We reap what we sow. You cannot plant rice and harvest corn. As long as politics and elections are reserved for men with the means of violence or those who have stolen enough and then entered politics, Africa will continue to rank as the world's most corrupt and therefore underdeveloped continent, ruled by the standards these thieves of "Excellencies" set.

Sani Abacha's military junta, along with those preceding him for 15 years, has been held responsible for looting the country with serious economic consequences. The allegations are not without facts. President Obasanjo is now preoccupied with retrieving about US$3 billion from Abacha's various European accounts. The Swiss have already returned US$64.4 million out of an estimated US$600 million. About US$1.64m was in legal fees for most likely European lawyers. But the country's standing as first among equals in theft leaves open doubts as to what will happen with Abacha's retrieved millions. Will it be a case of thieves stealing from one another?

Mobutu Sese Sekou's billions may never be recovered. Liberia's Samuel Doe's millions remain secrets just as the millions looted by his predecessors in a country with less than 500 miles of paved roads and barely any infrastructure since it became independent in 1847. Charles Taylor is now preoccupied with stuffing his own accounts as the country withers into greater poverty, relying on Europeans to provide basics like water. Kenya is under virtual receivership, with European bureaucrats paid to ensure that politicians minimize their theft, since stopping them is impossible. The story is the same with many African leaders.

What is worrying is the long-term aftereffects of institutionalizing corruption as a political factor. For instance, Africans must be prepared for the worst due to the new marriage between former Soviet block states, neo-Nazis and the new hyper-corrupt rulers on the continent. Already, Ukrainians, Russians, South African neo-Nazis, have found home in Liberia, from where they are training Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. The flames of war have begun spreading in Guinea, and there is no doubt that the country's minerals, yet untapped, will provide good attraction for Guinean dissidents and their allies in Liberia and elsewhere.

The corrupt and weak nature of many African states, combined the lust for money for now jobless and idle military men from the former Soviet Union, present a horrific scenario of revolving brutal conflicts over resources in the name of politics. Corrupt politicians in league with such individuals are the new forces determined to take many countries to the abyss. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and now Guinea are reminders of the coming catastrophe.

Another fallout from this parasitic culture of corruption is the emergence of new role models determining what the future will be. Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah may have had different intention when he said, "Seek ye first the political kingdom and all things shall be done unto you", but this has become the rule in Africa. Politics equals wealth and all its trappings. No longer is the teacher, the doctor, or the engineer of any significance in society. The illiterate rebel with an AK-47 swung on his shoulders is the new role model. The result of this living with corruption through violence is that the basis of development is destroyed. The environment for investment is suppressed by the lack of trained labor force so vital for investors since functional education is nonexistent.

In place of nurses, teachers, technicians, we have the "special forces", "commandos" illiterate young boys and girls convinced of their social value because of their ability to commit atrocities and destroy society in the service of corrupt warlords. Cutthroat demands of bribery by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats simply drive investors away, leaving the field for unscrupulous criminals posing as financiers. The result is that Africans are unable to develop their own infrastructure, produce what they use, depending heavily on imports for basic items such as soap, salt, or even water. In many countries, people now scramble over used clothing dumped from America and Europe since new ones are unaffordable. Unlike the 60s when most frowned upon and laughed at used clothing, they have become top class fashion for many, except the corrupt leaders and their cronies who shop frequently in Paris, London or New York.

Unfortunately, outsiders, determined to see Africa remain in the clutches of poverty, are playing useful roles in cementing and legitimizing this culture of corruption and ineptitude. Despite volumes of evidence of the human degradation Taylor has caused in West Africa, a university in the United States saw redeeming values in his foreign minister, Monie Captan, and honored him as an "achiever". Among Captan's "achievements" is that he served in many rebel factions as an advisor, "noble" deeds appreciated by the university. It was alleged last year that Morehouse College, a black college in the United States with icons like Dr. Martin Luther King as its student, was planning to award Taylor an honorary P.hD. for his "achievements", which include 45,000 children dead from the war and thousands more recruited as child soldiers only after a series of protests from Liberians and others. But Elisher M. Ferrell, Director of Public Relations of Morehouse College, stated in a press release that the information was incorrect, and that "Morehouse College had no plans to confer an honorary degree on President Taylor."

Thus, today's African youths see as role models men who have "made it" by butchering their way to power for their personal gain. In Liberia, many children see warlords as their role models. The culture of corruption has become a normal affair amongst many young people. They are convinced from the realities around them that the AK-47 provides faster opportunities for wealth than professional training, which is lacking in any case. By making them authority figures as cannon fodder for warlords, they have developed a sense of importance, seeing school, discipline, honesty, and integrity as ancient and useless values.

There are those who may have a case of excessive punishment in the case of the Chinese who have adopted executions as penalty for corrupt officials. But if left unchecked, corruption leads to more deaths. It breeds uprisings by the marginalized, causing terror and anarchy as we see all over the continent. Setting an extreme example on 200 corrupt officials as the Chinese are doing may save 200 million people. What Africa needs is the Chinese medicine in dealing with this cancer.