Concerned with Africa’s deteriorating sustainable development and increased abject poverty, seven African nations gathered in Nairobi (Kenya) on 6-7 April 2006 to seek panaceas that will save the continent from decades of economic decadence.
They noted that well over US$ 140 billion has over the decades been illegally and corruptly appropriated from Africa, by politicians, soldiers, businesspersons and other leaders, and kept abroad in form of cash, stocks and bonds, real estate and other assets.
The slate of postcolonial leaders, notes Professor George Ayittey, has been a hideous assortment of military vagabonds, quack revolutionaries, crocodile liberators, "Swiss bank" socialists, and brief-case bandits. These are faithful only to their private bank accounts, kamikaze kleptocrats raid and plundering of the treasury with little thought of the ramifications on national development. Though the leadership crisis in Africa has many manifestations, it is characterized by the following dispositions and failings of the "Big Man" syndrome: Subordination of national interests to personal aggrandizement, super-inflated egos, misplaced priorities, poor judgment, reluctance to take responsibility for personal failures, and total lack of vision and understanding of even such basic and elementary concepts as "democracy," "fairness," "rule of law," "accountability," and "freedom" -- among other deficiencies. In some instances, the crisis manifests itself in vituperative utterances, outright buffoonery, stubborn refusal to learn from past mistakes, and complete absence of cognitive pragmatism.
According to one United Nations estimate, $200 billion or 90 percent of the sub-Saharan part of the continent's Gross Domestic Product (much of it illicitly earned), was shipped to foreign banks in 1991 alone (The New York Times, 4 February 1996).
The representatives noted that despite some asset recovery successes, several African countries are experiencing difficulties in obtaining appropriate mutual legal assistance in their endeavor to trace, seize, recover and repatriate assets and monies illegally appropriated and transferred abroad by their nationals and other collaborators.
Recovering the assets is not only hindered by foreign firms but by incumbent local leaders. Upon assuming power in Nigeria on May 29, 1999 for example, President Obasanjo vowed to recover the loot of former head of state, General Abacha. He established the Corruption Practices and Other Related Offences Commission. Never mind that his own Senate was riddled with graft and corruption. Much public fanfare was made of the sum of about $709 million and another 144 million pounds sterling recovered from the Abachas and his henchmen. But, alas, this recovered loot itself was quickly re-looted. The Senate Public Accounts Committee found only $6.8 million and 2.8 million pounds sterling of the recovered booty in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) (The Post Express (July 10, 2000). Uti Akpan, a textiles trader in Lagos was not impressed: "What baffles me is that even the money recovered from Abacha has been stolen. If you recover money from a thief and you go back and steal the money, it means you are worse than the thief" (The New York Times, Aug 30, 2000; p.A10).
The representatives noted that as long as governments continue to pay mere lip service to anti-corruption reform, development and, particularly, the eradication of poverty as elaborated by the Millennium Development Goals will remain unattainable. They observed that the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, the OECD Convention Against the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials, and debt cancellation would do nothing to revive African economies as long as foreign countries were still willing to keep Africa’s stolen cash.
“It is not only illegal but blatantly immoral that so much wealth stolen from Africa is allowed to circulate freely in the economies of some of the world's wealthiest nations in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and diverse offshore havens. It is inherently inconsistent to call for the cancellation of Africa's debts while much of the money originally lent, is ODIOUS, and remains illegally invested or banked in privately held accounts abroad,” they affirmed.
They were disturbed that individuals and corporations who are nationals of the OECD and the G8 are enjoying measures of impunity despite their corrupt practices in Africa. One corrupt practice, notes a worker with DANIDA, is continuing to provide aid to governments that are corrupt:
“With the glaring corruption cases in Kenya for example, why should the World Bank give Ksh. 8.8 billion? Shouldn’t Kenya be allowed to put her house in order first? Donor countries are certainly contributing greatly to increased corruption.”
They called on African governments and the international community to urgently expedite the tracing, recovery and repatriation of wealth stolen from African countries and transferred abroad, including sealing of all known loopholes, and requiring international cooperation from non-State actors such as corporations and financial institutions where there is reasonable cause to suspect illegal activity, and mandatory liquidation and repatriation of assets known to have been corruptly acquired.
What does the future portend for Africa? There is no mystery to the answer. We don’t need a clairvoyant to tell and warn us of our future. We don’t because the future is here. It is time that respective citizens rid themselves of apathy and legions of irresponsible leaders. African countries should also reconsider where they take their marching orders. Are Rwanda, Burundi and Congo (Kinshasa) truly independent states when they take their marching orders from Belgium and France? Yaoundé can't take any step without getting a clearance from Paris. And when was the last time Nigeria caused a ripple without first checking with London and Washington?
As representatives of the Transparency International from Ghana, Kenya, Niger, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe sign the Nairobi Declaration on International Obligations and on the Recovery and Repatriation of Africa’s Stolen Wealth, it is Africa’s hope that this will not be just another document to fill the shelves. Africans are known for being “Paper Tigers.”
By Josephat Juma
Mr. Juma is an African Executive Writer
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