Graft in Africa: Where Does the Buck Stop?

Published on 24th February 2009

Corruption is an endemic cancer that has devastated African societies and impoverished millions. According to the Africa Union (AU) around $148 billion are stolen from the continent by its leaders and civil servants every year. The 2006 Forbes’ list of most corrupt nations had 9 out of the first 16 countries coming from Africa.

 

In Ghana, officials illegally charge 15 and 150 Ghana cedis for a birth certificate and a passport respectively. Police officers openly solicit bribes from bus and taxi drivers before they are allowed to cross mounted road blocks. Customs officials adopt all manner of tactics in order to collect money from importers and exporters before their goods are allowed to leave the ports.

 

In Africa, contracts are awarded to party faithfuls and contractors who are able to pay the biggest bribe.On 17th September 2002 for example, a Canadian Engineering company called Acres International was convicted by a High Court in Lesotho for paying $260,000 bribe to secure an $8 billion dam contract in Lesotho. Achair Partners, a Swiss company and Progresso, an Italian company have been accused of bribing Somali Transition Government officials in order to secure contracts to deposit highly toxic industrial waste in the waters of Somalia.

 

In 2002, Halliburton, a US company, was accused of establishing $180m flush fund with the intent of using it to bribe Nigeria officials in order to secure a $10 billion Liquefied Gas Plant contract in Nigeria. The company fired Mr. Albert Jack Stanley, its executive.A report by the company later named a British called Jeffrey Tesler as the middleman behind the bribery.

 

Africa's political parties pledge to combat corruption with deadly force but when elected, change nothing. Ghana's former president John Kuffour pledged "zero tolerance for corruption" in his government but his party lost power for failure to tame corrupt officials.

Despite years of exports of oil, gold, diamond, bauxite, tin, coltan, uranium, manganese timber and other minerals, the continent is ranked the poorest. Revenue from the minerals finds its way into the bank accounts of corrupt government officials, civil servants and their allies.

 

Since oil was first discovered in Nigeria about 50 years ago, over $400 billion have been realised from its sale but today, Nigerians continue to live in abject poverty. The country has nothing to show for its petro-dollars.Only corrupt politicians and the big oil companies such as Shell, Mobil, BP and their American counterparts have benefited. As a result, able men and women are battling dangerous seas to enter Europe and try their luck. Others have resorted to 419, a popular scam used to trick people into giving out their money and valuables.

 

Nigeria has consistently featured in the top 1% of the most corrupt nation on the planet. Between 2005 and 2007, several state governors and their immediate families were arrested by Scotland Yard in London on corruption and money laundering charges. Among them are James Ibori of oil rich Delta State and his wife Theresa who had their $35m asset frozen by the English court. Mr. Ibori earns about a thousand dollars a month but during his eight years as a state governor, he acquired wealth to the tune of $35m, financed the campaign of the current president of Nigeria and owns a private jet and a lavish London home.

 

Another corrupt governor is Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, governor of oil-rich state of Bayelsa who was also arrested in London for money laundering. When Police conducted a search in his London home, they found one million pounds worth of cash.

 

A visit to the Niger Delta region of Nigeria shows that majority of the people especially the youth are unemployed. Years of oil spills have made the soil unfit for any agricultural activity. Their streams and wells are polluted and the people have no access to basic necessities of life because their leaders have enriched themselves with the money. In the 1990s, abject poverty and destruction of the environment forced the people of Ogoniland in Nigeria to demand a say in Shell operations but the Abacha regime repulsed them and had Ken Sarowiwa and executed. According to available data, Abacha stole $4 billion of Nigeria’s oil money and stashed it in several secret bank accounts in Switzerland, Britain, Luxemburg, Jersey Island and Liechtenstein.

 

Every effort to get the Nigeria government to develop the oil rich areas fell on death ears until the unemployed youth took up arms against the government and oil companies, kidnapping foreign oil workers and demanding ransom and disrupting oil production. Eventually, the companies had to reduce their output by 25% in 2007-8. These disruptions affected supply of oil in the world market forcing the price to skyrocket to $140 a barrel in the summer of 2008.

 

In South Africa, Jacob Zuma is still battling it out for his part in the multi-billion arms deal in South Africa in 2001. In 2006, former president of Malawi Bakili Muluzi was arrested for pocketing $12m donated to his country by foreign governments. Former Zambian president Frederick Chiluba was arrested and charged with 11 counts of stealing money meant for the Zambia’s development.

 

In Equatorial Guinea where oil export has earned the country billions of dollars, the 600,000 people living in the country continue to live in poverty while Teodoro Obiang Nguema and his cronies continue to siphon the oil revenue with no accountability. Guinea has large deposits of gold diamond, iron, nickel and uranium yet poverty is so severe that the country was ranked among the top 1% of most corrupt countries in Africa and 160th out of 177 in the UN’s Development scale. Gabon and Angola are no different.

 

On Friday 31, 2007, the Guardian newspaper in Britain published a report by Kroll, an international risk consultancy firm, that Daniel Arap Moi, Kenya’s former president and his family banked £1 billion in 28 countries including Britain. The family used Shell Oil Company, secret trusts, front men and his entourage to siphon the money away. Moi family also bought multimillion pound properties in London, New York, South Africa including 10,000-hectare ranch in Australia.

 

In countries such as Nigeria, Egypt, Cameroon, The Gambia, Sudan, Uganda, Libya, Tunisia a Kleptocracy class of people have replaced anything democracy. Leaders amass wealth at the expense of their poor countries and continue to mismanage whatever remains of their corrupt activities. Because most of the leaders are former military officers or former rebels with no grasp of economics and management, they are unable to formulate any good economic policies that will transform and grow their economies hence poverty has become a part of the people but their leaders know not what poverty is.

In DR Congo it is estimated that gold and diamond deposits alone could fetch the country 23 trillion dollars not to mention the abundance of timber and other several minerals that are found in large quantities such as columbo-tantalite (coltan) and cassiterite (tin ore) yet years of corruption, mismanagement, conflicts and foreign involvement have made this resource rich nation one of the poorest in the world. Western nations cannot maintain their current level of lifestyle without Congo. Most corporations in the west can easily go bust without Congo. If Congo is the bloodline of the west and the west is rich because of Congo, why is Congo so poor?

 

Where are the billions of dollars from the sale of these minerals? The answer lies in the history of the nation which is endemic corruption, armed conflict and foreign involvement. Mobutu in his 32 year reign is believed to have taken several billions of dollars from the treasury and deposited it in his numerous Swiss bank accounts.


Everyday in Walikale, about 16 aircraft fly out of the city with loads of minerals bound for Rwanda. These stolen minerals further find their way in the western mineral markets in London and Switzerland. The proceeds are shared by the Generals, politicians, western companies the businessmen in Rwanda, the warlords in Congo who use part of their share to acquire weapons that are used to terrorise the people and prolong the war.

 

Western governments are quick to preach good governance to Africa but they fail to preach the same message to their banks who act as save havens for these corrupt leaders. Even though these countries like to portray themselves as civilised and cultured, they have failed to recognise that keeping monies that are dishonestly obtained from the poor people on earth taints whatever reputation they might have. How can a continent develop when monies meant for her development are stolen by her leaders and kept by countries who praise themselves as civilised, cultured, loving and democratic?

 

Africa is poor today because Swiss and other western banks collude with African kleptocrats to loot the continent. Corruption is rife on the continent because those who steal the money never lack a place to hide it.

 

Fighting corruption should not be left to the poor countries alone. Western countries have a duty to stop their nations being used as save havens for stolen monies from the African continent. They should return all looted money put there by corrupt African leaders to the African people. There must be an international coalition dedicated to tracking all stolen monies on the face of the earth with Africa given to priority.

 

By Lord Aikins Adusei

Stockholm, Sweden.


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