Should Africa Trust the Western Media?

Published on 23rd March 2009

Read newspapers, listen to the radio and watch television in the West. You will be bombarded with how poor and corrupt Africans are. However, you will never watch, read or hear anything in these media outlets on the role played by Western banking institutions; property development and estate companies; big corporations; politicians and the western elite in promoting corruption in Africa.  

When it comes to Africa and the developing world, the Western media pretend to be doing a good job only when there is an embarrassing story or a scandal that undermines their credibility. It is not uncommon to see poverty stricken Africans being shown in documentaries, movies, and television screens in the West. Although corruption involves a giver and recipient, it is always the taker who is reported in the media.

Why does the media in the West ignore the role of western institutions in corrupt deals? They would rather show the poverty level in Africa but refuse to show the role played by western institutions for fear of loosing revenue through adverts. Most media outlets survive through advertisements from mega business bodies. The editors, programme directors and the other bigshots in the media are shareholders in the companies in question. Why would they want to jeopardise the source of their own wealth?  

The enthusiasm with which CNN, BBC, ABC, CBS, ITN, SKYNEWS, television producers portray Africa as poor, least developed and corrupt is not displayed when they report on the role played by Western institutions in perpetuating the aforementioned. They fail to tell the world that the looted funds that make Africans poor are sitting in Europe, America, Australia, New Zealand and other offshore Islands controlled by the West. They fail to tell the world that Africa would be a different place if all the stolen monies are returned. 

Corruption is rife in Africa because banking institutions in Europe especially Switzerland, France, Jersey Island, Britain, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Austria and US among others accept money from African leaders without questioning its source. According to the UN around $148 billion are stolen from the continent annually by political leaders, the business elite and civil servants with complicity of banking industries in Europe and North America.  

Even though western banks act as havens for looted funds, very little attention is received from the western media to expose them. No effort has been made by the political elite in Europe and America to force the banks to return these stolen monies because they are often the shareholders and beneficiaries of profits made by these banks. They have no agenda to corruption as that would mean no fat dividends for them and no cheap credits for their citizens.  

Within five years of his reign (1993-98) Sani Abacha of Nigeria according to official figures was able to stash four billion dollars and between 12 and 16 billion dollars in unofficial terms. After his death in 1998, investigators in Nigeria, Europe and America stumbled on over 130 bank accounts in Australia, New Zealand, London, New York, France and Switzerland among other countries where some of the money stolen was kept. 

According to AFP, a French police investigation has established that Bongo and his family own at least 33 luxury properties in France, including a villa located at Rue de la Baume, near the Elysée Palace, in Paris bought in 2007 for 18.8 million Euros. The French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been spotted greeting Bongo in this villa bought with funds looted from Gabon. Other investigations have uncovered that he and his family have at least 59 properties, several bonds and stocks in France alone. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was embarrassed when it was revealed that Bongo's government paid his consultancy firm a staggering 2.64 million Euros for advice on health policy drawn up by Kouchner before he took office. 

In February 2009 a French court had Omar Bongo’s nine bank accounts containing several millions of Euros frozen. In confirming the court’s decision, lawyer Jean-Philippe Le Bail said, "This concerns Crédit Lyonnais, in which the president of Gabon has two current accounts, two savings accounts and a share account, and BNP, in which he has two checking accounts, a savings account and a share account". These are the banks whose shady deals with the political and business elite impoverish African countries but which for profits sake the media refuse to tell the world about. The banks know these corrupt leaders have stolen the money yet they pretend not to know until there is a scandal before they begin to act as if they are responsible institutions. 

Most foreign banks have been implicated for receiving billions of dollars of looted funds from the late Mobutu of Zaire; Lansana Conte of Guinea; Eyadema of Togo; and a number of tyrants such as Omar Bongo of Gabon; Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea; Dos Santos of Angola; Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo; Paul Biya of Cameroon; Arap Moi of Kenya; Jerry Rawlings of Ghana; Ibrahim Babadjinda of Nigeria and a number of sitting and ex-presidents in Africa yet western media are silent about where the funds are being kept. According to a 110 page report prepared by international risk consultancy firm Kroll, Arap Moi and his family have banked £1 billion in 28 countries including Britain but the media in the west will not expose the banks involved.    

Apart from the banking sector, the property sector in Europe, America and Australia have also connived with the political and business elite in Africa to impoverish the people. Several African leaders have bought properties in Europe and America using monies stolen from their poor countries. It is on record that Mobutu of DRC (Zaire) bought several villas in France, Switzerland, Belgium and many European Countries. Yet again the companies selling the villas have been kept secret by the media. Why ? 

It has recently come to light that Arap Moi of Kenya and his family bought several multimillion pound properties in London, New York, South Africa including 10,000-hectare ranch in Australia and bank accounts containing hundreds of millions of pounds. While majority of Kenyans live in slums and in rural areas, with little roofing on their heads and lacking water and other basic necessities of life, Moi’s family live in a £4m home in Surrey and £2m flat in Knightsbridge yet the media will not expose the estate companies involved. 

It is common for western companies looking for lucrative contracts to pay bribes and kickbacks to induce officials into awarding them contracts. For example on 17th September 2002, a Canadian firm called Acres International was convicted by a High Court in Lesotho for paying $260,000 bribe to secure an $8 billion dam contract. In 2002, Halliburton, a company once controlled by Dick Cheney (former US Vice President) was accused of establishing $180m flush fund with the intent of using it to bribe Nigerian officials in order to secure a $10 billion Liquefied Gas Plant contract in Nigeria. Achair Partners (a Swiss company) and Progresso (an Italian company) have been accused of bribing Somalia’s Transition Government officials in order to secure contracts to deposit highly toxic industrial waste in the waters of Somalia. Such corrupt practices by western companies seeking contracts in Africa are one of the reasons why poverty and diseases are rife in the continent.

 

The catastrophic environmental damage being caused by Oil, mining and timber companies such as Shell, BP, Total, Elf, Texaco, Mittal, Anglo-America Corporation in Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Congo, DR. Congo, South Africa, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal do not make the news in the West. How often do we hear about the huge environmental price Africans are paying to satisfy the west’s insatiable appetite for energy and technology? Apart from the huge profits being made by these conglomerates which we often hear in the news, do we hear also their complete disregard for environmental rules; the pollution of rivers, lakes, streams, wells, and the environment?  

In October 2002, after a three year investigation a UN Panel of Experts implicated Cabot Corporation (Boston), Eagle Wings Resources International, and George Forrest's OM Group (Ohio) for arming rebel groups and collaborating with them to traffic from DR. Congo gold, diamond, timber and most importantly coltan (columbo-tantalite)-a precious ore essential to Sony playstations, laptop computers, and cell phones. Coltan is often spirited out of DRC to U.S., Swiss, Belgian, and German clients by Uganda and Rwanda army officers, rebel groups and through a network of criminal syndicates. In all 85 companies were implicated by the report. 

Except the wars and the stranded faces of hungry refugees, do these illegal activities by the corporations make the news in the Western media? Definitely not. Even when local journalists and writers document this for broadcast in the west, it is not published as it does not serve their interests.

These is the hypocrisy and double standards of the western media. They want the world to know how poor Africans are but fail to tell the world that Africans are poor because Western banking institutions, property development companies, defence companies and defence contractors, oil and mining corporations are major stakeholders in promoting Africa’s poverty and underdevelopment. Corruption and bribery in Africa and indeed the developing world could be reduced tremendously if the media for once put aside the pick and choose journalism and attached the same importance to show the degree of involvement by western capitalist institutions Europe, America and Japan and their role in keeping Africans poor. 

By Lord Aikins Adusei


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