Of First Families in Liberia and South Africa

Published on 12th May 2013

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf received a big blow recently from her fellow Nobel winner, Leymah Gbowee. "I've been through a process of really thinking and reflecting and saying to myself 'you're as bad as being an accomplice for things that are happening in the country if you don't speak up,” Gbowee said. Gbowee was protesting Sirleaf’s act of appointing her three sons to oversee lucrative positions in her government. Apart from her son Charles, who is deputy governor of the Central Bank of Liberia, another son, Fumba is head of the National Security Agency. The third, Robert, is a senior adviser and chairman of the state-owned National Oil Company of Liberia

(NOCAL). Sirleaf ought to learn from Libya, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo, Egypt and Uganda where sons of presidents served in their fathers’ governments. It is sad for a democratically-elected- first-African-female president to set such a bad precedent.
Sirleaf a renowned academic promised to rule for one term. Later, she repudiated her own promise and ran for the second term. In 2009, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia recommended that Sirleaf be barred from holding public office for 30 years for her role in supporting Taylor.  Sirleaf trashed the recommendations but apologized for backing Taylor.
When she was campaigning for presidency, she once asked to elected so that she could "bring motherly sensitivity and emotion to the presidency." Did she mean to become president and appoint her sons?
In law, we have offenses known as mala in se. those are crimes that everybody-- either enlightened or not—knows as opposed to crimes known as Mala prohibita which are those crimes that are prohibited by the Penal Code. This means. For the person of Sirleaf cabal and stature, it did not need any advice to know that appointing her own three sons in her government creates visible conflict of interests. Is Liberia becoming a clannish private estate for Sirleaf’s family?

The issue of the First family also played out in South Africa recently when an Indian plane carrying a wedding entourage landed at a military base near Pretoria contrary to the norm and law, irking many people in and outside South Africa.

The entourage was heading for a wedding between Vega Gupta and Indian born Aakash Jahajgarhia in the Sun City. Controversial as the Guptas are, they are business partners to Zuma’s son Duduzane, hence enjoying special treatment.

According to one South African political analyst, Fabian Scherer, the Zuma-Gupta marriage of convenience “… shows to what extent private businessmen, particularly with good relationship with the president and his family, have gained influence on South Africa’s parastatals.”

The Zuma-Gupta business alliance has baffled other countries that have hosted Zuma. In India, Mail and Globe quoted a source in Zuma’s entourage in India who intimated that Indian authorities were shocked with the great attention the Gupta’s were receiving.  “They were asked why the president is hanging around with these guys; they don’t have a great reputation in India.”

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe  expressed grave concern “… at this violation of the security protocol and total disregard of established practice for clearing the landing of aircraft in a military facility that is of strategic importance to the country.”

While the Guptas initially held that "The airplane had permission. No airplane in the world can land without permission." Atul Gupta however issued a general apology to all affected.

Though all is left for the government-cobbled commission to investigate, some major question any person can ask are: Is South Africa’s security reliable if anybody can just get into its territory and land at the military base without any detection?

Why didn’t the Guptas land at O Tambo International Airport? Did the plane have illegal items such as weapons, drugs, illegal immigrants and whatnot? Why did then pilot take such a risk considering that the plane would have been brought down had the military decided to intervene?

According to Mail & Guardian in a story that was run in 2012 accusing Zuma of benefiting from the Guptas, “There is evidence that the Gupta family is helping first lady number four, Bongi Ngema-Zuma, pay off her R3.8-million home loan.”

Zuma and his son ought to learn from the plights-cum-quandaries of Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak.  Will SA rid itself of the Gupta scandal? 

By Nkwazi Mhango
Canada-based Tanzanian and author of Saa Ya Ukombozi.

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