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Articles

STEALING POLITICIANS

COMMENTARY

What makes African leaders thieves still a big mystery

Story by CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
Publication Date: 2007/11/01

THE OTHER DAY, FORMER United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced Mozambique’s ex-President Joachim Chissano winner of the inaugural Mo Ibrahim Prize for African Leadership. 

Chissano was awarded $5m (Sh330 million) for a retiring African Head of State who did the best job of leading his or her country. In addition to the Sh330 million, Chissano will also receive an income of $200,000 (Sh13.2 million) presumably to buy groceries and beer for his friends, and $2 million (Sh132 million) to donate to good causes.

The Sudanese-born Mo Ibrahim, as every man and his dog in Africa must surely know by now, quit his job at British Telecom where he was earning £45,000 a year, and founded the pan-Africa mobile phone company, Celtel. Not too long ago he sold it for £1.7 billion (Sh234 billion). 

However, we are here today because of what Annan and Mo said at the London event where Chissano was announced the first recipient of the prize.

Annan said that ex-African leaders do not benefit from lecture tours as Western statesmen like Bill Clinton, and are vulnerable to the temptation to plunder their nation’s treasuries as a “retirement fund”. 

Mo added that when an African leader is coming to the end of his term, there are only three choices — steal enough money to fund their retirement; manipulate the rules to stay in office indefinitely; or to live in relative poverty. His prize, he said, was an incentive for African leaders to give up their act. 

I think these good gentlemen have got this the wrong way round. First, the majority of us earn less than one-tenth the salaries and allowances of African presidents. 

But when we retire, we don’t all live in poverty. Quite a few retire to homes they borrowed from banks to build, and are able to live on their pension and savings. Why should African presidents who earn several times more not be able to do better? 

Secondly, not all Western leaders are like Clinton either. Most disappear into oblivion. Only those who have something interesting to say get large speaking fees. Which is why Nelson Mandela, despite serving only one term, attracts so much interest. 

Likewise, most African presidents are paid far more than American and other world leaders, yet it is mostly ours who amend constitutions so that they can die in office. 

So, in order not to live in poverty when they retire, African leaders need to do something simple while in office — do their job well, and not steal from the taxpayers. 

In fact, if we think Mandela is too rare an example, why don’t we try Zambia’s ex-President Kaunda? He didn’t steal, but still he doesn’t go to bed hungry. And he is internationally well-regarded. 

WE SHOULD NOT LEAVE international speaking engagements without reflecting on what happened a few days ago to Shahid Malik, Britain’s International Development minister. Mr Malik also has the distinction of being Britain’s first Muslim minister. 

Malik was stopped at Dulles Airport in Washington DC on Sunday on suspicion that he might be a terrorist. His hand luggage was analysed for traces of explosive materials. 

Malik said he was particularly annoyed because a similar thing happened last year when at JFK Airport in New York, despite the fact that he was a keynote speaker at an anti-terrorism event organised by the FBI, Muslim organisations in New York, and the Department of Homeland Security, the super ministry that President George Bush created to fight terrorism after 9/11. 

There is an easier way to understand what happened here. On Tuesday, a Ministry of Justice report revealed that black people in the UK were almost seven times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched by police last year. 

The data shows the gap was even wider than in 2005, when black people were six times more likely to be stopped than white people. Asians were about twice as likely to be stopped and searched as white people — about the same as the previous year. 

In the USA, as early as 2001, a Justice Department report showed that blacks are more likely than whites to be stopped by police, and much more likely to be searched on suspicion of possessing illegal drugs, guns or other contraband.

This, despite the fact that searches of vehicles driven by whites — conducted less than half as often — were more than twice as likely to turn up evidence of criminality than those conducted on vehicles driven by blacks. 

Already, by that point, black women were nine times more likely to be searched at airport customs checkpoints, but white women were twice as likely to be carrying contraband. 

The blacks in the USA survive partly because of a breath-stopping sense of humour. So, to the crime of “driving under the influence” of alcohol (DUI), they added “driving while black” (DWB).

I guess, reflecting on Malik’s misfortunes, we could add the crime of “travelling while a Muslim” (TWAM). 

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About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.

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