Alemayehu G. Mariam
The Chinese Dragon is dancing the Watusi shuffle with African Hyenas. Things could not be better for the Dragon in Africa. In the middle of what once used to be the African Pride Land now stands a brand-spanking new hyenas’ den called the African Union Hall (AU). Every penny of the USD$200 million stately pleasure dome was paid for by China. It is said to be “China’s gift to Africa.” It was all lovey-dovey two weeks ago when the hyenas assembled to pay homage to the mighty Dragon:
… This magnificent…building which will now house the headquarters of our continental organization is built on the ruins of a prison that represented desperation and hopelessness… The face of this great hall is meant to convey this message of optimism, a message that is out of the decades of hopelessness and imprisonment a new era of hope is dawning, and that Africa is being unshackled and freed… It is therefore very appropriate for China to decide to build this hall — the hall of the rise of Africa — this hall of African renaissance… I am sure I speak for all of you when I say to the people and government of China thank you so very much. May our partnership continue and prosper.
There was no end to the bootlicking and praise of the “generosity of the Chinese government”, and how the “gift” represents “a qualitative leap in the relations between China and Africa”. AU president Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Equatorial Guinea’s dictator since 1979, even saw “a reflection of the new Africa, and the future we want for Africa” in the glassed 20-storey tower.
The Dragon was equally obliging:
…There exists profound traditional friendship between China and Africa… China has always been Africa’s good friend, good partner and good brother…. [S]trengthen[ing] unity and cooperation between China and Africa and promot[ing] common development is an important cornerstone of China’s foreign policy, and a long-term strategic choice…
… First, we must firmly uphold peace, stability and development of Africa…. Second, we must fully respect the efforts of African countries in resolving African issues independently…. Interference in Africa’s internal affairs by outside forces out of selfish motives can only complicate the efforts to resolve issues in Africa…. Third, we must vigorously support African countries in seeking strength through unity and the integration process…. Fourth, we must pay more attention to the issue of African development and make bigger input…
… Throughout the development of China-Africa relations, we have always respected the sovereignty and development path of African countries and refrained from interfering in their internal affairs… We…have never attached political strings to our assistance to Africa. … To further strengthen China-AU friendship and cooperation… China will provide a total of RMB 600 million free assistance to the AU in the next three years…
The “China Model” in Africa
It is fashionable among African dictators to pledge allegiance to the so-called China Model of economic development. Meles Zenawi, the dictator in Ethiopia, claimed that by following the “China Model”:
The African Renaissance that we all dreamed of is beginning to happen. There could be no better proof of this than the fact that the pundits and academics who were publicly advocating for the re-colonization of our continent have now refrained from doing so… The magnificent new head quarters (sic) of our continental organization—the AU which has been at the center of the struggle for the African renaissance (sic) is the symbol of the rise of Africa…
But what exactly is the China Model?
African dictators rarely explain the “China Model”, but the phrase rolls off their lips like the voodoo incantations of sorcerers. If the dictators are to be believed, the “China Model” is the magic carpet that will transport Africa from abysmal underdevelopment and poverty to stratospheric economic growth and industrialization. Supposedly, China became a global economic power in just a few decades by opening up its economy to foreign and domestic investment, cutting and reducing taxes, co-investing in infrastructure projects and vastly expanding the labor intensive services sector. It is said to be a “win-win” situation for China and Africa.
But there is one small catch: China did it all by maintaining a one-party system that has a chokehold on all state institutions including the civil service, the armed and security forces and by instituting a vast system of censorship that systenmatically filters or significantly obstructs the flow of information to the people.
What does China think of the “China Model” being exported to Africa? Not much! Liu Guijin, China’s special representative on African affairs assuredly says, “What we are doing is sharing our experiences. Believe me, China doesn’t want to export our ideology, our governance, our model. We don’t regard it as a mature model.”
So, why do African dictators insist on championing a half-baked “China Model” as the Holy Grail of African economic salvation when the Chinese themselves do not think it is a “mature model” worth exporting or imitating? Could it be that African dictators are using the “China Model” hype as smokescreen to justify their clinging to power and sucking their economies like ticks on an African milk cow?
Stripped off its hype, the “China Model” in Africa is the same old one-man, one-party pony that has been around since independence in the 1960s. Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and even the wily and sly eighty-six year-old Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, pull the “Chinese Model” stunt just to cling to power. In the good old days, Zenawi, Museveni and Kagame used their status as the “new breed of African leaders” (bestowed upon them by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair) to legitimize and perpetuate themselves in power. Now they heap contempt on the West for its “band-aid” approach to development, criticize the “gunboat diplomacy” of the U.S. (whose taxpayers have shelled out tens of billions in the last decade) and tongue-lash “extremist neo-liberals” (whoever they are) for slamming them on their atrocious human rights record and mindboggling corruption.
The one-man, one-party state recycled as the “China Model” is nothing new. Kwame Nkrumah was the first Sub-Saharan African leader to try it and fail. Just like the silver-tongued mouthpieces of the “China Model” today, Nkrumah back then condemned neocolonialism (a term he reputedly created) and imperialism for Africa’s exploitation and depridation. Nkrumah’s program of rapid industrialization – to reduce Ghana’s dependence on foreign capital and imports – had a devastating effect on its important cocoa export sector. Many of the socialist economic development projects that he launched also failed miserably. By the time he was overthrown in a military coup in 1966, Ghana had fallen from one of the richest African countries to one of the poorest. Similarly, Tanzania nose-dived from the largest exporter of agricultural products in Africa to the largest importer of agricultural products. The one-man, one-party state, touted as the solution to the problems of ethnic and tribal conflict, also failed as civil wars, genocides, and corruption spread throughout the continent like wildfire. For decades, African liberation leaders and founding fathers qua dictators and military junta leaders have tried all types of tricks to justify the one-man, one-party state and avoid a genuine multiparty democracy. Now Africa’s newest dictators want to rebottle the same old one-man, one-party wine in a new bottle labeled “Chateau China Model”.
The Record of the “Chinese Model” in Africa
Are Zenawi and the other members of African Dictators, Inc., really following the “not mature” “China Model” in practice? Are foreign and domestic investors free to to do business in Africa without being bogged down in silly and mindless regulations and running the gauntlet of a buzzsaw of corruption? For instance, how much of Ethiopia’s business environment is really “negotiable” for investment? The 2011 World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index which ranks 183 countries (1=most business-friendly regulations) shows dismal figures for Ethiopia: Overall Ease of Doing Business Rank (111); starting a business (99); dealing with construction permits (56); getting electricity (93); registering property (113); getting credit (150); protecting investors (122); paying taxes (40); trading across borders (157); enforcing contracts (57) and resolving insolvency (89).
The “China Model” is obviously a smokescreen for Zenawi and African Dictators, Inc., to pull the wool over the eyes of the people of Africa. It provides a plausible justification for avoiding transparent and accountable governance, competitive, free and fair elections, enforceable property rights and suppressing free speech, the press and independent judiciaries. It is a hoax perpetrated on the people to ensure absolute political obedience and control, maximize the ruling class’ monopoly over the economy and justify the brutal suppression of all dissent.
The “China Model” naturally appeals to Africa’s kleptocratic dictators because it enables them to project the illusion of economic development as they suppress the democratic aspirations of their people and suck their national economies dry. Global Financial Integrity recently wrote: “The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage.” That is what the China Model means in Ethiopia, and for that matter much of Africa.
Why the China Model? Why Not the “Ghanaian Model”?
The “China Model” may be just fine for China, but why can’t Africa have an “African Model”? Is there not a single country in Africa worthy of some imitation. Must Africans always worship before the altar of Western or Eastern political Deities?
In July, 2009, in one of my weekly commentaries I asked a simple question:What is it the Ghanaians got, we ain’t got?” I argued that present day Ghana can offer a reasonably good, certainly not perfect, template of governance for the rest of Africa. Ironically, it is to Ghana, the cradle of the one-man, one-party rule in Sub-Saharan Africa, that we must now turn to find a model of constitutional multiparty democracy.
Ghana today has a functioning, competitive, multiparty political system guided by its 1992 Constitution. Article 55 guarantees that “every citizen of Ghana of voting age has the right to join a political party”. Political parties are free to organize and ‘disseminate information on political ideas, social and economic programs of a national character’. But tribal and ethnic parties are illegal in Ghana under Article 55 (4). That is the key to Ghana’s political success. The Ghanaians also have an independent electoral commission (Art. 46) which is “not subject to the direction or control of any person or authority” and has proven itself by ensuring the integrity of the electoral process. Ghanaians enjoy a panoply of political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights. In 2010, Ghana (with a population of 24 million) ranked 26 out of 178 countries worldwide on the World Press Freedom Index (WPFI).
In contrast, Ethiopia (with a population of nearly 90 million) ranked 139 out of 178 on the WPFI. There are more than 133 private newspapers, 110 FM radio stations and two state-owned dailies in Ghana. Ghanaians express their opinions without fear of government retaliation. The rule of law is upheld and the government follows and respects the constitution. Ghana has a fierecely independent judiciary, which is vital to the observance of the rule of law and protection of civil liberties. Political leaders and public officials abide by the rulings and decisions of the courts and other fact-finding inquiry commissions. Ghana is certainly not a utopia, but she is positive proof that multiparty constitutional democracy can help overcome political and economic dystopia in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa. Why not adopt the “Ghanaian Model”?
Why is the Dragon Dancing With Hyenas?
China’s economic investment in Africa is said to exceed USD$150 billion; and hundreds of Chinese companies are doing business in all parts of the continent. The Chinese government through its banks has given billions of dollars in low interest loans and credit lines to undertake a variety of infrastructure projects and other high profile projects, including the new African Union building. It has provided a range of technical assistance programs and provided scholarships and training opportunities to African students.
But why is China so generous with Africa? The conventional explanation is that China is hungry for natural resources to feed its economy. It uses its loans, grants and development assistance to project “soft power” and access Africa’s vast natural resources in oil, timber and minerals while cultivating a market for its surplus production in industrial and consumer products. Others say, loans and assistance programs to Africa are velvety gloves that hide an iron fist of neocolonial and neo-imperialist ambition. Last Summer, in an interview concerning the growing role of China in Africa, Secretary Hilary Clinton plaintly stated: “We don’t want to see a new colonialism in Africa.”
China’s role in Ethiopia in particular raises some troubling questions. According to one study, “whenever Ethiopia sought Chinese aid, loan, investment and arms, the latter has responded positively by providing debt reduction and technical assistance to Ethiopia with no political strings attached.” Another study concluded: “In the construction and the energy sector, Chinese involvement in telecommunication, road and power plant construction projects through very low initial bid-prices (as well as offering credit to finance such projects) has been displacing both local and other foreign construction firms (Notwithstanding, for example in the case of power plants, the fact that the very low initial entry bid-prices are off-setted by high operational costs when the projects start operation; and the fact that Chinese big credits are almost at commercial terms).” Others have complained of trade deficits, dumping of low price textiles and clothing, industrial products and consumer electronics. Perhaps this should not come as a surprise to anyone. At the 1963 inaugural O.A.U. Summit, H.I.M. Haile Selassie said, “Africa was a physical resource to be exploited and Africans were chattels to be purchased bodily or, at best, peoples to be reduced to vassalage and lackeyhood. Africa was the market for the produce of other nations and the source of the raw materials with which their factories were fed.”
Blowback for China?
Sooner or later China has to come to terms with three simple questions: Can it afford to fasten its destiny to Africa’s dictators, genociders and despots? How long can China pretend to turn a blind eye to the misery of the African people suffering under ruthless dictatorships? Will there be a price to pay once the African dictators that China supported are forced out of power in a popular uprising?
Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from Zambia where just a few months ago the role of China became a hot political issue in the elections. Michael Sata, who became president of Zambia last Fall after four attempts, “made a sport of baiting China, calling its businesspeople in the country ‘profiteers,’ not investors”, and denouncing the Chinese for “bringing in their own people to push wheelbarrows instead of hiring local people.”
The Dragon is known for breathing fire. If China does not re-think its African policy carefully and continues its blind association and unquestioning support of corrupt African dictators and tyrants, in time it will likely suffer multiple “blowbacks” across the continent from the flames of popular upheavals and backlashes from revolts against dictatorship.
China’s policy of “noninterference” (a/k/a “hear no evil, see no evil and say no evil” about Africa’s dictators) is actually the most conspicuous and underappreciated from of interference there is. What can be more “interference” than providing the economic means to sustain and nurture repressive and dictatorial regimes? In time, “noninterference” will logically and inevitably evolve into tighter defense and military relationships with the dictatorial regimes; and significant military presence may be unavoidable to defend Chinese economic interests and investments in Africa.
In Chinese folklore, the dragon is known for his intelligence, strength, goodness, longevity and wisdom. In African folklore, the hyena is known for treachery, gluttony and stupidity. Jia Qinglin, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), in his speech at the 18th summit of the African Union inaugurating “China’s gift to Africa” said, “As an African saying goes, to be without a friend is to be poor indeed.” But the Dragon should think twice before befriending hyenas because the African people, like African elephants, have long memories. They remember their friends and the friends of their enemies. But Chairman Quinglin should also heed a couple of wise Chinese sayings: “A man should choose a friend who is better than himself” (unless, of course, the man believes that “birds of a feather flock together”). But more importantly, “One should not lift a rock only to drop it on one’s own foot.”
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/
Alemayehu G. Mariam
A Plague of Thieves Visited on Africa
For the past four decades, a plague of cold-blooded thieves has descended upon Africa like a swarm of blood sucking ticks. These thieves masquerading as leaders have been trafficking in Africa’s natural resources and trading in the wealth created by the blood, tears and sweat of African peoples. Now U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, America’s top law enforcement officer, says to Africa’s biggest thieves: “You can run with Africa’s stolen treasures but you can’t hide them in America!”
In July 2010, in a breathtaking act of legal diplomacy, U.S. Attorney General Holder travelled to meet Africa’s greatest kleptocrats in Uganda and delivered a staggering message: “The U.S. Department of Justice is launching a new Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative aimed at combating large-scale foreign official corruption and recovering public funds for their intended – and proper – use: for the people of our nations. We’re assembling a team of prosecutors who will focus exclusively on this work and build upon efforts already underway to deter corruption, hold offenders accountable, and protect public resources.” Holder’s move was so surreal and stunning that I described it as the equivalent of filing a sealed indictment against “La Commissione” – the Godfathers of the Bonnano, Columbo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese crime families in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Atlantic City, Las Vegas, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
The Rape of Equatorial Guinea by the Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo Family
Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the 43-year old son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, is now facing asset seizures by the U.S. and other European governments. The U.S. has filed legal action to take away Mangue’s property valued at tens of millions of dollars because they were allegedly acquired with money stolen from the people of Equatorial Guinea. Mangue is the heir apparent and Minister of Forestry and Agriculture of that tiny west African nation with a population of 680,000, seventy percent of which lives below the poverty line. Mangue reportedly earns a monthly salary of USD$6,799.
U.S. law allows the government to seize cash, personal or real property of a person or entity if the government can trace the property to “specified unlawful activity”. Such activity includes foreign offenses involving “extortion”, “money laundering” or the “misappropriation, theft or embezzlement of public funds by or for the benefit of a public official” of a foreign government. (18 U.S. C. sections 981 (a) (1) (c); 1956; 1957.) Mangue is not facing any criminal charges at this time and the proceedings are against the items of property alone in the form of “United States v. One White Crystal-Covered Bad Tour Glove…” Mangue becomes a third party claimant if he decides to defend.
In a 46-page civil forfeiture action filed in mid-October by U.S. Justice Department in California and a separate but similar action filed in the District of Columbia in late October, the U.S. Justice Department details its claims against Mangue. Among the items of property the Justice Department wants to seize include Michael Jackson’s white crystal-covered gloves valued at $275,000 and a pair of crystal-covered socks valued at $80,000, a $30 million Gulfstream jet, and a variety of super-cars including two Bugatti Veyrons worth $2million, eight Ferarraris, seven Rolls Royces, Five Bentleys, four Mercedes one Aston Martin and one Masarati. The government also seeks to seize a 12-acre estate (pictured above) overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Malibu, CA valued at $38.5 million.
Teodoro Obiang and Africa’s Forty Thieves
Ali Baba and his forty thieves have nothing on the Teodoro Obiangs and Africa’s Forty Thieves. Neither do the European colonizers who had plundered and picked Africa’s bones clean. At least they left behind a few bones behind for the benefit of the archaeologists. Africa’s thieving dictators over the past four decades have stripped Africa so completely that they are now gang-mugging Africa’s ghost. As Africans die from famine, starvation, poverty, disease, civil war and conflict and suffer from illiteracy and economic woes, Teodoro Obiang and Africa’s Forty Thieves are spreading their empires of corruption to the four corners of the earth.
Let the facts speak for themselves:
Sudan. Dictator Omar al-Bashir, according to a WikiLeaks cablegram, has amassed fortune that boggles the mind: “International Criminal Court [ICC] Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told [U.S.] Ambassadors Rice and Wolff on March 20  that [Ocampo] would put the figure of Sudanese President Bashir’s stash of money at possibly $9 billion.”
Zimbabwe. In 2010, dictator Robert Mugabe announced his plan to sell “about $1.7 billion of diamonds in storage” (probably rejects of his diamond-crazed wife Grace). According to a Wikileaks cablegram, “a small group of high-ranking Zimbabwean officials (including Grace Mugabe) have been extracting tremendous diamond profits.” Mugabe is so greedy that he stole outright “£4.5 million from [aid] funds meant to help millions of seriously ill people.”
Kenya. The 2004 Kroll Report revealed that former president Daniel Arap Moi stole billions of dollars using a “web of shell companies, secret trusts and frontmen” and secreted the loot in 30 countries. Moi’s “relatives and associates of Mr. Moi siphoned off more than £1bn of government money.” Moi’s sons “Philip and Gideon – were reported to be worth £384m and £550m respectively.” Current president Mwai Kibaki stonewalled further action on the report, including prosecution of Moi.
Niger. In 2010, Niger’s state auditor reported that “at least 64 billion CFA francs [USD$128-million] were stolen from Niger’s state coffers under the government of former president Mamadou Tandja.”
Nigeria. Ex-President Sani Abacha, who stole some $2bn in the five years he ruled the country was determined to be a member of a criminal organization by a Swiss court.
Libya. Moamar Gadhafi is believed to have stashed $200bn dollars all over the world. Shortly after the Libyan uprising last February, the British Government announced that it expected to seize “around £20 billion in liquid assets of the Libyan regime, mostly in London.” The Swiss Government similarly issued an order for the immediate freeze of assets belonging to Gaddafi and his entourage in the amount of 613 million Swiss francs (USD$658 million), with an additional 205 million francs (USD$220 million) in paper or fiduciary operations. In 2008, Gadhafi’s Swiss holdings amounted to 5.7 billion in cash and 812 million francs in paper and fiduciary operations. In 2006, the Libyan Sovereign Wealth Fund had investments of $70 billion. The U.S. has frozen $37 billion in Libyan assets.
Ethiopia. A few months ago, a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) commissioned report from Global Financial Integrity (GFI) on “illicit financial flows” (money stolen by government officials and their cronies and stashed away in foreign banks) from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) revealed the theft of US$8.4 billion from Ethiopia, the second poorest country on the planet. The anti-corruption agency of the regime in Ethiopia reported in 2008 that “USD$16 million dollars” worth of gold bars simply walked out of the bank in broad daylight never to be seen again. Not long ago, dictator Meles Zenawi publicly stated that 10,000 tons of coffee earmarked for exports had simply vanished from the warehouses. He called a meeting of commodities traders and in a videotaped statement told the traders he will forgive them this time because “we all have our hands in the disappearance of the coffee”. He threatened to “cut off their hands” if they should steal coffee in the future.
According to a recent Wikileaks cablegram, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the current ruling party in Ethiopia, “Upon taking power in 1991… liquidated non-military assets to found a series of companies whose profits would be used as venture capital to rehabilitate the war-torn Tigray region’s economy…[with] roughly US $100 million… Throughout the 1990s…, no new EFFORT [Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray owned and operated by TPLF] ventures have been established despite significant profits, lending credibility to the popular perception that the ruling party and its members are drawing on endowment resources to fund their own interests or for personal gain.” According to the World Bank, roughly half of the Ethiopian national economy is accounted for by companies held by an EPRDF-affiliated business group called the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT). EFFORT’s freight transport, construction, pharmaceutical, and cement firms receive lucrative foreign aid contracts and highly favorable terms on loans from government banks.
Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt also have safely stashed their loot in various international banks although the Swiss government has frozen a few hundred million dollars secretly kept there. Others who have robbed their people blind (and pretty much have gotten away with it) include Nigeria’s Ibrahim Babangida, Guniea’s Lansana Conte, Togo’s Gnassingbe Eyadema, Gabon’s Omar Bongo, Burkina Faso’s Blaise Campore and Congo’s (Brazaville) Denis Sassou Nguesso. The story of official corruption, embezzlement, fraud, bribery, money-laundering, extortion and theft occurs with such monotonous regularity that a 2004 African Union report estimated that nearly $148 billion is lost to corruption annually in Africa.
Going After Africorruption, Inc.
In my commentary “Africorruption, Inc.”, I argued that the business of African “governments” is large part corruption. The majority of African “leaders” seize political power to operate sophisticated criminal enterprises to loot their national treasuries and resources. Stated simply, many African “governments” and “regimes” are kleptocracies which function in much the same way as the highly organized and centralized criminal enterprises that dominate the business of crime in the West. Attorney General Holder is now using against the biggest African thieves the same tools that have been used in one form or another for decades against drug lords, Mafiosi, organized crime figures and a variety of criminal syndicates engaged in racketeering. The legal strategy against American and African syndicates is now the same: hit the economic base of their criminal enterprises and confiscate the stolen loot.
The procedure in civil forfeiture cases is pretty straightforward and highly favors the government. In Mangue’s case, once the government establishes probable cause (reasonable belief) that the property (house, cars, etc.,) is subject to forfeiture or confiscation (by showing it was obtained by corruption, extortion, theft, etc.,), Mangue must prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” (more likely to be true than not true) that the properties can be traced to a legitimate source such as his monthly salary of USD$6,799. If he cannot prove that, the U.S. Government is entitled to keep the assets, auction them off and return the proceeds to the country. Perhaps not in this case, as that would involve giving the money stolen by the son to the father who runs the theft ring.
From the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) to an “African Racketeer Influenced Corruption Act” (AfRICA)?
For decades, the U.S. Government has been fighting organized crime using the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) (18 U.S.C. § 1961–1968) in one form or another. Now the U.S. is pursuing what may be informally described as “African Racketeer Influenced Corruption Act (Af-RICA)”. I have previously argued that contemporary Africa has largely been reduced to a collection of thugocracies. I defined a “thugocracy” as a government of thieves, for thieves, by thieves. Simply stated, much of Africa today is under thugtatorships run by a gang of thieves and robbers (thugtators) in designer suits who have privatized the continent’s resources for their personal benefit. In a thugtatorship, the purpose of seizing and clinging to political power is solely to accumulate personal wealth for the ruling class by stealing public funds and depriving the broader population scarce resources necessary for basic survival. What legal tool could be more effective than RICO or Af-RICA to restore good governance in Africa?
Africa’s thugtators and their henchmen are now coming under the microscope of the U.S. Justice Department. They are viewed as part of an international organized criminal syndicate. Few would have realistically expected to see the U.S. going after even a single corrupt and thieving African dictator; but it sends a chilling message to all the other African kleptocrats and their henchmen who launder billions of dollars every year in the U.S. buying businesses and homes and making “investments” in legitimate commercial enterprises.
Though the U.S. action against Mangue is encouraging, no one believes that the other thieves are next in line. After all, the U.S. knew about Mangue’s criminal enterprises for at least a decade before it took action. Time will tell if the U.S. is serious in using civil RICO-type proceedings against Africa’s thugtators or merely window dressing for media publicity. What is significant is the symbolic but chilling message it sends to all of the other cunning African thieves, their associates, business partners, investors, and all others in the U.S. who “directly or indirectly” facilitate and sustain official corruption in Africa. Regardless, it is heartwarming (and breathtaking) to know that the Obama Administration is at least considering seriously using civil forfeiture laws to deal with African dictators as organized criminals, syndicates and equivalents of Mafia bosses.
The Moral Duty of Every African
The United States could transform the bleak human rights landscape in Africa overnight by aggressively using civil forfeiture actions against the properties and bank accounts of Africa’s thieving dictators. One civil forfeiture action against each of the bloodthirsty African thugs could do more to usher democracy and respect for human rights in Africa than a century’s worth of human rights legislation or a horde of idle American diplomats shuffling to suck up to these thugtators.
Criminal defense lawyers know all too well that crooks and criminals fear loss of their stolen loot more than their liberty or even their lives. For a criminal nothing matters more that the loot he has stolen. If the U.S. could effectively investigate and aggressively seize the assets of Africa’s kleptocrats, the continent will witness significant improvements in human rights and governance overnight. There will surely be a dramatic reduction in corruption and an increase in the availability of significant resources from recovered assets for investment in infrastructure and other social programs for the African population. Help improve human rights in Africa: Finger the biggest African thieves hiding in America.
It is the civic and moral duty of every African to help the U.S. Justice Department catch Africa’s biggest thieves. It is very easy to do, and do it anonymously. Individuals with information about possible proceeds of foreign corruption in the United States, or funds laundered through institutions in the United States, should contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HIS) toll free at 866-347-2423 or send email to: [email protected]. If calling from outside of the U.S., the number is: 802-872-6199
BLOW THE WHISTLE ON AFRICA’S BIGGEST THIEVES HIDING IN AMERICA!!!
Release all political prisoners in Ethiopia, NOW!
Photo insert: Equatorial Guinea village, Teodoro N. Obiang Mangue’s $38m Malibu, CA estate, Teodoro N. Obiang Mangue with hangers-on.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ andhttp://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/
Alemayehu G. Mariam
(This is the second installment in a series of commentaries I pledged to offer on U.S. policy in Africa under the heading “The Moral Hazard of U.S. Policy in Africa”. In Part I, I argued that democracy and human rights in Africa cannot be subordinated to the expediency of “engaging” incorrigible African dictators whose sole interest is in clinging to power to enrich themselves and their cronies.)
African Status Quo Broken
When U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton made a brief stop at the African Union summit meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia a couple of weeks ago, she was talking my language: human rights, democracy, rule of law, accountability, transparency and the rest of it. She announced to the coterie of African dictators that the “status quo had broken” and she had come to talk to them about how they can regain democracy, achieve economic growth, and maintain peace and security.
Clinton said democracy in Africa is undergoing trial by fire despite a few successes in places like “Botswana, Ghana, and Tanzania.” She told the swarm of jackbooted African dictators that their people are gasping for democracy: “[W]e do know that too many people in Africa still live under longstanding rulers, men who care too much about the longevity of their reign, and too little about the legacy that should be built for their country’s future. Some even claim to believe in democracy – democracy defined as one election, one time.” She said Africa’s youth are sending a “message that is clear to us all: The status quo is broken; the old ways of governing are no longer acceptable; it is time for leaders to lead with accountability, treat their people with dignity, respect their rights, and deliver economic opportunity. And if they will not, then it is time for them to go.” The alternative for Africa’s “long standing rulers who hold on to power at all costs, who suppress dissent, who enrich themselves and their supporters at the expense of their own people” is to face the types of “changes that have recently swept through North Africa and the Middle East. After years of living under dictatorships, people have demanded new leadership; in places where their voices have long been silenced, they are exercising their right to speak, often at the top of their lungs.”
U.S. Sounding Like a Broken Record
For some time now, President Obama, Secretary Clinton and other top U.S. officials have been doing the same song and dance about dictatorship and poor governance in Africa. In July 2009 in Ghana, President Obama declared, “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” Today Secretary Clinton says: “Good governance requires free, fair, and transparent elections, a free media, independent judiciaries, and the protection of minorities.”
Two years ago, President Obama lectured African dictators: “No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end.” Today Secretary Clinton sarcastically notes, “Too many people in Africa still live under longstanding rulers… [who] believe in democracy – democracy defined as one election, one time.”
Two years ago, President Obama berated African dictators: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history.” Today Secretary Clinton warns the same dictators, “If you do not desire to help your own people work and live with dignity, you are on the wrong side of history.”
Two years ago, President Obama threatened African dictators: “I have directed my administration to give greater attention to corruption… People everywhere should have the right to start a business or get an education without paying a bribe. We have a responsibility to support those who act responsibly and to isolate those who don’t, and that is exactly what America will do.” Today Secretary Clinton pleads with the same dictators: “We are making [corruption] a priority in our diplomatic engagement, and we look to our partners to take concrete actions to stop corruption.”
Last year, President Obama told a delegation of African youths: “Africa’s future belongs to its young people… We’re going to keep helping empower African youth, supporting education, increasing educational exchanges… and strengthen grassroots networks of young people…” Today Secretary Clinton laments, “A tiny [African] elite prospers while most of the population struggles, especially young people…”
When it comes to Africa, the Obama Administration is increasingly sounding like a broken record.
Empty Words and Emptier Promises
The U.S. has been talking a good talk in Africa for the last two years, but has not been walk the walk; better yet, walking the talk. Following the May 2010 “elections” in Ethiopia in which dictator Meles Zenawi claimed a 99.6 percent victory, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley said, “We value the cooperation that we have with the Ethiopian government on a range of issues including regional security, including climate change. But we will make clear that there are steps that it needs to take to improve democratic institutions.” The U.S. “clearly” took no action as Ethiopia has become a veritable police state behind a veneer of elections.
Following the rigged elections in Uganda in February 2011, Crowley said, “Democracy requires commitment at all levels of government and society to the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, independent media, and active civil society.” The U.S. promptly congratulated Yoweri Museveni on his election victory and conveniently forgot about the rule of law and all that stuff.
Following the elections in Cote d’Ivoire last November and Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down (calling it a “mockery of democracy”) Crowley said, “The U.S. is prepared to impose targeted sanctions on Ivory Coast’s incumbent President Gbagbo, his immediate family and his inner circle, should he continue to illegitimately cling to power.” The U.S. imposed a travel ban, but that did not matter much since Gbagbo had no intention of leaving the Ivory Coast. Months later he was collared and dragged out of his palace like a street criminal.
In July 2009, the White House in a press statement said, “The United States is concerned about the recent actions of Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja to rule by ordinance and decree and to dissolve the National Assembly and the Constitutional Court as part of a bid to retain power beyond his constitutionally-limited mandate.” The U.S. took no action against Tandja, but Niger’s military did.
A couple of weeks ago, Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon visited the U.S. and received a warm reception at the White House which put out a press statement applauding the “the important partnership between the United States and Gabon on a range of critical regional and global issues.” Ali is the son of the notorious Omar Bongo who ruled Gabon with an iron fist for 42 years before his death in 2009.
Not long ago, Crowley called Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea a “dictator with a disastrous record on human rights.” Nguema’s son, Teodorin frequently travels to his $35 million-dollar mansion in Malibu, California flying in his $33 million jetliner and tools around town in a fleet of luxury cars. He earned a salary of $6,799 a month as agriculture minister. Forbes estimates his net worth at $600 million.
America Should Stop Subsidizing African Kleptocracies
The U.S. should stop subsidizing African kleptocratic thugtatorships through its aid policy and hit the panhandling thieves in the pocketbook. In one of my weekly commentaries in November 2009 (“Africorruption, Inc.”), I argued that the business of African governments is corruption. Most African “leaders” seize political power to operate sophisticated criminal enterprises to loot their national treasuries and resources. As Geroge Ayittey, the distinguished Ghanaian economist and arguably one of the “top 100 public intellectuals worldwide who are shaping the tenor of our time” recently noted, Africa’s “briefcase bandits” run full-fledged criminal enterprises. Sani Abacha of Nigeria amassed $5 billion, and the Swiss Supreme Court in 2005 declared the Abacha family a “criminal enterprise”. Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan has stashed away $7 billion while Hosni Mubarak is reputed to have piled a fortune of $40 billion. In comparison, Ayittey says, “The net worth of 43 U.S. presidents from Washington to Obama amounts to a measly $2.5 billion.”
Foreign aid is known as the perfect breeding ground for corruption in Africa.According to the Brussels Journal (“Voice of Conservatism in Europe”), “Most serious analysts of the failures of development aid [in Africa], including a number of government commissions, not only identified corruption in recipient governments as a reason the aid programs failed but, in fact, found the projects actually fueled additional corruption and increased the plight of the people.” Africa’s thugtators not only siphon off foreign aid targeted for critical school, hospital, road and other public works and community projects to line their pockets, they also use the aid they receive to fortify their regimes and suppress the democratic aspiration of the people. In its October 2010 report on Ethiopia, Human Rights Watch reported:
Foreign aid has become one of the government’s most effective tools in suppressing and punishing criticism. Human Rights Watch’s research found that local officials often deny assistance to people they perceive as political opponents – including many who are not actually involved in politics at all. Impoverished farmers know they risk losing access to aid which their livelihoods depend on if they speak out against abuses in their communities. Most respond by staying quiet; aid discrimination has made freedom of speech a luxury many Ethiopians quite literally cannot afford.
Simply stated, an endless supply of the hard earned cash of American Joe and Jane Taxpayer is making it possible for African thugtators to cling to power and crush the legitimate aspirations of African peoples. The thugtators know that as long as billions of American taxpayer dollars (free money) keep flowing into their pockets, they do not have to do a darn thing to improve governance, respect human rights or institute accountability and transparency.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told a gathering of African dictators in Uganda in 2010 that “the U.S. Department of Justice is launching a new Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative aimed at combating large-scale foreign official corruption and recovering public funds for their intended and proper use.” More power to Holder. It is great to grab the corrupt and thieving African dictators and their cronies in the U.S. as they launder hundreds of millions of dollars every year buying businesses and homes and making “investments”. But it is more important to hold them accountable for the billions of aid dollars they receive from U.S. every year.
If the Obama administration is committed to battling corruption as ‘one of the great struggles of our time’, as it has so often declared, it needs to undertake a thorough and complete investigation of aid money given to African dictators. In November 2009, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelley stated that the U.S. is investigating allegations that “$850 million in food and anti-poverty aid from the U.S. is being distributed on the basis of political favoritism by the current [Ethiopian] prime minister’s party.” There exists no official report in the public domain today concerning the outcome of that investigation. (If any such report exists, we are prepared to scrutinize it.) In the absence of evidence to the contrary, one must logically assume that no one for sure knows what happened to the USD$850 million handed over to Zenawi. Since the State Department does not seem to be up to the job of investigating aid-related corruption allegations in Ethiopia, it is appropriate for the General Accounting Office (the independent nonpartisan Congressional watchdog) to undertake a full investigation of the Human Rights Watch allegations.
When the U.S. hands out billions of dollars of free money to countries like Ethiopia without any meaningful accountability and discernable performance requirements, the effect on governance and observance of human rights is disastrous as evidenced in the fact that Zenawi used American aid money to suppress dissent and steal elections in 2010. In Ethiopia, where aid constitutes more than 90% of the government budget, establishing the scope of corruption in aid is absolutely necessary. Such accountability could have a huge impact not only on improving governance in Ethiopia but also in all other U.S. aid recipient countries on the continent.
Corruption is fundamentally a human rights issue. As Peter Eigen, founder and chairman of Transparency International has argued:
Corruption leads to a violation of human rights in at least three respects: corruption perpetuates discrimination, corruption prevents the full realisation of economic, social, and cultural rights, and corruption leads to the infringement of numerous civil and political rights. Beyond that, corruption undermines the very essence of the rule of law and destroys citizens’ trust in political leaders, public officials and political institutions.”
By turning a blind eye to endemic aid-related corruption, the U.S. is unintentionally promoting disregard for human rights protections and undermining the growth of democratic institutions and institutionalization of the rule of law and good governance in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa. When foreign aid provides 90 percent of the regime’s budget in Ethiopia, is it any wonder that Zenawi’s regime “won” the May 2010 “elections” by 99.6 percent?
As the old saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I regret to say that aid given to Africa with the best of intentions in the name of the most generous people in the history of the world has made the continent a heaven for bloodthirsty dictators and hell for the vast majority of poor Africans. I wonder if the American people would tolerate and approve of the the crimes that are being committed in Africa using their hard earned dollars year after year if we took it upon ourselves to educate them!
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/