Strongmen or Strong Institutions: Which Way for Africa?

Strongmen or Strong Institutions: Which Way for Africa?

Those are my catch words from president Barack Obama’s stunning speech in Ghana although he dwelt on many issues reminiscent to Africa’s endemic and systemic problems. Unlike other past American presidents, Obama seems determined to face the reality by giving African potentates a bitter pill to swallow.

Before becoming US president, many African strongmen such as Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia) and Teodoro Obiang Ngwema (Equatorial Guinea) were darlings of the US, thanks to enhancing the exploitation of Africa’s resources. Things seem to have taken a new turn with Obama’s promise of change. His ‘Yes We Can’ slogan seems to have started working. Yes. Africa can be a good and prosperous place without thieving dictators at the helm. Yes. We can kick dictators out of Africa’s political landscape.

“No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or police can be bought off by drug traffickers,” Obama says. He speaks as if he lives in our streets where the police force protect and promote crime. He speaks as if he lives in our state houses where thieves-in-chief steal public money.

Tanzania, my own country, is the fifth giant when it comes to mineral abundance but interestingly, the country is fifth on the tail as far as poverty worldwide is concerned. Small countries with fewer resources like Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda outshine Tanzania.

“Development depends upon good governance. That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That is the change that can unlock Africa’s potential,” Obama adds. Many African mumbo jumbos cannot like this. It is like carpet-bombing them. They have always preached rule of law and good governance even when they govern tyrannically.

Telling African chronic thieves to stop stealing by their volition is as good as telling the monkey to stop stealing maize. What needs to be done is to categorize crimes involving rulers and their cronies stealing from public coffers as crime against humanity. Most Africans lose their lives to corruption than wars. Genocide in Rwanda claimed over 800,000 lives. In Darfur, it has claimed over 200,000. Malaria, that is curable shall our rulers stop stealing from the public, is killing many more people than all genocides put together.

An April 2009 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) says that malaria is responsible for 30% of childhood mortality and 11% maternal mortality in Nigeria. In Zambia, the figure stands at 66%. Malaria kills more than a million people worldwide each year—90 percent of them in Africa; 70 percent being children under the age of five.

Being the 12th producer of oil on earth, one would think Nigeria’s economy and people would look like it. Alas! Its rulers and their whiz kids are super rich whilst the hoi polloi live in abject poverty. What’s this if it is not crime against humanity?

The president of America is the most powerful and influential person on earth currently. So too, is his non-bendable writ -if he stands for it. We saw it in Iraq despite all blunders. Obama’s regime brought Swiss banks and others to their knees thanks to sheathing tax evaders and thieves in power. Soon they’ll be duty-bound to open their books. The time of criminal secrecy is over thanks to Obama’s new take on them. Suppose Obama stands for making theft of public moneys by rulers a crime against humanity? Truly, this will add up. The ICC should be vested with powers to indict anybody that commits this crime. This way, Africa will forge ahead. Her resources will benefit citizens suffering in the hands of its all time thieving regimes.

Many analysts, nonetheless, blamed Obama for not coming to Africa with money or promises of dishing money out. Giving money knowing it’ll be embezzled has nary become a solution to our problems but a problem in itself. Obama’s new approach is a reminder that Mr. Moneybag America is no more. Why did Asian tigers manage to blast off from poverty whilst Africa is still sinking even more? Good-and-responsible governance is the only vehicle behind.

To jump-start Africa’s economy, among others, rule of law and good governance based on accountability and democracy must be emphasized. African people are ready to bring their development. The only barrier they encounter is nothing but corrupt and irresponsible regimes supported by west.

Africans have fed thieving and begging corrupt regimes for long. Transparency International says, “The combination of abundant natural resources, a history of autocratic and unaccountable government, as well as conflict and crisis throughout the continent have posed particular challenges to governance and the fight against corruption in Africa to the point that several countries have become virtually synonymous with graft.”

TI adds that the development challenges faced by sub-Saharan Africa are enormous: It is the only region of the world where poverty has increased in the past 25 years and half of the continent’s population of 840 million people lives on less than 1 USD per day. Thirty-two of the world’s 38 highly indebted poor countries (HIPC) are in Africa. In addition to corruption, protracted armed conflict, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and declining terms of trade for non-mineral primary products continue to exacerbate the many challenges facing the region.

To know how perilous the situation is in Africa, think of Sani Abacha;s $ 550 million fortune. Remember other thieves such as Mobutu Seseseko, Felix Houphet Boigny, Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi, Fredrick Chiluba, Jean Bedel Bokassa, Denis Sassou Ngweso, Teodor Obiang Ngwema, Omar Bongo,Charles Taylor and others. How much did they rob from their countries?

Some analysts agree that the amount of money robbed by ruling thieves in Africa is even bigger than all foreign aids put together. Recently I hollered about current scandals in Tanzania alleged to have been perpetrated by the current and former regimes. Over $ 1,000,000,000 is believe to have been stolen by Tanzania’s rulers. To get away with it, they instituted fake charges against a few sacrificial officers so as to win people’s confidence. Recently, Prof. Ibrahim Lipumba CUF chair, linked president Jakaya Kikwete with External Payment arrears account that sank over $ 200,000,000 and Richmond scams. The president did not comment on or deny these damning accusations.

Many African rulers, apart stealing and stashing money abroad, steal in order to bribe voters and buy loyalty from military and other influential figures. So to fell this malady, democratic institution especially opposition must be fully supported without forgetting financing civil education to the general public. This way, we’ll be able to break the back of graft.

Astonishingly, Tanzania’s pro-government media still have the guts of reporting that Obama praised Kikwete for taking on graft whilst he is himself the custodian of it! Sadly, even the American embassy in Dar es salaam does not repudiate such naked lies that show Obama as a double standard person or ignorant! What arrogant and corrupt pro-media is doing in Tanzania is telling their readership lies. In Africa, Obama only praised praised Ghana.

Africa needs strong institutions manned and headed by people of probity, responsible and accountable to the people. To enhance this, Africa’s constitutions need to be amended or re-enacted. The current ones shamelessly and expressly provide for much discretionary power that strongmen use to rob the hoi polloi. Almost all African potentates and their families are above the law.

Something needs to be done urgently to do away with this anathema. Those that have already ruined their countries should be held accountable. Truly Africa does not need strongmen but strong institutions.

By Nkwazi Mhango
Mhango is a Tanzanian living in Canada. He is a Journalist, Teacher, Human Rights activist and member of the Writers’ Association of New Foundland and Labrador (WANL)

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