Centuries ago, corrupt African leaders and Western traders made an unwitting yet deliberate business pact. A few Africans made fortunes; Western interests found cheap labour, and 12 million people lost their freedom.

The African plight is not much changed now, half a century after the so-called African independence boom of the sixties. Many African leaders are still selling off what is most valuable to Africa— its resources and the welfare of its people — while pocketing huge bribes, making themselves wealthy while leaving their citizens destitute. 

The estimates are naturally varied, reflecting the clandestine and secretive nature of the destruction of Africa, masterminded from within by unscrupulous leaders. It is not a secret, however, that billions and billions of dollars from across the poorest continent in the world have ended up in the pocket of very few selfish individuals ever ready to sacrifice the welfare of their people at the altar of self-enrichment. 

From recent history, Sani Abacha of Nigeria is suspected to have pilfered between $5 billion and $8 billion. There are claims that Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak looted up to $ 70 billion, Muammar Gadhafi between $30 billion and $80 billion; and Mobutu Sese Seko is said to have stolen up to $5 billion. 

The trend continues in present times. Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete sacked six of his ministers amid allegations of government corruption. Kikwete had been under pressure to deal with the scandal following a report by a body overseeing public finances which noted that there was rampant misuse of funds in at least seven ministries.

Recently in Malawi, President Joyce Banda also sacked her cabinet amid allegations of widespread corruption in government. Several top government officials had been caught allegedly with money hidden under their beds and in their cars, with allegations that the president had sanctioned the corruption as a way to raise funds for her party as it heads towards elections in May 2014. Amidst the scandal, a top finance ministry official Paul Mphwiyo, who was seen as an anti-corruption crusader, was shot and wounded, and could have died if not for quick medical intervention.

Similarly, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is currently under fire for her failure to fight corruption and impunity in the country.At the recent United Nations General Assembly, President Sirleaf faced protests organized by two groups – Concerned Liberians against Corruption and Impunity (CLACI) and the Movement of Liberians Against Corruption (MOLAC). The organizers said Sirleaf who, soon after taking office, declared corruption Public Enemy Number One, has failed to deal with it. Indeed, Transparency International, the International corruption watched dog, ranked Liberia as the most corrupt country in the world. 

It is in the shadow of these reports that the world’s most valuable individual prize – the Mo Ibrahim prize for good governance in Africa – has gone unclaimed yet again.

The $5m (£3.2m) prize is supposed to be awarded each year to an elected leader who governed well, raised living standards and then left office. This is the fourth time in five years that there has been no winner. 

There is justification for the consternation among governance institutions such as the Mo Ibrahim foundation over the governance situation in Africa. Disturbed by such reports, especially when one considers the significant transformation that the stolen funds could have brought to a continent ravaged with untold poverty, one cannot help but be truly appalled and infuriated.

It would appear that in Africa, institutions meant to be watchdogs against corruption: the Government itself, judiciary, police, and security services, are failing the continent and simply, selectively serving the interests of the elite classes. This could be a legacy that Africa inherited from its colonial past, when such institutions were more often subservient to the all-powerful colonial administrator or governor. 

This legacy however, cannot now be used as an excuse for the continued plunder of the continent from within, by the very people that are entrusted with leading its re-birth and development. Upon close analysis, it is clear that instead of changing colonial era institutions, laws and values for the better, African ruling parties and leaders continue to entrench the deeply compromised governance systems that have kept Africa backward and against which they fought so much, claiming and promising redemption from such chains. 

The postcolonial Africa, 50 years after the so-called independence struggles, is an Africa where greed and self-enrichment politics rule. The ousted colonial elite seems to have simply been replaced by a similarly narrow elite class, of the independence and liberation movements, the dominant independence leader and dominant ‘struggle’ families, or the dominant ethnic group or political faction. A centralized political culture very much similar to the colonial administration remains, and it is this refusal to serve the people that is destroying Africa from within.

As evidenced in the examples mentioned above and other countries across Africa, it is now almost inevitable that former leaders will, as soon as they settle into the reigns of power get entrenched in a pattern of corruption aimed primarily at extending their hold of power into perpetuity. 

Thus the legacy that most African leaders have left on the continent is one of greed, selfishness and impunity, and a lack of any desire to develop Africa or help the people they profess to serve. This is despicable enough, and by itself, it is a sure hindrance to the economic growth and development of the continent. 

It is a betrayal of all Africa and a real disappointment for institutions dedicated to promote and encourage good governance on the continent. The twenty-first century should be an era when the capacities of the existing corruption-fighting institutions are strengthened, not used for witch-hunts and silencing political opponents. 

Africans need independent anti-corruption agencies that are immune from political interference and follow the rule of Law, and are supported by agencies and initiatives in the private sector or civil society. Furthermore, these institutions must be independent from the presidential office or the executive department, such as the police or justice ministry, and be accountable directly to parliament and to the courts.

Such a system would reduce cheap smear campaigns and ensure that proper valuations of alleged stolen wealth are made before individuals’ names are ruined by media. They would also ensure that corrupt officials are brought to book, and force the police and public watchdogs to follow up on cases of corruption exposed in the media and by whistleblowers. 
It is the responsibility of citizens in Africa to ensure that ruling parties punish the bad behaviour of their leaders and party members legally, socially and politically, as well as reward good behaviour. If this is highlighted and addressed publicly, exemplary leaders will encourage ordinary citizens (themselves included) to uphold the rule of law. Civil society and the media will have to play a role in ‘naming and shaming’ those leaders who espouse corrupt values while encouraging those who behave with integrity.

Africa needs a new calibre of leadership at all levels. Africa needs competent and honest, candidates who operate with integrity and not simply driven by vengeance or the desire to remain in office for life. Electoral candidates must be judged on the basis of competence, moral character and genuine commitment to public service and to the African Ideal. It is a shame that there not even a few such good men and women and that for the second year running, the Mo Ibrahim foundation is disappointed by African leaders.

Z Allan Ntata was previously the Special Legal Counsel to the President Bingu Wa Mutharika of the Republic of Malawi. His book, “Trappings of Power: Political Leadership in Africa” was published in November 2012. The book explores political leadership issues in Africa

Z Allan Ntata was previously the Special Legal Counsel to the President Bingu Wa Mutharika of the Republic of Malawi. His book, “Trappings of Power: Political Leadership in Africa” was published in November 2012. The book explores political leadership issues in Africa.

James is communications and PR specialist who has worked with several organizations and high net worth individuals including Dr Mo Ibrahim, Sir Richard Branson, President Obasanjo, President Sirleaf Johnson and many others. Since 2011 he has been working for the Mo Ibrahim Foundation on issues concerning good governance in Africa. He is also also one of the founding members of Diaspora Capital LLP (dCAP) www.d-cap.org, a members investment club which seeks to make socially impactful investments in Africa 

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