Africa politicians: The new slave masters
OPINION – They like to talk like sheep with humility but they act like wolves and lions devouring their victims without mercy. Such are Africa politicians. When they want power they would promise or say anything to get elected but when they get the power then they forget about the electorate and the people.
Today in Africa people are so poor that they cannot even provide food for their families. But the politicians in Zimbabwe, Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Kenya, Chad, Ghana, South Africa, Guinea, Angola, DRC, Gabon, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Togo and Ivory Coast do not know what poverty is.
Together they have hijacked and exercise full control over all the resources including land, labour, capital and revenues from all economic activities such as oil, gas, cocoa, coffee, tobacco, gold, diamond, coltan, tourism and timber exports. Omar Bongo of Gabon and his circle of friends control all the oil money in Gabon. Obiang Nguema and his cronies exercise full control over the hundreds of millions of dollars of oil money that flow into the country annually. Denis Sassou Nguessou of Congo does the same with his friends and so are Eduardo dos Santos of Angola and Joseph Kabila of DRC.
Like the Slave Masters of the slave trade, the politicians, their cronies, the business elite and the well connected determine and control everything in Africa. They determine which roads should be constructed or resurfaced and which one should not. They determine which village or town gets connected to the national electricity grid; they determine which region or district receives funding for projects; they determine which community receives water infrastructure. They determine which town or community gets access to hospitals and sanitation facilities. They determine who should get a job and who should get sacked. Have you heard that 420 army recruits in Ghana have been asked to go home by the politicians who recently took over power?
The slave masters decide who gets a place to sell in the market, shopping malls and all the major markets in the continent. The slave masters decide who should own a business and who should have a share in that business. They decide who should get a contract and whose certificate as contractor should be withdrawn. Contractors do substandard works, collect hundreds of millions of dollars, give politicians their share and that is all. So a road whose live span is 20 years has to be resurfaced after just two years. For the past 15 years Accra-Kumasi road in Ghana has been resurfaced more than five times after paying contractors hundreds of millions of dollars. This explains why school buildings collapse and children are killed. It also explains why communities are flooded anytime it rains as poor quality drainage networks are built. Projects costs and costs of major public procurement contracts are inflated three or four times normal cost by the Slave Masters and the poor people are made to pay for it.
You cannot get a certificate to operate a business unless you grease the palm of a politician. You cannot get contract unless you know a politician in the ruling government. You are treated differently if you know the regional minister, the district commissioner, governor or the district chief executive (DCE). A French investigation into corruption at the former oil giant Elf Aquitaine, an executive testified that Elf paid £40m a year to Bongo via Swiss bank accounts in exchange for permission to exploit his country’s reserves. Source: The Sunday Times, 2008.
As far as one knows a cabinet minister he can do whatever he likes and nobody dares question him. It is always the poor and the have-nots who get prosecuted and jailed while the politicians and their cronies who commit atrocious crimes against their states live in their mansions to enjoy their booty and ill gotten wealth. If Mr. Bernard L. Madoff had come from any country in Africa he would have been a free man by now as his political friends would have made sure he did not go to jail. Corruption case against Jacob Zuma is being dropped to allow him become president of South Africa.
Big loans are contracted to build projects like presidential palaces enjoyed only by the politicians and the poor are made to pay for it. Like the slavery of old, the politicians, their families, the businessmen and the well connected are not hurt by the storm of poverty in Africa. Despite receiving hundreds of billions of dollars in loans and grants from Europe, Japan, US, IMF and World Bank there is nothing to show for it as poverty continue to swallow the people. The reason is that these loans and grants do not see the light, they are stolen the very day they are released and the poor people are paying for it. This explains why many countries have applied for the HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Countries) initiative. These corrupt Slave Masters and their associates are holding the people captive with their short sighted, ill-conceived, vote buying, and cosmetic economic policies and programmes thereby giving the people no chance to develop.
The politicians in Africa have titles like Junior Jesus, Servants of the Poor, Friend of the Poor, King of Africa but they are all lies. None of them cares for the poor but their own stomach. Because they care only for their interests, that is why the people have no jobs, no incomes, no savings and have no place to lay their heads. That is why farmers continue to farm using hoes and cutlasses, rely on nature to plant their crops; and have no access to improved seeds, irrigation facilities and credit. That is why children go to school barefooted, on an empty stomach and attend classes under trees while the politicians’ children receive education in Europe and America.
That is why Omar Bongo has at least 33 luxury properties in France alone and spends $100 million a year while majority of Gabonese live on a dollar a day. Dos Santos, Paul Biya, Obiang Nguema, Blaise Campore, Arap Moi, Jerry Rawlings, John Kufuor, Joseph Kabila and most of the sitting and past presidents and their families live a lavish lifestyle while majority of the people live in abject poverty.
That is why people have no access to water, food, health care, education and electricity while Citibank, UBS, Barclays Bank, Crédit Lyonnais, BNP, Credit Suisse, are full of stolen money from the continent. That is why there are power blackouts in Accra, Dar es Salaam, Abidjan, Cape Town, Monrovia, Free Town, Lome, Lagos, Kampala, Cairo, Conakry and most of our cities not to mention the rural areas. But the lights in Aso Rock in Nigeria, Osu Castle in Ghana, El Mouradia in Algeria, Abdeen Palace in Egypt, Zimbabwe House in Zimbabwe, Futungo dos Belas in Angola, Mahlambandlovu of South Africa, States House in Kenya and Uganda, will not go off even if there is no water in the Kanji, Akosombo, the Aswam, Kariba, or the Mulunguzi dams.
Because they care only for their interests that is why majority of the people live in slumps, sprawl, shanty towns and in deplorable conditions in Nairobi, Accra, Cairo, Lagos, Soweto, Kampala with little or no access to water, electricity, schools, hospitals, roads, toilet and sanitation facilities. That is why teachers, nurses, and other public workers are poorly paid, have few rights and have little or no entitlement when they go on retirement. But when the Slave Masters leave office after looting the treasuries, they are given several hundreds of thousands of dollars and properties as retirement packages. The Slave Masters have more and are given more. The poor have none and they are denied even the little.
Because they care only for their stomach that is why they allow mining and oil companies to destroy the environment and the livelihoods of the people. Shell, BP and other oil companies have polluted rivers, wells, streams, lakes, creeks and the soil in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria rendering millions of fishermen and farmers jobless. The people of Arlit in Niger and Mounana in Gabon are still suffering after exposure to high radioactive contamination from uranium. The Slave Masters in Ghana, DRC, Liberia, and Zambia look on in agreement while mining companies like Anglo-Ashanti and Mittal pollute the environment.
In the 50 years since oil was discovered in Nigeria, over $400 billion have been realized as revenue but the money has been stolen by the politicians and the corrupt civil servants leaving Nigerians to fend for themselves. The evil genius Abacha and his family were able to bank $4 billion of these monies in Switzerland, Jersey Island, New York, Australia, France and Britain. The story is no different in Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, DRC, Guinea, Chad, Zambia, Sudan, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Algeria, Sierra Leone and Gabon where oil, gas, gold, diamond, copper and other valuable minerals have brought in billions of dollars yet most the people live in abject poverty. The people are poor because the Slave Masters have decided they should remain so, as monies meant for their development have been stolen and are sitting in UBS, Credit Suisse, Barclays bank, BNP, Crédit Lyonnais and Citibank.
Through their grip on power, the Slave Masters have amassed wealth and enriched themselves at the expense of the poor. And in order to perpetuate their rule and enslavement of the people they turn one tribe and one religion against the other as is seen in Kenya, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Ghana, Niger, Mali, Algeria, Egypt, Togo, Liberia and Congo. They install their children as successors instead of allowing democracy to work. Faure Gnassingbe of Togo was installed as his father’s successor and so did Joseph Kabila of DR. Congo who replaced Laurent Kabila, his father as president. There are clear signs that Gamal Mubarak and Major Muhoozi Kainerugaba will respectively replace their fathers as presidents of Egypt and Uganda.
How is the following 2008 US Human Rights report on Gabon different from the treatment of slaves by their owners in the 18th Century?
“The following human rights problems were reported: limited ability of citizens to change their government; use of excessive force, including torture toward prisoners and detainees; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; an inefficient judiciary susceptible to government influence; restrictions on the right to privacy; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, association, and movement; harassment of refugees; widespread government corruption; violence and societal discrimination against women, persons with HIV/AIDS, and noncitizen Africans; trafficking in persons, particularly children; and forced labour and child labour.” Source: US Human Rights Report on Gabon 2008. Similar abuses are found in Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Egypt, Mauritania and Guinea.
Pathetically, Africans demanded independence from colonialism only to be decolonized and enslaved by our own leaders. A US Senate investigation in 1997 established that Bongo and his family spend fifty-five million pounds every year. Like Omar Bongo, Denis Sassou Nguesso, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Blaise Campore, Dos Santos, and their friends in Chad, DRC, have all enriched themselves at the expense of their poor countries often in collusion and connivance with the French political and the business elite and the banking and property institutions. Robert Mugabe was seen having a lavish birthday party with his family and friends while millions of his people face starvation and cholera. Africa is poor because of the incompetence of her leaders. The people are poor because they have been denied the opportunity to develop. There are no efficient transportation system; no major infrastructural development, no viable manufacturing sector; no major breakthrough in the universities because monies meant for all that have been stolen by the Slave Masters in full agreement with Switzerland, France, Britain, USA, Luxembourg, Jersey Island, Austria and Liechtenstein.
What will you say when people have no access to food, water, electricity, education, health facilities; cannot pay their rents and fees for their kids; have no jobs and no savings; have no access to toilet and sanitation facilities and cannot democratically change their leaders? If these corrupt, power hungry and heartless men and women are not slave masters, vampires, parasites, blood suckers and draculars then who are they?
*The author is a consultant, political activist and anti-corruption campaigner