21st August 2009
To the surprise of many Africa watchers, Frederick Chiluba, the former President of Zambia was found 'Not Guilty' by a Zambian court this week on a charge of embezzling public funds. He was the first African leader to be prosecuted in his own country. Earlier in his six-year long battle to clear his name, Chiluba had lost a civil case in a London court which had clearly revealed some very shady arms deals involving millions of dollars. The trial in Zambia was a criminal trial and had he been found guilty Chiluba could have been sent to gaol. That did not happen but it was surely not for lack of evidence. The offices for Zambia's Anti-Corruption Taskforce are now home to Chiluba's collection of 100 pairs of hand-made shoes, monogrammed shirts, tailor-made suits with matching silk ties and handkerchiefs, all stored in metal trunks. The UK's Independent run a piece by Ian Birrell titled 'Big men, bankers and the stench of corruption' which gave some fascinating insights into Chiluba's lifestyle. While the vast majority of the Zambian population was living on less than a dollar a day, and Chiluba himself was earning £52.000 a year as President, he would think nothing of jetting off to Switzerland and spending as much as £300.000 in his favourite clothes store.
Unlike much of the British coverage of Africa and its dictators however, Birrell's purpose was not to show that Africa is by nature corrupt and unable to govern itself. Rather, Birrell's intention was to show that African corruption cannot succeed without the direct connivance of western companies and banks. Birrell claims that African dictators and despots would not be able to make away with their ill-gotten gains were it not for the greed of foreign banks and governments which cheerfully accept vast sums of money from African leaders, no questions asked. As examples of this, Birrell gives several cases where foreign banks and governments have failed to co-operate when attempts are made to refund monies after the dictators have fallen from power. It was the British government who hindered the return of Abacha's looted wealth in Nigeria. The Swiss went even further and refused to return the money despite a Court ruling that the money should be repatriated. Kenya too has suffered from Britain's reluctance to return stolen funds. In short, Birrell maintains that Africa's looted millions reveal the hypocrisy of the west which preaches the doctrine of fighting poverty in Africa while at the same time positively assisting Africa's Big Men to salt away their ill-gotten gains in foreign banks. Bankers lawyers and accountants in Europ and America are effectively living off immoral earnings, Birrell claims.
Of course, Birrell's otherwise excellent piece makes no mention of Zimbabwe which has become almost a non-country in discussions about Africa. It is as if Zimbabwe has somehow ceased to exist as an African entity. Even the Kenyan Nobel prize winner Wangari Mathaai, whose book The Challenge for Africa I have just read, makes almost no mention of Zimbabwe preferring to concentrate instead on the evils of colonialism and the terrible legacy it has left behind. Robert Mugabe's claim that Britain is intent on re-colonising Zimbabwe has no basis in reality as he should know if he understood the myriad problems facing the UK government. What Mugabe and his cronies want is for sanctions to be lifted so that they can access their funds stashed away in foreign banks. So while NGO's spend millions fighting hunger and disease in Africa as a whole and Zimbabwe in particular, foreign banks are making huge profits at the African people's expense.
The sanctions imposed against Zimbabwe are directed at specific individuals in Zanu PF. They were not instigated at the behest of the MDC and for Mugabe to claim as he does, that it is the responsibility of the MDC in terms of the GPA to have sanctions lifted is nothing less than political chicanery. For once the MDC, too often seen as doing little more than placating Mugabe's inflated ego, hit right back with Nelson Chamisa saying at last weekend's rally in Mutare, "Sanctions are a matter between Zanu PF and those who imposed them. Zanu PF should be grateful that they are in power despite the fact that they were rejected by the people in March last year." Zimbabwe needs more hard-hitting speeches like Chamisa's. It is one thing to join Zanu PF in a so-called Unity Government but the MDC and all its officials should be speaking with one voice in reminding Mugabe and the former ruling party that they are not there through the democratic choice of the people and that it is Zanu PF's misgovernance and downright corruption, not sanctions, that has brought the country to its knees. In a significant comment by an unnamed Zanu PF official this week we get a strong clue to the real electoral intentions of Mugabe and his cronies "I wish we could continue for the next ten years with this inclusive government" he said, "to get the country out of the mess it is in." Ten more years of incompetence and corruption, ten more years for the Zanu PF fat cats and others who have joined the gravy train to salt away their illegal diamonds and assorted plunder gained from shady deals; it does not bear thinking of!
Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.