Obama Talks Free Election, While Companies Steal $50b Yearly

By J. Yanqui Zaza   

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
April 3, 2015


Sirleaf and Mugabe

Nowadays, leaders, maybe because of external influence, are finding it difficult to “Take The Bull By The Horns.” Or the influence of money is coercing leaders to be silent and, or focus on imaginary issues, rather than confronting the problems. In the case of President Barack Obama, he was bold with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concerning the Middle East; but said nothing about companies siphoning $50 billion from Africa yearly. Instead, he indicated that election could solve Africa’s poverty crisis.

President Obama made bold efforts toward peace in the Middle East. But towards Africa’s poverty, he focused on free election without commenting on the illicit role of multinational corporations. These companies siphon billions of dollars out of Africa yearly, according to a survey conducted by Global Financial Integrity based in the United States. The survey indicates that multinational companies, including US companies, account for a 60% of the massive corruption in Africa. It explained that corrupt activities by government bureaucrats such as bribery and embezzlement make up only about 3 %, and the remaining 35% is related to drugs trafficking and smuggling. If this report is correct, then free and fair election without deliverables can’t defeat poverty.

President Obama, thinking that free and fair election could reduce embezzlement, and by extension, defeat terrorists such as Boko Haram, did appeal to Nigerians to participate in the elections that were held on March 28, 2015. If the choice of ballots over bullets is the solution to poverty, what has happened to Kenya?  Since independence in 1963, Kenya has survived nearly five decades as a functioning nation-state, with regular elections, its borders intact and without experiencing war or military rule. However, literacy rate is 53%. Also, while its lawmakers earn $175,000 per annual, many of its 43 million people live on U.S. $1.46 per day. Kibera, located in Kenya, is one of the five worst slumps in the world, and the second in Africa. (C.I.A. Fact Sheet).

On the other hand, elections were limited in Libya and Zimbabwe and did not allow companies to exploit their resources as Kenya did. Yet, these two countries led by autocrats, Muammar Kaddafi and Robert Mugabe, helped their countries earn the highest rank of literacy (92% and 90% respectively) in Africa. (C.I.A. Fact Sheet). Asia was another continent where autocrats did enact economic policy to reduce poverty. After World War II, autocrats in Asia limited the freedom of their citizens but provided them with the best education, infrastructure and export-led growth policies, according to Thomas L. Friedman (NY Times, 04/1/2015).

Further, it is the failure of democratic leaders to fulfill their promises that discourages voters about elections, but not the principles of democracy. Voters are not only disenchanted because of unfulfilled promises, but they are also embracing extremists, according to Sarah Chayes (“Thieves of State-Why Corruption Threatens Global Security”). When people begin to think that election wouldn’t create an environment for everyone to get a fair share of the dividends of productivity, they might end up in the armies of extremists, she added.

Presidents Sirleaf & Obama

But guess what, the theory of abstinence or voters unwilling to take part in election is part of democracy. If the available candidates don’t match up to the choice of constituents, why should the constituents take part in an election? In short, when constituents decide to abstain from an election, it might be because those voters want different policies than the policies offered. Equally true, if chief executives believe that election might not deliver higher profits demanded by the board of directors, they might relocate from one country to another country. 

This is the dilemma facing each country; higher profits versus money needed for social programs. Common sense suggests that when the interest of society and investors collide, as always the case, it is only influential stakeholders who can compel one group or another group to yield. This is the approach Canada and Britain have taken unlike America, according Nicholas Kristof in his article called “Unsettling Complicity.” The two countries have encouraged their companies to implement a law that “…requires international oil companies to disclose money paid to governments so that the money can be tracked… but the oil industry seeks to sustain an opaque system that…” allows government bureaucrats to earn billions.

Instead of joining Canada and Britain to reduce poverty, for example, U.S. officials have not only enveloped Angola in a big hug, but they are also silent about American Petroleum Institute’s lobbying effort to water down the disclosure requirements, Kristof stated. However, let us hope that, now that U.S officials are aware of the role companies play in siphoning $50 billions out of Africa yearly, President Obama will help to end companies stealing Africa’s fund. In the case of Liberia, he should call on Chevron, Mittal Steel, etc. to desist from practices that reduces money for social programs, including education. This is because without an educated workforce, poverty increases.


Sylvester Moses
Brother Yanqui, we say thanks again for another informative and persuasive piece. Of course, the influence of money in the politics of powerful countries has given big business a free rein over indigent economies, such as ours. No surprise, European business ventures sparked 15th century explorations, the resultant Atlantic Slave Trade, and Colonialism. Multinational corporations are the successors. Why not? They create jobs, employ their voters, pay huge taxes, and, legally in the US, bankrolled political campaigns.

But Obama never “indicated that elections could solve Africa’s poverty problems“. He knows that “elections” alone don’t morph countries into functioning democracies; a functioning democracy is the key. His message rests on the premise that such political systems have an informed citizenry, elect effective representation, good governance is a given, rule of law sacrosanct, rigorous oversight ensured, checks and balances in place, cases of corruption don’t go unpunished, and opportunities exist for those consumed by the “audacity of hope“.

For example, the governance in Liberia is only a “democracy” in progress, but thank God for a great improvement on previously elected ones, perhaps with the exception of the Tolbert regime. This is why we have to hold President Sirleaf’s beautiful feet firmly to the fire no matter how much we admire her. The future of Liberia is at stake, and God knows she has the ability and experience to do better than what has been achieved so far. Thank you again Yanqui, Liberia is blessed to have you on the side of progress.

Sylvester Moses at 02:52PM, 2015/04/03.

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