Can Mwanawasa's magic traverse across Africa?

By Finnigan Wa Simbeye,

The Perspective
Paris, France

July 16, 2002

ZAMBIAN President Levy Mwanawasa summoned a special session of parliament last week where he revealed the loss of colossal sums of public money during the past ten years of his predecessor’s administration.

Armed with documentary and intelligence evidence, the no nonsense Zambian President asked parliament to see if it is necessary to scrap former President Frederick Chiluba’s immunity so that he could be prosecuted.

Among the shocking revelations of public plunder made by President Mwanawasa which Mr. Chiluba and his cronies are alleged to have done include bogus payment of $20.5m to Congolese opposition politician posing as businessman Katebe Katoto under crooked trade mark name of Raphael Soriano on a bogus arms deal.

President Mwanawasa went on to disclose suspicious payments made to Mr. Chiluba’s family members, cronies and senior government officials including former Chief Justice Matthew Ngulube through a national intelligence account operated from London by one of the country’s local banks.

Listening to Mr. Mwanawasa’s speech to parliament and reading from daily news headlines on the country’s popular newspapers like The Post, one understands why Zambia, a country once adored for its copper wealth under founder President Dr. Kenneth David Kaunda, current stands among the last ten on World Bank list of least developed countries.

The majority of Zambians today are living well below the poverty line struggling to have a meal per day while a man they voted into power, Frederick Chiluba and his cronies, looted national coffers sharing the proceeds with foreign nationals like Katebe Katoto.

This is Zambia’s latest news which is not unique to the impoverished southern African country as many other countries in the continent are either being looted by thieving leaders of Chiluba’s calibre or have already been robbed. Criminal African regimes are everywhere on this gifted continent looting in collaboration with foreigners sending millions of dollars in Western capital banks.

As the country’s leading private newspaper, The Post, pointed out clearly in its editorial recently, quote, "And let’s not forget that the war we are waging against corruption in our country is also for our neighbouring sister countries because they will learn from our experience," the war against this powerful class of African mafias, won’t be an easy one. This group of criminals wields a lot of powers because their partners are in the developed world where African resources are crucial for the survival of their dependent exploitative economies whose origin can be traced back in Africa.

People like Chiluba and his cronies are the real problem facing Africa today when the entire world is embarking on good governance and rule of law. There are too many Chilubas in Africa, some are currently struggling to handpick their successors while pushing for laws granting them immunity after leaving office.

Others, who feel that quitting State House exposes them to a risky future are using their bootlickers to mobilise support for constitutional amendments that will enable them to become proverbial ‘life presidents’ in a 21st century Africa.

Africa has too many criminals at State House and the result is what we all see, underdevelopment, widespread poverty, disease and civil wars. A few corrupt, stiff necked political elites and their lieutenants are leading comfortable lives running foreign bank accounts valued in billions of dollars, money which our ailing economies badly need in investment.

If only banks in Switzerland, Britain, France, United States of America and elsewhere in the Western world could publish accounts of our crooked leaders such as Chiluba, the late Nigerian ruler Sani Abacha, the late Dr. Hastings Banda, Malawi’s self declared life President, and others, Africans could understand that they are not poor people for their land has enough for everyone to live a descent life.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo whose country has suffered widespread plunder of national resources by successive military regimes, has proposed an international convention seeking the recovery of an estimated $ 140bn stashed in foreign accounts by these criminals.

President Obasanjo’s government was recently forced to strike an out of court deal with the family of former military dictator the late General Sani Abacha and recovered over $600m out of an estimated $1.2bn which was looted by Abacha and his cronies during a brief five year tenure of office.

"If there is an international convention in place, it would have been easier to recover such monies, that is the effort we are making now. We are spearheading it," President Obasanjo said. In the deal which his government agreed with the Abacha heirs, President Obasanjo’s government let go of over $100m as gift money to the heirs of the late dictator.

Africa with an estimated population of over 700m and a foreign debt of $333bn needs $100bn every year to attain international development goals set up by United Nations by 2015. Thus having the number of people living below poverty line, reduce child mortality by two thirds and send over half the age going children to primary school, among others.

The recently launched New Partnership for African Development NEPAD estimates that $64bn is needed annually for Africa to attain the UN development goals by 2015.

If all of Africa’s thieving leaders currently occupying State Houses or comfortably exiled in Europe or the US for fear of prosecution like former Malagasy ruler Didier Ratsiraka currently in France, were to be pursued to take back home their monies, there will be no need to lure Western foreign investors.

Many of these foreign investors can’t invest in Africa because of lack of confidence by mirroring what it’s political and bureaucratic elite does, send hard cash abroad instead of investing at home!

As President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa argued, the major challenge for African leaders today is to serve the people who elect them into power. Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa is a shining example in this regard, no wonder his predecessor who thought that by spearheading his (Mwanawasa)’s rise to power he would get assurance not to face prosecution, expressed his amazement at the turning tide against him.

It is Presidents of Mwanawasa’s prowess and responsibility that Africa badly needs today other than the many criminals occupying the highest public offices in the 53 countries of this gifted continent. But President Mwanawasa’s magic will definitely traverse across the continent to topple other thieving dictators.

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