Just as I was about to launch myself into the usual, tired end-of-year wish-lists for January, the spoilsports in my corner refused to let me be, and instead burdened me, once again, with the sad news regarding how African rulers continue to act like brigands against their own countries.
There is a silver lining in this piece of information that I received as I was stroking my keyboard, raring to go: In one of the countries where it would seem you have to be a big thief to present yourself for any office — Angola —the recently installed government has come up with a partial solution to the kleptomaniacs in government offices.
It is simple: You will not be pursued with criminal charges if you have the gentilesse to please bring home the loot you externalised after you stole it from us. Just bring the dosh back and we will be the best of friends.
It is an attractive offer. Though it is unusual for a thief to go scot-free if he reimburses the proceeds of his theft, it is also stupid to let go of money you could have saved when you do not have any guarantee that pursuing these thieves will lead to the recovery of sums you claim they stole.
I went down the list of those being granted amnesty, some of whom I am familiar with, and I was shocked at the amounts that were being mentioned.
President Jose Edouardo dos Santos, second president of that unfortunate country, took a little bonus of $7.9 billion, his daughter Isabel is said to have taken a more respectable $12.7 million.
The list goes on to name several other officials who took sums that could suggest they had gathered around a well of dollar bills and they had taken turns dipping their buckets into it, scooping whatever their arms could haul to the well-top:
H MVD — $2.6 billion
AS — $1.7 billion
APN — $578 million
CHS — $243 million
BMP — $843 million, etc, etc.
The list is long and the amounts are humongous, such as would make a sane person, however greedy, ask himself just what these people were up to. We know the shocking stories of Angola’s grand larceny, but this looks like a pandemic.
Pain and suffering
I remember the great efforts, pain and suffering the poor people of Angola went through to support the MPLA, their “liberation movement,” to get rid of the old Portuguese colonial yoke and, later, to defeat their surrogates, Jonas Savimbi and his UNITA.
A number of us put our personal safety and comfort on the line and threw in our lot with them, marching across minefields, exposing ourselves to likely death. What was all that in aid of? So Dos Santos, his daughter and cronies could feature on Forbes? Sometimes I ask myself if there is no international tribunal that could receive petitions against scoundrels, right to the last name on the list of shame.
I know some will say all we did was give a disinterested contribution as conscientious humanity would do, but these people took us, and the world, for a ride, and I have this conviction that they must be made to pay, some posthumously, at least at a moral level. Let them be known for the despicable people they are, and be held as exemplars of most vile specimens of human beings who deserve to be pelted with rotten tomatoes wherever they go.
I say this because I visited that country several times during perhaps the most hideous period, when its new rulers had the temerity to call it a “people’s republic.”
In the civil war that followed the departure of the colonialists, so many people died, and the number of amputees rose per capita above any other country in the world, as little children playing in the savanna, or peasants cultivating their fields and goatherds tending their animals had their limbs blown off, to make Angola the biggest producer of amputees. It is a crying shame that it came to this.
But this whole story leads me to a theory I have been mulling for quite some time now. The whole of Africa is like this, only cases like Angola come across as an overstatement of the norm.
We are generally governed by thieves, some small, but many huge. Our countries differ in the scale of the thievery, but not in the essence.
The farther away a country is to attaining nationhood the more its rulers will be stealing from it, and vice versa. The closer to nationhood a country gets the less the thieving by its rulers. This is because, in the latter case, stealing will be done by thieves, not by people who are supposed to catch thieves.
A government that encourages its members to steal from its people is essentially a foreign government ruling over an alien people, at least psychologically.
That is what is done, and has always been done by imperial powers, such as powers that have subjugated a vassal people.
In this sense, the fight against grand larceny and corruption is simply a struggle for nation building, and Angola, just as many others, has failed.
I will come back on this.
Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]