Have you have ever watched a healthy baby coming from several hours of sleep followed by a bath and then getting positioned to breastfeed? If you have, then watching the viral video by an international TV network of an African diplomat eagerly offering to help foreigners launder money and even securing the complicity of another official on phone to swindle their country, must have given you a dull sense of déjà vu.
The way the hungry baby grabs the mum’s breast with its tiny fingers, gasping and choking as it sucks in the milk mixed with unwanted air is as amusing as the undiplomatic diplomat’s eagerness to rob his country is disgusting. Sadly though, in most African countries (with the exception of four or five serious ones), the investigative video isn’t surprising. Nauseating as the diplomat and the woman on the phone may sound, their behaviour is typical of many officials on the continent. Earlier in another country, a zoom audio leaked of another diplomat seeking guidance from a technical accomplice in the home capital how to steal embassy funds.
Many officials stop thinking once given a chance to steal a few thousand dollars, even if they already have several millions. Pause and think of your own language’s terminology for stealing public funds – most likely the word ‘eating’ is used. The way officials and leaders fill their physical tummies is very similar to the baby’s and the financial bellies – like there is a burning hole they must fill very quickly.
You have probably seen some at diplomatic receptions, filling their tummies undiplomatically. A gentleman in a hard suit and tie acts like it is mandatory to pick from every tray each passing waiter presents. He quickly swallows the fish finger so he can pick the chicken drumstick and throws the bone on the ambassador’s well-manicured lawn so he can pick the skewer with several pieces of roast goat, which take him longer to finish so sadly, he cannot pick a samosa from the passing tray.
Fortunately, the petite waitress notices his distress and turns back, puts two samosas on a saucer for him and he takes the saucer with an urgent sense of entitlement. The embassy third secretary in charge of trade affairs whom he is talking to amid mouthfuls pretends not to notice the hungry official’s travails to fill the hole in the tummy, and listens patiently. Why don’t teachers and nurses eat like that at their staff party?
Hole in officials’ tummies
A major challenge facing African countries is to treat that hole in the officials’ tummies. If it were in a powerful Asian country we all know, they simply shoot the scum. But the problem in many modern African states, these patients with a hole in the tummy have several thousand supporters and arresting them can cost a ruling party support in their constituency. If their tummy filling gets so glaring and they have to be sacked or transferred, the system has to appoint another person from the same community as compensation, and the new one has a more burning hole in the tummy, and eats faster with a vengeance.
So, the solution may have to be found in old wisdom of prevention being better than cure. As health sciences present us with immunisation to prevent disease, spiritual disciplines need to be invoked. All faiths must have a teaching against overeating; Holy writ discourages avarice. It takes longer, but people being inducted into public service and political leadership need to be repeatedly reminded that eating the seed today means having no grain tomorrow.
The nauseating diplomat only sees his country’s minerals as a means to get himself a bribe to fill the hole in his tummy. African diplomats need to be reminded to source technology for processing their minerals so that from the mines, value chains are established to not only add value but also to employ young men and women instead of co-opting them into stealing proceeds from raw materials.
More money to steal
Surely, even if someone is hell bent on stealing the common resources, they should have the common sense to figure out that after processing raw materials and manufacturing valuable goods from them, the government will have more money for them to steal, than the small proceeds from unprocessed raw materials!
If one is determined to make greed and theft a long-term career, they need to remember that however much you eat today, you will still be hungry tomorrow. Public servants and political leaders, and unfortunately from the evidence diplomats as well, need to be taught that humans are not pythons that can take weeks without eating after swallowing an antelope. Nor are adult humans like babies who gulp milk with air and end up throwing up – or requiring mummy’s massage to burp. Big men should ‘eat’ food and cash with moderation.
Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [email protected]