FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

19 June 2014

Africa's Vanishing Act - Immunity for Ex-President No Longer Norm

When President Peter Mutharika assumed leadership of Malawi earlier this month, one of his first order of business was to declare that his administration would prosecute "those who have broken the law."

Making it clear that he was not out for vengeance, Mutharika, who won the May 20 presidential elections that ousted the country's first female head of state Joyce Banda from power, expressed his disappointment that Banda boycotted his inauguration even as he extended an olive branch in hopes of salvaging peace after a stormy presidential race.

Mutharika was quoted as saying: "I regret that my predecessor has declined to come here to hand over power to me... I was looking forward to shake her hands and bury the past. I came with olive branch to my branch. I ask everybody in joining me to rebuild Malawi. I have no intention of vengeance but those who have broken the law will face the full course of justice."

Malawi's Electoral Commission declared Mutharika of the opposition Democratic People's Party (DPP) winner of the presidential vote with over 36 percent of the total votes cast, defeating Malawi Congress Party candidate Lazarus Chakwera with about 29 percent. Ruling People's Party (PP) led by former President Joyce Banda was a distant third with 20.2 percent.

Senegal chasing 'Wade's Millions'

Mutharika's pledge to go after those he says have broken the law is nothing new. In fact, the trend is catching on in most African nations, breaking a long tradition of one-party rule on a continent where one political group or family reign with iron fists and raping nations of millions, if not billions of wealth accumulated from public resources.

In Senegal, the son of former president, Abdoulaye Wade is accused of depositing more than £127m at a bank in Monaco while his father was in office.

According to published reports, funds held in at least 24 active bank accounts have been linked to 50 companies that Wade is alleged to have used to siphon off state funds. In 2013, Wade's accounts at the French bank Société Générale were frozen at the request of Senegal's current president, Macky Sall, who vowed to clamp down on corruption after his election.

Karim Wade was arrested in Dakar as part of an investigation into whether his considerable wealth was illegally acquired during his father's rule.

Wade, 44, denies the charges, and this week several dozen supporters staged a demonstration as he appeared in court. The former ruling Senegalese Democratic party (PDS) has accused Sall's regime of conducting a witch-hunt against the PDS hierarchy.

Wade's defenders say, the move against him is a witch hunt. Bachirou Diawara, Wade's former chief of was quoted by the Associated Press as saying recently: "The Senegalese are witnesses that [the prosecutors] are unable to provide evidence of the guilt of our brother Karim Wade. It is stubbornness."

His father, Abdoulaye Wade was fond of trumpeting his son's status as one of the "best financiers in Africa." Former President Wade was a long time civil rights and anti-corruption in Senegal before he became President but Senegalese believed he did not live up to his civil rights and anti-corruption credentials when he became President.

The French government initially brought up charges against Karim Wade but those charges have since been dropped.

His father, Abdoulaye Wade, led Senegal for 12 years. He stepped down in March 2012 after losing the presidential election to Macky Sall, who has been accused of politically-motivated legal attacks on former officials. President Wade manipulated the Courts and won the rights to run for a third term but was eventually defeated.

Senegalese authorities have been finding it difficult to get Wade to explain his assets allegedly said to be worth over $1.4 billion (1.07 billion euros). The $1.4 billion assets have been uncovered because of full cooperation with the Government by local and international banks.

Banda Under Fire in Zambia

Similar cases have been reported in Zambia where former president, Bwezani Banda is facing allegations of stealing millions of dollars from the nation while he was in office. His successor, Michael Sata came to office, vowing to wipe out corruption when he ran for office and won the 2011 election in the copper-rich nation. Ironically, after taking office, Banda is reported to have dismantled much of the anticorruption effort put into place by his predecessor, Levy Patrick Mwanawasa.

The late President Mwanawasa's government prosecute former President Frederick Chiluba for corruption, in a trial that lasted six-years. Some Zambian political analysts blamed the illness and eventual death of President Chiluba on the lengthy corruption trial, which allegedly took a toll on his health.

Sata, the current president, an economist, fired his top aide last year after an envelope containing a bribe, allegedly meant for the aide, accidentally landed on the president's desk.

Political observers say, this could be why the quest to bring his predecessor, Banda to justice is receiving rave reviews and support from parliament. Already, the National Assembly has revoked Banda's legal immunity from prosecution.

Like in the widely criticized Nigerian and Japanese Oil deals in Liberia, with the Japanese Oil debacle leading to the resignation of LPRC Board Chairman Nagbalee Warner, Banda is accused of stealing about $11 million through an oil contract with the Nigerian government and having that money routed to his son's account. He is also accused of using some of those funds for his failed re-election campaign.

Attorney General, Mumba Malila, has been quoted by AP as saying that the prosecution has a good case. "Our investigation has revealed that this was an oil deal with a Nigerian company in which he was involved and in which he didn't perform quite to expectations as head of state," said Malila. "And so, we want to see if the court can make some guidance on it. We think, as [head of] government, that he may very well have abused his office contrary to the provisions of the Anti-Corruption act."

Like many of his peers across the continent, Banda has denied all the charges, and his attorney has said the prosecution is politically motivated. But many political analysts say, the Zambian example cold set a precedent across the continent. But at what cost?

Some fear, incoming governments risk being label as politically motivated vehicles in a rotating chain for what has been known to be, more of the same, repeating the mistakes and frailties of officials and leaders before them.

Bryant Arrest, Unsuccessful Hunt for Doe, Taylor, Tolbert Cash

A case in point is Liberia where President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has been accused of repeating many of the mistakes of her predecessors, specifically, Tolbert, Doe and Taylor, whom she took to task in her memoir, "This Child Will be Great."

Sirleaf described Tubman style of political largesse and patronage as no longer sufficient to keep people from being dissatisfied with the social order and its impact on their lives.

Under Tolbert, Sirleaf wrote: "The nation stood at the verge of crisis, a crisis over which we might have no control. Tensions were mounting--economically, socially and politically. They had not extended the liberties they sought for themselves to indigenous people, to all ethnic groups, and to women. But what was sad was that 125 years later we seemed unable or unwilling to change what was slowly pulling us apart. Those who now make empty, sanctimonious claims about rights are worthy of only our deep contempt."

She took the Samuel Doe government to task for being too greedy as were the people around him. "Doe, a man who before April 12, 1980, had lived in the most impoverished of tin-roofed barrack shacks (a major contributor to the coup in the first place), a once humble man who had never expressed much interest in either power or politics, soon developed a taste for chauffeured Mercedes and plush country homes. His men--young, uneducated, and before the coup mostly desperately poor--took everything they could get. Then, when the truth of what was happening became apparent, when people began to notice what was happening and complain, the oppression began."

On Taylor, Sirleaf said the former NPFL leader's ragtag band of (NPFL) rebels, who called themselves the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, drew increasing support from a nationwide population that neither knew nor necessarily trusted Charles Taylor, but that desperately hoped the end of Doe's ten-year reign of terror was finally at hand.

Today, Silreaf is facing similar scrutiny her predecessors faced and was forced to defend her administration's lobbying policy which reportedly spent millions of dollars to promote the government's image outside the check and balance of the other branches of government.

The Roll Call, the newspaper of record for the United States Congress, quoting the Department of Justice, reported "last year that while foreign countries were spending less to lobby America's federal government and while several countries and foreign interests spent less in 2010, other countries, including a couple in West Africa, spent significantly more." Liberia is cited by the publication as one of the country which boosted its lobbying outlays by about 36 percent to become the largest-spending country in 2010 with $45.9 million.

Sirleaf has dismissed the controversy by saying that the allegations that her government spent more than $200 million in lobbying fees to foreign firms in the United States is "preposterous". The president says the only US firm KRL lobbied on behalf of Liberia from 2007 to 2013 and was paid a total of a little over $368,000. A Legislature Committee has been sanctioned to fully investigate the foreign lobbying.

Besides the lobbying, controversies, audits and investigations have characterized Sirleaf's administration since 2006. There are multitude of Presidentially mandated Commission's report that are catching dust on the desks of Sirleaf, with no action being taken, providing an opportunity for future governments to capitalize on these reports. There are also unresolved issues surrounding irregular concessions (Moore Stephens' 66 of 68 irregularly concessions), and bilateral deals such as Japanese Rice, Japanese Oil, Nigerian Oil, and Kuwait Oil etc. Other Liberians have begun to also point to the use of social contributions, especially contributions made by companies in the oil sector. For example, the House of Representatives have begun a probe into the contributions allegedly made by Chevron.

In 2006, the Liberian Supreme Court set a precedent when it ruled that a former President could be prosecute for acts of corruption, as it ruled against Chairman Bryant quest for immunity. Further when Sirleaf to took office in 2006, on her first official visit to Geneva, Switzerland, she requested the Swiss support in her quest to identify and repatriate "stolen" funds from Liberia by previous Governments. Samuel Doe and his Government went to the home of President Tolbert in Bentol to allegedly recover stolen cash and nothing much was ever heard of how much was recovered and how the amount recover was used.

The Sirleaf's administration and the Doe family were at loggerhead over funds allegedly seized by the Liberian Government, which the Doe family claimed belongs to the late President Samuel Doe. For Taylor, the international community froze the assets of Taylor and his key officials, although the Liberian Government did not execute the asset freeze in Liberia; former Justice Kabinet Ja'neh attempted but failed to freeze the assets during the interim Government.

While many political observers hail the efforts new governments are making toward bringing their predecessors to book, many are equally hoping that the cycle of rotating corruption ends where the last one begins and stays there.

For many languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder, the unending circle of corruption remains a key stumbling block to development and a major hurdle keeping the overwhelming majority of Liberians hundreds of miles below the poverty line.

One interesting fine-line in the saga of prosecuting past government officials, for acts of corruption while serving in office, is the fact that the international community has provided support and impetus to such initiative. The international community are helping African governments to recover and repatriate stolen wealth, with Abacha's Nigeria and Mabuto's Zaire being amongst the most notorious. While poor Africans support such initiatives by the international community, some analysts have contended that it is far better to stop the corruption and confiscated assets as they are stolen then to wait 8 to 12 years later when an administration comes to an end.

On December 19, 2013, speaking at an event hosted by the World Bank's anti-corruption investigative arm, the Integrity Vice Presidency, the current World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said, "in the developing world, corruption is public enemy number one. We will never tolerate corruption, and I pledge to do all in our power to build upon our strong fight against it. Every dollar that a corrupt official or a corrupt business person puts in their pocket is a dollar stolen from a pregnant woman who needs health care; or from a girl or a boy who deserves an education; or from communities that need water, roads, and schools. Every dollar is critical if we are to reach our goals to end extreme poverty by 2030 and to boost shared prosperity."

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