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Trump’s administration and Africa’s struggles with corruption

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US President Donald Trump makes his way to board Air Force One before departing from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on September 26, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN

Corruption continues to be the bane of most African countries, which does not imply that Africa invented corruption or has a monopoly on it. However, the culture ranks among the top causes of under development, strife and socio-economic injustice.

The disenfranchisement of the majority is by far the most damning and dangerous effect of institutionalized corruption. We live surrounded by the ruins and wreckage of endemic corruption and for the under-served, the resulting hardships constitute a life of trial by fire daily and portend to a future bereft of hope or promise.

African countries share a common legacy of European colonization as seven European countries carved up the continent to satisfy their imperialist cravings, driven by economic factors and a quest for far flung territories. In the immediate aftermath of the European industrial revolution, Africa represented a cornucopia of raw materials and markets and not least, a means to imperial glory.

The dissection of the continent was executed on a conference table in Berlin, Germany without regard to ethnic or historical boundaries. This resulted in the forcible separation of people from the same tribe and was always bound to lead to devastating results as it exacerbated existing regional tensions, constraining ethnically disparate groups to work together and creating a mishmash of inhomogeneous nation state populations.

The foregoing factors provide relevant historical context and are in no way exculpatory of a succession of visionless and failed leadership in many African countries today. In an address to the Ghanaian parliament during his 2009 visit to Accra, President Barack Obama said the following; “Yes, a colonial map that made little sense bred conflict… But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy … or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants… No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end.”

Obama’s scathing remarks are well deserved and could not be truer. His castigations were an unapologetic expression of the U.S. government’s long standing official policy concerning institutionalized corruption, which was accorded the force of law by the enactment of the 1997 U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The legislation telegraphed the intent of the U.S. to assume an apt and worthy global leadership role in combating corruption and sanitizing the business environment as the wide scope of the domestic law covers offences committed abroad.

Faced with the glaringly harsh hallmarks of under development, against a back drop of dwindling government revenues, exploding populations, restive, marginalized communities and underlying, widespread simmering anger and frustration, Africa is owning up to the disease of corruption which has doggedly plagued us for decades.

To state the obvious, the first step in solving a problem is to acknowledge its existence, characteristics and ramifications and the next step is to embark on remedial action. Africans are holding elected leaders to “good governance” standards of transparency and accountability. This is apparent in the ongoing widespread anti – corruption protests against the leader of South Africa’s ruling party, Jacob Zuma who is facing allegations of being embroiled in financial wrong doing.

Nigeria’s incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari won a hard fought presidential campaign on an anti-corruption platform, whilst Tanzania has witnessed forced resignations of government cabinet members accused of corruption.

Dangerous threats to global security including terrorism, civil conflict, human and drug trafficking as well as the refugee crisis, can be tied in part to conditions spawned by endemic corruption, which contributes to ever expanding swathes of desperately disaffected segments of the populace. In the bid to curtail corruption, successive U.S. governments were wittingly or unwittingly working towards promoting global safety and security.

President Trump is sui-generis for a variety of hotly debated reasons. However, what is clear is that his cabinet is collectively the wealthiest in America’s political tapestry, a phenomenon which has earned his administration the monikers “billionaire cabinet” and more recently “champagne cabinet,” as these high profile leaders conduct themselves in true keeping “to the manor born,” nonchalantly exhibiting a penchant for the super-luxurious and displaying an inbred sense of entitlement.

Trump smugly boasted that his cabinet is the most brilliant and accomplished ever assembled and went as far as to say that he did not want a poor person in his cabinet. His robotic gravitation towards individuals with astronomical wealth, who have never had to pull themselves up from underprivileged or humble circumstances by dint of discipline, courage and tenacity, demonstrates at best a pathetic and irksome disconnect with the realities of life faced by the overwhelming majority of human beings on the planet or at worst alarming oblivion to character forming and building values, which often accrue as a result of overcoming strong challenges.

Trump’s myopia is responsible for the unfortunate message that a selfless visionary, endowed with true leadership qualities and an unshakeable commitment to advance goals and objectives for the common good, is deemed unfit to hold high public office if not of billionaire or multi-millionaire status. Ergo, global icons such as Martin Luther King Jnr and Mahatma Ghandi would not have been welcome to serve in Trump’s cabinet.

In effect, the inference that the barometer in staffing a cabinet is great wealth and that possessing such riches automatically translates to success in governance, encourages the recycling of a pool of questionable politicians in Africa. It also dampens the ardor of true patriots of modest means and renders them unappealing to gullible segments of the electorate.

Trump has defiantly and unapologetically deviated from the dignified and time honoured tradition of incumbent U.S. Presidents in refusing to divest himself of his domestic and far- flung businesses or for that perfunctory matter to release his taxes. These are significant actions, which underscore propriety and bona fides and equally garner public trust and respect, not only in the U.S., but also worldwide.

Meanwhile, his potential daily breaches of the hitherto obscure foreign and domestic anti – corruption clauses of the U.S constitution, is now the subject of multiple lawsuits in American courts. The customary moral rectitude and transparency synonymous with America’s top bureaucrat, is sadly lacking and it remains to be seen how far down the rabbit hole current disconcerting trends will tumble.

The Trump Administration is chipping away at the hard won gains of previous U.S. administrations, which have painstakingly built a culture of personal integrity and accountability in the domestic political arena and have worked towards encouraging and supporting efforts to eschew corruption in the developing world.

The status quo represents moral turpitude of a type alien to America’s presidential lineage and will undoubtedly signal to our leaders in the African continent to carry on business as usual.

Fowler is an international lawyer



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