AFRICA: Battle to Halt Graft Scourge in Africa Ebbs

Publisher Name: 
New York Times

The fight against corruption in Africa's most pivotal nations is faltering as public agencies investigating wrongdoing by powerful politicians have been undermined or disbanded and officials leading the charge have been dismissed, subjected to death threats and driven into exile.

Mariella Furrer for The New York Times

Above, a hand-painted anticorruption sign in Lusaka, Zambia.

"We are witnessing an era of major backtracking on the
anticorruption drive," said Daniel Kaufmann, an authority on corruption
who works at the Brookings Institution.
"And one of the most poignant illustrations is the fate of the few
anticorruption commissions that have had courageous leadership. They're
either embattled or dead."

Experts, prosecutors and watchdog groups say they fear that major setbacks to anticorruption efforts in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya
are weakening the resolve to root out graft, a stubborn scourge that
saps money needed to combat poverty and disease in the world's poorest
region. And in Zambia, a change of leadership has stoked fears that the
country's zealous prosecution of corruption is ebbing.

The
perils of challenging deeply rooted patterns of corruption have been
brought home recently with the suspicious deaths of two anticorruption
campaigners. Ernest Manirumva, who worked with a nonprofit group,
Olucome, investigating high-level corruption in Burundi, was stabbed to death
in the early morning hours of April 9. A bloodstained folder lay empty
on his bed. Documents and a computer flash drive were missing, said the
president of Olucome, Gabriel Rufyiri.

And in the Congo Republic,
Bruno Jacquet Ossebi, a journalist who had announced he was joining a
lawsuit brought by Transparency International to reclaim the ill-gotten
wealth of his country's president, died of injuries from a fire that raced through his home in the early hours of Jan. 21.

The broader anxieties about Africa's resolve to combat corruption have emerged from troubled efforts in several countries.

In oil-rich Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, where watchdog groups say efforts to combat corruption are backsliding, Nuhu Ribadu,
who built a well-trained staff of investigators at the Economic and
Financial Crimes Commission, said he fled his homeland into
self-imposed exile in England in December. Officials had sent Mr.
Ribadu away to a training course a year earlier, soon after his agency
charged a wealthy, politically connected former governor with trying to
bribe officials on his staff with huge sacks stuffed with $15 million
in $100 bills. Mr. Ribadu, who was dismissed from the police force last
year, said he had received death threats and was fired upon in
September by assailants.

"If you fight corruption, it fights you back," he said.

In
South Africa, home to the region's biggest economy, a new crime unit
with less statutory protection from political interference was stripped
of the authority to both investigate and prosecute crimes. It will take
over from the Scorpions, the prosecuting authority's elite
investigating unit that had achieved high conviction rates and built
potent corruption cases against Jacob Zuma,
who became president of South Africa in April, and Jackie Selebi, the
national police commissioner and an ally of former President Thabo Mbeki.
The Scorpions were abolished last year and the country's chief
prosecutor, Vusi Pikoli, who had pushed forward with both cases, was
fired.

"Even people of good will would be slow to take on people
in high places again because history will have told them it comes at a
high cost," said Wim Trengrove, a private lawyer who assisted the state
with the prosecution of Mr. Zuma.

And in Kenya, the economic
anchor of east Africa, scandals have continued to flourish and
anticorruption prosecutions have languished since John Githongo, who
was the country's anticorruption chief, sought safety in self-imposed
exile in England in 2005. Aaron Ringera, who apparently advised Mr.
Githongo in taped conversations in 2005 not to push for prosecutions of
President Mwai Kibaki's
ministers, is the current anticorruption chief. Mr. Ringera said in an
e-mail message that Mr. Githongo had twisted advice he offered him "in
his own best interests." In an interview, he said he had recommended
prosecuting eight ministers, but had been blocked by either the courts
or the attorney general.

The search is on for more effective
ways to tackle corruption, including intensified legal efforts to
prosecute multinational corporations that pay the bribes and reclaim
loot that African political elites have stashed abroad.

Transparency
International's suit seeks to force the French justice system to
investigate how the leaders of Gabon, the Congo Republic and Equatorial
Guinea and their families acquired tens of millions of dollars in
assets there. Still others say rich countries and international
organizations that provide billions of dollars in aid to African
countries each year must more vigorously use their leverage to make
sure aid does not fuel corruption.

Based on his finding that
more than $1 trillion a year is paid in bribery globally, Mr. Kaufmann,
formerly director of global programs at the World Bank Institute,
estimates there are tens of billions of dollars of corrupt transactions
each year in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mr. Githongo, who failed in
trying to fight corruption from the inside, has returned to Nairobi to
start a nonprofit group to mobilize rural people to press politicians
to clean up a rotten system.

"Going after big fish hasn't worked," he said. "The fish will not fry themselves."

Zambia
recently won rare convictions against former military commanders and
Regina Chiluba, the wife of its former president, on corruption
charges. Frederick Chiluba,
president from 1991 to 2001, will himself face a verdict in July on
corruption charges. His sumptuous wardrobe - Lanvin suits, silk pajamas
and handmade Italian shoes of snakeskin, satin and ostrich - became an
emblem of greed in one of the world's poorest countries.

But
anticorruption leaders say they sense less commitment to tackle
corruption since the election of President Rupiah Banda. "I'm inside,"
said Maxwell Nkole, who leads a task force set up to investigate the
Chiluba-era abuses. "The tempo, the intensity to tackle corruption is
dropping."

The Banda administration vigorously denies that
charge, and says it will prosecute officials who stole $2 million from
the Ministry of Health. At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars in
grants from the United States' Millennium Challenge Corporation
that Zambia is eligible for. On a recent afternoon, ambassadors from
rich nations, the United States and Britain among them, mingled at a
party on the lawn of Mark Chona, the first chief of the Zambian
anticorruption task force. In welcoming them, he issued a sharp warning.

"Your money is being stolen," he said. "Don't sit silent. You don't know how much influence you have."

AMP Section Name:Corruption
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  • 107 Energy
  • 190 Natural Resources
  • 208 Regulation