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‘Wining the fight against corruption: a sustainable path to Africa’s transformation’, was the theme of this year’s AU jamboree, which was held in Addis this past week. This regurgitated phrase has become as vacuous as the numbing commercial adverts of our times. In the usual pompous lingua of officialdom the Summit was labeled; ‘The 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of States and Governments of the African Union.’ The gathering was supposed to galvanize efforts against corruption, which in Africa has become the dominant operating principles of the state, the private sector and even civil societies. One thing is for sure, just because the political honchos halfheartedly pontificate about corruption doesn’t mean that it will go away. In fact, without the direct/indirect involvement of the ruling elites, grand corruption in Africa is hardly possible!
To be sure, the whole machinery of the modern world system is now oiled with corruption of all sorts. No country is immune to this disease. What differentiates countries is only the degree of the sickness. For example, the affluent, socially conscious and relatively homogenous countries of northern Europe are by far better off when it comes to this sickness, compared to other countries of the world system. Transparency in everything they do along with respect for rights, (individual & collective) is an important feature of Nordic societies. For instance, in Sweden, the income of each individual is regularly published on the public ledger for everyone to see. This takes the myriad ways of making ‘mysterious money’ without being noticed, (by the public) out of the equation. Paradoxically, in places like our poor continent, it is those who do not actually work who become very rich, compliment of ‘mysterious money’ accrued from even more mysterious activities, business or otherwise! Grand corruption is almost always the result of collusion between ‘high officials’ and members of the private sector. In Africa, tenderpreneurs tend to dominate the corruption kingdom, as it is relatively easy to make plenty of money at the expense of the sheeple’s (human mass) welfare! In countries like Ethiopia where resources (almost all) are under the state/government, there are plenty of ways to make a ‘killing’ for corruptors, so to speak. Land, credit, projects (government/private), influence in the bureaucracy, judiciary, etc., are all there for the asking and for the taking, if one is well connected to the ‘Mafiosi State’ that operates behind the veil of the formally elected state. Just see who ‘made’ it big in Ethiopia in the last twenty years. It certainly is not the working stiff that includes the dynamic and creative entrepreneurs, rhetoric aside! See the articles next column, on page 41, 44 & 46.
The sheeple is sick and tired of corruption and is trying to take matters on its own hands. The traditional governance structure of the state, namely; the legislative, the executive and the judiciary have proven inadequate to fighting corruption, particularly grand corruption. Existing anti-corruption agencies ultimately report either to the legislative or the executive. In countries where the same party dominates both entities, to say nothing about the judiciary, the whole anti-corruption exercise becomes a farce. Unfortunately, our country finds itself in this ensemble. A novel approach to overcome this major obstacle was pioneered in Ethiopia (by civil society) about two decades ago, long before the anti-corruption agency was set up! The initiative was systemically frustrated by the clandestinely operating ‘Mafiosi State.’ The main objective was to create an anticorruption institution, appropriately named ‘Tirat’ in Amharic, from the ground up, supported/facilitated by the sheeple and answerable only to it. Primarily, the task of the institution was to observe, monitor and report ‘fishy’ activities and the individuals/institutions behind them direct to the people. The people themselves, it was assumed, will then take appropriate actions when engaging with the state/governments; like impacting elections, appointments, projects, etc. Each locality (outside of the ‘kebele’ setup) was to institute its own anti-corruption committee, elected by community members. Would be reputable candidates were to sign/vow pledges and declare their worldly wealth before serving in the committee. Individuals working for the state and the private sector were not allowed to become members of the committee or hold offices in the organization. Elections were to be transparently conducted without the interference of the state. This grass root setup was to be organized across the nation. Tirat’s motto; ‘Every thing secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity. Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases.’ Or in the words of Justice Brandeis of the US Supreme Court: ‘Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.’
Novel initiatives such as ‘Tirat’ that were determined to operate outside of the traditional state structure (legislative, executive an judiciary) are becoming visible elsewhere. In this regard, some of the South American countries have made encouraging headways, particularly in the systemic deconstruction of the old trinity (legislative, etc.) Our neighbor Kenya, just like us, is in a political and social flux. Mr. Odinga, who was a serious contender for power in the first phase of the last election and who boycotted the second phase of the election, was proclaimed ‘president of the people’ few days ago! It would be recalled Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta, who won the boycotted election, was already inaugurated and currently officiates as president of Kenya. Admittedly, the whole thing looks rather ridiculous, but that might be the intended message. This very action might sensitize the wanainchi/sheeple to reconsider even delegitimize the non-empowering political structure of Kenya. Shutting out the voice of half the population by mechanically employing legalistic arguments will only exasperate the impasse. Situations on the ground remain very worrying in Kenya; ditto Ethiopia. Wise leadership is urgently needed in these neighborly countries. Simplistic and jingoistic politicking might not do at this late hour!
In Ethiopia, where systemic cohesive administrative experience was never lacking, the effort to undermine value-based relations in our collective existence, spearheaded by the ‘Mafiosi State’, might well fragment the nation. The old saying ‘Abatu dagna liju kemagna’, which translates to, ‘the father is the judge, the son a mugger’ is a stuff fragile/failing states are made of and on which the prevailing mal-governance has zeroed the country’s future. We have started to pay the price for this stupid indulgence, perpetrated by degenerate party officials in collaboration with notorious oligarchs (foreign/local) and their minion accomplices, mostly within the state and the private sector. Unfortunately, the resultant depraved culture that has overwhelmed the country is bound to linger even after the demise of the ‘Mafiosi State’. The complete obliteration of the ‘Mafiosi State’ remains a precondition to our envisioned peace. Let us hope Mersa, et al., will not be taken as the only template in redressing the massively accumulated injustices of the last two decades. Time to recall the old saying; ‘when thieves are heroes the end is nigh!
“In too many countries, people are deprived of their most basic needs and go to bed hungry every night because of corruption, while the powerful and corrupt enjoy lavish lifestyles with impunity.” José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International. Good Day!