DEBATES BY CHIEF POLITICAL LOOTERS MAY DISTORT ACHIEVEMENTS
Africans know who to trust with their personal income or resources. We are also known for our esusu and which of us to trust with collections. We even find trusted family and friends with our estate in case we die. Americans, like Africans trust no load mutual funds, nonprofit organization managers, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates with their money when it comes to investments and charity. But when it comes to the resources and the income of the state, some countries are taken advantage of by well established or armed political looters.
There is nothing more deserving than dedication to public service mainly because it is a sacrifice to abandon the desire to make money and serve the people. Not in Africa. Looting treasury empty is the goal. Unfortunately, we have company in the world. There are other political and religious conservatives in the west and communists gone awry in the east. The goal of each of these is not far from raiding their treasury. They win political debates in election campaigns pandering to what the people want to hear but loose on integrity when it comes to governing.
Africans like the rest of the world have been blessed with skilful managers of resources and money of the state. No matter what our differences were with some past leaders, in retrospect, Nkrumah was dedicated, Awolowo was a skilful manager, Pa Ojukwu was a good businessman, Aminu Kanu was the best political leader and Mandela’s goodwill is world class. Nevertheless, when we are faced with a choice of leadership, we allow extroverts to snatch debates by appealing to our hearts.
Many of us have called for part-time political leaders in Africa with the hope that the attraction to loot will be curtailed and minimized. However, when we see men that have served the country with no expectation to be paid back in salary or gratuity, we discard them as losers. We have a string of human right activists, philanthropists and professional students or professors that cannot be elected. There is no doubt that our interpretation of achievement is skewed.
This was demonstrated in the first Lagos State debate for the governor recently. The incumbent Governor reminded us that what is important is the age of achievement, not chronological age.
A very insightful observation because in that group are those who have served Lagos State in different capacities without taking a kobo, those that worked hard to become a partner with international companies in Nigeria in their thirties, regional African manager in their forties and those that have never participated in “loot and go” in Africa.
Who could the Governor be referring to, we must wonder? Certainly, not in a country where one eye man is the king; where we have the highest internal generated income; but also the biggest debt ever generated for a state. Yet, there is very little to show for it. If we were Dubai with so much debt, at least they have the infrastructure in Dubai and if they refuse to pay lenders back, foreign banks and lenders cannot take the infrastructure away from the people.
Political debates and campaigns have gone high-tech. Most of the electorate are still far behind and can be easily manipulated by sweet talkers and public relation officers. Most parties have designated media savvy officers on line to the internet. They exaggerate and blow up every project that should have been in place anyway and pick individual causes that will generate maximum media coverage. Indeed, a government has to be foolish these days if they do not invite media coverage for conspicuous project even those without any beef or shelf life.
African looters and eastern communists go straight into the government to loot treasury with impunity but their western brothers are sleeker during debates. They starve government of funds and declaw the regulatory bodies so that private sectors can grow like beasts that feed and prey on ordinary people. As for the religious conservatives, they invade our space with the same big government they despise: teaching us morals, who to marry, when and how many children we can have so that they can be starved of milk. Yet, they are for small governments.
Whichever method they use, they end up accumulating and monopolizing most incomes for a privileged few while majority of the people scatter for whatever trickles down. They do not care about the inconsistencies in their arguments or logics. As long as they are in power, they have achieved more than the dedicated public servants or those who served government or charities for free. It is why political looters think they have achieved more than teachers, government or union workers whose dedication they must ridicule to deprived them of bargaining power.
Well, their point is that individuals know how to spend her money better than government, which is valid. So their gold platted toilet is an individual choice while babies go hungry. During recession, they claimed it would be counter-productive to take money out of the economy by taxing the excesses of the filthy rich. After election, they are willing to take money out of the economy by cutting government spending for the working class children and the poor. This is what they preach to developing countries. Just as defense contract is the welfare for their rich, foreign contract is Africa’s welfare for the rich. Ghana was made the exemplary economy.
Ghanaians rejected that and gave Rawlings his greatest shock when the party he supported lost the election. He never failed to hunt them until his favored party regained power. The change of party and leadership no matter who we support also helps cub corruption and sends a signal to state political looters that there will be accountability for their actions. It is healthy for Africa as it is for other countries because as in Ireland; sometimes a long occupying party becomes stale of ideas and may need a jolt to cool their heels and come up with new ideas in opposition.
The debate between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale in the United States taught us something different: that if you are likable, no matter what information your opponent had, you were good if you can just squeeze by. Whether Walter Mondale should have won or Al Gore declared winner by the Supreme Court of United State is now for the history books. What is clear is that the party that won already got its way.
There are more debates to come in Nigeria because of the coming elections to sort out the men from the boys or women from girls or people of ideas from opportunists. We must be warned that as informative as debates are, they can be more destructive to a doer than to an extrovert. Since we want our politicians to have it all: presentable and able to think on his or her feet.
Written by Farouk Martins Aresa.