Mixed reactions in Africa’s anti-graft fight

Anti-corruption campaigns are increasingly geared towards silencing leaders' political opponents, say accused…

Cases in countries such as South Africa, Malawi, Zambia and Nigeria show that in the course of removing the rot from the public service and instilling fiscal discipline instilling fiscal discipline, African leaders will apply all sorts of deception – be it politics or petty jealousies.

In June 2005, South African President Thabo Mbeki sacked his deputy of six years Jacob Zuma after his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik was convicted on fraud and corruption charges.

Zuma has since been charged with graft himself.

Apart from the graft case, the African National Congress (ANC) deputy president was saved by the courts when he was accused of raping an HIV-positive family friend.

The verdict saved Zuma who was once seen as Mbeki’s successor in 2009 from political oblivion.

He remains a widely popular figure but despite this broad appeal the rape case and the pending graft charges, will make it almost impossible for Zuma to recover his former prominence.

“I think the judicial proceedings have been beyond reproach, but whether this means that Zuma political future is still intact is still in question,” said Ebrahim Fakir, senior researcher at the Centre for Policy Studies at the time.

Zuma an ethnic Zulu from Kwazulu-Natal province has been instrumental in mediating for peace between the ANC and the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party at the height of violence in the 1990s.

His position in the ANC strikes a tribal balance in an organization dominated by leaders from the Xhosa tribe of freedom icon Nelson Mandela and Mbeki.

Further north in Malawi, President Bingu wa Mutharika has been touted as an economic engineer who is poised to transform the economy of the tiny southern Africa nation.

The IMF and the World Bank, which act as catalysts for donors to release funds for development are pleased with Mutharika’s economic programme.

He has made headlines the world over for his tough stance on corruption and he describes it as a cancer that is affecting prospects for economic growth.

“It is appalling that some Malawians engage in corrupt practices as a way of promoting their personal selfish economic and financial gains at the expense of national goals and aspirations,” explains Mutharika.

Determined to fight corruption in all its forms, Mutharika has pounced on former president Bakili Muluzi who he accuses of plundering public resources in the 10 years he was in office from 1994 to 2004.

Vice President Cassim Chilumpha too has not been spared the rod. He is currently under house arrest for plotting to assassinate Mutharika.

Government has also shown interest to pursue “the education scam case” in which millions of dollars went down the drain through dubious contracts when Chilumpha was Minister of Education in the Muluzi administration.

While both Chilumpha and Muluzi acknowledge that corruption hinders economic growth because it increases the cost of economic transactions including investment processes they deny any wrongdoing and feel they are victims of a political witch hunt disguised as a fight against corruption.

Just next door in Zambia, former president Frederick Chiluba accused of siphoning $488,000 while in office.

As soon as he assumed the high office, his handpicked successor Levy Mwanawasa launched an anti graft campaign which has seen the ex-president and his associates answering charges on corruption.

Just last week, a British judge found Chiluba and his associates guilty of siphoning $46m from the treasury.

Chiluba, whose wife will also be tried in July for buying properties with money stolen from state coffers, says the court order “bordered on racism”.

Following the ruling Chiluba is personally expected to return $41m.

Information and broadcasting minister, Mike Mlongoti says Chiluba must return the money or his property will be seized.

“The attorney general would file papers to issue a seizure notice for the funds which were frozen in 2006 in Britain, Belgium and other parts of the world,” he said.

In West Africa, outgoing Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has had a sour relationship with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar all in the name of fighting corruption.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) accused Abubakar of diverting public funds and that he should be indicted for corruption.

Obasanjo wanted the Senate to exploit a clause in the Constitution which says that a person cannot qualify for elections as president if indicted for fraud.

Apparently, it was a calculated move to block Abubakar from contesting the presidential poll, recently won by ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Yar’Adua.

The accusations were part of a long running battle for supremacy in the PDP. Abubakar, who was saved by the courts, accused Obasanjo of wishing to hold on to power beyond his constitutional mandate.

Obasanjo steps down after failing to successfully stay for a third term. He wanted another term of office fearing his policy of economic reform could be reversed after he retires.

Such is the state of affairs in African democracies and it remains to be seen if leaders will rise above politics in their quest to root out corruption in all its forms.