HomeOpinionWhen they vomit on their shoes, watch out

When they vomit on their shoes, watch out

By Bill Saidi

IT wasn’t Christopher Dell who originated “vomiting on their shoes”, the exciting new epithet to describe rampant corruption in an African country.

Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>But what the US ambassador to Zimbabwe did say caused almost as big a diplomatic explosion as the remark by a former Western diplomat in Kenya, Britain’s High Commissoner Sir Edward Clay.

Dell flew back home for consultations with his government after such reactions as President Robert Mugabe’s patently unpresidential “Dell can go to hell”.

African leaders, in general, are smugly contemptuous of Western accusations of runaway corruption among their governments. Some claim the West does not understand how Africans run their governments, which is to say they don’t run them like Western governments.

Others say the Western government pots have no right to call the African kettle black when they themselves are no better – in other words, corruption in the West has now been so institutionalised some of it is hardly considered graft at all.

Still other African leaders believe the corruption in Africa is a result of Western colonialism, which created the poverty that has now spawned the corruption.

The crux is this: the West pours money into Africa in the form of development aid. It doesn’t believe that most of this money really goes into aid. Some clever, corrupt politicians, instead, put it into their pockets to promote their obscenely lavish lifestyles.

In general, African governments want the Western donors to trust their honourable intentions implicitly. When they donate billions in aid, they should trust the beneficiaries to do the right thing with the money. So far, this is where the hitch has developed into a mountain. For most of the West this vomiting on their shoes is a direct result of those lavish dinners they give themselves with donated money which should have been used to build roads, bridges, schools, clinics and hospitals for the poor.

In Kenya, when President Mwai Kibaki fired the head of the anticorruption bureau he had set up, not even the Kenyans could believe their leader was sincere in his intention to fight corruption on all fronts, particularly the government front.

Kibaki was in the first independence government in Kenya, under Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. It was accused of corruption right up to the end of the Kenyatta era.

The era of Daniel arap Moi fared no better. Kibaki was there too. When he took over, with his coalition partners promising to fight to rid the country of corruption, Kenyans were encouraged. Later, Kibaki reverted to type: the corruption in which he had wallowed in the Kenyatta and Moi regimes resurfaced full blast.

Kenya’s level of corruption does not match that of Nigeria, which is to corruption in Africa what Monte Carlo is to the gambling population of Europe. Zimbabwe has had one leader in 25 years of Independence. So far, nobody has accused the leadership of vomiting on their shoes, which is not to say that they haven’t consumed those same sumptuous dinners whose total cost would probably have built an entire school in one rural area.

The government has set up a whole paraphernalia against corruption, including a cabinet minister, in the person of Paul Mangwana. He may not be the commission himself but he personifies the entire campaign and its success or failure will definitely reflect on his own performance in the government.

Mangwana has brought an evangelical zeal to the fight against corruption. He will always be remembered for a very peculiar hairstyle or the lack of one.

His hair looks uncombed most of the time. Perhaps this is how he wants to be recognised as Harold Wilson was recognised by his pipe, Margaret Thatcher by her hats, Helmut Schmidt by his snuff, Fidel Castro by his beard and Mugabe by his dyed hair.

Mangwana may want to smite the corruption dragon the way St George did to another like-named monster, but he has to begin from the beginning, where real corruption started in Zimbabwe. Mangwana may be familiar with the recent cases of James Makamba and Chris Kuruneri. But is he old enough to know that a few very influential people made bags of money in two civil wars in which Zimbabwe intervened in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)?

He ought to be curious about the fate of Edwin Nleya, a casualty of one of the scandals involving top people. No doubt if he looked deep into the files of our involvement in the Mozambique imbroglio, he will be bound to find some dirty secrets linking influential people to corruption in that war.

Today, there is the land reform scandal with chefs holding more than one property. Are the people named as being involved still holding their positions in the ruling party and the government? If they are, what the hell are the people supposed to believe? That the government is serious about tackling corruption in high places?

Mangwana’s education into the corruption file of Zimbabwe must necessarily entail a long look at the War Victims Compensation Fund and perhaps the entire catalogue of how much of the taxpayers money was dished out to the war veterans, not only in the gratuities and the allowances but also in their sorties into private companies after their destruction of the commercial farming structure in 2000.

What may scare Mangwana and really make his hair stand on end may be the discovery that most of the people involved are living war heroes, the people perhaps without whose participation the liberation war might not have been won.

The arrogance with which these people dismiss any hint of their wrong-doing has intimidated many would-be enquirers into stupefied silence.

Mangwana will discover that the culture of rewarding the liberation heroes has blighted any thorough probe into the origins of corruption in this country.

There has existed a culture of treating such people as if they were untouchable.

In the DRC, top people have been named publicly as having amassed illicit wealth from their illegal activities in that war-torn country. Not one of them has been brought to book in Zimbabwe. If the charges against them, made by an agency of the United Nations, have been disproved, will someone please let us know?

The status of the living war heroes became almost sacrosanct when one chief government spokesman publicly reminded the people that without the action of the freedom fighters the country might not have been freed from colonialism. So, he said, it would not be out of place for such individuals to be entitled to some reward by the people.

If this reward includes the right to loot and prosper on ill-gotten wealth, then we must be told. There cannot be one law for one class of citizens which does not extend to all others.

Africa’s war against corruption is linked to its struggle against poverty. The reason is that the poor are helpless to fight against the corruption of the powerful, which may be why the whole citadel will crumble unless there is some form of participatory democracy in operation.

Unless the poor can protest or be allowed the unfettered freedom to protest that it is indecent and immoral for a few people to be entitled to enrich themselves while the rest remain poor, neither corruption nor poverty will be eliminated on the continent.

All people on the continent must feel that they matter, whether they are poor shanty-dwellers outside Nyameni township in Marondera or politicians in Philip Chiyangwa-size mansions in Borrowdale in Harare.

In many countries which won independence through the barrel of the gun, probing among leaders is problematical because during the war no structures existed to ensure people did things legally.

After all, in most cases, the line between the legal and illegal was so thin as to be invisible. In Zimbabwe, it was no different. Shortly after Independence, there were people who grabbed property, including farms, without following the strict procedures demanded by the law.

Jacob Zuma, the former South African deputy president now in so much trouble, could trace all this to his status in the struggle.

Unless Mangwana and his team are willing to dig into the dirty, murky past and come up, at the very least, with the truth about who did what to whom, our fight against corruption will not eliminate the scourge of the fat people vomiting on their shoes.

* Bill Saidi is editor of the banned Daily News on Sunday.

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