After looting an estimated US$11,3 billion between 1993 and 1998, the Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha was previously thought to be the greatest thief in post-independence Africa.
Candid Comment,Brezhnev Malaba
That was before Zimbabwe’s looting frenzy gained momentum at the turn of the millennium. Let me put my head on the block here and argue that, compared to the industrial-scale pillaging by Zimbabwe’s ruling elite, Abacha’s embezzlement seems like chicken change.
The Zanu PF government is now by far the greatest kleptocracy on the continent. Taxpayer dollars are stolen in broad daylight in the name of “patriotism” while public hospitals are so poorly funded they cannot even dispense basic painkillers.
By his own admission, President Robert Mugabe says diamonds worth US$15 billion cannot be accounted for. Last week, Transparency International revealed that Zimbabwe is losing at least US$1 billion annually to corruption. Every year, Auditor-General Margaret Chiri unearths astonishing cases of corruption in the country’s 75 parastatals. Even in the presence of overwhelming evidence, nothing happens to the thieves. It is no coincidence that all state-owned enterprises are loss-making.
The Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund saga has been an eye-opener. If officials can loot hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, in such a brazen manner and in the blink of an eye, can you imagine the millions being stolen in dozens of parastatals?
This government is dominated by mafia types who pretend to be honest, yet in reality their sole mission is to steal from the masses and retain power through cronyism, patronage and nepotism. Zanu PF’s scandalous transformation from a mass-based, rule-regulated party into a feeding trough for the pampered elite provides us remarkable insights into the neo-patrimonial character of authoritarian regimes.
It is tragic that the Zimbabwean state has morphed into a predatory criminal enterprise controlled by a network of thieves who loot public resources, divert taxpayer funds and deploy lethal force against anyone who stands in their path. Bogus projects, such as the “million-man march”, are designed for the sinister purpose of plundering public funds. Money which should be financing the education of orphans is stolen by criminals in neat suits who masquerade as champions of the poor.
Contrary to the visionary leadership Zanu promised the world in 1980, we are seeing a violent kleptocracy which lacks the moral credibility, organisational acumen and technocratic gravitas to spearhead economic development. This disastrous brand of leadership is facilitating organised crime by systematically subverting Zimbabwe’s Constitution and eroding the legal and institutional frameworks which ought to safeguard public resources.