HAS anyone ever wondered why North Koreans have accepted tyranny to dominate their lives without so much as a whimper? At least this is the perception that some of us outside that reclusive state get when we view the people of that country who seem to be unfazed by their “situation” and everything seems hunky-dory.
This view is further reinforced by scenes bordering on the comical which played out when another supreme leader of that country, Kim Jong-il, the father of the current leader Kim Jong-un, passed away in 2011.
During the funeral wake a dour-faced Kim junior accompanied his father’s hearse and North Koreans from many walks of life — some dressed in the signature army uniforms lined the streets — literally tearing their own clothes with emotion, figuratively beating their chests in a very public display of grief and weeping torrents of tears for their “dear departed leader”.
It was either a genuine display of grief or a well-choreographed “political emoji” where grief had to be dissembled in order to survive the big brother who is watching from all crevices analogous to George Orwell’s satirical novel 1984.
In a country where power has become a family, heirloom this is somewhat expected because the regime’s jackboot is resting on the country’s collective nape and its guns are trained on the back of North Koreans’ heads.
Without any election whatsoever, the Swiss-educated Kim Jong-un took over from his father Kim Jong-il in 2011 at a tender age of 31. His father had also taken over from his own father, Kim il-Sung, regarded as the founder of North Korea, in 2004.
In Africa, similar to the North Korean tendency of reducing the national leadership to an heirloom, is playing out in the oil-rich but decidedly poor central African country of Equatorial Guinea. Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea have been close allies since the capture at the then Harare International Airport of mercenaries en route to that country to stage a coup in 2004.
The long-serving leader, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, took power from his uncle Francisco Macías Nguema after a coup in 1979 and now holds the ignominious record of being Africa’s longest serving leader.
He has presided over the only former Spanish colony in Africa as his own personal fiefdom and reportedly won that country’s last elections with more than 90% after the veteran opposition leader, Severo Moto, has been domiciled in exile in Spain since 1981.
Nguema and his family have gone a notch higher than North Korea. Besides regularly being accused by human rights groups of “corruption, repressive laws, extrajudicial killings and torture”, Nguema has bankrupted his own country, emptied its coffers and pillaged its resources.
That Equatorial Guinea is Africa’s third-biggest oil producer, but this has not amounted to anything for the citizens because more than half of its 1,2 million population live below the poverty line and Transparency International rated Equatorial Guinea 173rd out of 180 countries on its 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Bizarrely, the BBC recently reported that Nguema made a big deal out of donating about US$2 million in aid to its “sister nation”, China, as it battles the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.
This shows how little he thinks of his own people because it beggars belief that China, which boasts the world’s second biggest economy after the United States and has a GDP of US$13,6 trillion, dwarfs Equatorial Guinea’s US$13,4 billion, would need such a paltry donation from him while his fellow countrymen are wallowing in man-made poverty.
To add insult to injury, Nguema continues to thumb his nose at the people of Equatorial Guinea. He promoted his playboy son Teodorin Obiang Nguema from agriculture minister to vice-president with responsibility for defence and security, possibly grooming him to take over power.
The slick-haired young Mbasogo, whose glamorous life is paraded on social media, is at the centre of a burgeoning scandal. He has been in the news for his playboy lifestyle and recently a court in Paris found him guilty of embezzlement of public funds, no less, after a long-running trial which was initiated by anti-corruption campaigners.
In 2017, he was found guilty of embezzlement and handed a three-year year jail term which he appealed. However, this month the three-year jail term handed in 2017 was suspended, but he was still slapped with a hefty fine.
“The playboy son of Equatorial Guinea’s leader was handed a 30 million-euro (US$32,9 million) fine by a Paris court Monday on top of a suspended jail term and the confiscation of his assets for embezzling public funds.
“Teodorin Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea’s leader Teodoro Obiang Nguema, was found guilty in 2017 of having plundered his country’s state coffers to fund a jet-set lifestyle in Europe.
“At the time, he was handed a three-year jail term as well as the 30 million-euro fine — both suspended,” AFP news agency reported at that time.
While it is welcome punishment, a custodial sentence would have sufficed here because a 30 million-euro fine is a slap on the wrist for a man whose hands are dripping with ill-gotten petrodollars.
It was reported that, minutes after the judgment was handed down, an unrepentant Teodorin posted his latest motorbike on Instagram.
When investigators stormed his home, they had to hire trucks to haul away a fleet of Bugattis, Ferraris, a Rolls-Royce Phantom and other cars salted away from his poor country, but enough to put the most flamboyant Hollywood stars to shame.
In 2019, global media reported that 25 of young Obiang’s supercars were auctioned in Switzerland for an estimated US$18,7 million.
As if that was not enough, the 50-year-old owns a six-floor 100-roomed house in an upscale neighbourhood of Paris, “complete with a disco and gold-plated taps”.
Despite all this evidence of obscene wealth amassed against the backdrop of poverty-stricken citizens in Equatorial Guinea, claims without an ounce of irony that he earned his money through “legitimate” means — whatever that means.
Unabashed by such immoral accumulation of wealth, he accused France during his protracted trial of “meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state”. This is an all-too-familiar argument which we have heard ad nauseum from many African leaders who seek to sanitise their acts of misrule when the spotlight is directed at them.
The lawyer for one of the NGOs — Transparency International — which initiated this case, reckons that Teodorin’s case will send a deterrent effect on other leaders who have acted with impunity in their home countries and abroad.
“It is a strong and powerful signal to those who believe that a culture of impunity is the indispensable means to organise and maintain a system of predation of public resources in Africa or elsewhere,” the lawyer was quoted as saying after the case.
As if on cue, prosecutors are hard at work in Angola, pursuing the daughter of that country’s former strongman, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, the continent’s richest woman Isabel Dos Santos who, according to Forbes magazine, has assets estimated at US$2,1 billion.
Isabel is being hauled over the coals for crimes committed during her father’s 38-year tenure. Angolan President Joao Lourenco — Jose Eduardo dos Santos’s anointed successor — has vowed to crack down on corruption and launched a large-scale purge of the dos Santos administration.
She is being accused of “money laundering, influence peddling, harmful management, forgery of documents”, which all happened during her tenure at Sonangol, Angola’s state-owned oil giant which she headed during her father’s long rule and their country is still reeling from his time at the helm, during which key positions were awarded to cronies and wealth was amassed by a select few.
Clearly, Africa is rich, but Africans are poor thanks to the endemic predation of resources by the political class which is the only elephant in the room; by and large one of the cardinal reasons why the continent has not progressed long after the last bunch of colonisers were kicked out of the continent.
Africa is at the mercy of thugs and inveterate thieves who will not hesitate to plunder their countries’ resources and amass obscene wealth while fellow compatriots are wallowing in penury.
It always eludes rational explanations how such wanton pillaging of resources is happening under our very noses as Africans and why we have accepted such enduring mediocrity in Africa which has become a haven for most of these bad leaders.
Have we not learned anything from Mobutu Sese Seko, have we not had enough of Jean Bedel Bokasa or even enough of the comical Idi Amin?
As Africans, we need a mindset shift and arrest the pillaging of our resources by a connected political class who will do anything in their power to avoid ever being brought to account.
When will it ever dawn on other African leaders that being a leader does not mean that one has to build ivory towers and insulate themselves from their own misrule while condemning fellow compatriots to poverty?
Manjonjo trained as a journalist and also graduated with a law degree from the University of South Africa in 2018. He is currently looking for articles of clerkship.