Judgment Debt or Judgment Death—A Controversy?

Sat, 21 Sep 2013 Source: Kwarteng, Francis

“If you want to become powerful or wealthy in today’s JB Danquah’s or Busia’s Ghana,” a friend once told me, “then you either have to become a politician or own a church. In fact, these two pathways provide easy or unbridled access to “crazy” wealth—mostly!”

This comment created a deep well of elation within me because he was so unapologetically correct and because he judiciously left the greatest African, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, out of the ellipses of fiery corruptibility raging through Ghana’s corridors of power. Again my friend’s observation came as a great surprise because—though he neither was deaf nor dumb—his extreme economy of oral expression made his statement of fact the more interesting.

However, the statement has a verifiable touch of sociological catholicity: One of the fastest rising industries in post-Communist Eastern Europe is the mushrooming of churches. Statistically, more churches than schools or manufacturing concerns are built per an “undefined” surface area of geography. Specifically, I have Bulgaria and Romania in mind. Interestingly, America is no different, either, as we can all attest to. Even governments in these countries have identified the sociopolitical utility of churchliness and, therefore, chosen to underwrite the heavy Christianization of their countries.

A suit of reasons justifies one’s identification, public or private, with religion (s): Economic hardship, hopelessness, fear of the afterlife, ignorance, penury, frustration, psychological imbalance, and, occasionally, intellectual curiosity, among others. Politicians use the Christian church as a moral buffer as well as a cover for official misconduct—malfeasance. They also use the church to canvass for their parties. If you ask me, I will say it’s pure economics of demand and supply. Plain simple. The Christian church is increasingly becoming a menace to our budding democracy, Ghana’s.

Let broach today’s conversation with the question: What is “Judgment debt”? Beyond the fact that “Judgment debt” is made up of two words, I do not actually want to tire myself out trying to get to the nitty-gritties of its definitional politics. All I know is that it conjures up a Pandora’s box of controversies—unrepentant thievery, shady dealings, official lies, organized crime, official or bureaucratic incompetence, officials each giving the other the runaround in the public eye when caught red-handed with their long hands in the national coffers, and so forth. Kofi Annan’s pre-release Africa Progress Report, 2013, contains the following encouraging vision:

“Imagine an African continent, where leaders use mineral wealth wisely to fund better health, education, energy, and infrastructure too. Africa, our continent has oil, gas, platinum, cobalt, copper, and more. If we use these resources wisely, they will improve the lives of millions of people.”

However, he also included these apocalyptic words:

“If they don’t, they can fuel corruption, conflict, and social instability. Transparency and accountability are key…”

Unfortunately, his apocalyptic assessments are already contemporary actualities. Ironically for me, the “debt” in “Judgment debt” connotes official accountability to the people. The government owes the people respect, fairness, openness, protection, and judicial use of their mineral wealth for national development. Technically, mineral wealth, in and of itself, does not necessarily connote wealth! The “wealth” in “mineral wealth” is disappointingly deceptive. In other words, mineral resources make wealth only through liquidation and, liquidation, in turn, is also possible through acquisition of technology. Therefore, we may say wealth is commensurate with the acquisition and harnessing of technology. In fact, this is where the dilemma of Africa’s development rears its ugly head—the absence of technology and of transformative science. Maybe we may have to expand upon this not-so-linear relationship between technology acquisition and wealth some other time. But for now, let’s look at Patrick Radden Keefe’s July, 8, 2013 “The New Yorker” article “Buried Secrets: How an Israeli Billionaire Wrested Control of One of Africa’s Biggest Prizes”: “One of the world’s largest known deposits of untapped iron ore is buried inside a great, forested mountain range in the tiny West African republic of Guinea…Guinea is one of the poorest countries on the continent. There is little industry and scare electricity…This dire state of affairs was not inevitable, for the country has a bounty of natural resources. In addition to the iron ore in the Simandou range, Guinea has one of the world’s largest reserves of bauxite…and significant quantities of diamonds, gold, uranium, and, off the coast, oil…”

Let’s continue:

“As wealthy countries confront the prospect of rapidly depleting natural resources, they are turning, increasingly, to Africa, where oil and minerals worth trillions of dollars remain trapped in the ground. By one estimate, the continent holds thirty per cent of the world’s mineral reserves…”

And here’s where Keefe rephrases Kofi Annan’s apocalyptic observation: “In less than five years, B.S.G.R.’s investment in Simandou had become a five-billion-dollar asset. At that time, the annual budget of the government of Guinea amounted to just $1.2 billion. Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese telecom billionaire, captured the reaction of many observers when he asked, at a forum in Dakar, ‘Are the Guineans who did that deal idiots, or criminals, or both?’…In Conakry, there were rumors that Steinmetz had acquired the concession through bribes…”

A momentary digression is in order: What is the rot at GYEEDA all about? What is the dubious sale of GNPC Drill Ship all about? Why can’t the relevant documents covering the afore-cited and other such disgraceful national criminalities be made available for public evaluation, digestion, and prosecution? Which official or bureaucratic encumbrances make it so difficult to summons the official personalities involved in the afore-mentioned and other national criminalities for inquisitional consultations and, if possible, for public prosecution? Must we include psychoanalytic/psychiatric evaluation as part of candidates’ aspiration to political officership? What makes politicians so vulnerable to corruption, namely, where does the corruptibility bug come from?

Again I don’t want to be misconstrued. I once heard the Haitians deny being given $ 1 billion by the Clinton administration. Later, the Haitians were vindicated and the burden of proof got stuck with the Americans forever. How the Americans eventually dispensed with the matter is anyone’s guess! Predictably, public disclosure of the controversy met the fate of eternal interment. Also, the Bush administration could not account for billions of US dollars spent on Iraq during the second Iraq war. We also know the Bush administration paid opponents of Saddam Hussein millions of dollars to manufacture lies and to present them before the United Nations and the American public. Even the government of Nouri al-Maliki threatened to take the American government to the International Criminal Court for misappropriating close to $20 billion of Iraq’s money. As of this writing, I don’t know the specifics on how this case was finally resolved.

The government of Tony Blair was alleged to have silenced the Libyan Abdel Hakim Belhadj with £1 million—“hush money”—to prevent him from spilling details of his extraordinary rendition to President Gaddafi into the public domain. So, corruption, as you can see, is a universal problem, and, unfortunately, in Ghana, it has streamed from benignity to malignancy. In fact, if corruption is not rigorously oppugned, Ghana may eventually turn into a terminal kleptocracy. But that’s beside the point. Let proceed. This is what Kofi Annan has to say as per Keefe’s “New Yorker article”: “A recent by the African Progress Panel, which is chaired by Kofi Annan, suggests that well-connected foreigners often purchase lucrative assets in Africa at prices far below market value, by offering inducements to predatory local elites. ‘Africa’s resource wealth has bypassed the vast majority of African people and built vast fortunes for a privileged few.’”

It was Guinea’s General Lansana Conté who practically turned over one of Africa’s largest prizes to a single foreigner for a mere pittance. Meanwhile, Keefe quotes Frantz Fanon on corruption in Africa:

“Concessions are snatched up by foreigners; scandals are numerous, ministers grow rich, their wives doll themselves up, the members of parliament feather their nests and there is not a soul down to the simple policeman or the customs officer who does not join in the great procession of corruption.”

That was Frantz Fanon of 1961. Yet, it seems—as though—he’s here with us in the 21st Century. Fanon’s posthumous sociopolitical critique speaks so eloquently to the sociology of contemporary verities, the problematic of corruption. Certainly, people not in the know about the intricacies of international finance usually fault Switzerland for financial improprieties, but a better candidate, America or Britain, assumes that primacy. Keefe writes:

“Paul Collier argues that there are often three parties to a corrupt deal: the briber, the bribed, and the lawyers and financial facilitators who enable the secret transaction. The result, he says, is ‘a web of corporate opacity’ that is spun largely by wealthy professionals in financial capitals like London and New York. A recent study found that the easiest country in which to establish an untraceable shell company is not a tropical banking haven but the United States.”

I have always cautioned our leaders to be wary and suspicious of external influences. Indeed, it always has turned out that Africa doesn’t have good, genuine friends from without, sometimes, in fact, most times, even from within. Corporate or multinational tax evasion is yet another serious problem affecting African economies. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now discusses with the reporter Greg Palast the topic “How US ‘Vulture’ Funds Make Millions by Exploiting African Nations”: “American ‘vulture’ investors, including a top funder of the Republican Party, have demanded that African nations pay over half a billion dollars for old debts, for which the investors paid only a few dollars. One New York vulture speculator, Peter Grossman of FG Capital Management, is demanding $100 million from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Is he collecting a legitimate debt from the Congo, or is the vulture’s claim based on a stolen security?

So, Africa is literally torn into shamefully helpless smithereens from without, external friends of Africa, and from within, internal enemies of Africa! In that case, what did Yaa Asantewaa, Kwame Nkrumah, Malcolm X, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Queen Nzingha, Marcus Garvey, Sojourner Truth, Wole Soyinka, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rolihlahla Mandela, Chinua Achebe, Winnie Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, Dedan Kimathi…fight for?

Is the new crop of post-colonial corrupt African leadership the alter ego of our colonizers? Why does Thiong’o’s “Petals of Blood” hurt us so much, evening sending him to prison on the book’s account? Are we considering strengthening our judiciaries? Are we ready to show posterity that culture of impunity threatens the survival and emotional complexion of African democracy? What do the irresponsible behavior of African leaders and of African kleptocracy say about Rodney’s “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa?” Has the corruptibility of African leadership become the new Europe? What explanation do we give posterity for the near-shooting death of the Malawian corruption activist—Paul Mphwiyo—who threatened to expose a corruption syndicate? What are we to tell posterity about the politics of nepotism demonstrated so blatantly by Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, a Nobel laureate?

Here’s the clincher: Let’s change the name “Judgment debt” to “Judgment death.” Why the latter? I dare say that the unrepentant circularity of thievery by our shameless leaders is akin to a judgment of death pronounced by a court—the kleptocrats—upon death row prisoners, the people, “death” because for every cedi or dollar snatched by the long hand of kleptomania from the national coffers a hospital loses a life-saving tablet, an African child dies, a politician gets a life-threatening potbelly, cost of living is increased, a child’s denied quality education, Africa’s internal/external debt increases, life expectancy and standard of living are curtailed, political leaders or community elders lose respect, Africa’s development ebbs…

“We are not poor, we need to manage our resources better…African governments can do better…Transparency and accountability are key…” says Kofi Annan.

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis