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Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Equatorial Guinea:Taint of Corruption Is No Barrier to U.S. Visa

Pictometry International

The $35 million estate belonging to Teodoro Nguema Obiang, the agriculture minister of Equatorial Guinea and the son of its ruler, in Malibu, Calif., in the lower center of the frame.

Published: November 16, 2009

Several times a year, Teodoro Nguema Obiang arrives at the doorstep of the United States from his home in Equatorial Guinea, on his way to his $35 million estate in Malibu, Calif., his fleet of luxury cars, his speedboats and private jet. And he is always let into the country.

The nation’s doors are open to Mr. Obiang, the forest and agriculture minister of Equatorial Guinea and the son of its president, even though federal law enforcement officials believe that “most if not all” of his wealth comes from corruption related to the extensive oil and gas reserves discovered more than a decade and a half ago off the coast of his tiny West African country, according to internal Justice Department andImmigration and Customs Enforcement documents.

And they are open despite a federal law and a presidential proclamation that prohibit corrupt foreign officials and their families from receiving American visas. The measures require only credible evidence of corruption, not a conviction of it.

Susan Pittman, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement in the State Department, said she was prohibited from discussing specific visa decisions. But other former and current State Department officials said Equatorial Guinea’s close ties to the American oil industry were the reason for the lax enforcement of the law. Production of the country’s nearly 400,000 barrels of oil a day is dominated by American companies like ExxonMobil, Hess and Marathon.

“Of course it’s because of oil,” said John Bennett, the United States ambassador to Equatorial Guinea from 1991 to 1994, adding that Washington has turned a blind eye to the Obiangs’ corruption and repression because of its dependence on the country for natural resources. He noted that officials of Zimbabwe are barred from the United States.

“Both countries are severely repressive,” said Mr. Bennett, who is now a senior foreign affairs officer for the State Department in Baghdad. “But if Zimbabwe had Equatorial Guinea’s oil, Zimbabwean officials wouldn’t still be blocked from the U.S.”

Shown the Justice Department documents that detail the accusations of corruption against Mr. Obiang, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who wrote the law restricting visas, expressed frustration and anger with the State Department, which is responsible for issuing visas.

“The fact that someone like Mr. Obiang continues to travel freely here suggests strongly that the State Department is not yet applying the law as vigorously as Congress intended,” Mr. Leahy said. The law was partly inspired by the accusations of corruption surrounding Mr. Obiang’s family and the Equatorial Guinean government, Mr. Leahy’s staff said.

“There are many instances of corrupt foreign officials plundering the natural resources of their countries for their own use while their people starve,” Mr. Leahy said. “The law states clearly that if you do that, you are no longer welcome in the United States.”

Daniel Whitman, who retired in September as the deputy director of the Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the Bureau of African Affairs at the State Department, agreed that the law should be used more forcefully. “We just seem to lack the backbone to use this prohibition,” Mr. Whitman said. “In the rare cases it is used, no one at State was willing to talk about it.”

When asked how many times the laws have been used to bar corrupt foreign officials from entering the country, State Department officials declined to answer, citing privacy reasons, though Ms. Pittman said thousands of visas had been denied to corrupt officials using other legal means. A 2007 State Department report said the presidential proclamation, signed by President George W. Bush in 2004, had been used “dozens” of times.

A State Department official who handles corruption investigations said that while the measures were important tools, the department as a matter of policy did not want to reveal the number of times they had been used because it would show that the number was actually quite small. The official asked not to be identified because of departmental rules barring public comment.

The Justice Department memorandum, dated Sept. 4, 2007, and obtained by The New York Times, said the government believed Mr. Obiang’s assets were derived “from extortion, theft of public funds or other corrupt conduct.” From April 2005 to April 2006, the memorandum said, Mr. Obiang funneled at least $73 million into the United States, using shell corporations and offshore bank accounts to launder the money and ultimately buy his Malibu estate and a luxury jet.

The document identified several wire transfers by Mr. Obiang from 2005 and 2006, beginning with a bank in Equatorial Guinea, then going to the central Banque de France and landing in American accounts at Wachovia, Bank of America and UBS. In one six-week period in 2006, Mr. Obiang transferred $33,799,799.99 to the United States, it said, which was used to buy a Gulfstream V jet.

Part of his wealth, the document said, comes from a “revolutionary tax” that Mr. Obiang placed on timber. Instead of sending the payments to the treasury of Equatorial Guinea, Mr. Obiang, who is considered likely to be a successor to his father, has “insisted that the payments be made directly to him,” it said.

In addition, the memorandum said, the Justice Department believes that Mr. Obiang “may be receiving bribes or extortion payments” from the oil companies as a percentage of their contracts.

Spokesmen for ExxonMobil and Marathon said the companies followed all relevant laws. A request for comment from Hess was not answered. The Justice Department declined to comment on the memo.

Another document, prepared by theImmigration and Customs Enforcement division of theHomeland Security Department, said Mr. Obiang “routinely travels to the United States with over $1 million in cash” that he fails to declare, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. Mr. Obiang regularly visits the country using a diplomatic passport, though he rarely does diplomatic business here, said the I.C.E. document. The document said the immigration agency’s goal was to deny a safe haven to Mr. Obiang and to “identify, trace, freeze and recover assets within the United States illicitly acquired through kleptocracy by Teodoro Obiang and his associates.”

The documents were originally obtained by Global Witness, a British human rights group that monitors corruption in natural resources industries, after they were released in response to a legal complaint filed in France against several African dictators, including Mr. Obiang’s father, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea. The Justice Department and I.C.E. would neither confirm nor deny the authenticity of the documents.

Through a spokesman at Qorvis Communications, a public relations firm working for the Equatorial Guinean Embassy in Washington, Teodoro Nguema Obiang declined to be interviewed. But his brother denied the charges of corruption.

“This is the problem when a country becomes very successful,” said Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima, the vice minister of mines, energy and industry and another of the president’s sons. “Everyone assumes us guilty until proven innocent.”

The vice minister said his government had made great strides in dealing with corruption. He cited as an example his country’s participation in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, an international coalition of governments, civil society groups and companies that sets global standards for transparency in oil, gas and mining.

But a 2009 internal document from the initiative says the organization is “particularly concerned about the pace of progress” in Equatorial Guinea. The country has failed to produce a required report regarding its revenue, even though it joined the organization more than three years ago, the report says.

In 2004, President Bush signed a proclamation barring entry to the United States for any foreign officials and their family members “whose misappropriation of public funds” has had serious adverse effects on American businesses or national security interests. Congress followed up in 2007 with a law containing even stronger language, barring entry to anyone “involved in corruption relating to the extraction of natural resources in their countries.”

Otto Reich, who served until 2004 as the United States’ special envoy to the Western Hemisphere, said there was resistance to applying these sorts of prohibitions even before the presidential proclamation was drafted.

“Senior State Department people especially from Africa kept saying that if something like this is used they wouldn’t have anyone to talk to in their home countries,” Mr. Reich said. “It’s politically simply something they do not want to take on.”

The Obiang family and Equatorial Guinea have been the focus of corruption accusations for years. In 2004, a Senate panel accused Riggs Bank in Washington of having “turned a blind eye to evidence suggesting the bank was handling the proceeds of foreign corruption” in accepting hundreds of millions of dollars in deposits from Equatorial Guinea.

Committee investigators found dozens of irregular payments, multiple individual signatories to accounts and even deposits of millions of dollars in shrink-wrapped currency. Riggs Bank was fined more than $25 million for its handling of the Equatorial Guinean and other accounts, and several of the bank’s directors were criminally prosecuted.

But in more recent years millions of dollars of the country’s money has found its way to other American banks, including the ones named in the Justice Department memo. Wachovia and Bank of America, according to the memo, filed suspicious activity reports to the authorities, and ultimately closed all accounts associated with Mr. Obiang and his associates, but not before tens of millions of dollars had already entered the United States.

“These banks appear to have facilitated a grand corruption, and it may even have been done legally,” said Gavin Hayman, director of campaigns for Global Witness. “Those that filed suspicious activity reports may have been complying with their regulatory obligations under the law, but at the same time they went ahead and forwarded transfers of tens of millions of dollars about which they already had suspicions. Effectively, the regulations are allowing banks to earn money from corruption.”

All three banks declined to answer questions about the transactions. Although Wachovia said Mr. Obiang was not a client, the Justice Department documents described how he used third parties to open accounts at some banks.

Since oil was discovered there in 1996, Equatorial Guinea has become the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, after Nigeria and Angola, with estimated revenues of $4.8 billion in 2007. But although petroleum has made the ruling Obiang family and its associates vastly rich, the oil and gas wealth has not been spread beyond ruling elites.

In 2006, more than three-quarters of the population was living below the poverty line, according to a 2009 International Monetary Fund report.

By some measures, conditions in the country are getting worse. Though the nation’s gross domestic product grew more than tenfold from 1990 to 2007, infant mortality rose to 12 percent from 10 percent, according to a 2009 Unicef report.

Source:New York Times

The Lifestyle of the Rich Son of an Oil-Rich African Dictator

The New York Times reported on the politics that allow Teodoro Nguema Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinean dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo into America. Here's what they didn't tell you about his lifestyle (and celebrity girlfriends).

  • In 1991 Obiang went to Pepperdine University in Malibu, where he studied English as a second language. The same year he was rumored to have been arrested for cocaine smuggling. He was sentenced for similar crimes in France twice in that decade.
  • He owned a record label, called TNO Entertainment. It's now defunct, but the website is cached here. Ron Carter, who used to represent Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, did the PR for the label. He said, via email, that Obiang now also spends a lot of time in Mali where he may have further assets.
  • Obiang once hired Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen's 300-foot yacht Tatoosh for either $400,000 or $700,000, depending on who you believe. Why? To impress the rapper Eve, who he's been on-again-off-again dating for several years. The Times of London report that he took her on a Christmas cruise on the boat - he apparently likes cruises: Harper's magazine report that he had another woman airlifted to shore after an argument on another cruise-ship. He is also rumored to have dated model Noemie Lenoir and actress Tiffany Limos.
  • His property portfolio includes a $35m estate in Malibu, purchased with cash, where neighbors include Dick van Dyke, James Cameron and Mel Gibson, as well as a couple of estates in Cape Town, South Africa. His fleet of cars includes a couple of Bentleys and a Lamborghini. The New York Timesreport adds a Gulfstream V jet to his extravagant modes of transport.

He's not the only dictator's son who leads an obscene lifestyle while his people suffer. And he's not the only one to do it with the tacit backing of a Western government. More soon!


Monday, 26 April 2010

Leadership Incompetence The Cause Of Africa's Woes

By Lord Aikins Adusei

Where is the leadership and who advises who?

The strength of every society depends largely on its leaders. Throughout history successful societies have been those whose leaders were able to rise to the occasion to calm storms during crises and advance the course of development and prosperity during peace time. For instance during economic hardships, poverty and wars it is the leaders who make tough economic and military decisions to steer the nation out of those troubles. The importance of leadership was seen during Ghana's independence struggles when Kwame Nkrumah and few others bravely fought against colonialism and rescued Ghana from Britain's economic, political and cultural domination and exploitation. We also saw how the leadership provided by Nelson Mandela led to South Africa finally gaining its freedom from white minority rule.

However, it is sad to say that such strong and exemplary leadership has faded and given way to incompetence. As a matter of fact leadership incompetence is one of the major reasons why poverty is entrenched in almost all African societies and wars, hunger and disease continue to ravage some parts of the continent.

The leadership in Africa today could be likened to a bad chef who has all the ingredients needed to prepare a delicious soup but fails to do so for lack of skills. For instance Africa is home to half of the world’s untapped natural resources. The continent receives the highest amount of sunshine comparable to any landmass in the world which when tapped could supply cheap and constant supply of electricity to the whole Continent and beyond. It is estimated that the solar energy potential of the Sahara Desert alone could power the whole of Europe. This is what the Finnish president said on a visit to Nigeria in March 2009, "Nigerian people have so much sun and wind, why don’t they use it for the generation of light for cooking and every other thing ? She queried, and added that we do it in Finland for our renewable energy" . Source:, 12 March, 2009.

The Continent is home to a lot of valuable minerals such as gold, diamond, coltan, copper, bauxite, Uranium. There are huge diamond and gold deposits in Botswana, Namibia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and South Africa. There are huge copper deposits in Zambia and Guinea. It is estimated that mineral deposits in DR Congo alone could fetch the country 23 trillion dollars. There are huge oil and gas deposits in Angola, Gabon, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Cameroon, Algeria and recently Ghana and Uganda. Timber is abundant in Gabon, DRC, Congo, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana.

There are rich soils in Nigeria, DRC, Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal, Malawi, and South Africa. The continent is home to some of the world's biggest and longest rivers and lakes. There are rivers like the Nile, Congo, Niger, Zambezi, Senegal, Gambia, Benue, Limpopo, Volta, Kasai, Ubangi, Bomu and Orange. There are lakes like Victoria, Albert, Kivu, Tanganyika, Malawi, Kyoga, Chad, Edward, Nyasa and Turkana. The value of these rivers and lakes to agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, commerce, power generation and household cannot be overemphasised.

The Continent is also home to some of the beautiful natural wonders of the world. There are animals like lion, zebra, leopard, Victoria waterfalls, the pyramid in Egypt and a host of others a source of tourism. Besides, there are architects, engineers of all kinds, medical doctors, planners, bankers, technicians, scientists, industrialists and investors with the qualifications, expertise and rich experience to help develop these resources. On top of these the technologies needed to convert these natural resources into finished goods exist in Europe, Asia and North America and can be bought or borrowed. The rich natural wealth of the continent is the main reason why it is seen as a strategic importance to the survival of the whole world.

Despite these free natural resources 70% of the people living in Africa today live on less than two dollars a day. Life expectancy in Africa is the lowest in the world. Illiteracy is problem. Infrastructure decay has become the norm. Slums and shantytowns are everywhere. The street of our major cities and towns are swarmed with children who have been abandoned by the state. These children are homeless and scavenge for food. Youth unemployment has reached unimaginable proportion forcing some of the youth to take drastic measures in order to survive, sometimes with devastating consequences. On March 31, 2009 about 500 Africans got drowned off the coast of Libya trying to flee poverty, diseases, wars and untold economic hardship. In an attempt to survive in a formal economy that have no jobs for the teeming unemployed people the informal economy has become an option with people selling anything that can be hawked just to survive. Today a continent so endowed with natural and human resources has been reduced to a beggar relying on aid from countries that technically have nothing.

So what has gone wrong and why is it that Africans have so much natural resources and yet they cannot use them to benefit themselves and the world? Why do our farmers continue to farm with cutlasses and hoes so many years after independence has been won?

The answer is the incompetence and ineffective leadership found everywhere in the continent. There is a leadership in Africa today that is out of touch with the ordinary African. A leadership that has run out of ideas and solutions to the economic and social problems facing the people.

A leadership that seeks only its own and is more concerned about its existence than the well-being of the people.

There is a leadership in Africa which is more concerned about how to get rich than how to lift people from poverty. A leadership more interested in votes and power than the responsibilities that go with the office.

A leadership that exist based on tribal alliances and loyalty of the security forces rather than its own economic performance. A leadership that accepts no opposing views and remains accountable to no one. Example of such leadership can be found in Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, The Gambia, Cameroon and Zimbabwe where opposition members are routinely arrested and citizens and journalists are treated like animals.

There is a leadership in Africa that believes that it alone has wisdom, knowledge and answers to all the problems facing the people. Gaddafi after 40 years in power still thinks Libya must be governed by him and he has a number of leaders who behave, think and act like him; among them Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Museveni of Uganda, Dos Santos of Angola, Nguesso of Congo and Menes Zenawi of Ethiopia.

The continent is dominated by leaders who worship and reward corruption instead of fighting it. It is this kind of incompetence that has maintained Africa's ranking as the number one poor continent in the world. Due to the poor performance of the leaders in Africa, the continent is cut off from the rest of the world and is marginalized in every major issue affecting the globe. It is the poor, weak and ineffective leadership provided by the leaders that has seen Somalia, Darfur, DR. Congo and Northern Uganda still burning. It is the leadership provided by Nigeria's ruling class that has denied the country the benefit of being the United States of Africa. It is the leadership provided by the corrupt Bongo dynasty that has prevented Gabon from becoming the Switzerland of Africa. And it is the corrupt and blinded leadership in Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Congo Brazzaville that has prevented these natural resource endowed but economically poor countries from being the Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea of Africa respectively.

There is a proverb which says that 'a bad worker always quarrel with his tools' which best describes African leaders and their incompetence. The incompetence of African leaders is seen in Gabon where the late Omar Bongo was in power for 42 years; received billions of dollars from oil and yet over 70% of the 1.4 million people in his country live on less than two dollars a day.

In Libya, Gaddafi has been in power for over 40 years, has received several billions of dollars and his people are poor. Denis Sassou Nguesso and Eduardo dos Santos each has ruled for 30 years yet their people continue to live in very deplorable conditions. Obiang Nguema has 29 years to his credit yet the 600,000 people in his country live in abject poverty despite receiving billions of dollars in oil revenue. Paul Biya of Cameroon has been in power for over 20 years and has received billions of dollars in oil revenue yet there is nothing to show for it.

Africa is the only continent which was left out and marginalised during the world economic boom; yet it is also the one which has been badly hit by the current global economic turmoil. Africa is always in great danger of economic collapse largely because of the corrupt and incompetence leaders who rule the people with impunity without any good economic policies.

There cannot be any progress with these kinds of leaders who are more concerned about their positions rather than their responsibilities.

If Africa could move from poverty to economic recovery and finally into economic prosperity then there is the need for the old guards to leave the political scene. There is the need for a new leadership in the Continent capable of delivering the people from poverty, diseases, wars, famine, economic meltdown, political paralysis, insecurity and aid dependency.

Africa needs to chart a different route if it is to take it place as a member of the global community. We need leaders who are committed to building the social and economic infrastructures of their countries such as schools, hospitals, roads, harbours, airports, rail lines, telecommunication, silos and irrigation facilities, as Khama Ian Khama of Botswana and his predecessors have done making the people of Botswana to enjoy one of the highest standard of living in Africa; not the likes of Obiang Nguema who cannot use tens of billions of dollars of oil revenue to provide for the poor 600,000 people in his country.

We need innovative leaders who have foresight and initiative to convert the huge natural resources in the continent into finished goods to benefit the people not the kinds of Joseph Kabila whose people wallow in abject poverty while foreign countries loot his country’s rich natural resources.

We need leaders who will not destroy the educational system of their countries and then send their children abroad to study as Jerry Rawlings of Ghana did when he and his ministers sent their children to Europe and America to study after destroying one of the best educational systems in the world.

We need leaders who will not use the scarce resources of their poor countries to procure military machines for their own protection; wage war against their neighbours and oppress their own people while there are schools, hospitals and roads to be built and mouths to feed. This is exactly what Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria are doing while many Ethiopians and Zimbabweans face famine, poverty and cholera epidemic.

Africa needs leaders who are dedicated to uniting Africans through trade, economic and cultural cooperation and education exchange and not those who seek to divide Africans through wars as was witnessed in DR Congo where Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angolan armies crossed into DR. Congo and looted her natural resources including timber, gold, diamond, coltan and other valuable minerals.

We need transformative leaders who will not work to continue the status quo, but work to change it to benefit the poor people. We therefore need leaders who will not put the interest of their former colonial masters (Britain, France and the United States) ahead of their own people and their own institutions and organisations. Leaders who will support the Africa Union and work to bring peace, stability and development to Darfur, DR Congo and Somalia.We therefore need leaders who cooperate with one another to fight poverty, hunger, diseases and instabilities which are widespread throughout Africa.

We need visionary and dedicated leaders who adhere to the tenets of democracy and all its freedoms.
Leaders who relinquish power freely like Joachim Chissano of Mozambique, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, and Jerry Rawlings and John Kuffour of Ghana not the likes of Mwai Kibaki of Kenya and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who refused to leave office and resorted to intimidation and violence after the people have rejected them in elections. Not the kind of corrupt, kleptocratic and dictatorial leadership that we have in Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Congo, Angola, Libya, Sudan and Chad.

We must elect leaders who will not put the interest of big corporations ahead of their own people and the environment as is currently seen in Nigeria where Shell has totally destroyed the Niger Delta region and polluted rivers, wells, streams, soil and the environment thereby rendering millions of farmers and fishermen jobless.

We must have leaders who will not refuse to finance the health infrastructure needs of their countries and then travel overseas for medical treatment when they are sick. After presiding over a rot economy and a sickening health system for 42 years, the late Omar Bongo of Gabon had no choice but to send his late wife Edith to France and Morocco for medical treatment. Bongo himself died abroad while seeking medical help. Gnassingbe Eyadema after ruling Togo for more than 3 decades could not build the country’s health infrastructure and died when he was been rushed to Europe for medical treatment. This was after he had travelled to Switzerland for what the authorities said was a medical check up.Umaru Yar'Dua of Nigeria spent several months in Saudi Arabia seeking medical help. He decided to travel abroad because he could not use part of the huge oil revenue to build an efficient, credible and reliable health system for all Nigerians to enjoy.

At this hour of world economic competition and difficulties we need leaders who will design and implement concrete and sound economic and social policies that are long lasting, result oriented and could help lift millions from poverty, diseases and illiteracy.

We do not need leaders who are preoccupied with how to enrich themselves; prolong their rule; and who engage in short term ill-conceived, vote buying, cosmetic policies and programmes that increase poverty and turn the people into slaves.

Africans need leaders who will not think only about the future of their great grand children and then loot and hide millions of dollars for them as Arap Moi, Obiang Nguema, Denis Sassou, Paul Biya and Omar Bongo have done. I hope they will be able to go to France to defend themselves against corruption charges brought against them by Transparency International.

The new leaders needed in Africa must be those who think about how the great grand children of the entire nation and continent will fare in future. We need leaders who will not steal from their countries and then ask the poor people to tighten their belts and embrace economic hardships with open arms as seen in Nigeria where the government has resorted to re-branding the image of the country instead of fighting corruption and poverty.

We need leaders who will invest in the economy and create jobs for the youth. In this 21st Century we need leaders who will not collude and connive with Swiss Banks and banks in Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Austria, France, Britain, Jersey Island, US and a host of offshore banks in the Caribbean and the Pacific to cheat their poor countries as Mobutu, Eyadema, Lansana Conte, Sani Abacha, Bakili Muluzi, and the evil genius Ibrahim Babadjinda did to their countries thereby surrendering their people to the altar of poverty.

We need leaders who will not pay lip service to fighting corruption and then turn to loot the treasuries of their countries as Bakili Muluzi, Arap Moi, Mobutu, Lansana Conte of Guinea did and which Obiang Nguema, Denis Sassou Nguesso, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Blaise Campore of Burkina Faso and Paul Biya are currently doing.

We need a new crop of leaders who will not tend the presidency into a family estate as Gnassingbe Eyadema and Laurent Kabila did and which Yoweri Museveni, Hosni Mubarak, Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and a host of others are following. In Uganda Yoweri Museveni is the president; his wife Janet Museveni is the First Lady, MP and a Minister; his son Major Muhoozi Kainerugaba is an army commander of his elite group and a possible successor of Museveni. Museveni s younger brother, Caleb Akandwanaho, is senior presidential advisor on defence. His daughter Natasha Karugire is private secretary to the president.

Joseph Kabila succeeded his father Laurent Kabila as president and so did Faure Gnassingbe who succeeded his father Gnassingbe Eyadema in violation of Togo’s Constitution which stipulates that the Speaker of Parliament should succeed the president in the event of his death. Gamal Mubarak is poised to succeed his 81 year old father Hosni Mubarak as president of Egypt in the event of his death. This kind of government by hereditary and family association cannot go on.

The years of leadership incompetence, weak, ineffective, totalitarian and corrupt government as seen in DRC, Uganda, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Congo, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe must give way to strong, effective, corruption free and solution driven government as seen in Botswana.

In this 21st Century, Africans need leaders who will not hide behind diplomacy and condone negative practices by their colleagues such as subversion of the constitution and subjugation of the people as witnessed in Guinea and Mauritania, where the army have taken power; and in Tunisia and Algeria where the rulers have changed the constitution to run for a third term in office.

History is always the best teacher. In 1215 when the people of England were faced with poverty, diseases, homelessness, corrupt monarchy and aristocracy, they came together and forced King John to sign the Magna Carta which laid down the foundation of modern democracy and its associated freedoms and rights.

The French when faced with a brutal, corrupt, merciless, bankrupt, despotic monarchy chose to rebel, ushering in a revolution which forced the King out of power, and turned France from a property estate of a King into an independent prosperous Republic. This is a good lesson for Africa.

Looking at the poor economic, political and social standing of Africa in the global community, is it not time for Africans wherever we are to rise up and use the ballot to demand change in leadership and accountability from those who rule? Is it not time for Africans to take our leaders to task and ask them the hard questions that journalists fear to ask? Is it not time to ask them to account for the billions of revenue they receive every year? Is it not time to vote for those who can put Africa on the path of economic prosperity? We must use the ballot to vote these incompetence politicians out of office and bring in new blood, new ideas, and new policies. We have been fooled for quite too long.

We must vote for candidates on merits rather than party and tribal affiliation, for this is what has made Europe, America, Japan, Korea what they are today. We have been told that Africa is poor while our leaders receive several billions of dollars annually and yet cannot devise plans to salvage the continent from poverty. We must ask them to tell us how those billions of dollars have been utilised. We must not rest until Africa becomes a continent for all her citizens not just a few. We must not rest until the continent becomes free from leadership incompetence, corrupt, weak and despotic rule. At this critical moment in world economic crises Africans cannot afford the same old faces, the same old ideas, the same old politics, the incompetence, the corruption, the nepotism and we cannot afford to remain poor in the abundance of natural resources.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

When The Brewing Business Turns Deadly

Last Friday, once again Kenyans were shocked as they watched the death toll rise of consumers of the illicit brew – changaa in Shauri Moyo Estate in Nairobi’s sprawling Eastlands area; which as of today has reached 9 according to the Daily Nation.

Changaa is a local brew that resembles vodka, Tanzania’s Konyagi and Uganda’s Waragi. However unlike it’s East African sisters, changaa has not as yet been legalised.

This is not the first such case in Kenya. In June 2005, 49 people died in Machakos (Eastern Province) after they consumed an illicit drink suspected to have been laced with a poisonous chemical, and it seems that such cases are not going to end easily.

A regular changaa drinker was quoted in the media after learning that five of his friends had succumbed to the Shauri Moyo brew as saying it was "bahati mbaya", bad luck.  However he added: "I will go back to drinking busaa, although it is more expensive, (than chang'aa)".  

Indeed as John Mututho the Member of Parliament behind the recently passed Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill asserts, that the deaths and blindness were caused by extra chemicals added to the brew and “sold to unsuspecting poor Kenyans in the name of chang'aa".

Some commonly used additives include methanol and ethanol. Methanol has a high human toxicity. If ingested, as little as 10 milligrams can cause permanent blindness destroying the optic nerve while 30 ml is potentially fatal. Based on its abilities to change human consciousness, ethanol is considered a psychoactive drug. Death from ethyl alcohol consumption is possible when one’s blood alcohol level reaches 0.4% and a blood level of 0.5% or more is commonly fatal.

If the historic Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill which repeals the Chang’aa Prohibition and Liquor Licensing Acts receives presidential assent, this will mean that brewers of such liquor will have to face stringent quality standards and inspections. However with the current enforcement agencies so far being unable to cope in preventing future loss of life and blindness, it seems that more has to be done to ensure that the vendors adding dangerous substances to these brews are stopped.

Unfortunately the business opportunities in this sector remain attractive for those seeking to make a quick buck. Changaa is popular because it is cheap. A mug costs Sh10 (approximately 20 US cents). It also has the added attraction of being readily available, though not on  supermarket shelves nor established bars.

And it is not just slum dwellers who have taken to changaa. Crippling taxes have forced formal sector brewers to hike their prices and the informal sector brewers have benefited from more customers due to their low priced product. However, unlike Kenya Breweries or Keroche industries who have to go through rigorous quality standardisation and expensive marketing to manufacture their products and attract customers, changaa brewing is a home based cottage industry where not even a hygiene inspection happens. Word of mouth is generally the marketing tool, and if the price remains low – customer loyalty is assured.

For the Bill (if enacted) to make any significant inroads in preventing the deaths that occurred in Shauri Moyo from happening again, emphasis must be placed on ensuring proper regulatory structures are put in place. The National Campaign Against Drug Abuse Authority (NACADA) has so far been instrumental in making the public aware of the hazards of excessive alcohol consumption. However, the main thrust of their campaign has been the “don’t drink and drive” approach. This means nothing to the changaa drinkers whose main mode of transport is their legs.

Though the objectives of the Bill are noble, there has to be a holistic approach that also educates the changaa brewers and consumers on the dangers of additives. However, as these vendors generally tend to operate from their homes, the Bill does not give cognisance to their informal business culture. To say that brewers will have to be licensed will only mean that many will continue to operate illegally. For those that do get the licence from the proposed District Committee’s, the prescribed licence fee will be passed onto the consumers meaning loss of market.

Even the application for licence procedures will be an issue for brewers who will have to provide “a comprehensive proposal on the nature, orientation and other justification for the establishment of the alcoholic plant” amongst other requirements.

It remains to be seen whether the Bill will make a difference in the lives of the  changaa consumers and brewers. Ensuring that the barriers to entry remain attractive but also strictly enforcing quality standards by providing the relevant agencies with appropriate resources will most definitely prevent future loss of life.

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