Unlike in Iceland, there has been largely no popular reaction to the news of the criminally inclined African political and business elites tucking away much needed developmental funds, as shown by the leaked Panama Papers. Neither have there been private suits pressing for accountability, as was the case in Pakistan. Public prosecutions have also been largely wanting.

Indeed, there is quite an expanse of ocean separating the tiny country of República de Panamá (Panama) from the African continent. It is safe to say that many, in fact, most Africans are unaware of Panama, a little stretch of land joining Central and South America, with a population of four million people.

Some Africans may have learnt in school about the Panama Canal built over a ten-year period by the American Military Corps of Engineers from 1904. The Canal provides an artificial invaluable linkage of the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.

Other Africans who were politically conscious may remember Panama from the U.S. invasion of the country on December 20, 1989 on the orders of President George H. W. Bush in Operation Just Cause, that removed the military ruler, President Manuel Noriega from power and took him to face trial in the U.S. on drug trafficking, racketeering and money laundering charges, among others. He had, for about 40 years, been a reliable CIA hand, providing information and aiding the transit of weapons for U.S. interests in counterinsurgency efforts in Central and South America. Of course, such friendships are not permanent, and only remain until interests change. Noriega received a 40-year sentence that was commuted to 17 years for good behaviour and he was subsequently extradited to France, where he earned seven years for similar offences as in the U.S. Before going far into his term in the French jail, his return to Panama was negotiated to continue life in jail in his country, over the killing of a political adversary, for which he had been convicted in absentia in 1995. He died in Panama City on May 29, 2017.

However, a select few African political and business leaders know more about Panama beyond its Canal and its political history, as these leaders used the services of Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm, to allegedly store funds offshore. Indeed Mossack Fonseca is reportedly claimed to have been the fourth largest coordinator of finding safe havens for shady money – which are invested in different countries through offshore companies, on behalf of high-end thieves who betrayed the fiduciary duty of care for public money in their respective trusts, or wo hevade taxes. In effect, which ever way one looks at it, to tuck money away in secretive offshore accounts managed by Mossack Fonseca of Panama suggests a high likelihood of a criminal enterprise.

The first casualty of the massive leakage of Panama Papers was Sigmundur Davio Gunnlaugsson, the Icelandic Prime Minister. Though there was no proof that he and his wife had evaded taxes or engaged in similar criminal acts, the fact that he did not disclose his interests as he entered parliament and that his wife had interests in bank bonds, which her husband, as the Prime Minister, had earlier negotiated with banks…

The secretive tucking away of criminally generated money, exposed through the Panama Papers, which though said to have been leaked in 2015, were made available to the larger world on April 3, 2016 in a cache of over 11.5 million files or 2.6 terabytes of data, by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). This leak exposed many former Heads of State, serving Heads of State and/or Government, other serving or former public functionaries in many jurisdictions and, of course, businessmen/women, as well as family members of these elite few. In all, 143 of such persons around the world were reportedly exposed.

The first casualty of the massive leakage of Panama Papers was Sigmundur Davio Gunnlaugsson, the Icelandic Prime Minister. Though there was no proof that he and his wife had evaded taxes or engaged in similar criminal acts, the fact that he did not disclose his interests as he entered parliament and that his wife had interests in bank bonds, which her husband, as the Prime Minister, had earlier negotiated with banks on behalf of Iceland, raised a huge public outcry. Over 22,000 people gathered at the parliament demanding accountability as a result. He had no choice but to resign from office on April 5, 2016.

More recently, Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister of Pakistan was removed from office and disqualified from public office for ten years by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on July 28, 2017. His nemesis came as a result of a suit demanding accountability over Nawaz Sharif’s family linkage with Panama Papers. The suit: Imran Khan Niaz v. Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif had been tabled before the Supreme Court of Pakistan between November 1, 2016 and February 23, 2017 by Imran Khan, the former popular cricketer turned politician and party leader, in which he alleged money laundering, corruption and contradictory statements on links between Sharif’s family and some eight offshore companies. This was reported by Al Jazeera on November 1, 2016.

The international media gave a lot of attention to the mention of Ian Cameron (father of David Cameron, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) and members of the Houses of Lords and Commons, in the Panama Papers. Ian was said to have operated a clandestine fund arrangement: Blairmore Holdings Inc managing tens of millions of pounds of assets on behalf of his family without, for over 30 years, paying a penny as tax on profits in the U.K., as Juliette Garside pointed out on April 4, 2016. Some would go to the extent of suggesting that the sins of the father were visited on the son as an additional factor on David’s downfall as the British people voted Brexit against him.

Corrupt thieving African political and tax evading leaders, whether in business and/or public life, share the same immunity through impunity. This situation is a result of high poplular tolerance and/or indifference for stealing and/or greed on the African continent.

Africa has its fair share of political and business leaders who had tucked stolen money out of sight or engaged in tax evasion through several offshore companies, as shown in the Panama Papers. The African            names reportedly on the leaked documents is a Who is Who list that Google easily spews out. This secret tucking away of resources from Africa by a select few involve about three-quarters of the countries that make up the membership of the African Union. Large resource rich countries like Nigeria, Angola and slightly less resources endowed ones like Ghana, Sierra Leone etc., feature prominently on the list.

Unlike in Iceland, there has been largely no popular reaction to the news of the criminally inclined African political and business elites tucking away much needed developmental funds, as shown by the leaked Panama Papers. Neither have there been private suits pressing for accountability, as was the case in Pakistan. Public prosecutions have also been largely wanting. However, eternal investigations are supposedly continuing in some countries. International and African media attentions have been minimal. It appears the threshold for corruption causing an uproar is very low when it happens to be in Africa. Or how does one explain the sparse media campaign, in general, or the miniscule attempt from a few efforts to dig deeper under the rubric of investigative journalism on what had been released about African countries and peoples in the Panama files of Mossack Fonseca?

Is it that Africans do not appreciate the import of corruption as being responsible for the underdevelopment of the continent?

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Oxfam International, in her “A powerful and corrupt elite is robbing Africa of its riches” speech delivered in August 2016, had also lamented the poor reaction in Africa to the Panama Papers. She had, in that piece, pointed out some of the impact of the scourge of corruption when she noted: “One in 12 African children dies before their fifth birthday. Thirty-four million children are being deprived of a primary school education, and Africa has the world’s lowest secondary school enrollment rates. Forty million young people are out of work on our continent. It is a tough time to be a young African”.

Corrupt thieving African political and tax evading leaders, whether in business and/or public life, share the same immunity through impunity. This situation is a result of high poplular tolerance and/or indifference for stealing and/or greed on the African continent.

Babafemi A. Badejo (Ph.D) is Professor of Political Science/International Relations at Chrisland University, Abeokuta, Nigeria and former Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia. Email: ffembee@yahoo.com; +2348055331448

 

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