Michael Wines, writing from Malawi in Africa:
It makes one wonder why, with so many experts here to do good, the rest of the country not only isn’t thriving, but is slipping backward.
. . .
There is even a hilarious poem demonizing “the development set”:
We bring in consultants whose circumlocution
Raises difficulties for every solution
Thus guaranteeing continued good eating
By showing the need for another meeting.
MICHAEL WINES. “Letter From Malawi: Amid Squalor, an Aid Army Marches to No Drum at All.” The New York Times (Weds., December 7, 2005): A4.
“Workers installing imported marble on a staircase at Mr. Alamieyeseigha’s official mansion.” Photo by Michael Kamber for The New York Times. Source of photo and caption: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/29/international/africa/29nigeria.html?pagewanted=1
YENAGOA, Nigeria, Nov. 22 – Precisely where in the rogue’s gallery of corrupt Nigerian leaders Diepreye Alamieyeseigha will fall is a matter for history to judge. Gen. Sani Abacha, the military dictator who helped himself to at least $3 billion and salted it away in foreign bank accounts, doubtless stole far more.
But General Abacha – who ruled the country from 1993 to 1998 – never fled money-laundering charges in a foreign land by donning a dress and a wig to match forged travel documents, as Mr. Alamieyeseigha, the governor of a small oil-producing state in the Niger Delta, did last week, government officials said.
For their sheer audacity, his antics are likely to earn him a prominent place among the leaders who in the past four decades are believed to have stolen or misspent $400 billion in government money, most of it the profits from Nigeria’s oil reserves.
“It is a new low,” said Gani Fawehinmi, one of Nigeria’s most prominent lawyers and a longtime campaigner for good governance. “And in Nigeria that is saying something.”
Mr. Alamieyeseigha is suspected of siphoning millions of dollars in cash and buying an oil refinery in Ecuador along with several houses in London, California and South Africa. He has denied stealing money from the state.
The sordid saga of the governor comes as the federal government has engaged in a broad effort to rehabilitate the country’s image around the world.
Long associated with rampant corruption and kleptocratic governments, Nigeria has year in and year out gotten one of the worst scores in Transparency International’s world corruption perception index, though this year its rating improved slightly.
Corruption touches virtually every aspect of Nigerian life, from the millions of sham e-mail messages sent each year by people claiming to be Nigerian officials seeking help with transferring large sums of money out of the country, to the police officers who routinely set up roadblocks, sometimes every few hundred yards, to extract bribes of 20 naira, about 15 cents, from drivers. (p. A1)
For the full article, see:
LYDIA POLGREEN. “As Nigeria Tries to Fight Graft, a New Sordid Tale.” The New York Times (Tues., November 29, 2005): A1 & A12.
Speaking of Paul Wolfowitz, the new World Bank President:
His favorite new source book is the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report, an annual guide to the obstacles that countries impose on their own entrepreneurs. The 2006 version is just out, and for the first time Mr. Wolfowitz had it rank countries, from 1 to 155, on the “ease of doing business.” New Zealand ranked first, and the U.S. third (after Singapore), but African nations held down 25 of the last 30 places.
Take Burkina Faso, a landlocked West African country that came in at . . . 154. “If you were in a food supply business,” Mr. Wolfowitz says, “registering a business would require minimum capital equal to nearly five times annual income. Fees alone cost 1½ times income per capita . . . to register your land, you have to pay fees, 16% of the value of the land. So the result is in a country of 12 million people, only 50,000 are in the formal” economy.
So why is he optimistic? Burkina has grown for the last decade, he says, and the country has political cohesion. “I had a great meeting with the president of Burkina” on a recent trip, and “I shouldn’t say this, but I want to find a way to communicate these results to him and say, do something about it, your country will grow even more.”
PAUL A. GIGOT. “Dr. Wolfowitz, I Presume.” Wall Street Journal (September 24, 2005): A10.
The “Doing Business” report is in its second or third annual version, and is described enthusiastically in Thomas Friedman’s new book The World is Flat. John Devereux suggested to me that one interpretation of the criteria used for the ranking, is that they are a step in the direction of measuring openness to creative destruction.
From a review of a promising book:
Most African countries have been atrociously governed in the past half-century. A lack of institutional checks has allowed an array of incompetent strongmen to rule as they pleased until the money ran out, at which point northern donors often tossed them an extra bundle of cash.
. . .
Kwame Nkrumah, for example, is widely revered. The founding father of independent Ghana, he was also an eloquent advocate of a united Africa. Africans tend to recall him as a man of great personal integrity who strove mightily to drag his country into the industrial age. Mr. Meredith lays out the facts. Nkrumah paid for his grand (and uniformly loss-making) industrial projects by squeezing money out of Ghana’s poorest citizens, the peasants, and by borrowing recklessly. He was utterly clueless about money. When his finance minister told him in 1963 that the national reserves were less than $1.4 million, he “sat in silence for fifteen minutes, then broke down and wept.”
He not only wrecked the Ghanaian economy; he also snuffed out such political freedoms as the country had enjoyed at independence. He had a law passed in 1958 allowing him to jail anyone suspected of subversive intentions. Twelve parliamentarians objected, on the ground that such a power was sure to be abused. Eleven of them were jailed, which rather proved their point.
ROBERT GUEST. “So Badly Misled.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., August 31, 2005): D10. (A review of: Meredith, Martin. The Fate of Africa. PublicAffairs, 2005.)