Nov 10 2006

Corruption: a Family Affair

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 5:45 AM

The London-based activist group, Global Witness, has done a public service for years in tracking the exploitation of natural resources by governments in the developing world. I first ran into GW in Cambodia, where I wrote a front-page article for The Wall Street Journal on an innovative program to monitor the Cambodian government’s management of its country’s forests. In recent years, GW has concentrated on Africa and done significant work, especially in exposing the bad behavior of Angola’s ruling clique. GW advocates greater transparency on payments made by multinational oil companies to African governments. Angola is the poster-child for this campaign because the country’s government doesn’t publish accurate fingers on its oil revenues and foreign oil companies refuse to publicize their own payments, citing government demands for secrecy. GW rightly argues that by publicizing payments to African governments for oil sales, the chances will increase that the money from oil will be used more responsibly. GW is now shifting its formidable investigatory powers to Equatorial Guinea, an oil-rich West African nation that harbors among the least effective and most corrupt governments in the world. A single family, the Obiangs, essentially treat Equatorial Guinea as a private preserve. In a new report, GW exposes some property purchases by the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea — notably a posh $35 million beach property in Malibu, California. Since the president’s son earns $5,000 a month as “minister of forestry,” GW contends that he can only have been purchased the property with ill-gotten gains. GW is expert at the shame-and-blame game. Such campaigns have been honed on corporations, where the image of executives and the need to protect the value of a consumer “brand” often conspire to force improved better. But shame-and-blame are less effective when the object is an African government. Stronger medicine is needed. In a better world, of course, activist and concerned governments around the world would call for the peaceful ouster of the Obiang family from atop EG’s government. Should the family spurn the chance to leave quietly, the United Nations should declare the government illegal, strip it of its powers and run EG as a protectorate until a democratic government emerges. GW of course advocates nothing of this sort, trusting instead that more information about the evil-doings of corrupt African elites, will force positive changes in their behavior. I do not share such hope. Better to expose national sovereignty as the fiction that it surely is in Equatorial Guinea. Let the UN, or some designated body, run this small country in an enlightened manner, investing the vast oil revenues into public services, of which virtually none exist today. Let the Equatorial Guinea become a model of enlightened international management — and then the country can serve as a warning to larger African countries that are held hostage by corrupt governments, such as Nigeria and Angola. Continue to steal, and these governments should their license as well, and go directly to jail.

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