The story of corruption in Africa is not new: tens of millions of dollars missing from Kenya’s ministry of health; billions in mining exports never reaching government coffers in the DR Congo; and cabinet members in Nigeria using bribes received in exchange for lucrative government contracts to buy condos in New York and Paris. Corruption is so endemic in Africa that even presidents have publicly expressed their helplessness in fighting the vice.
Yet, a new transnational report shows the systemic nature in which African oligarchs break down existing governance structures in order to loot national wealth. The investigation, carried by the African Investigative Publishing Collective (AIPC) in partnership with Africa Uncensored and ZAM magazine, shows how clientelism and favoritism have badly impacted the state budgets and economies in seven African nations.
Titled The Plunder Route to Panama, the report picks on the huge trove of leaked data from 2016, which showed the secret companies controlled by members of Africa’s political and business elite—including intelligence officials, court justices, and even the son of former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan.
And instead of focusing on multinationals, who are often accused of plundering national resources, the report looks at the behavior of these leaders and their complicity in stealing taxpayers’ money, hindering investigations, and keeping millions impoverished. In most of these cases, leaders extract wealth from their countries and store it outside the continent, often going there for education, medical treatment, and holidays.
“African oligarchs do a lot more than accepting bribes,” AIPC notes. “What we unearthed indicated that these elites have, to some extent, morphed into the very colonialist plunder structures that they replaced.”
In Togo, for instance, the highly strategic phosphate sector is managed from the office of president Faure Gnassingbé—selling it to “whomever they want and at which price they want.” The widespread poverty in the west African country is now at the center of protests calling for Gnassingbé, who is in his third term, to leave office. In Botswana, AIPC says that president Ian Khama controls the lucrative tourism industry through the ownership of key agencies along with his relatives and friends, and funnels the returns to offshore accounts.
The situation is similar in Mozambique, where villagers in Montepuez region were violently removed from ruby fields licensed to generals and ministers. In Burundi, generals and powerful businessmen have developed patronage systems within the government—bagging contracts and exporting large caches of unaccounted for gold annually.
In Rwanda and DR Congo, the ruling party and family respectively, privately control and invest in almost all sectors of the economy. In DR Congo, president Joseph Kabila’s family—especially his siblings Jaynet and Zoe—has established a vast business empire that has interests in dozens of companies and brings in hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Crystal Ventures, the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s holding company, dominates the economy investing in everything from real estate to publishing and furniture trading.
Yet, despite hiding these monies in tax havens like Panama, cases of excess and pillage continue to lead to protests and action in African capitals. Many activists are increasingly demanding that laws and policies be enforced, and institutions change the way they behave. An example of this is the protests against president Jacob Zuma of South Africa, whose has faced allegations of corruption—and whose family members were linked to the Panama Papers.