PRESIDENT YOWERI MUSEVENI
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni was once the darling of the West, hailed as his country’s saviour, a true democrat and a tireless campaigner against corruption. Now approaching the 26th anniversary of his coming to power (come January 25th), during his fourth term in office, with no signs that he has any plans of relinquishing office, and facing mounting questions about his proximity to several dubious transactions, Museveni appears now as just another episode in a depressingly recurring story played out time and time again in sub-Saharan African countries.
FORMER PRESIDENT BAKILI MULUZI
A previous favourite of the enlightened liberal Western opinion, former President of Malawi, Bakili Muluzi (1994-2004), surfaced in the news just a couple of days before the end of the year, offering to help the current and embattled President of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika, on how to resolve the country’s economic crisis.
“During my presidency”, Muluzi was reported as saying, “we talked to our friendly governments and organizations to help us out. I could pick up a telephone and call leaders of countries and organizations to explain my predicament and in most cases they would understand and come forward to help”.
Bakili Muluzi, it might be argued, could certainly provide advice on how to handle the economy but there are few people of international standing that Muluzi could call now for help.
A few weeks prior to winning the election of 1994 (Malawi’s first truly democratic election, in which the aging and senile Dr Hastings Banda finally lost power), one Bakili Muluzi was found to have bounced a personal cheque for the equivalent of about $167. Ten years later and on leaving office His Excellency was reputed to be worth $2 billion.
Since 2005 there has been an on-going and protracted attempt to bring Bakili Muluzi to trial on charges of corruption but his continued ill-health has delayed the day.
Mr Muluzi’s wife was as equally adept as her husband at squirreling away a few Kwachas here, and few Kwachas there. When investigators inquired into the ownership of what were thought to be her husband’s fleet of expensive cars, including a Bentley, a Range Rover and several Mercedes, it turned out they belonged to Dr Patricia Shanil Muluzi.
Mrs Muluzi was not only interested in cars, she also had a passionate interest in looking after Malawi’s roads. Indeed, she all but owned the company that throughout her husband’s terms in office, received contracts to mend Malawi’s roads and bring them up to the exemplary standards that motorists in the country enjoy to this day.
But back to former President Muluzi ringing a few friends to help out Malawi’s economy.
There’s not much point him calling the Americans or the British who played such a key role in bringing him to power in 1994. There’s the slight question of the $11 million from international donors that Muluzi is alleged to have, how can we put it, handled inappropriately. They wouldn’t touch him with a very long stick now.
Until a few months ago Muluzi could have called his old mate President Gadaffi of Libya. It was he, who some time in 1998 or 1999 when Muluzi was preparing for his second election as President, delivered $4 million in cash, to help his campaign fund. When the payment came to light Muluzi supporters were incandescent with rage but the fact of the payment was never denied.
PRESIDENT MICHAEL SATA
So to one of the latest to find international favour and another from quite a long line of leaders hailed as a standard bearer for democracy and good governance.
President Michael Sata of Zambia was elected in September 2011, ousting Rupiah Banda who had held power since 2001.
President Sata, nicknamed the ‘King Cobra’, enjoyed not just the support of a majority of Zambian voters but also that of the international community following his repeated assurances that he would fight corruption.
Not many people complained too openly when Sata moved against his old adversary Banda, freezing his retirement benefits for example, but questions were asked when he appointed a one-time press aide who had worked for former President Chiluba when the latter faced charges for corruption, and then appointed Chiluba’s former spy chief as a permanent secretary for Luapula Province.
The Kenya Forum can provide its own anecdote regarding President Sata’s new administration in Zambia. Not a scientific study you understand, just a cautionary tale.
An engineer recently back in Kenya from Zambia was asked how he was faring in business and how Sata’s new government was doing. “I’ve given up in Zambia”, he said, “Sata won power by promising that he would end corruption and not be in the pocket of the Chinese. Now there are more Chinese contractors in Zambia than ever and the corruption is even more open than it was before”.
The Kenya Forum emphasises that this is just one man’s take on what’s happening in Zambia, it might not be true, but all of us, whether Kenyan or part of the ‘international community’, do well to be somewhat circumspect before we anoint another standard bearer of democracy and transparency in our continent.