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June 25, 2005
Making Saddam Look Like A Petty Thief

Now that the subject of Africa has re-emerged as a central issue in international politics, especially in terms of how best to get the perennially struggling continent back to self-sufficiency, the question of corruption has become a central sticking point once again. Unfortunately for those of us who would like to find a way to do something effective, the question got a big answer in today's London Telegraph, which reports that the previous leaders of Africa's most prosperous nation stole more than $400 billion dollars over the last several decades:

The scale of the task facing Tony Blair in his drive to help Africa was laid bare yesterday when it emerged that Nigeria's past rulers stole or misused 220 billion.

That is as much as all the western aid given to Africa in almost four decades. The looting of Africa's most populous country amounted to a sum equivalent to 300 years of British aid for the continent.

The figures, compiled by Nigeria's anti-corruption commission, provide dramatic evidence of the problems facing next month's summit in Gleneagles of the G8 group of wealthy countries which are under pressure to approve a programme of debt relief for Africa.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, has spoken of a new Marshall Plan for Africa. But Nigeria's rulers have already pocketed the equivalent of six Marshall Plans. After that mass theft, two thirds of the country's 130 million people - one in seven of the total African population - live in abject poverty, a third is illiterate and 40 per cent have no safe water supply.

The sheer scale of this theft boggles the imagination. It's as if Nigeria conducted twenty Oil-For-Food scams in 39 years, between 1960 and 1999, when the money disappeared. As bad as Saddam Hussein's corruption got, it pales in comparison to the sinkhole of Nigeria -- and that's just one nation on the continent.

Where were the Western nations who fed this enormous scam? Perhaps they took too much time appeasing the do-gooders at home to put the appropriate safeguards on their aid payments. It could also be that during the Cold War, the realpolitik of the region forced both sides to issue bribes and inducements to Nigerian rulers in the form of "aid" that we knew would not reach its intended recipients. The most likely explanation lies deep under Nigerian soil to its rich fields of oil reserves, proven out at 35 billion barrels.

What cannot be argued at all is that the Western nations knew nothing about $400 billion in currency and assets simply disappearing from the economy over four decades. Even offering that argument would imply that capitalists could lose $400 billion, a laughable assertion that no one will ever accept. The industrialized nations enabled Nigeria's rulers to steal its citizenry blind, leaving the nation more destitute than ever while enabling the ruling class to tighten its grip on the poverty-stricken nation.

Now that the country has thrown off that ruling class and its leaders have attempted to give an honest assessment of its position, the G8 now tries the Captain Louis Renault gambit of being shocked, shocked! to find its generosity raided by the kleptocrats it feted and supported for access to its oil. They refuse to include Nigeria in its debt-forgiveness plan, which might be the correct action economically but appears to be a case of locking the barn door after one has helped the thieves make off with the horses, tackle, and most of the barn itself. Given that most of this money appears to have been dispersed back into the banking systems and economies of the West -- where it would have the best rate of return and most stringent safeguards -- the reluctance to assist Nigeria in at least some preliminary manner seems odd indeed.

The Nigerian scam shows the absolute necessity of on-the-ground verification of aid distribution and a requirement for the positive political reform that will make future aid unnecessary, not just for Nigeria but for all African aid. It also demonstrates that Africa's problems aren't due to Western neglect, although Western exploitation certainly didn't do anything to help. The reason why an entire continent can't feed, clothe, or shelter itself is because of the political corruption that Western aid ironically enabled. It doesn't absolve us of our need to get Africa on its feet now, but it does demonstrate that just throwing money at the poorest continent won't do anything but make the situation worse.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 25, 2005 9:51 AM

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» from CrosSwords
If you look at some of the discussion that Jokhannon and I have had on the issue of the Live 8 plan to forgive debt, you will note that we have a bit of a disagreement. (OK, a lot of disagreement!) One point that Jokhannon made is that the rulers in ... [Read More]

Tracked on June 25, 2005 1:54 PM

» Nigeria stole over $400 Billion in Western aid from The Blue State Conservatives
That's the shocking revealation by the London Telegraph this week. $400 Billion with a B. After the Western governments gave this much money: "After that mass theft, two thirds of the country's 130 million people - one in seven of... [Read More]

Tracked on June 25, 2005 4:14 PM

» Quick, Someone Ask Bono What We Should Do! from Common Sense Runs Wild
Captain Ed has an excellent post up on the corruption in Nigeria, Making Saddam Look Like a Petty Thief. I did a Google search for a comment from Bono but to no avail. He's a busy man, I'm sure the... [Read More]

Tracked on June 25, 2005 7:45 PM

» Something I can’t understand… from Mostly Cajun, All American and Opinionated
(Well, I ***CAN*** understand, but I’m not supposed to say so…) Over at Captain’s Quarters, there’s this article about Nigeria and corruption. Now that the subject of Africa has re-emerged as a central issue in international ... [Read More]

Tracked on July 1, 2005 11:05 PM

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