In the Cambridge English Dictionary, a Kleptocracy is defined as a society whose leaders make themselves rich by stealing from the rest of the people. Wikipedia says a state of unrestrained political corruption is known as a Kleptocracy, literally meaning rule by thieves.
The late Zairean (now Congo) President Mobutu Sese Kuku Gbendu Wa Za Banga earned a reputation as one of the world’s foremost official thieves and a classic example of a kleptocrat. A kleptocracy thrives on the use of brute force to cower the people into submission and subjugation. Other examples in Africa abound such as Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, a country whose rich oil wealth lies in the hands of a tin pot dictator and his family while the rest of the people languish in poverty.
Former Burkina Faso President, Blaise Campaore, having brutally eliminated his leader, Thomas Sankara, Blaise Campaore ruled that country with an iron fist while at the same time vastly enriching himself. He encouraged and supported the NPFL rebellion in Liberia, even dispatching a full battalion of para commandos to fight alongside the NPFL. It is reported he benefitted immensely from his misadventures in Liberia.
Yet at the same time he refused to honor his pledge to compensate his soldiers for fighting alongside the NPFL in Liberia. Little was known then of Blaise Campaore’s pet project in Liberia until the soldiers publicly protested for their pay but were rebuffed. But little did he realize that the Burkinabe people had grown weary of his excesses and to his shocking surprise, the masses rose up in revolt and sent him scurrying for his life into exile in neighboring Ivory Coast.
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is another example of African rulers who could be described as a kleptocrat and who spared no time for pretense at accountability and transparency. All the country’s resources were or became properties of his personal fiefdom through the Strategic Commodities Act which granted him full and final decision-making power over the country’s resources. American journalist Douglas Farrah once wrote that Charles Taylor ran what he called a “shadow state”, a state in which formal structures are bastardized and transformed into instruments of personal control.
Under President Ellen Sirleaf, hopes that she would have radically transformed the structure of the shadow state were dashed as it became clearer by the day that the Liberian state was being virtually transformed into a kleptocratic network. Her son, Robert, became virtually the biggest dispenser of perks and privileges. Her sister, Jennie Bernard, also became a notable Mover and Shaker. Cronyism virtually became the order of the day as corruption became even more deeply engrained.
US$16 billion of foreign direct investment poured into the economy but produced hardly discernible outcomes.
Under Sirleaf’s watch one bogus agreement after another was illegally ushered into existence and the once vaunted pledge to treat corruption as “public enemy number 1” soon fizzled out. The case of the missing billions of Liberian dollars is a typical example of the immeasurable harm a kleptocratic network can visit on a country. With so much lost to corruption and gross mismanagement, it was perhaps figured that the best way out of a difficult economic situation was to print more money.
Rather curtailing extra-budgetary expenditures, especially President Sirleaf’s excessive foreign travels and curbing ostentatious displays of profligacy by government officials as countermeasures, the Government instead opted to print more money. And as every student of economics would know, such leads to a rise in inflation with more money chasing fewer goods and bad money driving out good money as we are now beginning to see with the continuous downslide in the value of the Liberian dollar.
As things stand, claims and counterclaims about the missing money have raised a lot of dust that has still not settled. And public disquiet over the matter has not gone away, at least not yet. But towering above all this hala hala is the lone figure and magnetic personality of President George Weah who many are looking up to solve the mess which, according to some of his supporters, is but a contrived hoax intended to discredit his rule.
But quite far from it, money is indeed missing but the question remains, who is to blame? Is it the kleptocratic network bequeathed to him by his predecessor? President Weah’s critics maintain that he is or appears overwhelmed by the immensity of the challenges he has taken on. A western diplomat (identity withheld), speaking to this paper expressed concern that the George Weah government appears to be conveying a somewhat distinct impression of one akin to a kakistocracy.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines kakistocracy as a government that is ruled by the least suitable, competent or experienced in a state or country. And the diplomat adds, both forms of government (kleptocracy and kakistocracy) are heavily predisposed to the use of violence to maintain its rule and control over the state. Such situations, according to the diplomat are more likely than not to engender resistance which in some cases are replete with the potential to be taken to the extreme, as is the case with Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Islamic State in the Middle East.
And if the United States whose agents are here to assist in this investigation would like to reduce the likelihood of extremist or revolutionary violence occurring in Liberia, then it should help clamp down on corruption which is a key driver of insecurity including conflict and violence. In the opinion of this newspaper it is now high time that national or state security organizations include corruption in their threat analysis and explore creative ways in which this menace can be curtailed or suppressed.
A full, transparent and proper accounting of the missing billions, which the ongoing investigation seeks to accomplish, should be encouraged. President Weah, should close his ears to group think — that this investigation is meant to undermine his government. He should not allow individuals like Speaker Chambers to drag him into needless cheap talk, bearing on mind that the confidence of the people, peace and stability of this nation rests in his hands. He must Beware of kleptocratic tendencies and never allow them free rein in his government.