July of this year saw the achievement of a reconciliatory milestone on the African continent. It was the time when two countries of the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia and Eritrea, reached a peace deal and restored a friendship that had been devastated by decades of war. The decision taken by Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, to give up the Badme land to Eritrea in line with decisions of the UN Boundary Commission is clear indication of a genuine desire by both parties to end the conflict as a forward step to genuine reconciliation.
Unlike Liberia whose leaders have endorsed impunity and promoted a type of reconciliation based on fear of warlords and war financiers who harbor no feelings of remorse for their crimes, Prime Minister Ahmed, respecting the ruling by the UN Boundary Commission, accepted Ethiopia’s infringement and gave up the disputed territory to Eritrea.
Liberia and perhaps the Mano River Basin Countries would have similarly been involved today, in such conflict created as a result of the annexation by France and Britain of large swathes of what was then Liberian territory. Virtually the entire forest region of Southern Guinea as well as large portions of Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast was seized by British and French Colonialists.
But President Tubman, in farsighted wisdom, made a firm decision to renounce claims to former Liberian territories in the wake of their independence from France and Britain. Had Tubman, however persisted in laying claims to those territories, it is doubtful whether Liberia would be at peace with her neighbors today.
All across Africa, violence and conflict are major contributing factors to increasing and deepening levels of poverty. And the chief culprit responsible for this is, from all indications, poor or bad governance. Most African leaders have been nothing more than footstools of foreign corporate interests. Many African countries are mineral-rich, yet they remain mired in poverty.
Although their minerals are being exploited by these foreign corporate interests, only a tiny fraction of African governments can actually boast of owning shares in these companies exploiting the wealth of various African countries. Liberia is excluded from the list of those countries owning shares in foreign mining companies.
In most cases, tax revenue accrued from these mining operations amount to little or nothing; yet African governments provide these companies with generous tax holidays and a host of other incentives. Additionally, these companies avoid paying taxes by their use of tax havens. Many foreign companies especially those involved in the extractive industry — Liberia being no exception — are registered in tax havens.
It can be recalled that the name of President Sirleaf was mentioned in the Paradise papers as one African leader associated with tax havens, mainly in the British Virgin Islands or Jersey Channel Islands. She was listed as a director of the Bermuda company Songhai Financial Holdings Ltd. a subsidiary of Databank’s finance, fund management and investment company, Databank Brokerage Ltd., from April 2001 until September 2012, according to Appleby’s files.
Another company, AMLIB, now MNG Gold is also registered in a tax haven in the Jersey Channel Islands.
It is estimated that African countries lose around US$35 billion every year in illicit financial flows while an additional US$46 billion per year is taken out as profits realized from operations in African countries. Invariably, most African countries are being shortchanged daily and as a result, more and more people are falling into poverty and thereby creating social tension.
From available information we find that about US$134 billion every year flows into African countries in the form of loans, Foreign Aid (grants), and foreign investment. On the other hand, US$192 billion accrued from tax dodging and profits flows out of Africa each year yielding a net loss of US$58 billion per year. This is the stark reality and is one which can be linked to the fueling of interstate and intrastate violent armed conflict in Africa.
The Republics of Cameroon, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan have become flash points of conflict whose source can be traced basically to bad governance including marginalization and exclusion. In the mineral rich Democratic Republic of Congo, a tin pot dictator, Joseph Kabila, whose constitutional term of office has long since expired, is desperately clinging on to power, refusing to step aside.
In neighboring Burundi, another tin pot dictator, Pierre Nkurunziza has successfully coerced the people to vote in a referendum that gives him a third term to rule up to 2034. He had earlier refused to step down to allow free and fair election in 2016. In South Sudan, greed, naked greed on the part of its leaders, has catapulted that country into an orbit of cyclical violence whose end may hover in sight in one minute and in the next minute, fizzle out.
Political and civil conflicts have done nothing good to Africa except to destroy lives and properties, displace people and expose suffering humanity to demeaning conditions of existence.
The initiative undertaken by the Ethiopian Prime Minister and his Eritrean counterpart to end nearly half a century of conflict is laudable and should serve to remind all Africa that the vicious conflicts tearing the continent apart can indeed be brought to an end by its own peoples only if our leaders can realize that THE POWER TO CHANGE LIES IN THEIR HANDS.