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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Where Are These Africans in the Billionaires List?

For the third time in three years, the world has a new richest man. I read this recently when the 2010 Forbes list of the World’s billionaires was released to interested parties and the entire public.

This anecdotally meant that the only consistent man who the gates of richness have always been kind to in 14 of the last 15 years, Billy Gates, was displaced, albeit a little.

But the inquisitive part of me wanted to know who this new man, who has worked hard enough to bulge his relatively slim resources to top the billionaires list was. I have to admit as an African, I had hoped that man was in the least, in possession of African blood. Obama-like to be precise.

Whether this portrays me as a racist is debatable, but I don’t think it’s any different from a case where one would wish that his countrymen scoop a podium finish in a major athletics event.

Back to the billionaires list. It is the Mexican tycoon, Carlos Slim Helue who now holds that green title, with a fortune estimated at $53.5 billion. This, thanks to surging prices of his telecom holdings, including giant Mobile outfit America Movil, I read.

The second position almost predictably went to Billy Gates, Microsoft Co-founder, now worth $53 billion, with the third billionaire buffet going to the one Warren Buffet.

Failing to admit that I felt rather let down by the list would be doing this space injustice.

The more I continued reading down, the more I got disenchanted, the more I felt like reading more. But since I had one mission this year (to find an African in that list) I proceeded with the reading anyway.

I bounced on such facts indicating that the 10-figure titans jumped from 793 last year to 1,011 this year, this in spite of the global downturn that almost melted down world economies in the fiscal year past.

As one would have thought, US billionaires are still a  class above the rest, accounting for an astounding 40% of the world’s filthy rich, even though Asian moguls are climbing the rich ladder as fast as the Chinese and Indian economies are flourishing.

Of the 97 new billionaires on the list, 16% are from the US, while Asia added 104 financial magnates. Asia now has 14 fewer billionaires than Europe, further endorsing the now seemingly inevitable fact that economic antennas  are increasingly facing the Singh’s, Suzuki’s and Lee’s of this world.

In total, some 55 countries are represented, and one would be tempted to think an African nation or individual would in the least hold the last position.

But oops!! None appeared.  Even Mike Ashley, the once embattled Magpies (Newcastle United) football club owner had his name being mentioned in the same breath as the rich guns, though his dwarfed $1.5 billion fortune only attracted limited naming.

So the billion dollar question is. Where are Africans in this moneyed list? Is there no African who is racking in millions of dollars and mating them to give birth, or abort billions enough to deserve mentioning?

You think yes huh? I beg to differ. Africa has billionaires.

There’s no doubt that Africa is the last remaining of the wealthy continents. With Europe and America having preceded the rest and found a way to fully exploit their expansive resources – and the Asians doing exactly the same right now – Africa for the umpteenth time is lagging behind.

But not for long. The scenario could suddenly change as the Chinese and Europeans scramble for the fertile resources that Africa has to offer. If the resources are exploited suavely (without such people churning the resources and carrying the billions to their home countries) we could as well see that list of billionaires inducting in Africans.

But perhaps Africa is not lagging behind. There are people, euphemistically referred to as businessmen, who are hell-bent in dragging it towards the tail end. There are people who are far more worse than the criminals who instigate gross human rights violations and supervise mass killings. There are people who are far more worse than the extremist al-Shabaab of Somalia or the LRA rebels in Uganda, or even the mutineers in Congo, a group of people who stop at nothing than reign terror on their native people, and whose ill-intentions are clearly defined and their atrocities can be seen or experienced, or both, even when they strike in broad daylight.

This group of cannibals, not new to Africa, should be in the billionaires list. What more does it take to be in the list, if all one needs is establish a good business (not clean), excel at it, and always work to double or triple the proceeds?

This group of people are the deceitful financial kleptomaniacs who have inherited the vice of corruption from their fathers and continue outclassing rivals at it.

Every year, they pocket in millions of taxpayer’s money in fictitious deals and scandalous scams. They have made corruption become an industry in itself. A booming one for that matter. One that is able to sustain their big bellies time and again, so long as the poor man’s starvation wages can always be deducted to support their gourmand nature. All they need is to trick someone to sleep on their jobs, or just find the slightest opening, and the rest could as well be history. They run riot. Literally. Most of the times, in a line-up.

From boardrooms to policy documents, taskforces to even matters that are so dear to the hearts of the poor masses, the vice continue to be packaged and camouflaged such that one only gets to hear of it once the unscrupulous deals have been sealed, and the participants have retreated into their mendacious shells of innocence.

So why not feature in the billionaires list while corruption has become a staple of African big man’s diet? While there’s a poverty of performance in improving the lives of the holi polloi in many of the continent’s impoverished nations.

The vice continues to thrive in a society bereft of the moral fiber and virtue of doing good. While those who have been made poor continue to be confined in dingy and filthy dwellings and even corners of prison life, the rich are cushioned to such life. After all, they can always buy their freedom and comfort. After all, they can always find foreign accounts where they can stash their billions in.

And because we are forced to dwell in a society where poverty has inherited us with cowardice, we have become persistent in watching these people sin in silence instead of protesting. They buy jewels and high-end automobiles, build mansions, and all we do is sit in our 'business as usual' rags. When we all die as paupers and leave our children without an education or healthcare, their children spend millions in buying toys and playing video games.

In countries like my Kenya, corruption has become almost like a requisite holiday, one that must be celebrated at least every month. It has also emerged like an exchange programme, where if today the left wing gets a slice of its millions from the taxed-man, the right wing – not willing to feed on crumbs – willingly reciprocates in the subsequent and most recent time.

Never mind the persons whose dreams of a sustainable life are always gnashed and crushed by the barbaric, inconsiderate and heartless teeth of corruption and its chauffeurs are the poor, who read the billionaires list every year and wonder why African big men in the highly rewarding corruption industry are yet to feature in the Forbes list.

But when will the Yom Kippur for these thieves be over?

To kick corruption out of Africa, perpetrators of theft of public money  should be tried in the Hague, and this can only be possible if such thievery is categorized as a crime against humanity. Thus, the thieves should be driven in the same vehicle and on the wheels that would drive the likes of Charles Taylor, Foday Sankoh, Jean-Pierre Bemba, Thomas Rubanga, Germain Katanga, Omar Bashir, Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, and others who will sooner than later be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The wealthier countries in the West who continue to live with robbers from out of Africa but shamelessly lecture Africa on transparency, good governance, ending impunity, encouraging developmental politics, accountability, self-reliance and what have you should look keenly into their populations and see how many Africans who have ill-gotten their wealth walk freely along their streets. After identifying them, because they are there, they should be tracked down, their accounts frozen, and any money and investments found should be returned to the home country, while these criminals should be punished in the most severe way to deter would-be eaters.

Don't we know that some of the people who have lived through the corrupt regimes and reaped their millions have fat cheques waiting in major banks in the West? Don't we know that all the aid and grant money that is annually pumped into African economies end up in these morons' foreign accounts? And what about the other forms of conspiracy where NGOs acquire aid money with the pretext of helping Africa, only for the biggest percentage of such amounts to be spent on administrative matters?

We also need to remove pacifists who stand and watch the corrupt as they excel in the vice , but only say 'I will not participate in corruption,' than confront these people. We also need to remove from our offices those who in the face of corruption, they settle in putting their heads down like a question mark and do nothing more. These group of people only serve to fan the evil fire of corruption.

Granted, corruption is common in Africa but not endemic to it. Africans are not brain-thick nor mentally bent as the West wrongly implies them to be. The Black continent can burgeon without aid money and other handouts if the west  recognizes that fact, and more so, they stop conspiring with corrupt regimes.

The continent also needs the last remaining people who still have morals to come out and shout, or in the least, raise their voices. Only when we learn to speak more against the ills affecting the modern Africa will we stop begging, start developing and find one, two or many of our own in the billionaires list. And we don't have to work our butts off because we have the brains, the will, the manpower and the resources. We just have to intend to do good, and do good. 

And that's thesteifmastertake!!