The noisy spectre of Egypt’s revolution is a loud warning to autocratic rulers across Africa. But perhaps our leaders should be more afraid of the quiet criminal insurrection taking place in our government which threatens to unseat power and rob bureaucrats of their ability to make good on service delivery promises.
There has been a lot for our government to focus attention on these past weeks. Egypt was a stark reminder of marginalisation mobilised with enough force to topple a regime. That after the Tunisian peoples’ disposal of tyrant Ben Ali, and just before Jordan’s king moved quickly to dismiss his government when the first whiff of protests hit the streets.
Back home heavy rains continued to pour and there was the usual scuffle between the ANC and Malema, this time over night clubs and sushi, but he “fixed” the problem by claiming he’d been misquoted. The Nelson Mandela Foundation “lied” about Mandela being ill, and Amos Masondo denied the Jozi billing cock-up existed at all. Business in government continued as usual with tenders being awarded to brothers, sisters and fathers in law while the Zuma Inc business empire continued to grow and grow and grow.
You have to forgive our government for being way too distracted to notice an investigation into corruption, piracy and smuggling in Africa by a small group of fearless journalists from the Forum for African Investigative Reporters. Five journalists working in Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria and Benin investigated the operations of oil smugglers, corrupt tycoons, pirates and looked at how these social bandits provided financial support, development and “leadership” to the impoverished communities from where they operate.
Fair’s journalists found that rule under these cartels of corruption is tyrannical, often bordering on the cruel, but that these bandits find a place for themselves in society because of the vacuum created by crumbling government structures. Often the people who live with or near these thieves switch allegiances away from governments they voted in, or fought to bring to power, in favour of the bandits who “care” for the hungry, the homeless and the poor.
The revenues from corruption are more than good, and in one Somali region dominated by pirates, the income generated by the marauders is said to be three times as much as the local government budget. This means the pirates can enjoy lives of largesse and become benefactors who create relationships of dependency with the communities in which they live. Some pirates create menial jobs for people – like paying them to cater for kidnap victims – and in this way play a “developmental” role in their communities.
On a broader level, the report found that corrupt tycoons and fraudulent civil servants who plunder governments eventually render these organs of state so dysfunctional they are doomed to failure. Infected regional governments are eventually weakened by corruption and become so completely useless and ineffectual that they cannot play a role in development or service delivery.
The result is governments that are meant to serve the marginalised and manage a country’s resources for the greater good, which become systems operated by people with selfish intent whose sole focus is to harvest a resource for their own evil gain. Once infiltrated by the corrupt, these local governments resort to denial and lying because there is often no way to unhook the grapnels of crime embedded in them.
Eqypt was a loud, resounding warning to South Africa’s leaders that the marginalised will only wait so long before they become a threat to government. There’s much in South Africa that mitigates against a revolution, but with the South African Institute of Race Relations showing that service delivery protests are becoming increasingly violent, and tyres burning on Walter Sisulu Drive in Khayelitsha more common, our leaders should be concerned.
Maybe they should pause from their secure jobs, sound-insulated cars and their stately homes in secure suburbs long enough to hear the growing rumble of the marginalised who are angry, unhappy and feel betrayed.
Or, perhaps our rulers are just too busy fuelling the next revolution to notice. That other system change that is shrouded in secrecy, where government is strangled by the parasitic tentacles of crime that rob the marginalised of any hope of a better life. Suddenly the SA foreign policy and government’s support for Mugabe, Dos Santos, Museveni, Obiang and many more start to make sense. Much more sense. DM
Mandy de Waal is a writer who reports on technology, corruption, science, the media and whatever else she finds interesting. She loves small stories and human narratives, and dislikes persistent evangelists, bad poetry and the insane logic that currently passes for political rhetoric. Back in journalism after spending time in the corridors of corporate greed, de Waal has written for Mail & Guardian, Noseweek, City Press, Rapport, MoneyWeb, Brandchannel (New York) and a number of other good titles. She now writes for The Daily Maverick because it’s the smart thing to do.
There is a 24 hour "LeMons" race where drivers must compete in cars that cost $500 or less.