Tale of al-Bashir and the money kept under his bed

Tuesday April 23 2019

Nicholas Sengoba

Nicholas Sengoba 

By Nicholas Sengoba

So, deposed Sudanese President Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir had ‘kept’ some money under his bed.
In a statement by the Senior Public Prosecutor Mutasim Mahmoud $351 million, €6.7 million, £5.2 million and SDG (Sudanese Pound) 5 billion equivalent to $105 million, was seized from the Khartoum residence of the deposed leader.

Some of the cash was packed in sacks designed for 50kg of maize meal!
Interestingly, the short-term cause of al-Bashir’s woes that led to protesters calling for his eventual ouster was the high price of bread. Some bread in Sudan is made of maize meal.

The story of an African president crudely accumulating huge amounts of money for a rainy day is not new.
When deposed president of the Gambia Yahya Jammeh was fleeing to exile in 2017 according to the Guardian, he reportedly stole $1 billion. Huge sums were found hidden at his residence.

The late Samuel Doe of Liberia looked after himself as well, but was killed as he tried to escape to exile and enjoy his loot. Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor of Liberia was found with wads of dollars in a bag as he attempted to flee from Nigeria when it became clear that he was to be handed over to the ICC in 2006.
Sani Abacha of Nigeria did it. Mobutu Ssese seko of Zaire did it. The late Muammar Gaddafi reportedly had millions safely deposited with an African leader. Many others are doing it.

The sad poetic justice in all this is that they rarely retire peacefully to enjoy this money. Many times it ends up in banks in Europe, with fixers or mysteriously disappear, leaving relatives of the deposed autocrat for whom he was purportedly stealing, in poverty and despair.

The European banks do not mind keeping this money yet they surely know that it is stolen. It is good for their business. It is a continuation of the ironic story of Africa contributing towards the building and empowering of Europe and the developed world. The latter turns up as donors of economic aid for which Africa pays heavily in interest on loans.

Resource rich Africa is where it is because most of the cream is stolen from the people to whom it belongs and shared out among the dictator’s small clique of cronies. Oil-rich Sudan, which had estimated oil revenues of $8.48 billion in 2017, is among the poorest countries in the world. The leaders and their lackeys become very powerful and do everything to ensure that the regime stays in place.
On the other hand, the people eventually become too poor, sick, weak, hungry and desperate to oppose their leaders. That is the sad summary of the power relation.

But this ‘clever’ trick does not always last long. When the people reach a dead end where there is no difference between being dead and being alive, their meagre circumstances embolden them. They are bound to rise up when properly mobilised and become violent to the extent that those supporting the dictator find it safer to push him out of the picture for their own security. It happened in Burkina Faso, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Zimbabwe and now Sudan.

That said, two things become clear from this stealing by African leaders. The notion of the nation state is still an alien one to most of us in Africa.
That we work and pool all our energies and resources for the betterment of the strong viable state and society which will look after us in sickness, ensure that our children go to school, our streets are safe because the police work to keep law and order is more of a myth.

Even at individual level, it is wide spread an agreed ‘principle’ that when one with a sound mind ‘falls into things’ ie has the privilege of holding a public office, the thought is first to think about yourself and your children. The rest can take care of themselves.
Charles Onyango Obbo once wrote that great nations and individuals are built by people who give more to them than they take away. It is not a curse that Africa is where it is.

The interesting bit is that many have ended up not enjoying what they deny the public. How many of us own nice huge fast cars, but cannot drive and enjoy them to their full potential simply because the roads are narrow and full of potholes created by those who ‘eat’ road funds? How many rich people have died because there is no specialised hospital to treat their ailments in case of an emergency yet they have all the money in the world for better healthcare?

The post-independence state of Africa gave a very bad example. When the State does not look after its people and only punishes them, the result is a corrupt mentality and a mean public spirit. People just steal from the State, which gradually fizzles out. The result is endless anarchy.

Like one asked crudely, for whom was al-Bashir stealing? The answer is that he was stealing from the people not necessarily to enrich himself, but to impoverish the people so that they are easier to rule. That is the real tale of al-Bashir and the billions under his bed.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political
and social issues. nicholassengoba@yahoo.com