Friday April 22
There are two dimensions that seem to be coming to the fore in countries all over the world - inequality and corruption. They are linked in different ways, the most obvious is of course that it is the poor who suffer most from corruption. And the better off who gains.
When we were living in Kenya, we tried to put inequality on the political agenda though an intensive collaboration with NGOs and the Ministry of Planning. The pattern of the 2008 post election violence was not a surprise to anyone who had studied public statistics. That the eruption came that year and in conjunction with an election was certainly not known, but the writing on the wall had been there for some time. And corruption was the biggest talk of the town, year after year.
When I was working for the African Development Bank in Tunis, the most common issue in discussions with Tunisian colleagues was not oppression or the role of the secret police. It was the grand scale corruption of the First Family.
Many African leaders are afraid today when watching Al Jazeera. One reason is that they know that everybody else in their countries also watches, thinks and reflects. And starts to ask questions about their own rulers and their amassment of wealth.
Will they (n)ever learn?
Ehtiopia has the reputation for being reasonably non corrupt, and insiders think that the bad Transparency International ranking is surprising. But asking taxi drivers (seasoned political analysts) they say that of course you can bribe a policeman, and of course many of the main investment deals are made possible through government blessings and handshaking of sorts.
Some days back the Tanzanian President sacked his whole political party inner circle. The reason was clear: Corruption.
So maybe some of the leaders will learn, gradually. But inequality – and corruption - are not only domestic issues for poor countries, they should be a growing concern also in rich countries and globally.
We have the rich – and the rest. Both are problems, not solutions.
Will we ever learn?
Abject poverty, together with diverse authoritarian regimes created a special attitude towards money, including the physical handling of money. Those who say that money does not smell have not been to Ethiopia is a worn phrase, unfortunately with a ring of truth in it.
Ethiopia was probably the country in the whole word that opened up last to ATM. I remember, 8 years ago, being told to go to Sheraton which had the only ATM in Addis, with around 3 million inhabitants. Money was kept, changed and changed hands – but never laundried……… (Corruption was fairly low in these days.)
Now there are a few more but ill functioning ATM machines in place, and old notes are seldom seen or smelled.