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Impunity of African leaders must end

By Prof. George Kanyeihamba

There is need to establish institutional structures and transparent procedures to eliminate corruption

In political, social and economic terms, impunity means contemptuous behaviour that is at variance with the accepted norms of legitimacy, decency, legalism and the well being, judgment and expectations of the majority of the population. It is behaviour that inflicts harm on society. Correspondingly, impunity renders its perpetuators political and social lepers who should be shunned, resented and blamed for the wrongs, catastrophies and misfortunes they inflict on society.

Formal constitutions, laws, leadership codes and precepts of governance in Africa are ideal instruments of good governance and welfare of the peoples. Unfortunately corrupt and undesirable leaders on the continent have rendered most of these laws and norms unworkable, irrelevant, or dreaded. In consequence, corrupt individuals, despots, autocracies, oligarchies, pseudo democracies, highly personalised and self-serving dynasties have taken firm root to loot, pillage, devastate Africa and decimate its people.


Unscrupulous foreigners have taken advantage of the African leaders’ intransigency and myopic visions and proceeded to join in the plunder and pillage of the African wealth and destruction of the continent’s environment. The masses of Africa remain poor, illiterate and diseased while a tiny band of rulers and their cronies wallow in unimaginable possessions and luxuries. These are all examples of impunity.

Can these undesirable and unwelcome acts and incidents of misbehaviour be ended? Yes, they can. The people of Africa should take up this mantle.

Currently, Uganda’s 9th Parliament is showing the way to end impunity in this country. We are delighted by what we are seeing or hearing as Parliament debates the protection of the country’s potential wealth of oil. Sadly, the question that remains is whether the ruling oligarchy can take note of the mood and resolution of the 9th Parliament or simply display further impunity. Fortunately, time is no longer on the side of the wrong-doers or the unacceptable faces of governance that darken our mother continent.

Countries of North Africa including Egypt, Tunisia and Libya have chosen one drastic way of ending impunity in their respective territories. However, their method should not necessarily be the standard weapon for the rest of Africa because it is messy, destructive and its end results are unpredictable. However, if the leaders of the rest of Africa do not take heed, such a method may be inevitable.

Weak negotiators

Many experts believe that the less developed countries especially of Africa benefit very little from international trade, partly because they export primary unprocessed commodities and partly because of inadequate knowledge and experience in the art and techniques of negotiation.

Developed countries have been in international trade for a long time and possess enormous advantages over those of Africa.  The old colonial patterns remain and may have been strengthened notwithstanding that African countries are now supposed to be independent and sovereign. The negotiators from developed countries identify and concentrate on decision-makers instead of negotiating directly with local experts and professionals.  Instead of seeing the minister responsible for trade, the foreign trader insists on seeing the President who is tricked into directing the minister to deliver to the trader what he or she wants instead of negotiating with them first and insisting on what is best for the country.

Many of the African bureaucrats who are responsible for final decisions in trade lack adequate knowledge and expertise as well as experience in the art and techniques of negotiation.

Offers of bribes and the bribers themselves tempt African negotiators to undersell and cheat their nations.

There are numerous tricks used by foreign negotiators on trade to hoodwink and sometimes deceive African traders, especially when the Africans go abroad to negotiate trade for Africa. In reappraising the paths Africa has been taking to avoid the dependence syndrome, the following may be suggested as useful guidelines:

As Africans, we have not learned or grasped the importance of patriotism and loyalty to the countries of birth or nationality or our people. Some of our officials sacrifice these attributes very cheaply and easily for so little.

We need to establish special educational institutions where international trade and the art of negotiation are taught.

Books and other forms of literature on trade and the art of negotiation must be acquired for compulsory reading by those who represent and negotiate for Africa to combat our poor culture of reading and knowledgability.

Officials who cause loss to the nation through international trade compromises and corruption should be severely punished and, certainly removed from their respective public posts as a matter of the utmost urgency.

Trade officials should be subjected to a strict code of ethics and integrity and be periodically monitored and reported on and where they are suspected on reasonable grounds of incompetence, corruption or abuse of office, they should be removed at once.

Foreigners who are discovered attempting to compromise African interests  or who corrupt trade officials should be blacklisted and prohibited from trading with Africa.

Every African state should create a cadre of officials who specialise in international trade and negotiate collectively and consist of multi- departmental teams including competent, incorruptible and experienced lawyers. Negotiating teams should be engaged in this area for limited periods of time in order to guard against complacency and temptations of familiarity and corruption.

There should be periodic retraining and refresher courses for all trade and commercial officials, attended, amongst others, by representatives of chambers of commerce, manufacturers’ associations and experts.

Broken promises

There is a saying that a broken promise is a debt owed and not paid. There has been failures among many African leaders to recall, keep or sustain the promises they made before or shortly after coming to office. They ignore or deliberately betray those promises when they discover that perpetuating themselves in public office is sweeter than honey. Anyone, whether friend or foe, who dares question their inexplicable change of mind becomes not their political opponent, but their sworn personal enemy. Constitutional instruments which they inspired and, the making of which they were the champions who swore to uphold and protect the same to death, become useless and irrelevant when they appear to be in their way of continuing in office indefinitely. The earlier promises of liberating the country from anarchical rule, from dictatorship and from corruption become distant historical embarrassments to be forgotten at any cost.

Strengthen resolve

There is need to establish institutional structures and transparent procedures that will encourage the elimination of corruption and false allegations of corruption from the institutions of government in order to enhance their reputation, impartiality and fairness which will, in turn, enhance public confidence in them.

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