The Daily Nation (Kenya)
September 30, 2005
After years of negotiations, Switzerland has finally agreed to repatriate to Nigeria millions of dollars stolen and stashed in its banks by former dictator Sani Abacha.
This is good news for Africa, for it sends strong signals that stolen wealth is no longer safe in any bank anywhere. The money, which is equivalent to Sh33 billion, may just be a fraction of what the former military dictator siphoned out of that oil-rich country, but the fact that it is being sent back to Nigeria is a major lesson to the kleptocrats in Africa, who have thrived on fleecing their people.
In the past four or five decades of independence among African states, many heads of state and government officials have presided over monumental corruption and massive plunder of public resources that left the states in beggary.
Economies that would have been vibrant are now reeling under the weight of insurmountable debt, while the citizens have been thrown into endless poverty.
But it so happens that rich Western countries have been the benign promoters of grand corruption, as they have unquestioningly accepted and provided convenient vaults for the stolen money.
It is paradoxical that while the leaders of these countries keep preaching about the need for transparency and good governance, they have been the self-same recipients and custodians of loot stolen from poor Third World countries.
For us in Kenya, the Nigerian case is an eye-opener. It demonstrates that everything is possible so long as there is political will. The Narc administration has time and again talked of tracking down and seizing billions of shillings stashed abroad. They have even enlisted international experts to help.
At one point, the public was made to believe that some loot had been frozen in some foreign accounts, but this was not the case. And in fact, there are a lot of reservations about the will to succeed, given the sloth with which this project is being handled. It is incumbent on the Government to expedite the process.
Borrowing from the Nigerian experience, Kenya needs to move faster and recover the billions stashed abroad. The lesson it would be sending out is that stolen wealth is not safe anywhere, any more.