Saturday, 17 December 2016

DR CONGO: Kabila's ''Kleptocracy''

It is widely understood that corruption is pervasive problem in many societies and undermines public confidence in the political system and government institutions. The scrounge of corruption is generally viewed as symptom of larger problem of the failure of judicial, media, and other institutions of accountability in view or developing democracies.

In Kleptocracies, which is the term used to designate government by thieves, corruption is the lifeblood of the system and therefore the heart of the problem. In Kleptocracies risk is nationalized and rewards are privatized. Participation in the spoils of kleptocracy is organized and controlled by top political elites, who raid state resources with immunity and impunity.

Unlike ordinary corruption, which has generally been considered a problem that corrodes developing democracies from within, Kleptocracies export their corrupt practices beyond their national borders with an ever increasing impact felt in new and established democracies alike. The taking of money out of corrupt countries by kleptocrats is long- standing practice. But in the present hyper globalized era, the scale and sophistication of this activity presents new and serious challenges to democracy. In this sense, modern kleptocracy thrives by crossing borders, in the process projecting a wider, corrosive threat to democracy and its institutions.

Kleptocracy is a key pillar of resurgent authoritarian regimes that are exercising  growing influence around the world. Other definitions characteristics of such regimes include a crackdown on civil society, the rise of extremist movements, the failure of governance in many new democracies, the assault on democratic norms in the international system, and propaganda campaigns that are lavishly funded by international media enterprises. Simply put, these regimes are trying to reshape the rules of the game.

The challenge presented by regimes in Africa, Moscow, Beijing, and elsewhere is being taken to an entirely new level by virtue of their projection of illiberal values and standards beyond their own national borders. Just a decade ago, few political observers could have imagined such a development. It is especially troubling that this growth in authoritarian ambition is taking place at a time when malaise seems to grip the world's leading democracies.

No country has suffered more from kleptocracy than Democratic Republic of Congo. Deeply entrenched and , indeed institutionalized corruption has been an extraordinary challenge since DR Congo achieved its independence, 56 years ago. But in the last 15 years that president Kabila has been in power, he has taken the country's corruption to new heights, enabling the theft of nearly $10 billion of Dr Congo public wealth. This massive corruption funneled wealth primarily to the president, his relatives, and a limited circle of businessmen around the president.

Kabila's corruption has ruined Dr Congo, dooming a generation of Congolese to poor education, unsafe streets and blighted careers. This ravaging of Dr Congo's economy and society have brought about the ''Bye Bye Kabila'' and '' Enough is Enough Kabila'' campaigns, calling millions of Congolese to rise up to extract their country from the grip of the kleptocrat-president and to try to chart a more democratically accountable course.

The Democratic Republic of Congo's  Kleptocrat-president, Joseph Kabila, has taken personal control of virtually all the country's public wealth derived from minerals and, more recently, from massive investments by China. The DR Congo's kleptocrat-president does not simply deprive his country of critically needed resources for improving health, education and infrastructure, but uses this wealth beyond national borders to acquire an influential hand in media and financial institutions around the world.

So far Joseph Kabila who promised to curb corruption, has found himself entangled in corruption scandals and turned out to be more crooked than Mobutu. From 2001 to 2016, Kabila's regime transferred ownership of at least $10 billion of assets from the state-mining sector to private companies with no compensation or benefit for the State treasury. And those companies had links to Kabila and his siblings. Kabila and his siblings have assembled an international business network stretching across at least 70 companies, according to a Bloomberg investigative journalists.

Furthermore, Joseph Kabila, the man who came in Dr-Congo in 1997 without a suitcase, let alone a wallet, has now taken the No. 1 spot on People with Money's top 10 highest-paid political figure for 2016 with an estimated $95 million in combined earnings, thanks to corruption, while an average Congolese citizen lives on less than a dollar a day; unemployment is 77%; basic services like roads, hospitals and schools are still absent; conflict and instability persist;

The fact that Kabila's authoritarian regime is also kleptocratic makes the challenge facing democracy activists in Congo even more difficult because he established an objective alliance with banks and other institutions that make up the global financial system. These institutions readily accept deposits of stolen funds after being laundered through offshore structures. With these assets safely invested and protected within the global system, Kabila and his family are then free to use their stolen wealth to increase their domination at home and purchase influence abroad, all the while expanding their massive business networks in the World and buying extravagantly priced properties in London, New York, Miami, Seychelles, Cayman Island, Panama, Singapore, the British Virgin Islands and other global capitals.

The purchase of multimillion dollar properties, the arrangement of opaque offshore financial instruments, and laundering of Kabila's public image, do not happen by accident or its own. Professional intermediaries in the established democracies are critical links for venal Kleptocrats, like Kabila, who seek to move ill-gotten gains from authoritarian systems into democracies and the international finance system, where rule of law offers their ill-gotten wealth a safe and respectable haven.

The irony is that while the rule of law prevails in Britain, over the past couple decades, London's accountants and lawyers have helped launder billions of dollars of stolen money through the British Virgin Islands overseas territories. Their complicity in Kabila's kleptocracy has corroded the legal integrity of British system. What Western enablers do is in a sense more egregious that what Kabila and other kleptocrats do, because in the west we have a genuine institutionalized rule of law, while kleptocrats, like Kabila, operate in systems where no rule exist. The result is that Western enablers effectively undermine democracy in foreign countries (DR Congo), even as Western governments lecture those same countries about civil society and the rule of law.

A critical element necessary for combating Kabila's kleptocracy will be bringing the professional intermediaries in the West, the enablers, out of the shadows and into sunlight. Kabila's Kleptocracy is not just a pillar of modern authoritarianism but also a serious and urgent global threat. Because it is a global challenge, it requires a response that takes transnational nature of this problem into account. It is therefore critically important to end the symbiotic relationship between Kabila and the international financial system.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Author

Photo Credit: Bloomberg Photo of DR Congo's president, Joseph Kabila and hsi wife, Olive Lemba.