A few years back, a Luxembourger couple who are family friends and were with us in Kampala two and a half decades retired and relocated back to their country, the Grand Duchy which is the world’s richest country with an annual per capita income of $121,000.
On a recent trip to East Africa (they enjoy no-visa permanent resident status), we were driving home across half of Kampala city in the evening and got thrown off the road many times by siren-blaring lead cars clear the way for whichever VIPs they were taking to their homes. After reaching my humble abode, we had a long dinner, listening to their new experiences living in the world’s wealthiest state.
The highlight was the tale of their first encounter with Grand Duke Henri, their head of state whose personal net worth is over four billion dollars. They met the guy -sorry, His Royal Highness – in a ticket queue at the movies with three (of his five) kids. They saw a few people asking him to move to the head of the queue and he declined cheerfully, continuing to chat with neighbours in the queue whom he was meeting for the first time. We did not need to ask if road users of Luxembourg get chased off the road if a wife of a junior minister is rushing home to rest after a heavy shopping for perfumes and wines and other such ‘essentials.’
So what causes such bad manners in some contemporary African people who only a year or two earlier before getting into ‘important’ jobs were normal citizens?
If you look closely, you will find that today’s young African parents are very concerned about parenting. It appears that enlightened Africans in their thirties and forties are more concerned about the quality of children they are rearing than older Africans in their fifties and sixties plus who were more focused on the goodies they gave the kids and have lost the battle of parenting. The nasty ‘important’ people you see on the roads of several African countries were raised by the aged, dying out elite who just kept throwing money at their kids’ demands, which included attending school abroad, and neglected the quality of the human being they were raising. Today’s young parents are appalled at some of the kids they used to admire in school due to their parents’ money but have turned into big babies, some still ‘powerful’ as they whizz around in powerful SUVs looking for the next party, others wasted junkies constantly on dope.
And where do African parents get the money to spoil children that the Luxembourg Grand Dutch worth $4billion doesn’t have?
The money comes from the national treasuries around the continent. Many African ministers who went to school with friends who became medical doctors do not think of being treated in their country when they fall sick, and must go overseas. They use the national treasury. Their children must study in Europe and north America, not in the schools their parents attended. Why ‘torture’ the kids when there is a national Treasury to send them abroad?
How and why do Treasury funds suddenly become the source of paying for the comforts of a not-so-small army of ‘important’ people?
First of all, some of the important Africans are not even aware that they are abusing the Treasury. They only think of the department, ministry or office which they milk, but where it gets the money is not their concern. The ‘important’ person hears of a big lump sum of the national budget and thinks the thirty-something thousand dollars he uses on a foreign trip is ‘nothing’, forgetting that it just takes thirty important people travelling out like him to burn a million dollars. And three hundred such trips cost $10m to the Treasury.
Secondly, African capitals are teeming with lobbyists seeking a way to fleece the Treasury, and they keep taking all manner of deals to the big people. And the big people bite the bait and get their cuts which they use to spoil the poor children. Now like the children who don’t want to know where the money for chocolate and school abroad comes from, the parents do not want to know where money in the Treasury comes from. The parent who rides in a chauffeured 4,000cc SUV with a body guard as their way is being cleared by a siren blaring jeep carrying six heavily armed guards does not realise that his/her travel circus is costing the Treasury some two thousand dollars a day.
The private sector agents have been around for a while and messed up Africa’s second generation leaders who replaced the independence leaders. In Tanzania a few years after he left office, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was disgusted by the number of businessmen flocking to Ikulu (State House) to cut deals. He famously chastised his successor in a public speech thus: “Ikulu ni mahali patakatifu” (State House is holy ground) where people shouldn’t meet to cut deals.
Obviously, thousands of discussions must be held in every African state house for bettering and securing the common good, but the despicable ones that annoyed Nyerere are those that involve playing with the Treasury. Indeed, the intelligence services of serious governments in Africa and abroad play a cardinal role of monitoring and securing the country’s resources and trade interests as much as they secure the state power. If all African security agencies paid more attention to securing national resources including those in the treasury, in the ground, in the farms and overseas, the continent’s richest countries wouldn’t be home to the world’s poorest people and busy flooding their poorer neighbours with refugees.
Why is treasury buffoonery more rampant in some countries than others?
It goes back to parenting. Like global warming and climate change, financial buffoonery does not come overnight. What you see manifesting today was sowed three decades ago, or earlier. The coal and oil burning industries followed by vehicle combustion engines were pumping tons of carbon in the air and started raising the global temperature by one degree every three decades over a century ago. Their raising of three degrees per century translates into millions of tons of polar ice melting and ocean levels to rise, making millions of acres of coastal agricultural land salty. Similarly, a child born four decades ago and raised on public funds without accountability becomes a danger to the public when they take public office with their salty minds and the only source of funding their private comfort they know is the Treasury. No amount of reasoning can convince them that they are not entitled to feeding off the suffering masses.
Is there a solution to Treasury Buffoonery?
Yes, there are solutions but they will take longer in some countries than others. The parents who are starting to raise their children by teaching them the values of work and respect for the public good are providing a long-term solution, which will take three decades to yield visible results. But for some countries, bold leaders are tackling corruption head on, and those will see a quicker end to the Treasury Buffoonery.