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Friday
Feb042011

Is Africa Rising?

Two reports from Africa caught our eye.

From Kenya, Time's Nick Wadhams reported that politicians there are trying to get rid of Michael Ranneberger, America's ambassador.

One reason they don't like him is because he's frank. In a cable released by WikiLeaks that he wrote in January 2010, he said President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga "benefit from and support impunity and the lack of accountability" and that "no significant steps have been taken against high-level corruption, which remains rampant."

Kenya ranks 154 on the current corruption perception index.

Not everyone in Kenya is unhappy with Ranneberger. The Time story said some members of parliament "think Ranneberger's brash brand of diplomacy is just what the country needs. Martha Karua, a lawmaker and former Justice Minister, was expelled from a recent session of parliament for telling her colleagues that the ambassador's portrait of Kenyan corruption is accurate. 'We must listen to even what we don't like,' she said, going on to describe the parliament as 'the greatest auction house in Africa.'"

Ranneberger, a 20-year Africa hand, also bypasses the government and reaches out directly to ordinary Kenyans. He set up and arranged funding for a big youth empowerment program. That caused the Kenyan parliament to accuse the ambassador of violating the nation's sovereignty and meddling, and to start working on a motion recommending his expulsion.

In late 2009, Ranneberger let slip on his Twitter page that the U.S. government had denied a visa to Kenya's attorney general, Amos Wako. It was the first time an American official had revealed a visa determination under Presidential Proclamation 7750 -- the executive order giving the State Department the power to exclude foreign kleptocrats, their families and friends. By law, all visa decisions are supposed to be secret.

The story in Time said the U.S. government in 2009 sent letters to 15 unnamed  Kenyans to tell them they wouldn't be allowed to travel to the U.S. if they kept blocking reforms. Ranneberger told Time: "The visa bans carry enormous weight. If you tell somebody you're banned from traveling to the United States, that is major."

*     *     *

In the Wall Street Journal online, Samuel Rubenfeld -- who follows corruption stories around the globe -- reported that "Nigeria presidential candidate Nuhu Ribadu, who used to head the country’s anti-corruption agency, called for the resignation of current President Goodluck Jonathan."

Ribadu once headed Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Under his leadership it secured convictions in over 275 cases. But he fled to London four years ago after a couple of near-miss assassination attempts. He returned to Nigeria after his political ally Goodluck Jonathan became president last February.

Many Kenyans, including Ribadu, had high hopes Jonathan would start cleaning up the country. But a presidential advisory council said last week that Jonathan’s administration is “neck deep” in corruption. Ribadu's campaign team said the report shows the government isn't up to the fight against corruption and that the president is to blame.

A year ago, Ribadu appeared in Washington to speak on behalf of Jonathan's new government. He asked the Senate for America's help in restoring law and order to Nigeria, stepping up the fight against corruption through tougher enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and ensuring democratic elections in 2011.

A year earlier, Ribadu had visited Capitol Hill as a political exile. In testimony before the House Financial Services Committee, he talked about the human cost of Nigeria's sleaze:

This outflow is not just abstract numbers: it translates to the concrete reality of kids who cannot be put in schools, who will never learn to read, because there are no classrooms; mothers who die in childbirth because the money for maternity care never made it to the hospitals; tens of thousands who die because there are no drugs or vaccines in hospitals; no roads to move produce from farms to markets or enable a thriving economy; no jobs for young school graduates or even ordinary workers; and no security for anyone because the money has been stolen and shipped out.

His empathy and courage have made Ribadu a hero to many Nigerians, especially younger people. Last year they started an online campaign to convince him to run for the presidency.

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