By CIUGU MWAGIRU
After years of talk and little or no concrete action, Africa has become serious in its quest for stolen assets of late.
Amid the spirited pursuit of wealth stashed in Europe and many other countries around the world, there has been an unusual openness about the prevalence of corruption.
It is that sad state of affairs that led Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland to urge the continent to intensify the fight on corruption, which she referred to as a “tsunami”.
The revamped efforts at recovering assets are informed by the realisation that Africa suffers huge losses as a result of the illegal transfer of proceeds of corruption, crime, among other things.
In order to stem the haemorrhage, it has been deemed necessary to strengthen co-operation and partnership in tracing, recovering and returning assets.
That objective was outlined during a recent meeting of the continent’s anti-corruption operatives in Abuja, Nigeria.
During the summit, the anti-corruption chiefs discussed new strategies relating to dealing with bottlenecks in the recovery of stolen assets.
According Ghana’s independent prosecutor Martin Amidu, the pervasive corruption in Africa has been fuelled by internal and external factors.
Among the factors is poor leadership and the fact that “for the past few decades, Africa has had a mafia of leaders who speak of corruption as if they are against it”.
Sadly though, despite constant talk about the need to repatriate the billions of dollars in offshore secret accounts, the leaders did or do little to end the scourge, he added.
Such accounts are to be found in European capitals, especially Switzerland where many an African kleptocrat has found a safe haven for his loot.
The anti-corruption crusade comes when Africa faces other woes, including the rising tendency by leaders to seek multiple presidential terms, as happened in Burundi just days ago.
In that perennially unstable country, a referendum was recently held with the hardly veiled objective of enabling President Pierre Nkurunziza to seek more terms.
In the meantime, President Faustin-Archange Touadéra of the Central African Republic is in deep trouble, with opposition mounting against him.
Having assumed the country’s presidency in February 2016 on a wave of goodwill, Touadéra has become a widely unpopular lame duck leader and is booed whenever he appears in public.
Back to the war against corruption, European countries like Switzerland have pledged to assist Africa in the repatriation ill-gotten assets.
In April, Nigeria announced that it had received more than $300 million from Switzerland as a part of huge sums seized from the family of Sani Abacha who was president from 1993 to 1998.
Swiss authorities have also raided multiple sites in response to money-laundering claims relating to Angola’s sovereign wealth fund.
The operation was mounted soon after Jose Filomeno dos Santos, the son of Angola’s former President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, was charged with corruption at home.
As part of a spirited anti-corruption offensive in Angola, the young dos Santos — nicknamed Zenu — was accused of stealing $1.5 billion.
The offence reportedly took place when he ran the country’s $5 billion sovereign wealth fund after being appointed by his father in 2013.
He was dismissed in January when Joao Lourenco became Angola’s president.
In March, the young do Santos who had been linked to a $500 million fraud, was formally charged in court.
Also as part of Angola’s onslaught against widespread corruption, Filomeno’s half sister Isabel dos Santos, was dismissed from her job as head of Sonangol, the state oil giant.
Isabel is reputed to be Africa’s richest woman.
Such moves aside, there have unfortunately been concerns in various quarters that sometimes it is difficult to tell how the money repatriated to Africa is spent.
Critics say, the money that is taken back to countries like Nigeria is usually looted again.
And in the meantime, millions of Africans barely subsist in countries that are hamstrung by impunity, poverty and rampant joblessness.