Nigeria and Angola Take Two Extreme Approaches to Corruption

In response to the growing public demand and to end the proliferation of protests against corruption in Angola, in 2009, President José Eduardo dos Santos announced his new policy of “zero tolerance” of corruption. More than 2200 days have passed since his announcement and not one major corrupt figure has been arrested. From his actions, it is clear that he prefers to arrest and punish those who speak out against uncontrolled corruption rather than those who are actually guilty of corruption.

Angola and Nigeria are the two largest producers of oil on the African continent; both countries, by all accounts, are the most corrupt in Africa. Both Angola and Nigeria are suffering because of the dramatic drop in the price of oil. The different ways both countries are trying to overcome their difficulties, and solve the problem of the shortage of money, presents a fascinating contrast.

Angola’s strategy is to seek new loans from China, Europe, and international institutions. The interest rates for these loans has been rising dramatically and, combined with the amount already borrowed, guarantees that it will take Angola many years, if not decades, to pay them off. This means that future generations, long after JES and his cronies have passed away, will have to keep paying.

If there was any sincerity behind his “zero tolerance” declaration seven years ago, the President’s next trip should not be to Beijing or Barcelona or Rio but to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Why the UAE? Nigeria’s attempt to weather the current monetary crisis led them directly to that country, not for more loans, but to recover billions of dollars that many of its corrupt leaders have deposited there. One result is that corrupt Nigerians are panicking:  their past activities could result in long prison terms.

One cannot help to underscore the contrast in approaches to corruption between Buhari – who has been in office only 6 months – and dos Santos, who has been president for 36 years.  Buhari is confident that he will recover billions in stolen money while José Eduardo dos Santos prefers to borrow rather than try to recover the billions of dollars that the Angolan nomenclature has hidden in foreign banks.

Buhari, who is currently in the UAE, signed agreements that will allow the UAE government to return to Nigeria all money hidden or invested in banks and real estate in the country.  The total amount of money involved is estimated to be at least US$200 billion! President Buhari also signed an agreement with the UAE to repatriate all corrupt Nigerians and their ill-gotten wealth that is hidden there. Buhari vows that the UAE is only the first stop in his campaign to bring home all of the stolen money that is hidden abroad.

Dos Santos could not have a similar initiative for it would be mean the destruction of the very essence of his power: Corruption. It is his family and his henchmen who have stashed away billions of dollars plundered from state coffers. It is corruption that ensures that his party members, generals and government officials support him in exchange for impunity to loot their share. Otherwise, this grayish dictator would have already been the subject of many plots to hold him accountable for his corrupt deeds.

Buhari has the foresight to go down in history as the man who took the reins of Nigeria to extricate it from the rule of corruption. Dos Santos has a different aim, which is to take Angola down with him, as he sees no other way out.

The leaders of the United Arab Emirates are also being thoughtful; they do not want to go down in history as the place where corrupt individuals, believing they could never be brought to book, stashed away ill-gotten millions. Being the African country with the largest population, a highly educated elite, and immense resources that have not, until now, been fully exploited, Nigeria is a highly attractive market — especially for a country like the UAE that has had notable successes in diversifying its economy.

Besides the presidential takes on corruption, there is also an underlying historical contrast. Angola’s former colonial master, Portugal, is only too happy to proactively act as a laundromat for the Angolan regime to clean up its loot. There is a firm belief among the Portuguese political and business establishment that they ought to be compensated for having lost out on what was once a jewel in the empire.  There is also some calculus in Portugal that the ill-gotten Angolan millions in Lisbon are a key to guaranteeing their continued dominance in their relations with Angola, through the expertise and partnerships they provide for such operations.  It is a diplomacy of corruption. The post-colonial bilateral relations between the Great Britain and Nigeria are more state-like.

The British have not only been apprehending corrupt Nigerian politicians, but have actively participated in helping Nigerian investigators locate stolen assets.