Religion as a source of social neurosis in times of collective stress; its inspiration to violence is not of recent origin

John O. Ifediora.

In all nations, the quality and relevance of countervailing social institutions matter. That this is the case is particularly of import since institutions are rules that govern individual and collective behavior in any society. In this regard reference is here made to primary and enabling rules and observances that inform and guide conduct, specifically religious, political and economic institutions. In nations where these social institutions have evolved to the point where individual rights and freedom of choice are accorded universal cognizance with appropriate checks and protection, the polity is reasonably well-adjusted, informed and productive. Under this state of affairs, malfunctions in any of the constituent institutions are unlikely to have lasting effects, and minimal corrective measures are needed to restore normalcy; this sentiment enjoys durable currency in advanced democracies such as the United Kingdom, France, Japan, and the United States, where abnormalities are generally reflections of discontent, and may pose no serious danger to established norms unless left unattended. It is thus presumed that advanced democracies have built-in mechanisms that inexorably return them to long-run equilibrium in the event of temporary malfunctions in any of its institutions. Events within the last decade, however, have made this presumption less serviceable.

Religion-inspired violence is of ancient origin, and has found expression in many established faiths. In the normal run of things, malfunctions in religious and political institutions are always and everywhere responsible for all forms of societal neurosis that inflict a nation’s psyche in times of stress and uncertainty. That individuals, in extreme cases, are willing to kill the innocent in order to advance religious and political goals attest to the potency of deranged and malfunctioning institutions that guide and inform collective action. Suicide bombers readily come to mind; but whether society acknowledges it or not, these suicide bombers, once well-functioning members of society, were mentally deranged. No well-adjusted person wants to die; only the neurotic choses to die. And to a large extent, they are victims of distorted religious and political institutions that cut across nations at various stages of socio-political development. The ancient relationship between Christians and Jews provides an excellent context to this narrative, and would be used as a case-in-point in this discourse.

The Essence of Religion

Religion encompasses much; but chief among its defining features are rituals, symbols, practices, and a body of beliefs that afford meaningful interpretations of the meaning and purpose of human existence. Everything else associated with religion is only meaningful within the context of this defining belief system, for it provides the rationale by which rituals and symbols are reasonably apprehended. It is in this sense that theology is regarded as the foundation for faith; it is also in this regard that the search for the roots of violence inspired by religion must necessarily begin with the foundational theology, and doctrines that inform any religion’s answer to the question of salvation.

Certain types of theologies define precise and constrained bounds within which individual practitioners of the faith are accepted as true believers, and are thus deemed religiously legitimate. Such religious perspective is often accompanied by a strong belief of exclusive ownership of the ‘true’ meaning and purpose of human existence in relation to the Divine; but almost invariably this belief system implicates self-righteousness and exclusivity, both of which, under the right circumstances, are conducive to fanaticism. The intolerance of other faiths generated by such exclusive claim to the ‘truth’ has been the source of unimaginable inhumanity visited upon individuals, groups, and communities throughout history.

Of particular relevance to the discourse of theologically induced intolerance is what Glock and Stark referred to as ‘religious particularism.’ By this they mean a doctrinal claim that redemption or salvation is available only to certain individuals that meet specific criteria. More specifically, “religious particularism is the belief that only one’s own religion is legitimate. To the particularistic mind there are no faiths, but one true faith”(Glock and Stark, 1966).

The ardent believer thus sees himself as one of the select few that comprise the  chosen, ‘the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness who is destined to inherit this earth and the Kingdom of heaven’(Hoffer, 1951). But in modern societies that accommodate pluralistic views, particularism may be liberally or conservatively expressed. A liberal expression is more likely to accept all religious faiths as legitimate so long as they subscribe to the existence of one God; whereas a conservative strain of particularism may insist that religious legitimacy resides only in one faith, and delegitimize all other expressions of religiosity. It is in this regard that Colerideg writes, “He who begins by loving Christianity better than the truth, will proceed by loving his own sect or church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all”(Mailer, 1963). Whether liberally or conservatively expressed, particularism delegitimizes all religions that are outside the confines of what is deemed the proper faith. The practical implications of the breadth of particularism are substantive, for they implicate exclusivity, and the potential for conflict amongst people of faith.

So far, the impression of particularism is that one who holds such view is very likely to view his religious status superior to others, and engage in invidious self-righteous judgment of the legitimacy of other faiths. But it is one thing to hold such view and altogether another to act on such held belief of superiority. It is when both are combined that particularism is especially potent and dangerous. The implication here is that some people of faith are perfectly capable of harboring particularistic views but do not act on them; while this capacity is atypical, it holds a powerful means by which people of differing religious status can reach a common understanding and acceptance.

But of import to this discourse is the situation where particularism leads to hostility, specifically its manifestation in Christendom dating from early antiquity. In this regard, the troubling questions are: how did Christian particularism lead to antisemitism, and what factors made it possible? In the Christian tradition an overarching issue involves the matter of salvation, and what practitioners need to do to be redeemed, and ultimately saved. Thus in order to uncover the factors that led to Christian particularism, it is necessary to look at its criteria for salvation, and what existing social conditions would enable its implementation. Thus, to generate and sustain particularism, the controlling Christian theology must first sow the seeds of particularistic ideas that consist of a generality of doctrinal claims informed by a body of beliefs that are proclaimed to be universally true, and contain the only ‘truth’ that is exclusive of those held by other faiths. Existing social factors and conditions would then limit the extent to which such particularistic ideas are implemented.

Once universality of a body of beliefs is claimed, the extent to which Christian theology may engender particularism is determined by the degree of specificity of its theological tenets. Thus, the more elaborate and detailed the tenets are, the greater the specificity of the theology. But specificity alone is not a sufficient condition for Christian particularism; there must be, in addition, a clear conception of people who do not meet the requirements of Christian religiousness as articulated by the tenets of its theology. It is this last step that makes Christian particularism partially whole. But being particularistic does not automatically lead to hostility towards the Jewish faith or Islam. The history of paganism and cultism shows that both belief systems were sufficiently detailed in their claims and doctrinal values of their gods; this is especially true of African, Roman, and Greek gods but none claimed universality of their beliefs. And as such, they were all able to co-exist peacefully. Only when the Christian theology was imbued with the aura of universality did it become fully particularistic.

Once the Christian church had developed its particularistic sensibilities, there remained a question of how to implement it. The missing ingredient in this regard was power – the ability to impose Christian ideology on non-believers, in this case the Jews. It must, however, be noted here that the question of how a particularistic body wields power in society is a function of its numerical status. A majority with a particularistic idea has the potential to be both violent and vicious in the face of resistance from bodies with opposing beliefs; indeed a majority need not have a particularistic theology to be violently repressive. On the other hand, when a minority is particularistic, it risks hostile confrontation with the majority that may oppose such imposition on several grounds, one of which is a perceived threat to  existing ways of life informed by socio-cultural institutions. A historical case in point is the attempt to impose Judaism on the classical world. Olson explains:

“The ancient Jews having spread colonies throughout the Mediterranean world, armed with their particularistic view of a true and only god, embarked upon a campaign of active proselytization although in a minority status. The antagonistic response of the classical society followed. Even Rome, with its permissive, and eclectic, and somewhat instrumental approach to religion, Rome which boasted of raising temples to the gods of every conquered nation, found itself unable easily to accommodate a religion that claimed not merely to be true, but to be singularly true” (Olson, 1962).

Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity gave the Church the requisite instrumentality for the enforcement of its particularistic theology; for it then rose in triumph over the remains of the Roman Empire, which, by all accounts, was one of the most militaristic and efficiently organized pre-modern societies in human history. The outcome was a vicious and brutal imposition of the Christian version of the means to salvation. The hierarchical organization of the Church facilitated concentration of power in a Supreme Pontiff, which enabled both a monolithic expression of the Christian ideology, and effective suppression of internal dissent (internal dissent appeared much later). The Church was now a combination of potent social factors ---a particularistic theology, a majority status, centralized internal power, and derived external power. History shows that the early Church did not wield these powers with care or restraint.

With the historic Jews in a minority status, two dominant issues defined their relationship with Christians. One pertained the mutual claim to the Old Testament by both Jews and Christians as their common heritage. But in order for Christians to claim this heritage, they would also have to claim descent from Judaism, the faith of Moses, and by extension, recognize that ancient Jewry enjoyed a unique religious status that pre-dates Jesus, and had exclusive claim on the Old Testament. The second issue was the assertion that the Jews had fallen out of favor with God, thus leaving Christians as the sole inheritors of God’s grace and favor. This claim was based on interpretations of events in the Old Testament as the means through which the Jews forfeited their special relationship with God. On these disquieting issues, Hilberg elaborates:

“A crucial issue in the theological disputes between Jews and Christians during the first three centuries C.E. concerned legitimate succession from the Old Testament faith. Having emerged from its initial status as a Jewish sect, when Paul won Peter and his followers to the doctrine that gentiles could come into the faith without adopting Mosaic Law, Christianity, nevertheless, was irrevocably committed to the Old Testament as a prophetic basis for New Testament fulfillment. The proclamation of the divinity of Jesus was not to be taken as raising up a new god; rather Jesus was claimed to be the Son of the Old and eternal Yahweh, and Christianity the final resolution of an established religious tradition”(Hilberg, 1961).

Jews’ rejection of the claim made by the Church would not settle the matter, nor was it the answer the mighty Christian majority expected from Jews; the Church needed legitimacy, but more importantly, it needed the Jews’ approbation of its theological formulation to affirm its claim as the legitimate heir to God’s favor. Something had to be done, but the extension of a friendly hand of persuasion was not part of the devised means; meanwhile more rejections of other aspects of Christian orthodoxy were to come, and the consequences would be unimaginable. The grounds for sustained repression of the Jews were now being laid.

Christianity’s Regime of Intolerance And Brutality in Early Antiquity

The Old Testament is essentially the history of the Jews, and without equivocation proclaimed Jews as the Chosen People of God. But the same Hebrew texts are indispensible to Christianity, thus acceptance of the primary thrust of the Old Testament would threaten the legitimacy of Christianity, a non-Jewish faith. The question to be resolved by the early Church was how to reconcile its non-Jewish status with the doctrine of the Chosen People. The theology developed by the Church as a solution to this unsettling issue was simple enough: Jesus was God’s revelation to the world, thus fulfilling the prophesies of the Old Testament, and marks the beginning of a new set of rules for God’s relationship with humanity. The death of Jesus of Nazareth was atonement for sins committed in the past, and now only through the Son of God, Christ, and his acceptance as the Messiah would one qualify for the Kingdom of God. Given that Jews have rejected the Messianic status of Jesus, they are hence unredeemed, and until such time as they see fit to accept Christ as the Saviour, they remain fallen from grace and out of God’s favor. Legitimate succession has now passed from Jews to Christians, and the Old Testament has been fulfilled in the New Testament, thus preserving its continuity. The Church thus staked its claim, and justified its existence.

But the Church was not done; the most powerful charge against the Jews was yet to be incorporated into its orthodoxy--- the charge of deicide. For more than two millennia the crucial issue that strained Jewish-Christian relations was the presumed collective role played by Jews in the crucifixion of Jesus. Early Church writers strongly believed that the Jews were responsible for this act, and should be held accountable. The ensuing vitriolic, and persecution were brutal and bloody, and culminated in the most unspeakable horror visited upon Jews both in medieval times and in recent history.

The charge of deicide undergirded antisemitic actions against Jews by early Christians, and continues to inspire modern day antisemitism. The Council of Nicaea’s 325 C.E. creedal proclamation of Jesus as the “Very God of Very God” and “One of substance with the Father” provided strong justification for early Christian belief that Jesus, being the Son of God, was an extension of Divinity. Killing him was akin to killing the Divine (Gager, 1983). The statement by Stephen in the Book of Acts did not help matters:

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers”(Acts 7:51-52, NRSV).

 The canonization of New Testament Scriptures at the urgings of the Councils of Laodicea in 363 C.E, Hippo in 393 C.E., and Carthage in 397 C.E. further exacerbated the inexorable deterioration of Jewish-Christian relations (Grosser, 1983). The individual Christian who played a significantly noticeable role in damaging Jewish-Christian relations, and the consequent attacks on Jews is John Chrysostom (ca. 345-407). While in Antioch, he produced a series of eight sermons directed against Jews or Judaizers. His first Homily read as follows:

“Do not be surprised if I call the Jews wretched. They are truly wretched and miserable for they have received many good things from God yet they have spurned them and violently cast them away – The Jews were branches of the holy root, but they were looped off” (Chrysostom, quoted in Littell, 1975).

The theological antisemitism inspired by the Church, in due course, became the inspiration for secular antisemitsm. Beginning in the fourth century, Church leaders began to put in place restrictive measures against Jews, for if conversion of Jews would take longer than desirable, they felt it wise to prevent Jews from ‘contaminating’ Christians. Some of the more draconian measures put in place precluded intermarriage, sexual intercourse, eating together, and all significant social contacts between Jews and Christians. The Third Synod of Orleans, in the sixth century, banned Jews from employing Christian servants, and prohibited their presence on the streets when Passion Week was being observed. The Talmud, the Jewish Holy Book, was ordered burned in the seventh century, and in about the same period the Synod of Clermont prohibited Jews from holding public offices (Rothman, 1982). These edicts from the early Church formed the basis of cultural traditions of discriminations against Jews, and ultimately provided sustenance for Nazi atrocities in the mid 20th century. The following edicts are illustrative:

We decree and order that from now on, and for all time, Christians shall not eat or drink with Jews, nor admit them to feasts, nor cohabit with them, nor bathe with them. Christians shall not allow Jews to hold civic honors over Christians, or to exercise public office in the state.”

                                                                     ----------- Pope Eugenius IV, Decree, 1442.

  1. Marriages between Jews and citizens of Germany or kindred stock shall be prohibited. Marriages concluded despite the law shall be considered void even when they were concluded abroad.
  2. Nonmarital sexual intercourse between Jews and citizens of Germany or kindred stock shall be prohibited.
  3. Jews shall not employ in their households female citizens of German or kindred stock under 45 years of age.

                                                      ------ German law enacted September  15, 1935.

Antisemitism has been, and would remain in the foreseeable future, the ‘elephant in the room’ in any serious discussion of Jewish-Christian relations; recent neo-Nazi activities in Europe and the United States of America furnish grounds for such pessimism. The source of Christian antisemitism may still be found, with relative facility, in the body of beliefs that inform Christianity, and its traditional orthodoxy.

The point of this historical narrative is to allay any presumption that religion inspired intolerance and violence is of recent origin. What the world is now witnessing is a different strain of particularism; this time it is extremist interpretation of Islamic theology in contradistinction to other faiths, and Western cultural and social sensibilities. The relevant question now is what inspired it and how will it end? The perception of unfair treatment by adherents may not be unreasonable.


Berhard, Olson E. Faith and Predujice. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962.

Beare, F.W. The Earliest Records of Jesus. New York: Abingdon Press, 1962.

Earkin, Frank. What Price Prejudice? Christian Antisemitism in America. New York: Paulist Press, 1998.

Gager, John. The Origins of Anti-Semitism: Attitudes toward Judaism in Pagan and Christian Antiquity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Glock, Charles Y., and Rodney Stark. Christian Beliefs and Anti-Semitism. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.

Grosser, Paul and Egwin Halperin. Anti-Semitism: Causes and Effects. New York: Philosophical Library, 1983.

Hilberg, Raul. The Destruction of the European Jews. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1961.

Hoffer, Eric. The True Believers. New York: Mentor Books, 1951.

Ifediora, John O., “The Blood Libel Legend: Its Longevity and Popularity.” Position Paper, University of Cambridge Program on JCR (2013), pp. 1-14.

Langmuir, Galvin. Toward a Definition of Antisemitism. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990.

Lieu, Judith. “The parting of the Ways: Theological Construct or Historical Reality?” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 56, (1994): 101-119.

Littell, Franklin H. The Crucifixion of the Jews: The Failure of Christians to Understand the Jewish Experience. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975.

Mailer, Norman. The Presidential Papers. New York: Putnam, 1963.

Prager, Dennis and Joseph Telushkin. Why The Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.

Rothman, Stanley, and Robert Lichter. Roots of Radicalism: Jews, Christians, and the New Left. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Ruether, Rosemary. Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism. New York: The Seabury Press, 1974.


**Photo credit: AFP/Getty images.

The Nasty Habit of Poaching Wildlife in Africa

Every day, thousands of rangers patrol national parks and other protected areas in Africa. Their job is fraught with danger, both from hostile humans armed with automatic weapons and from the unappreciative and potentially aggressive wildlife, armed with tusks, teeth and claws, which they are helping to preserve. But their work is important, not least because the data they collect are crucial to conservation planning. 

That is particularly true of data on poaching, which remains, in both senses of the word, an elephantine problem. Since 2006 African elephant populations have declined by around 30%. In 2021, according to Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (mike), a conservation programme, around 40% of elephant deaths were a result of poaching.

The severity of elephant poaching varies from place to place. The mikedata show a welcome fall in rates throughout the 2010s, but according to research published in 2020 by Scott Schlossberg of Elephants Without Borders, a charity, this can be attributed entirely to a decline in eastern Africa. 

Elsewhere, there is great variation in the pressure on pachyderms. Some parks, like Garamba in the Democratic Republic of Congo (drc), are badly hit—with more than 90% of the carcasses found by rangers being victims of poachers. In others, like Chobe, in Botswana, less than 10% of dead elephants discovered have been killed illegally. 

To untangle the factors influencing poaching, Timothy Kuiper of the University of Cape Town, Eleanor Milner-Gulland at Oxford, and a team of collaborators have analysed data collected for mike by rangers from 64 sites in 30 African countries over the course of 19 years. They correlated these with potentially relevant factors, both natural and human, and have published their findings in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. 

Natural variables such as habitat type, they discovered, make little difference. Human ones predominate. Unsurprisingly, but nevertheless pertinently, low household wealth, poor health, poor law enforcement and poor national governance all contributed to higher rates of poaching. So did the price of ivory. 

There was one unexpected result, though—the impact of armed conflict. For there did not seem to be much. What impact there was, was a consequence of a few special cases in drc, the Central African Republic and Ethiopia, rather than a general rule about young men with guns behaving badly. 

One factor that was unquantifiable, and therefore untestable, according to Dr Kuiper, was local political will to preserve wildlife. But this study does nevertheless confirm observations made elsewhere, that the best form of conservation is a prosperous population.

*Courtesy of The Economist, January 12, 2023

**Photo credit: Freeland

Kleptocracy continues to define governance in Africa; the case of Ramaphosa

IN NOVEMBER 2022, Cyril Ramaphosa was on a state visit to Britain, beaming under the chandeliers of Buckingham Palace. South Africa’s president was in a buoyant mood. He was being wooed abroad. At home he was the clear favourite to retain the presidency of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the party’s national conference beginning on December 16th—and thus, in all probability, leadership of the country for the rest of the decade.

Mr Ramaphosa’s political fate now hangs in the balance. On November 30th an independent panel appointed by the speaker of South Africa’s parliament said that mps could begin impeachment proceedings against the president (pictured). Its report, authored by a retired chief justice, found “prima facie” evidence that the president broke the law and violated the constitution, in an odd saga involving a score of buffalo, a Sudanese businessman and hundreds of thousands of dollars stolen (by unknown thieves) from a sofa.

The verdict has shocked South African politics and is deeply serious for the man who pledged to clean up South Africa after the horrendous corruption under his predecessor, Jacob Zuma. If the findings lead to the president’s ouster, it will throw the country into yet another political crisis.

Mr Ramaphosa’s troubles began six months ago. On June 1st Arthur Fraser, a former spook, submitted evidence to the police that he claimedshowed the president had broken various anti-corruption laws concerning the concealment and subsequent theft of large amounts of us dollars at Mr Ramaphosa’s game farm in the province of Limpopo. Opposition mps seized on the claims and successfully asked the speaker to refer the matter to the independent panel—the potential prelude to impeachment.

Mr Ramaphosa denies wrongdoing. His version of the story is that the cash taken from the sofa ($580,000, he says) came from the sale of 20 “substandard” buffaloes to a Sudanese businessman on Christmas Day in 2019. The money went in the sofa, he says, because it was thought to be safer than the farm’s safe. After learning of the theft a few weeks later, he reported the matter to his protection team, which is a branch of the police. The president also argues that, while he is the ultimate owner of the game farm, he is not involved in day-to-day operations, and therefore not in breach of constitutional rules regarding conflicts of interest.

The independent panel conceded that Mr Fraser’s allegations contained “hearsay”. Yet, after conducting its own preliminary inquiries, it concluded that there is sufficient evidence for mps to investigate the case further via impeachment proceedings. Its report suggested that by seemingly combining the job of president with that of a game farmer, Mr Ramaphosa has violated the constitutional ban on cabinet ministers undertaking “paid work”. The panel found that Mr Ramaphosa should have reported the matter to the relevant police department, not just his security team. They argue that Mr Ramaphosa may have also abused his power by seeking the help of Namibia’s president in apprehending suspects who had fled South Africa. The panel concludes that there is “substantial doubt” about the source and amount of money stolen.

In a statement after the report was published Mr Ramaphosa again professed his innocence. Its findings, he said, represented “an unprecedented and extraordinary moment for South Africa’s constitutional democracy”. Indeed it is: no South African president has been impeached before.

What happens next will take place in two related arenas. The first is the National Assembly. mps are due to discuss the panel’s findings on December 6th and will decide on whether to go ahead with hearings. Mr Ramaphosa may launch a legal challenge against the panel, a hitherto untested constitutional mechanism.

The second arena is the anc itself. Under party rules championed by the president, officials are expected to “step aside” if facing criminal charges. Mr Ramaphosa has not been charged (though there is a separate police investigation), so may claim the standard does not apply in this case. Yet many in the party may use this opportunity to renew efforts to oust him at the conference this month, potentially replacing him with someone less keen on reform—or tackling corruption.

The South African rand fell against the dollar as markets weighed up the potential for months of instability ahead. If Mr Ramaphosa does end up going, it would be a grim end for the man who came to power offering “a new dawn” for South Africa. The president promised to restore due process after the kleptocratic chaos of the Zuma years and to protect the constitution he helped shape in the 1990s. It would be a sad irony if the man who vowed to restore the rule of law was ousted for breaking it.

*Courtesy of The Economist, December 12, 2022.

**Photo credit: AP

Nigerians in the Diaspora as Economic Refugees; the same fate awaits those seeking to emulate them.

John O. Ifediora ** @ifediora_john

Early Diasporan experience            

There is something about one’s country of origin that keeps tugging at the heart. The memories and experiences that defined one’s early existence are difficult to jettison even as the terminal stages of longevity approaches with horrifying speed. Nigerians living abroad are not immune to this uniquely primordial instinct, and it may be the case that this instinct is particularly more pronounced amongst Nigerians. This sentiment is not misplaced because observational evidence abounds to adduce positive testimony as readily seen from yearly migration of Nigerians to their land of birth in the months of November and December.

These returnees, albeit for only weeks at a time, are not tourists for nobody with functional faculties go to Nigeria for tourism ….the roads are death traps, there is no regular supply of in-door running water, the noise and air pollution from diesel generators are unhealthy but necessary to power electrical appliances (Nigerians go for weeks without electricity from the national grid), medical facilities are either non-existent or too primitive to be salutary to good health. But these abnormalities aside, Nigerians still go home to visit their loved ones and reconnect to the cultural sensibilities that gave sustenance to their formative years and continue to guide their sense of being. The millions of dollars in yearly remittances to relatives furnish further evidence of the grip and strength of this unrelenting primordial instinct to remain connected but not to stay in their land of birth. This tortured relationship between Nigerians in the diaspora and the country they call home is of recent origin. A reasoned narrative will afford a rationale.

Prior to Nigeria’s independence in 1960 from Britain, and extending to the late 1970s, brilliant Nigerians to whom providence lent a benevolent hand through government sponsorships went to the best universities in the United States and the United Kingdom to acquire superior education in disciplines essential to the development of Nigeria. Many took advantage of this opportunity, and many returned home to augment available human capital that spurred the growth of the middle class or senior civil servants in local parlance. This process accounted for the sustained  growth of Nigeria’s middle class that is indispensable to  economic development; the growth of the middle class in all major economies affords both tangible and ephemeral evidence to its catalytic properties. Nigerians, then, did what was expected of them; they returned home, found a welcoming environment in which to ply their acquired skills, and were handsomely remunerated. Many went on to elevate the productivity of institutions of higher learning in the country, but most deployed their talents in the public sector as junior and senior civil servants and managed the affairs of the governed. Social and economic development in Nigeria took off on a trajectory that infused enthusiasm and rightfully imbued in Nigerians a sense of pride and unmistakable desire to return home to be part of the Nigerian experiment. That was then.

Marooned abroad

Beginning in the late 1970s, the unthinkable happened. Educated Nigerians abroad who were accustomed to being recruited directly from Nigeria saw this effort wane, and in quick succession stopped. Graduate students abroad who were on government scholarships received letters in unequivocal instructions that funding for their education was no longer accessible; they were, as it were, marooned in the high seas that separated them from their home country and the foreign countries where they sought advanced human capital not available in their native country. Those who could continued their education, albeit sporadically, through generous support from their sympathetic host institutions, most returned to Nigeria without completing their studies, others simply stayed and labored away as taxi drivers, and manual laborers.

From the 1980s onwards, this trend perpetuated itself and defined the experiences of Nigerians going abroad to study; they acquired advanced degrees in various disciplines but found themselves stranded abroad because Nigeria was no longer receptive to what they had to offer to the country’s development needs, and their host countries were not particularly happy to have them compete with their citizens for a finite supply of job opportunities. Very few found job security in academic institutions abroad and excelled, much fewer legitimately acquired foreign citizenships and found employment in public and private sectors at compromised compensations hardly reflective of their skill sets, but most of them worked slavishly in menial jobs such as caregivers, factory workers, and taxi drivers. Those unwilling to exert themselves found refuge in criminal activities that have earned all Nigerians abroad a sordid reputation they cannot shed. This is the current reality for many Nigerians in the diaspora.

But to what do we productively ascribe this reversal of fortunes for Nigerians who, with good intentions, traveled abroad to acquire superior education and hoped to return home to accelerate development efforts in Nigeria? The answers may have complex tentacles, but the impact of their combined effect is not hidden or difficult to discern even by the most casual and disinterested observer. A good starting point must be from the birth of the nation at independence.

Nigeria as an extractive colony

When the British ran the affairs of Nigerians before they grudgingly gave up administrative and muscular control of the country at independence, Britain saw Nigeria as an extractive colony from whence inputs and financial resources vital to the British economy were flagrantly lifted. This is the nature of extractive colonization, and Britain practiced it to perfection by sending bright Nigerians to their best institutions of higher learning (Oxford, Cambridge) to first acquire relevant education in the art of public administration, and then returned to Nigeria as trained natives adept at extractive managerial practices and creative accounting. The compensation and the privileges that came with such elevated status helped create Nigeria’s middle class, and since Nigeria was still under civil and military subjugation, Nigerian civil servants had no reason to object to the deployment of their acquired talents to advance the interests of the British; they were the lucky few. The returnees with conscientious and nationalistic impulses were numerically insignificant to make a difference to the end result of their collective professional effort. The exodus of resources from Nigeria to Britain was not unidirectional; the British re-invested some of the extracted resources in administrative institutions and transportation infrastructures conducive to the principal objective.

The birth of bureaucratic corruption and graft in Nigeria

At independence Nigerians who had ran the affairs of Nigeria as subordinates to their British taskmasters inherited a well-oiled governance mechanism that siphoned over 60% of realized domestic revenue to Britain annually. Independence only made a stylized difference in kind and beneficiaries but not in substance; Nigerian civil servants, now fully in charge of the affairs of the country, continued the practice of extraction but this time the extracted wealth went to their private bank accounts in Britain, Nigeria, and elsewhere. Nigerian civil servants continued to regard revenues going into government coffers as legitimate targets of extraction in accord with their professional training and practice and failed to realize they were in point of practical reality stealing from themselves and destroying the nation’s important foundations for growth. They essentially stole the economic welfare of all Nigerians for decades to come. Their successors simply followed the established path of debauchery to an economically unsustainable state that defines Nigeria’s current reality. This is the genesis of bureaucratic corruption in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s tropical gangsters

Beginning in the mid 1980s and continuing to the present day, Nigerian civil servants, specifically heads of states, state governors, heads of ministries and federal parastatals deliberately mismanaged and misallocated the country’s financial resources. Through graft and outright theft, billions of dollars were moved from the country to foreign bank accounts operated either directly by Nigerian officials or by their surrogates. The exact figures are almost impossible to ascertain but empty government coffers where the funds were lifted adduce convincing evidence of the crime scene, and approximations of what was taken. The unfortunate irony is that the stolen funds not only deprive Nigerians of essential development infrastructure, but they end up in economies that do not need them to sustain their economies’ development trajectory (The US, UK, South Africa, and UAE do not need stolen funds from Nigeria to develop their respective economies). But these are the popular destinations of Nigeria’s lost billions. A few exemplars of the rotten acts Nigerian officials habitually engage to depopulate their country’s official revenue accounts will either horrify or amaze an accomplished criminal.

In less than six months in 2022, the following was reported by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, an incoming state governor, and the press:

The newly elected Executive Governor of Osun State, Ademola Adeleke, delivered a speech at a meeting of Osun State Traditional Rulers on December 15th, 2022 at Osogbo, the Osun State Capital. In his speech he declared that the out-going governor of the state, Mr. Oyetola, used the state’s resources to secure over N331 billion in loans, most of which he obtained from various banks after he lost his re-election to remain in office. When he left office the state government’s coffers were left bare, and no information on how the loans were spent or the repayment schedule was made available to the in-coming governor (Adeleke, 2022).

Other charged variety of graft that occurred in Nigeria in 2022 (as reported by the EFCC, the Punch, the Daily Post, and ICIR, Nigeria):

  1. On May 16, 2022 the Accountant General of Nigeria, Ahmed Idris, was arrested by the EFCC  for misappropriating N80 billion through bogus consultancies and other illegal activities using proxies, family members and close associates.

Screenshot of EFCC statement on the arrest of Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, on an N80 billion fraud charge.

  1. A former governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano, was arrested on his way out of the country in March 2022 for allegedly diverting Anambra State funds to personal use.
  2. A former governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari,was also arrested in May 2022 for allegedly benefiting to the tune of N22bn from the N80bn sum the AGF was accused of diverting.
  3. On the list of high-profile arrests made by the EFCC is the Accountant General of Oyo State, Gafar Bello. The EFCC picked Bello up in March 2022 over a N9bn money laundering scheme.
  4. An APC (the current ruling political party) chieftain, Bolarinwa Oluwasegun, was also arrested by the EFCC in May, 2022 for allegedly faking the identity of an Army general to defraud unsuspecting citizens to the tune of $270 million.
  5. Lastly, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Patricia Etteh, was arrested on May 17, 2022 by the EFCC for alleged fraudulent handling of N130m solar street light project in Akwa Ibom State.

Past atrocities of fraud and money laundering by Nigerian officials are too numerous and numbing to detain us here, exemplars include a former Minister of petroleum, Diezani-Madueke, who forfeited $153 million in financial instruments and $80 million worth of real estate to the EFCC, and over $4 billion recovered by the Nigerian government in foreign banks operated by the late dictator, Sani Abacha (The Telegraph, 2019). Between the mid 1980s to 1999 alone, Nigeria lost over $100 billion through money laundering in foreign banks (Bakre, 2020).

It is within this context that one must begin to unravel the complexities of modern Nigeria…a basket-case of an economy, the multitudes that seek to leave the country for security and economic reasons, and those in the diaspora who only return home permanently as corpses for burial. The Nigerian landscape is now dotted with white or brownish sepulchers that house the remains of its citizen-returnees who are now completely useless, not even as fertilizers, to the development of their country.

The loss of Diasporan financial assets sent home to re-energize the economy

Beginning in the 1960s to the late 1970s, Nigerians who left for studies abroad were habituated to a mind-set of eventual return to their native country. This admirable disposition was an acquired trait cultivated in their formative years in Nigeria by observing the behavior of those who went before them and returned to assume responsible positions in the country. To prepare and sustain their productivity at home upon return, most took reasonable steps to build modest homes in their native states or in any of the commercial centers of the country. Few succeeded in this endeavor, but the vast majority of them lost all their hard-earned savings to mismanagement and fraud perpetrated by familial relations or trusted friends.

The heaviest losses involved funds saved or borrowed to establish professional or business establishments in the country. The losses could have been minimized but for the inescapable impulse to seek presumably safer avenues to achieve the same objective, but invariably the new effort yields no different outcome. Out of funds and in debt, they ultimately abandon investment schemes in Nigeria. Once again, the Nigerian “diasporan” is victimized by inhabitants of a country recently habituated to pious fraud, greed, and unsustainable emulative consumption habits. The direct and associated impact on the Nigerian economy by the near cessation of diasporan investment is incalculable but provides one of the explanatory variables that yield reasons for Nigeria’s inability to attract direct foreign investment in magnitudes reflective of its natural endowments and sub-continental importance.

A real sense of animated geo-physical suspension

In both subliminal and corporal sensibilities, the Nigerian diaspora is trapped in an undercurrent that deprives it a sense of belonging. To what nation should allegiance be paid? Most in this community cannot return to their land of birth to stay because the country has been rendered unlivable by a confluence of bad possibilities, and neither can they call their adopted countries their homeland since the true natives do not regard them as such (their status of naturalized citizens notwithstanding). The Nigerian diasporan is essentially a nation-less socio-economic refugee. He partakes in the cultural and democratic processes of his adopted country but the process is mechanical and the experience affords him no real sense of value, importance or meaning. His entire being is still held captive by his land of birth that is both inaccessible and unreceptive to what he has to offer. This is the tragedy of the Nigerian diaspora.

But all is not lost…

Nigeria is currently a failed state largely because Nigerians at home and abroad neglected their civic duties. As is true with anything of value and worthwhile, time, resources, and careful guidance must be deployed to nurture and protect. By failing to pay close attention to what their putative leaders were doing with the affairs of the country and holding them accountable for mismanagement and outright theft of the nation’s resources, the current state of affairs in the country was all too predictable. The deliberate looting of vital resources could have been arrested early on if commensurate criminal and civil sanctions were judiciously exercised by reasonably functional social institutions. A course correction is still possible but only if Nigeria can be sustained as a unitary geo-political entity and its citizens willing to claim it as their own.

A first-step corrective measure is for Nigerians at home and abroad to seek out, and document all financial transactions and real estate acquisitions by all public office holders while in office and out of office, and report such findings to the EFCC in Nigeria, the US Department of Justice (for assets in the US), the financial crimes division of London Metropolitan Police (for assets in the UK), and other similarly established institutions abroad with investigative and prosecutorial powers. All Nigerian office holders are forbidden from operating foreign bank accounts, but this injunction has not had the expected deterrent effect because the average Nigerian mistakenly believes that all office holders are “entitled” to be rich by virtue of being a public servant. Nigerians must now treat all office holders as civil servants put in place to serve the needs of the electorate. They serve at the pleasure of the country’s citizenry, thus as public employees they cannot and should not have private access to public resources. The mantra of “See something, say something” is an effective “antibody” to bureaucratic corruption that has rubbed all Nigerians of their birthrights.

*Photo credit: Premium Times.

**John O. Ifediora is Professor of economics emeritus, University of Wisconsin System, and President of the Council on African Security and Development.

Ghana Secures a Bailout from the IMF, Again.

Ken ofori-atta, Ghana’s finance minister, is fond of invoking scripture in speeches on the economy. Recently, as the country defaulted on its domestic debt, he found solace in the first book of Samuel saying “nothing will be lost, nothing will be missing.” Yet the Bible is a poor guide to macroeconomics. Holders of domestic bonds stand to lose a good chunk of money. Now foreign creditors are getting a buzz cut, too. On December 19th Ghana suspended interest payments to foreign creditors, in effect defaulting, pending talks.

It has also appealed to the high priests of economic orthodoxy, agreeing to a preliminary $3bn bail-out (about 4% of GDP) from the IMF. It needs the help. Public debt is above 100% of gdp and local and foreign interest payments eat up 70-100% of revenue, according to Mr Ofori-Atta. Inflation is running at 50% and the central bank has raised its main interest rate to 27%. In past crises Ghana has wisely called in the IMF early to head off trouble and avoid spending cuts that were too painful. This time, however, it dallied for so long that austerity alone will not save it.

The government blames covid-19 and surging global inflation for its pickle. Yet its troubles can also be traced to overspending, excessive borrowing and overconfidence. This is hardly new. Ghana’s governments tend to blow their budgets to win votes in election years. But recent splurges were funded largely by foreign-currency bonds, making Ghana especially vulnerable to swings in exchange rates.

Nonetheless Mr Ofori-Atta was far from contrite as he announced the deal with the IMF “Let us all gather the harvest with joy,” he proclaimed. He even thanked his disgraced deputy, Charles Adu Boahen, who was sacked by President Nana Akufo-Addo last month after being accused of asking for a $200,000 fee to set up a meeting with the vice-president. The triumphalism will rile long-suffering Ghanaians. Many think Mr Ofori-Atta, a cousin of the president, should himself have been fired for poor management of the economy.

The fund’s deal will bring pain. But it also offers hope. It aims to slash debt to 55% of gdp in the medium term, perhaps by 2028, and the costs of servicing foreign-currency debts to 18% of government revenue. Next year’s budget includes spending cuts worth 2% of gdp. (A vast national cathedral that Mr Ofori-Atta lavished $58m of public money on will remain a stalled building site.) Social programmes will be protected, says the fund, though some worry Mr Ofori-Atta’s promise to review them for efficiencies may be a pretext for more cuts. The agreement is already boosting confidence in Ghana’s economy. The currency, the cedi, had slumped all year but has leapt since the bail-out was announced.

The government is trying to make progress on a debt restructuring, a condition of the deal. In early December Mr Ofori-Atta said the holders of domestic bonds worth 137bn cedis ($15.2bn) should swap these for ones paying a lower rate of interest and that will be repaid over a longer period. The exchange, which was meant to be completed by December 19th, would represent a loss of about 50% of the value of the bonds, reckons J.P. Morgan, a bank.

This would create a new set of problems. Ghana’s banks are heavily exposed to government debt. For some it represents more than half of total assets. A huge hit to the banking system could cause lending to plunge, which would in turn hurt the wider economy. The biggest danger will be next year, when the government’s replacement bonds will pay no interest at all, warns Ernest Addison, the governor of the Central Bank of Ghana. “Straight away there are issues of liquidity,” he says.

Ghanaians are already pulling money out of mutual funds, says Frederick Duvor of Apakan Securities, a brokerage firm in Ghana. “People want to salvage what’s left of their investments.” Pension schemes will be hit, too. By the time many pensions are paid out, “it will be worth close to nothing,” he worries. Banks, pension funds and insurers have all demanded better terms. Last week the government blinked and extended the deadline to the end of the year. It may also tweak the scheme.

Nervous policymakers are trying to prop up the banks. The central bank will loosen liquidity and capital-adequacy requirements. The government promises that a donor-backed fund worth 15bn cedis will help ensure financial stability. Mr Addison says the World Bank has committed $250m to it. All this should help. Yet when asked if he is therefore not too worried, Mr Addison simply says, “It is early.”

Garnering debt

Investors holding $13bn of Ghana’s foreign-currency bonds will not get off lightly, either. The government has previously floated talk of a 30% cut to the face value of the debt it will repay and suspension of some interest payments. This, too, may result in a fight, though some bondholders say they expect a relatively quick deal.

There are plenty of longer-term obstacles to Ghana’s recovery. Badly hit banks will not lend much for as long as it takes them to rebuild their balance-sheets. Interest rates will remain eye-watering for some time. Government spending will be austere for years. And the weak global economy will be a drag on growth, too.

Yet Ghana has been here before—16 times in fact. All those crises and bail-outs have not stopped it from becoming the richest country in continental west Africa as measured by income per head. It has a relatively educated workforce and widely available (if pricey) electricity. Some of its loose spending went on much-needed infrastructure. “We could actually get quite nice growth within two or three years,” reckons Charles Robertson of Renaissance Capital, an investment bank, “led by cheap currency and a low debt overhang.”

Ghana has one other formidable advantage: a surprisingly resilient reputation with donors and foreign investors based on its robust democracy, record of development and its leaders’ knack for selling a good-news story about the country. That Ghana managed to clinch a deal with the imf in less than six months suggests its reputation as a country worth backing remains miraculously intact. Other donors are likely to follow suit.

The recent surge in the cedi suggests some investors are already believers again. If the global economic picture improves, more may be tempted back. That would give Ghana a leg-up. But before it is able to emerge into this promised land of growth, its people face a painful journey. For this they blame the government, despite its repeated appeals to a higher authority.

*Courtesy of The Economist, Dec. 20, 2022. **Photo credit: Getty Images.


JP Morgan Chase wins £1.4 billon court battle against Nigeria

John Ifediora.

Editorial Commentary.

The fight against corruption is always a difficult one, especially when conducted against individuals and corporations with substantial resources to protect their interests. But the fight must go on; defeats and setbacks are inevitable as long as the effort remains steadfast, unwavering, and sustained by governments who adhere to rules of law and good governance. The recent setback to Nigeria's anti-corruption battle against JP Morgan Chase should serve as a clear reminder that governments in Africa and their justice minsters must come prepared and ready when taking on adversaries with deep financial resources to fend-off legitimate efforts to protect vital domestic economic interests. Louis Gross, a reporter with CITYA.M, covered the court proceedings in Nigeria v. JP Morgan Chase.

                                      JP Morgan wins £1.4bn court battle against Nigeria

By Louis Goss*

A High Court judge today ruled in favour of JP Morgan, after dismissing Nigeria’s $1.7bn (£1.4bn) lawsuit against the bank, over claims it acted negligently by transferring $875m to convicted an account linked to money launderer and former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete.

The ruling comes after Nigeria first sued JP Morgan in 2017, over claims the bank breached its duties by transferring millions to a company controlled by the former oil minister, during a long running dispute over the ownership of Nigeria’s OPL245 oilfield. The lawsuit alleged that JP Morgan had been “grossly negligent” in sending $875m to an account controlled by Etete’s own company, Malabu Oil and Gas, despite “red flags” around the transaction.

Specifically, Nigeria had claimed JP Morgan had breached its Quincecare duties, which require the bank to ignore customers instructions, if those instructions are likely to result in fraud. The country had also claimed it had been a victim of fraud, as it alleged the funds were later siphoned off to Etete’s “cronies,” after they were paid into Malabu’s accounts via three separate transactions between 2011 and 2013.

However, High Court judge Mrs Justice Sara Cockerill today dismissed Nigeria’s claim, as she ruled the country had failed to prove a fraud had actually taken place. The payments came after European oil majors Eni and Shell struck a deal to buy the OPL245 offshore oilfield in 2011. Last year, a Milan court cleared both firms and their senior executives of any wrongdoing through their involvement in the sale of the Nigerian resource.

A JP Morgan spokesperson said: “This judgment reflects our commitment to acting with high professional standards in every country we operate in, and how we are prepared to robustly defend our actions and reputation when they are called into question.”

The Federal Republic of Nigeria said it is “naturally disappointed” by the judgement, as the country said it will be “reviewing it carefully before considering next steps,” according to the Financial Times. “The FRN will continue its fight against fraud and corruption and work to recover funds for the people of Nigeria.”

Helen Taylor, a legal researcher at Spotlight on Corruption, said the verdict comes as a “huge setback in the fight against corruption” as she argued the ruling will give “a free pass to banks who choose to ignore financial crime.”


  • Louis Goss, reporter for CITYA.M. Publication is courtesy of CITYA.M. Photo credit: Getty Images.




Corruption blights the developing world but the US and Europe are accomplices

Kenneth Mohammed.*

State capture is growing on every continent but only because the west helps to launder and hide money stolen by kleptocrats

Last week, John Penrose, Boris Johnson’s anti-corruption tsar, resigned in protest at his leader’s apparent breach of the ministerial code during Partygate. In January, Lord Agnew resigned as a Treasury minister, angered at the government’s negligence in allowing fraud to occur in its Covid contracts and loans. Both were standing up against corruption through bad governance and poor leadership.

Last month, as part of the launch of its excellent publication Understanding Corruption, the University of Sussex’s Centre for the Study of Corruption held an event entitled Breaking Free from State Capture, featuring a keynote address by Mo Ibrahim. The Sudanese-British telecoms billionaire is a passionate advocate and campaigner for good governance and better leadership through his foundation, charged with making a difference in Africa, where state capture and crony capitalism have enfeebled the continent for decades.

Corruption, defined as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain, is a complex and nuanced subject. Its consequences are deeply significant. It is a barrier to equitable and sustainable development, and it diverts resources from the poorest to the rich and the restlessly ambitious, creating inequity, exclusion and inequality. It deters foreign investment and distorts public expenditures. It is pervasive, deleterious and often likened to water, as it is seen as unstoppable, difficult to contain and always finds a way around barriers. It permeates our political and legal institutions and trickles down to the bedrock of our society, manifesting in fraud, bribery, extortion, embezzlement, cronyism and nepotism.

The word “corruption” can evoke images of past world leaders such as Mohammed Suharto, Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko, Slobodan Milosevic, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Alberto Fujimori or Arnoldo Alemán. More recently it can conjure up images of Nicolás Maduro, Isabel dos Santos, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un. Clearly, corruption does not have a colour, gender or race. It has a credo though: power, greed and a total absence of integrity and accountability.

One could easily also come to the conclusion that corruption only occurs in developing countries. An understanding of the mechanics of illicit financial flows will change that opinion. Corruption facilitates the business of criminality that enriches actors through drug and human trafficking, money-laundering and financing terrorism. This financial network, enabled by lawyers, accountants, estate agents and others, stretches through the Americas and the Caribbean, eventually terminating in the US, EU, UK and its territories. These financial structures allow kleptocrats to easily hide the proceeds of their corruption.

State capture is a form of grand corruption and refers to systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence formation of a state’s policies and laws to their own advantage. These captors, through their personal connections to the political elite, gain a long-term economic stranglehold, not just by changing the rules but by the compounding over time of their interests, power and wealth. Over the last few decades, state capture has manifested in countries including Bulgaria, Hungary, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Angola, South Africa, Turkey and Malaysia. That is evidence that corruption does not just occur on any one continent.

Capture can take place when a small group has unfathomable influence over policy formation. Consider the National Rifle Association in the US where, even in the face of school shootings, they continue to block policy on gun ownership. Capture can also be a group of politicians in the same party, educated at the same university, stamping their elitist ideology on a country, closing ranks when there are allegations of corruption.

Ibrahim criticised the mismanagement of both natural and human resources, noting that more than 600 million African people were without electricity, which affects their quality of life, business and education. He asked and answered the question that has always been a conundrum: why is Africa so poor while it possesses so many natural resources?

He laid the blame squarely on corruption – aided by bad governance and poor leadership but more so by illicit financial flows entrenched in the US and Europe. He quoted the UN’s estimate that this amounts to more than $89bn (£75bn) a year – roughly 3.7% of Africa’s GDP – as money-laundering in the US and Europe enables the proliferation of corruption, supporting criminals and dictators. He also outlined how corporate practices need to be addressed through better governance. He singled out big corporations such as Starbucks, Apple and Google, which have all had tax avoidance schemes investigated. He omitted Meta, Microsoft and Amazon.He lamented the dire need for registers of beneficial ownership of companies, previously shrouded in secrecy but now suddenly under scrutiny in tracing and freezing assets of Russians. He omitted laws to promote transparency of party financing and lobbying, as called for by Penrose.

Ibrahim ended with a declaration that corruption needed to be confronted in Westminster and Washington before it could ever be dealt with effectively in Africa. The world needs more people like Mo Ibrahim.

*Written by Kenneth Mohammed. Publication is courtesy of The Guardian. Photo by Hollie Adam/AFT/Getty.


The US making anti-corruption a priority in its foreign policy

*Courtesy of Independent.

President Joe Biden issued a memo Thursday instructing the federal government to elevate anti-corruption measures as a central U.S. foreign policy and national security issue.

A report expected in about six months from an interagency review will recommend ways to strengthen corruption-fighting efforts.

Biden's memo directs agencies to identify how they can improve intelligence-gathering and combat illicit financial activities. It reaffirms Washington s commitment to sanction or pursue legal action against those involved in corruption, instructs agencies to work with international organizations to tackle the problem and emphasizes enforcement measures in foreign assistance programs.

The memo is aimed at delivering on a campaign promise. In a Foreign Policy essay written during the 2020 campaign, Biden pledged to “lead efforts internationally to bring transparency to the global financial system, go after illicit tax havens, seize stolen assets, and make it more difficult for leaders who steal from their people to hide behind anonymous front companies.”

On Wednesday, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against a number of Bulgarian officials and businessmen and their related entities, in what was said to be the department's single biggest action targeting corruption to date.

During Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Central America this week, corruption in the region was a major focus of his private conversations with foreign leaders. During her trip to the region next week, Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to raise the issue when she meets with the presidents of Guatemala and Mexico.



African Kleptocrats watch with unease as sanctions bite their Russian counterparts

The systematic looting of African economies by Africans is not news. While it remains the primary source of the continent’s perennial economic woes and has caused millions of premature deaths, the West’s sanctions against Russian kleptocrats have renewed interest on how to effectively return stolen assets to African countries. The United Kingdom and the United States have been very helpful in this effort in recent years but more needs to be done through asset forfeiture programs and prosecution to discourage Africans from despoiling their respective economies.

The article by Thorsten Benner and Ricardo Soares de Oliveira highlights and recounts  this scourge on developing economies and their potential to destabilize recipient economies.


*Kleptocracy isn’t just a Russian problem.

Benner, Thorsten and de Oliveira, Soares

Amid the revulsion caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the West’s belated retaliation against Kremlin-linked oligarchs stands out. Their power and influence, especially in London, have been carefully documented over the years by journalists such as Catherine Belton and Oliver Bullough braving tough libel laws.

With the help of numerous professional facilitators in London and a string of UK-controlled tax havens, oligarchs laundered the capital they accrued after “looting with Putin” and built strong links to the British upper crust. They emerged as respectable supporters of sports clubs, museums, universities, think tanks and political parties, co-opting large segments of the London elite in the process. In this manner, they maximised the global influence of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and helped convince him of the West’s cupidity and decadent character. Those who pointed out the resulting dangers were often dismissed as radical or unhinged, and their warnings went unheeded until much too late.

For now, the UK is taking a noticeably more piecemeal approach to sanctions on oligarchs than the European Union. But even if it finally dismantles Russian interests in London, a purely Russia-focused approach risks leaving the modus operandi of so-called Londongrad intact, not just in London but across Western financial capitals.

This is because there is nothing particularly Russian about it. It is in fact a worldwide reality, linking all Western capitals and financial centres to developing world autocracies and resource-rich states. If we retaliate only against Russian oligarchs, there is a clear danger that their professional enablers will be canvassing for business elsewhere.

Africa’s many offshore links are instructive here. The African super rich also resort to metropolitan lawyers, co-opted politicians, bankers, accountants, company incorporation executives, management consultants, lobbyists, estate agents and public relations experts for help in managing their interests. UK lawyers have facilitated the acquisition of London property for elite Nigerians. One of the UK’s most high-profile PR agencies, Bell Pottinger, went into administration after it was found to have pushed disinformation on behalf of clients such as the Gupta family of South Africa, allies of the former president, Jacob Zuma.

McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group and PWC established close relationships with both the Angolan state and the private interests of the billionaire Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the country’s former president. Credit Suisse was fined £147m for serious failings in the bank’s due diligence for financial crime over loans to Mozambique which the UK’s financial services regulator found to be tainted with corruption – one of Africa’s most brazen scandals. Lisbon’s banks and law firms have long laundered Angolan money and conferred legitimacy upon Angola’s elite. Paris’s PR and media-for-hire are at the service of the Nguesso and Bongo ruling families in the Republic of Congo and Gabon respectively. Such efforts do not simply advance the global fortunes of oligarchs and their families. They establish strong networks of support for, and therefore fortify, authoritarian regimes back home.

These and many other revelations by the likes of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project draw a picture of African oligarchic connections with the West that are as troubling as those with Russia. Nor is the servicing of African kleptocrats simply a London problem. Some connections – Abidjan with Paris, Luanda with Lisbon – have strong roots, but the geography of service provision to kleptocrats is now massively globalised and diversified. It happens across every major Western financial centre, and has become an important business segment for non-Western financial centres such as Dubai, Hong Kong, Mauritius and Singapore.

As with Russian oligarchs, facilitators first launder stolen monies. They then launder questionable reputations and render African kleptocrats respectable as they and their families stream to the West for education, health, leisure, asset protection and conspicuous consumption, all to the detriment of the vast majority of Africans.

Without these facilitators, who are not rogue operators but rather the most prestigious service providers in every domain, the massive theft of African resources would be impossible to get away with. This clearly shows corruption as a transnational and collaborative phenomenon rather than the internal problem of poor countries it is often presented as.

What can be done? We need to use the current, perhaps short-lived, transatlantic consensus to achieve real systemic reform in the EU, North America and the UK, including in its overseas territories. This means targeting professional facilitators by circumscribing their practices and imposing costs for those who continue to play that role, as well as criminalising grey areas that have been amply exploited by corruption enablers. The recommendations in a recent report from the Chatham House think tank on the UK’s kleptocracy problem provide a roadmap for structural reform.

Some services provided to corrupt elites from authoritarian states will remain perfectly legal. But that does not mean that they have to be without costs for those choosing to provide them. In order to impose these costs, we need mandatory transparency standards that make sure we know about who provides services to corrupt clients. This will make it easier for civil society and the media to impose reputational costs.

Governments can also make sure their bottom lines are directly affected and decide to exclude any company from public procurement contracts that also chooses to provide services to corrupt authoritarian clients. A particular grey zone that needs attention is the work of lawyers that abuse attorney-client privilege in order to provide services to corrupt elites. Full transparency in party financing is a particular priority in countries such as France, the UK and Portugal. Educational, research and cultural institutions should sign a democracy pledge to the effect that they will not accept money directly or indirectly linked to authoritarian regimes. Crucially, we need to remove the impediments placed in the way of journalists, academics and civil society as they seek to investigate the links between professional facilitators and elites from authoritarian states.

If we do not do this while the political will exists, the current shift away from Russian business will simply lead top enablers to double down on their lucrative practices elsewhere in the developing world. We now know what this entails. Stopping the business models of the enablers would help people in the many poor states whose elites have a habit of siphoning off money and shifting it abroad – money that is needed to fund essential public goods. But more than anything, we in the West would help ourselves. Foreign kleptocrats are really holding up a mirror: if we paid attention, we would realise that our own elites are also susceptible.

Putin and his acolytes have always taken great pleasure in skewering the way the West holds the moral high ground. The former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who was recently nominated to the board of the state-owned Russian energy company Gazprom, served as the Russian president’s most effective example in this regard. Across the Western world, there are too many pocket-size versions of Schröder. Anti-democratic populists everywhere are cheering as these practices damage the credibility of democratic elites and corrode democracy from the inside. It is high time that we started cracking down on those who enable the corruption of authoritarian elites. And it is up to us. A clean-up is long overdue – so that we can look at ourselves in the mirror again.

*Courtesy of The New Statesman.

But of course, it is Africa. It is also Ethiopia

Editorial commentary.

Recent events in Ethiopia, as horrific as they are, no longer shock or disturb the sensibilities of Africans. They are normal activities in their natural habitats; they are also egregiously unacceptable. That Africans now see these events as unavoidable costs of incredibly bad leadership that have shaped their collective state of affairs and their future prospects is dispositive. What is not so clear is what they can do about it. Only less than three years ago Ethiopia held out hopes that African countries may yet indeed give their citizens reasons to believe that personal security in a stable and productive economic environment was possible after all. That was many months ago when the world thought Abiy Ahmed, the current Ethiopian prime minister, was refreshingly different from a long series of rotten African leaders. He was also awarded a Nobel Prize for peace; now they wish they could take it back. An October 9th, 2021 article by the Economist paints a dreadful picture of Ethiopia under Mr. Ahmed.


The Economist.

It was one of the grandest ceremonies that Meskel Square had ever witnessed. Part military parade, part cultural jamboree, the spectacle in the heart of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, was so lavish that one might have mistaken it for the inauguration of a president or the crowning of a monarch.

In fact, the focus of the pomp was Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister. He came to power when his predecessor resigned amid massive protests in 2018. Although the early months of his tenure involved mending relations with the opposition and signing a peace deal with Eritrea (for which he won a Nobel prize in 2019), his rule has since been marred by ethnic unrest, a slowing economy and a devastating civil war in the northern state of Tigray. The event on October 4th marked the start of his first full five-year term as prime minister, following elections in July.

The ceremony was in part a riposte to those questioning Abiy’s legitimacy, above all the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (tplf), which once called the shots in the country and is now at war with the central government. “We have reached a new era,” Abiy told cheering crowds (pictured), one in which power “emanates only from the genuine voice of the people via the ballot box”. But the voice was somewhat muffled by an opposition boycott and the decision to call the election off in a fifth of districts because of violence. Small wonder that Abiy’s Prosperity Party won more than 90% of the seats contested.

The show was also aimed at an international audience. Relations between Ethiopia and many Western countries have sunk to their lowest point in decades. Last month America said it would slap sanctions on officials involved in the war in Tigray if the parties (which also include Eritrean troops fighting alongside Ethiopian forces) did not start talks or allow food to reach those cut off by the government’s blockade of the state. Martin Griffiths, the un’s humanitarian chief, warned on September 29th that hundreds of thousands could starve. Abiy’s response was to expel seven senior un officials, accusing them of “meddling” in Ethiopia’s affairs.

In his speech Abiy declared that Ethiopia would never submit to foreign pressure. In the past such prickly talk typically masked a great degree of pragmatism, as Ethiopia attempted to win friends and gain international influence. For instance, it championed igad, a regional bloc, and contributed more peacekeeping troops to the un than almost any other country. It also cultivated close ties with China and America, becoming the latter’s eager ally in its “war on terror”. Ethiopia enjoyed such clout in Washington that when it invaded Somalia in 2006 to topple an Islamist government, America joined in.

The picture now is very different. Abiy’s decision to cosy up to Eritrea’s dictator, Issaias Afwerki, has divided igad. Ethiopia’s relations with Sudan have soured, leading to border clashes. Even more spectacular is the falling out with the West. Barely a week goes by without a rally against alleged foreign interference, or a statement by a senior official denouncing “foreign enemies”. A stream of conspiracy theories floods state media: that America is supplying tplf fighters with drug-laced biscuits, for example, or that un agencies are smuggling weapons. In August the government halted the work of Médecins Sans Frontières and the Norwegian Refugee Council, two aid organisations.

Three factors are contributing to Ethiopia’s growing isolation. The first is Abiy’s capricious approach to foreign policy, which is characterised by personal relationships rather than engagement with institutions. He has sidelined the foreign ministry and closed or downsized dozens of embassies. He has alienated foreign leaders with a string of unkept promises, such as those to allow aid to reach Tigray or to eject Eritrean troops. And he has infuriated America by buying drones from Iran and snubbing American envoys.

The second factor is the West’s perceived double standard. From 1991 to 2018, when the tplf dominated the Ethiopian government, America routinely turned a blind eye to its ally’s human-rights violations. Because the Ethiopian army was helping fight jihadists in Somalia, a brutal campaign against separatists in Ethiopia’s own Somali region drew scant condemnation. “The West emboldened the tplf and whitewashed its past sins,” argues Zelalem Moges, an Ethiopian lawyer. More recently, the administration of Donald Trump sided with Egypt and Sudan in their dispute with Ethiopia over a huge dam it is building on the Blue Nile. “Abiy genuinely believes the United States is trying to overthrow him,” notes an American diplomat. “He believes that he is this pro-American, liberalising market reformer that we have shunned.”

Most important is a disagreement about the wisdom of continuing the war. “Our demands are quite simple: end the war and our relations are by definition better,” says a European diplomat. African officials, though quieter, tend to agree. Even Russia and China, which Abiy hopes will plug any financial holes left by cuts in Western aid and military assistance, have been reticent. Both have opposed punitive measures in the un Security Council. China has also criticised American sanctions. But neither has offered Abiy much by way of practical support.

Abiy has hinted privately that he might be open to negotiations with the tplf. The special envoy of the African Union (au) to the Horn of Africa, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, has reportedly been given permission to sound out the Tigrayan leadership. But the tplf, which considers the au biased against it, may not accept its mediation. The prime minister, for his part, made no mention of talks in his inaugural address and seems determined instead to launch a new offensive. That may force the hand of America, which is deciding whether to suspend duty-free access for Ethiopian goods under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. Already bad, relations between Ethiopia and its allies are set to sink further.