Wednesday, November 9, 2011

South Africa’s Choice of Friends Raises Serious Moral Concerns

Sibusiso Banda

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea was recently
hosted by President Jacob Zuma.
The Catholic Committee Against Hunger and for Development has found that Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the president of Equatorial Guinea, has stolen billions of Rand worth of assets that belong to the people he claims to lead. Reporters Without Borders says the president filed a complaint in France against the authors of the report, but it was quickly dismissed.

Nguema is known for his lavish lifestyle and his youngest son, Teodorin, often shows off wealth by going on expensive boat trips and hosting huge parties while the people of the poor, oil rich African state go hungry. Nguema is also allies with South Africa as he was recently hosted by President Jacob Zuma, the man who once headed the Moral Regeneration Movement. Zuma hosted the dictator after exiled Tibetan spiritual leader; His Holiness – The Dalai Lama – was refused a South African visa to attend Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s birthday party. The Nobel Peace Prize winner isn’t good enough for South Africa, but the dictator of an oil rich country who keeps his people in poverty while helping himself to their money is.

South Africa is a country that recently gained its political freedom and certain members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) often talk of fighting for economic freedom for everybody and President Jacob Zuma’s government claims it’s fighting to give all South Africans a decenlt living standard, but yet the same ANC led government and President Zuma see nothing wrong with the people of Equatorial Guinea being stripped off their oil and forced to live in abject poverty. The BBC news website reports that in 2004 the country was said to be the fastest growing economy in the world, but the paradox is that it sits at the bottom of the United Nations Development Index. Many of the oil riches end up in Nguema’s foreign bank accounts.

He is also seen by human rights groups as a dictator who possesses the similar style of rule to Idi Amin as they accuse him of being a cannibal. Since his took to power, Obiang Nguema has ripped off much of the fourth-largest producer of crude oil in Sub-Saharan’s oil wealth into foreign bank accounts instead of the countries coffers and brutally suppressed any political opponents who tried to stop him, including the press.

Equatorial Guinea’s abundant oil revenues do not reach the majority of its citizens; according to the watchdog group Global Witness, 60 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day. Because most of the oil revenues stop at State House, the average citizen still lives in abject poverty.

To show how important his visit was to South Africa the country rolled out a red carpet with full honours - a marching band was on show, an inspection of the troops plus a 21-gun salute. He was greeted by President Jacob Zuma.

On 30 November 2004 President Zuma, then South Africa’s Deputy President, said: “The MRM was founded on the principles that South Africans are highly moral beings, know the difference between right and wrong, and are appalled by the symptoms of moral decay, which sometimes occur in our country.” This was during the Moral Regeneration Movement conference.

As president Zuma clearly sees nothing wrong with shaking hands and hosting a dictator accused of harsh acts against those who oppose him or dare to question his authority. A good example of this is the November 1 arrest of Marcial Abaga Barril, an opposition leader arrested as his party was planning a “no’ vote rally in a constitutional referendum. Associated Press reports that the arrest was over a murder investigation.

I tend to wonder whether South Africa lives an ambiguous life with its leaders, many of whom who faced harsh acts under apartheid, choose to turn a blind eye to similar acts happening across the continent or around the world as they have something to benefit from it. Some have said that Zuma hosted Nguema because he would be a good “friend with benefits” in this world where one needs money and oil in order to thrive. It seems this is done in place of morals some of the leaders in the ANC claim to be champions of.

Democratic Alliance Member of Parliament, Kenneth Mubu, wrote in his article for Politics Web that “our government fawns over dictators like Muammar Gaddafi, Robert Mugabe and King Mswati III, while treating iconic peacemakers like the Dalai Lama with contempt”.

As our leaders try to forge a post-apartheid identity for South Africa and as they continue to define this country they perhaps need to look at what they stand for and whether those they choose to associate themselves with stand for the same values. It might be a lot to ask in a capitalist world, but it’s something they need to check regardless.

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