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Thursday, June 9

Crooked governments beware and US lowers boom on UN

"Pundita, dear, regarding your "Africa who?" essay, I was touched by your advice that reasonable thought be deployed on the eve of the Africa Gold Rush. You remind me of the schoolmarms in the old American Western movies, lecturing the gangs riding into town that they should remember to act in the manner of civilized men.

However, I wonder if you've actually read the entire Commission for Africa report. They're already trying to evade the sheriff--that would be Bush. As soon as he shut down Saddam's Oil for Palaces Program they knew it was only a matter of time before he'd deputize someone like Bolton to go shoot em up at the UN. Then he sent Wolfy to the World Bank. Have you heard the latest? Wolfowitz is saying that corruption is the biggest threat to the world since communism.* So while you didn't get your heart's wish for head of the Bank [Eliot Spitzer] Wolfy might ask Spitzer for advice. And of course it's becoming dangerous to rip off the state in Russia, unless you want to risk serious jail time. Africa is the Last Frontier.
Boris in Jackson Heights"

Dear Boris:
In his discussion of my Democracy Stage Show Kit essay, ZenPundit observed:
When an oligarchy or a dictator loses the confidence of the state bureaucracy, when the nomenklatura of terror has its will sapped by uncertainty, even an efficient police state will unravel with unnerving speed. Erich Honecker ruled East Germany for decades. His successor, Egon Krenz, lasted a month.
The same observation applies to the public's loss of confidence in the state bureaucracy. In recent months there have been ugly--no, horrific--incidents in South or Central America where mobs of townspeople have massacred corrupt officials; dragged them out of their office and killed them in very brutal fashion.

Modern communications and the huge global news media industry are feeding news consumers worldwide with a constant diet of shocking stories about government corruption.

And the internet is plugging what the Belmont Club blogger refers to as the Memory Hole. It used to be that a civil servant or elected or appointed official could say or do things, then a few years later deny them or put a spin on them. It was very hard to catch them if the state set out to erase the original comments from the public record. Now with the Net and powerful search engines, it's virtually impossible to erase all record of things that were done and said years before.

All these factors conspire to make it hard for the state to divert public outrage toward a traditional scapegoat--usually a minority population or a segment of a ruling class. That's one reason Beijing developed a post-9/11 policy of supporting authoritarian governments; it's a strategy to challenge Bush's Democracy Doctrine. The ruling party in China has seen where this strong call for freedom and transparency in government is leading when combined with the internet era. It's threatening to take away the state's traditional propaganda weapons for deflecting rage against the state.

But it's not just the Bush Doctrine; many factors have converged to reveal in unprecedented fashion the scope of corruption in governments worldwide. The French contemptuously refer to "Chateau Iraq." No matter how much they're against the US invasion of Iraq they have seen the swamp of corruption that was exposed by the invasion, which includes the Chirac government's deals with Saddam's Baathist regime.

The sheer volume of information that's now available about government corruption, and the speed with which it's transmitted, threaten the mechanisms of government even in France, which has a history of tolerance for government corruption.

I venture the tolerance has eroded because people are realizing it's not only corruption in all cases; it's globalized crime syndicates taking over governments or becoming intertwined with them.

ICTAR (International Crime Threat Assessment Report) practically shouts about that situation. The report was published in December 2000, when the US and world press were caught up in the drama of the disputed US presidential election. So the report's publication went virtually unnoticed by the public. But that report, which represents what might have been unprecedented US interagency and international agency cooperation, is probably the one "intelligence" triumph of the Clinton administration.

It might be that Senator John Kerry and other congressionals who wanted to take a policing approach to dealing with terrorism were influenced by the ICTAR findings. If so they were wrong; state-funded terrorist armies are distinct from international crime syndicates, even though the two can intersect. ICTAR makes that distinction clear but it's certainly tempting to read a great deal about terrorism into the findings.

In any case, ICTAR dashes the comforting illusion of Two Worlds--the reasonably 'good' democratic (or quasi-democratic) governments and the 'bad' despotic regimes. Today every poor country is a potential target for takeover by a crime syndicate. And for essentially the same reason that certain companies are easy pickings for corporate raiders:

A government teeters on the edge of bankruptcy--because it went broke buying US dollars to keep in reserve for oil purchases, or because the tax base is inadequate, or the government is a study in mismanagement, or all three. Along comes a transnational crime syndicate lugging suitcases stuffed with hundreds of millions of dollars:

"Hi! We're not here to make waves in your country. We'll be nice! We just want to invest in your debt instruments and stock market and make deposits in your banks. Is that okay?"

That's one reason Gordon Brown is saying to the Group of Seven oops Eight: Throw in the towel; wipe out all the debt for the African countries because if you don't, they have another way of raising the cash to keep the lights on.

Of course we've been down this road before but Brown wants to couple debt forgiveness with tough anti-corruption measures and a host of other fixes that hopefully will prevent the same countries from falling over the cliff again. Thus, the Commission for Africa.

Can it be done? Well, reading ICTAR teaches that something has to be done. However, unless anti-corruption drives cut both ways, it's emptying an ocean with a sieve to attempt to oust the criminals from their influence on a national economy.

The UN Oil for Food Program has been called the crime of the century. That's because it involved so many seemingly legitimate companies from so many countries and so many officials in advanced democracies. That mocks the traditional view of the corrupt Arab dictator. Saddam Hussein was propped up by the corruption of people working under the protection of democratic governments in advanced countries. It's the same with African despots.

During the Cold War, the Soviets and the Western Allies thought nothing of propping up corrupt dictators but the governments waging the war maintained control. Now crime syndicates are using the tactics of the state and they're not necessarily under state control.

Even in cases where the crime syndicates are controlled by a government, that's walking around a tiger by the tail. The syndicates can easily overthrow a ruling party--in the way the old KGB or CIA could overthrow a Banana Republic regime. And they can do it using the tactics I mentioned in Democracy Stage Show Kit. They can make it look like a People's or 'velvet' revolution.

So it's also a matter of "Physician Heal Thyself," if you want to talk about saving Africa. We can no longer wait for African countries to stumble toward healing themselves because terror armies have moved in on certain regions there. But if you want to put the brakes on corruption in African governments, that also means going after corrupt officials in donor countries. And sitting hard on companies that practice Harry Lime Capitalism.

With regard to the Gold Rush--the World Bank could tell you there is no way to throw massive amounts of money and material into virtually any country without maybe 40% of it being skimmed off by crime organizations and corrupt government officials. In fact, 40% is a happy hopeful figure. That's not including funds lost from waste, inefficiency.

But I venture you're also talking about the contractors that will clean up from new mega donor programs arising from the CFA recommendations. So what else is new? Somebody has to truck in the material, somebody has to unload it, somebody has to provide the vaccines, build up docks for offloading, and so on.

Yes, a lot of money will be made from throwing mega-millions of aid money at problems in Africa. Ever thus. But that's why I began this essay with ZenPundit's observations and my discussion of the shortening fuse of public sentiment toward government corruption. I'm not the schoolmarm lecturing banditos. I'm warning the sheriff's office that the lynch mob is headed their way, if they don't clean up their act.

The task is to throw as many checks and balances as possible into any overarching program to save Africa. The Blair-Brown project might have to be scaled back and considerably tightened up. This is because polls show that a majority of the British public voices as much skepticism as many Americans about how much good it will do to throw massive amounts of money into Africa.

I think President Bush has the right idea in this; he wants to see very concrete plans and the checks and balances. But the risk for the US standing aloof from the Blair-Brown project is that as we drain the swamp at the United Nations, the crooks will move into organizations that work external to the UN. So given the stakes, the US shouldn't depend entirely on the World Bank (or the UN) to be the watchdog for the Africa Commission projects.

Yesterday the US House International Relations Committee approved legislation to withhold half of US dues to the United Nations unless the world body overhauls its bureaucracy, bars dictatorships from human rights posts and installs a tougher internal watchdog. (Hat tip: John Batchelor Show.) You can imagine how well that went over with the crooks. But you know, it's largely a matter of staying on them. In this way they learn that most Americans get really aggravated about people who trade on human misery.

* New World Bank Chief Says Aiding Africa Is His Top Goal
By Elizabeth Becker
Washington Post
Published: June 1, 2005
WASHINGTON, May 31 - When he becomes president of the World Bank on Wednesday, Paul D. Wolfowitz says, Africa will be his top priority.

"Nothing would be more satisfying than to feel at the end of however long a term I serve here that we played a role in changing Africa from a continent of despair to a continent of hope," he said Tuesday at his first news conference.

To underline that commitment, he will travel to Africa in June.

Mr. Wolfowitz becomes the 10th president of the bank, the world's largest development organization, at a time when experts are again asking basic questions about what works in pulling countries out of poverty.

One of the few things most development institutions agree on is the need for a large increase in development aid. The United Nations and the World Bank under James D. Wolfensohn, the departing president, have called for the world's rich nations to double the aid given to the poor. ...

Surveying the array of issues tied up in the goal of reducing poverty, Mr. Wolfowitz said he would emphasize finding solutions in partnership with the countries involved; ensuring that women have the same opportunities as men; restoring the bank's role of building structures like roads, ports and bridges in poor countries; and coordinating the bank's efforts with other donors and institutions.

"The best approach is to put the people in developing countries in the driver's seat," he said, adding that this often requires humility and patience.

He also singled out corruption as a major problem in development.

"Corruption is the biggest threat to democracy since communism," he said. ...

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