Is the Wind of Change Blowing Towards Angola and Liberia?

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When the former Defence Minister of Angola Joao Lourenco became the country’s President last year and vowed to eradicate nepotism and corruption in his country, very few people believed his seriousness. Not that Joao Lourenco is considered a liar. Not necessarily so. The fact is that many Africans have grown used to and indeed tired and fed up of sweet-mouthed African leaders, who promise paradise to their subjects only to give them hell on earth. That is the typical quality of an African leader for you. Callous and insensitive. Perhaps, the moves by the President of Angola, since taking over power, include the recent arrest of Jose Filomeno dos Santos, the once untouchable son of Angola’s long-serving former President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, will perhaps give many Angolans and Africa indeed, hope that the era of excessive squandering of the State resources and errant impunity by the corrupt elites is coming to an end.

According to the prosecutors in Angola, Jose Filomeno dos Santos had been formally placed in detention in connection with a $1.5bn (£1.1bn) embezzlement case.

Jose Filomeno dos Santos, who was formally accused in March of fraud, following his alleged illegal transfer of $500m from the central bank, was sacked as the head of the country’s $500bn dollar sovereign wealth fund, which was set up by his father the former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos ruled Angola more than 36 years before Joao Lourenco took over from his hand-picked successor Joao Lourenco as the President.
Joao Lourenco’s anti-corruption purge did not start with Jose Filomeno dos Santos. His sister Isabel dos Santos, who is the richest woman in Africa, with a personal wealth estimated at 2.3 billion dollars was equally sacked last year from her lucrative position as the head of Sonangol, the state-owned oil company, which critics believe the Santos’ and his close allies have used for more than 38 years to milk the State and enrich themselves. Many have accused Isabel dos Santos, who is the richest woman in Africa, of excessive corruption, but she has always denied the accusation.
Some analysts believe the anti-corruption torch, beamed on the dos Santos family is a product of a power struggle between the former and current President of Angola. President Joao Lourenco, they argue, is in fact, not really serious about fighting corruption, rather, he is trying to consolidate his power and position by playing a political game with the former President dos Santos, using his children as a joker. Others strongly believe that Joao Lourenco is serious about his threats and as such, he is not sparing any sacred cow. His ability and willingness to take on the powerful dos Santos’ family can never be more convincing, supporters of the President’s anti-corruption campaign argue.

Down in Liberia, the same debate is going on. Since taking over the government earlier this year, President George Weah had vowed to stamp out corruption and make the lives of an average Liberian better. Last week the Liberian government had officially banned 15 people, including Charles Sirleaf, the son of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, from leaving the country. The accused allegedly played a part in the disappearance of about $104m-worth of newly printed bank notes. The said printed bank notes were meant for the country’s central bank. Mr. Charles Sirleaf, one of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ’s three sons, who was appointed to government posts, was the former Central bank Chief under his Mother, President Sirleaf. He was later suspended as Deputy Central Bank Governor in 2012, following an anti-corruption investigation. However, despite opposition from the public and accusation of nepotism, his mother President Sirleaf infamously reappointed and, in fact, promoted him to the position of the bank chief in February 2016. Even though some were furious about such an appointment, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had vehemently defended the position of her son and argued that it was based purely on merit.
Yesterday, hundreds of people protested in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital over the disappearance of the $104m-worth of newly printed banknotes intended for the central bank. The said amount, which represents 5% of the country’s GDP, according to some experts, disappeared from Liberia’s main port and airport, when the printed notes were imported into the country for distribution. Liberia, one of the poorest countries in the world still prints its’ currencies abroad.
Even though the government of George Weah had requested the assistance of the IMF and the FBI to invest the missing printed notes, the recent statement attributed to President George Weah that the role of the two independent organs should be advisory, angered many Liberians, who interpreted such a suggestion as an attempt by the government to give the accused a soft landing. Many Liberians insist that the involvement of the IMF and the FBI would, in fact, demonstrate the seriousness on the part of the Liberian government to tackle corruption. Furthermore, such a move would create some degree of transparency both in the ongoing case and by the government in Monrovia.
Regardless, one may not be entirely wrong to ask: Is the wind of change blowing in Angola and Liberia or is it business as usual? Time will tell.

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