Satellite dish corruption

3 02 2007

On page 88 of the February 2007 issue of National Geographic there is a photograph of Port Harcourt in southern Nigeria. It is a shanty town by any description; filthy, rundown, corrupt. But in the middle distance there are 2 structures with satellite TV dishes on them. They look genuine – they are both pointing in the same direction though I suppose there is nothing to say that they are connected to anything inside.

I don’t have satellite TV though it is easily available in Zimbabwe. I suppose I could afford it (foreign currency only please!) if I really thought it worthwhile but past experience showed that there was frequently nothing to watch on the 80+ channels and I have better things on my wish list.

The article describes the appalling corruption that oil money has brought Nigeria and how the very few have got very wealthy. It is worth a read as it clearly illustrates the corruption endemic that is the scourge of Africa. Yes, of course it exists elsewhere but in Africa it is particularly destructive, and dare I say it, even admired.

Let me give an example from Zimbabwe. Last week the Finance Minister, Gideon Gono, gave his year end (a bit late) policy speech. Now with inflation exceeding 2000% and the black market exchange rate doubling in 10 days you could have been forgiven for thinking that something radical was in the offing. Apparently not. I happened to pick up a copy of his address whilst waiting somewhere. I did not bother reading more than an excerpt which from memory stated that “… we are pricing ourselves out of the tourism market. When you look at the price of a bottle of water, using the official exchange rate of ZW$250 to US$1, it costs US$10! Etc….”  The obvious thing to do would be to bring the “official” exchange rate into line with the black market rate which is currently around ZW$5000 to one US dollar. No. It has not been moved. I did not trust myself to read further, it is illegal in this country to criticize the president, the police and who knows who else and why push the blood pressure up unnecessarily. Anyway, why should Comrade Gono (yes, the socialist title is still used here and I believe in Cuba) change the rate when it is so easy (for the connected) to get wealthy. Hear is how it is done; buy US1000 for 250000 Zim dollars at the official rate (a toilet roll is ZW$4500 – today’s price). Sell it on the parallel market (politically correct term for black market) at x20 the official rate and go back and get US$20000 from your contact the Reserve Bank. Repeat twice and become a real millionaire. Obviously you could not do this straight off but the point is made – why change they system? For a paltry sum you too can join the waBenzi (as they are known in South Africa for the Mercedes Benz cars that they drive).

Sadly being ostentatious is all the rage in Zimbabwe and I presume in other parts of Africa. It’s not how wealthy you ARE, it’s how wealthy you APPEAR that is important. I can remember many years ago as a child, asking my father why the black labourers on the forestry estate where I grew up did not wear shorts. Men wear trousers, boys wear shorts was the reply. Even to this day I wear shorts whenever possible; we live in a warm climate so I just don’t see the point of trousers. Even as a child I was struck by how well the blacks in general dressed, and to a large degree they still do dress well, though with the harsh economic climate it is slightly less noticeable and I do see men wearing shorts more though I suspect these are those who are following western fashion and ironically, are more able to afford good clothing. At about the same time as I asked my father this the directive came down from the head office that labourers had to be offered the choice of getting paid cash instead of the weekly rations (meat, tea, maize meal, salt and sugar) that made up a part of their wage.  The men voted for money, the women for rations. It is a male dominant society so the rations were discontinued. I was also disappointed. I loved the smell of the shed where the rations were stored and especially the foil lined tea chests (must have been a boy thing). I also loved digging around under old sacks but became a bit more circumspect when I pulled back an interesting looking sack and was confronted by a cow’s head. Oh yes, they eat everything, my father confirmed.


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