African Leadership: Self-destruction or Conspiracy?

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By Enefiok Udo-Obong

His face exposed one of a desolate figure. His homogeneously coloured white hair matched his sparkling clean white kaftan which had over the years been his signature African dressing while he sat impassively in front of the chief judge Rose-Marie Hunault as she read out the verdict of his trial in court. One could literally palpate the sadness this once Trojan of World Athletics felt as his disgrace was finally sealed with one word. Guilty. The once yare Senegalese statesman was with that one word tagged a convicted criminal. The former head of global athletics, Lamine Diack, was found guilty of corruption for covering up Russian doping cases in exchange for bribes. The 87-year-old, who ran track and field for 16 years and was also a powerful figure at the International Olympic Committee, was sentenced to four years in prison – two of which have been suspended – and fined €500,000.

It was a damaging end to the once bright star of African international administrators. It was yet a bad example of an African being at the top in world affairs letting us down. Did he deserve this? Or was he witch-hunted by the Western and European powers who always want to paint the continent as a dark sphere which always has to be under its watch? Some observers have shown solidarity to him, saying it was a witch-hunt. They point to other cases of corruption especially involving non-African bosses in which offences were never taken to a criminal court.

There are lots of examples here. Fresh in the memory is Sepp Blatter, the embattled former president of FIFA. Despite reported evidence of bribes and different corruption acts, his case ended with the FIFA ethics committee which recommended a football ban for him. He even had time after the scandal to lavishly celebrate his 80th birthday is a luxury Swiss hotel in Zurich with over 100 guests.

Also his close confidant in corruption, French man Michel Platini who was the UEFA football chief and seen as an heir apparent to Blatter, also was suspended for receiving what was euphemistically described as “disloyal payments of up to 2 million USD.” He has never been branded a criminal and even attempted to return to football.

It does not end with football, in 2000 at the Paralympics, Spanish sports administrators fielded a basketball team with ‘fake’ mentally deranged athletes just so that they can win the Gold medal…and they did. The Spanish team had won the gold medal in the basketball tournament, and for a while it was deemed an honest and good victory. Yet a Spanish journalist revealed to the managers of the tournament that most of the players on the Spanish team had not been checked for a mental disability.

In fact, after further investigation, it was revealed that many players were in fact not mentally disabled; Spain just wanted to win a gold medal. That’s right, Spain rigged a handicapped event. Ten of its 12 players had no disability, and the coaching staff had encouraged players to act stupid. No one was prosecuted to this act of deception.

The IOC President then, Juan Antonio Samaranch, was embroiled in a corruption scandal. It was discovered that bribes and gifts were exchanged for hosting rights for the Olympics. A lot of evidence surfaced especially for the Salt Lake City winter Games of 2002. However apart from a few internal ethics investigation, no criminal charge took place.

So while those with conspiracy theories against Africans have a case, it must be noted that the Africans do not help themselves. The Melbourne bid committee for the 1996 Summer Olympics discovered the quid pro quo expectations of IOC delegates when they received requests from six African IOC delegates for new cars and sexual favors from local brothels. The requests were denied by the Australians and so it was no surprise they lost the bid. The 1996 Summer Olympics went to Atlanta.

As the Acting FIFA President, Cameroon’s Issa Hayatou was embroiled in a long-standing corruption charge.

In the United Nations, the son of the then Secretary General from Africa, Mr Koffi Annan, Kojo, at 26 years old, using his father’s connection met with several heads of state and government ministers during the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly in September 1998. Three months later, he won a 4.8 million dollar contract.

In almost the same nepotic manner, Lamine Diack appointed his son, Papa Massata Diack as a Marketing Consultant for the IAAF. In fact it is alleged that he ran the place like a family mafia with most financial dealings passing through the son. Diack was also accused of having enabled his son to allegedly embezzle IAAF sponsorship revenue from Russia’s VTB Bank, Chinese oil firm Sinopec and broadcaster CCTV, South Korean tech giant Samsung and others. Allegations of corruption and embezzlement leveled against his son, Papa Massata Diack, runs into millions of dollars.

With these it is obvious that African leaders are not doing enough to protect themselves against attack or suspicion. They commit brazen acts of recklessness which could be interpreted as corruption. Having said that, it is evident that the West do not respect Africans much or take their sovereignty with the reverence it ought to. Lamine Diack was arrested on Sunday morning while holding a Senegalese diplomatic passport – and his investigator did not even wait to consult the Embassy of Senegal in Paris before triggering the preliminary police investigation. This was in violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention concerning the holders of a diplomatic passport. Little wonder his son, Papa has insisted he would not go to France for any trial or prison sentence and has said the French authorities would have to send Special Forces to Senegal if they want to arrest him. Senegal has refused any extradition request.

Whatever the position you assume, it would always be a long and tedious route again for any African to hold leadership positions in global organizations.