New America Media – If President Barack Obama was looking for help with how best to make Africa a partner, he got a hint Wednesday when Switzerland agreed to give the Internal Revenue Service access to Swiss bank accounts of Americans.
The deal between the United States and Switzerland was a settlement of a lawsuit seeking access to UBS bank accounts of Americans suspected of taking advantage of the European country's strict privacy laws to evade US taxes.
The justice America received in this case is what Africans have been seeking from the West for decades.
African journalists, human rights activists, and advocates of democracy and good governance have always known that without the banking secrecy laws of countries like Switzerland, the level of corruption in Africa would plummet significantly.
A March 2009 editorial in the African Executive magazine, for instance, declared: "Western governments, [which] are quick to preach good governance to Africa ought to preach the same message to their banks, [which] act as safe havens for corrupt leaders. Bank secrecy laws in Switzerland, Jersey Island, Britain, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and Austria have encouraged Africa's vampire states to bank away monies meant for their countries' development."
Lord Aikins Adusei, a Ghanaian anticorruption activist, had even harsher words for Swiss banks, labeling them "parasites feeding on the economies of poor Third World countries".
Activists like Adusei often get accused of blaming the West for Africa's problems, but thanks to Switzerland's banking secrecy laws and the US recession, America seems to have finally realized that a policy of a faraway country can have an adverse effect on the local economy. IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told reporters Wednesday that money US citizens are suspected to have stashed away in the Swiss banks was at one time as much as 18 billion dollars. As astounding as that figure sounds, it is unlikely that a single American hoarded as much as one corrupt African leader.
A 2007 World Bank-United Nations report estimated that Gen. Sani Abacha, the late Nigerian dictator, for example, embezzled between two billion and five billion dollars. Gen. Abacha ruled what has been called one of the world's most corrupt countries for only five years – from 1993 to 1998. And in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), dictator Mobutu Sese Seko is said to have stolen approximately five billion dollars.
While in the United States money hidden away does little damage to the greater economy, in Africa it determines whether millions of children live or die. The same World Bank-UN report said that every 100 million dollars recovered could either give four million children full immunizations, cover safe water for 250,000 households, or provide a full year's worth of anti-retroviral HIV/AIDS drugs to more than 600,000 people.
Undoubtedly, the issue of corrupt African leaders emptying treasuries is not an exclusively African problem that calls solely for an African solution.
In Ghana, Obama called on Africans to make reforms "that can unlock Africa's potential," a message that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continued to spread on her tour this month.
It is evident that neither aid from wealthy nations nor donations from philanthropists and humanitarian organizations can save Africa's destitute. The only way out for Africa is the return of the money that has been stolen from the continent.
According to UNAIDS, in 2007 alone 350,000 South Africans died of AIDS. The world would have screamed genocide if the apartheid government had killed half as many from 1948 to 1994. The fact that today's oppressors of Africa are black should not restrain the United States and the international community from sanctioning countries like Switzerland that allow dictators to continue condemning millions to death.
On July 14, even before Obama had a chance to kick the jetlag from his visit to Africa, a Swiss court ruled that seven million dollars belonging to Mobutu Sese Seko must be returned to his family. The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo is appealing the decision.
Here is a chance for the United States and the world to tell Switzerland that if your father steals a car and dies soon after pulling up to the driveway, it is still a stolen car.