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Kleptomaniac African leaders can learn from Thailand

By unknown | Sep 12, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Strange as it may seem, I have fond memories of Thailand. My brief stopover in Bangkok in the 1970s may not appear to be a point of departure for a salute to the delights of that country.

But a coloured silk shirt I bought at the airport was such a favourite garment that when I parted with it, on account of its age, my heart ached.

Memories came flooding back when I heard of the beleaguered prime minister Samak Sundaravej's story. Thailand is a colourful country, but the episode was spectacular, even for a country which, as Siam, was the location of the story of the musical, The King and I.

Sundaravej was ordered by a court to step down after featuring in a TV cookery programme - for a fat fee.

As I write, the matter is unresolved, as he seems determined to hang on until the fat lady sings praises to his culinary talent.

I counted the incident among the week's salutary lessons for Africa.

In Africa the incident would be laughed out of court, assuming it got that far. We have had kleptomaniac leaders getting no more than a rap on the knuckles for stealing billions from the people.

I am not sure what lesson to draw from the election of Asif Ali Zardari as president of Pakistan.

The 51-year-old widower of Benazir Bhutto faces an enormous task to bring peace to his country. Pakistan is as unstable as it was under Pervez Musharraf, when Bhutto was assassinated.

For Africa, the lesson must relate to the futility of creating a dynasty. Mother Nature and Father Time both frown on these conceited leaders who want to perpetuate their demonic rule.

Then there was the lesson of the US government bailing out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mae, who ultimately fund most US mortgages.

Their failure is responsible for the credit crunch in Europe and the rest of the world. It's not clear if the crisis touched Zimbabwe, whose malady has been called gonorrhoea, among other nicknames.

The US has virtually nationalised the two companies, with taxpayers' billions, to ensure the world economy is spared a repeat of the 1930s stock market crash, when stockbrokers, bankers and investors jumped off skyscrapers to their deaths after losing more than their shirts.

Government intervention has led to African economic pundits of Marxist-Leninist persuasion suggesting the Western obsession with private ownership of the banks is impractical. They say most African governments are right to maintain their ownership of major banks.

But we know why they preach that doctrine: Zimbabwe is a example of how corruption has blighted the sector because of government intervention.

Most African journalists without an ideological axe to grind have advocated policies which favour the private sector, but have been told to shut up.

The lesson from the US mortgage crisis relates to governing party politics. To garner cheap popularity, the Republicans allowed the two banks to provide so many unsustainable mortgages, the bubble was bound to burst.

The lesson for Africa: there is a high price to be paid for buying votes. You might have to kill the voters for not voting for you, as happened in a country which shall remain nameless.


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