Monday, November 25, 2013

Yussur Abrar and Thuli Madonsela: Africa’s Female Whistleblowers



By Bashir Goth

It was always my belief that if Africa were to change its bad reputation as the citadel of corrupt politicians and a haven for mismanaged foreign aid; it would have to be the continent’s women that lead the way. 

And this is exactly what happened over the last month when two women of character, Yussur Abrar of Somalia and Thuli Madonsela of South Africa, have stunned the male-dominated corruption infested political systems of the two countries with their fearless actions.

Yusur Adan Abrar, an international banker with three decades of experience in banking, insurance, telecommunications and finance consultancy, was appointed as Somalia’s first female governor of the Central Bank in September 2013, a time when the international community pledged $2.4 billion to fund Somali's infrastructural and fiscal reconstruction. 

As a professional banker, Abrar knew very well the task ahead of her. To put simply it was the establishment of a comprehensive regulatory framework for the country’s financial system and to make the Somali Central Bank accountable for every dollar that reaches its coffers. 

However, what she did not anticipate was that the government had appointed her as a ploy to use her stellar record to hoodwink the donor community by using her signature to legitimize shady financial dealings. 

Abrar’s goal of cleaning the system had become an affront to the Somali politicians’ old norm of stealing and enriching themselves on foreign aid and the country’s tax revenues.

Soon after she stepped into the building of the bank she was given orders and threats to sanction dubious deals. She was not given enough time to even review the demands and explore if she could find any legal loopholes that could allow her to find a legitimate compromise.  All her attempts to win the President’s support and to enlighten him about the irreparable damage that sanctioning such deals could cause to the government’s credibility fell on deaf ears. 

But instead of being enlightened by Abrar’s relentless efforts to highlight the need to follow sound financial regulations, the acolytes at the government’s corruption alter tried to convert her to the Somali way of doing business and to wean her from what they saw as her unflinching adherence to ‘western values’. As she bluntly put it in her letter of resignation to the President, she said: “The message that I have received from multiple parties is that I have to be flexible, that I don't understand the Somali way that I cannot go against your wishes, and that my own personal security would be at risk as a result.”

According to the information I received, even President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud himself had at one point accused Abrar of acting like an American: “Ma Maraykan baad iskaga kaaya dhigaysaa.. Are you trying to act like an American to us?” As the Somali proverb says: Madax meel meel la taabto oo sarreeyaa ma jiro… There is no place higher than the head to reach…” Instead of showing leadership and supporting Abrar in her honest efforts to restore badly needed accountability to the country’s financial system and safeguarding the resources of the Somali people, the President was in a crusade to re-educate her to the African culture of corruption, the Somali way of Qaataye –Qaado ( I rob and you have your share)

NGO CULTURE VS CORPORATE CULTURE

Ironically, there is an element of truth in the President’s unbecoming expression. Yes, there was a clash of culture and goals between Abrar and President Mahmoud’s administration. Abrar, with her extensive experience in western corporations, her goal was to apply these standards to make the country’s banking system acceptable to donor nations and to enable the country achieve economic recovery.

When I accepted this role, I did so with the interests of the Somali people in mind. Having worked at senior levels at some of the largest financial institutions in the world, I was looking forward to the opportunity to lend my skill sets to rebuild the Central Bank and improve the lives of our people, as the Central Bank is key to the development of the economy. Undoubtedly, economic recovery is critical to this recovery from both a fiscal and security perspective,” She wrote in her letter of resignation.

However, Abrar’s corporate culture, professional perspective and patriotic goals seemed so alien to President Mahmoud and his underlings who were trained in the NGOs culture of trickle-down economy, albeit in African context, to which the late eminent American economist John Kenneth Galbraith had explained as an approach that emerged during the depression and was also called “the horse- and-sparrow theory” which  meant: “If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.” And this is exactly the culture and mentality of the African politicians and particularly the Somali political elite who practice the principle of “me first,  crumbs for the rest.”

Strangely enough, even those western educated Diaspora returnees who serve for the President as ministers and advisors fall into this category. Writing to me from New York, a friend of mine Dr. Nimo Bokore, had correctly put this in perspective: “Lately,” she said, “I began to worry about the current scramble for Somali blood money. Will the elite, the well educated Diaspora men and their counterparts going back to politics to pay off their mortgages lead us to nationhood? Or they are just engaged in their own temporary gain ‘Geel Dhac’?”

It is indeed this Geel Dhac “looting camels” culture of the Somali political elite that clashed with Abrar’s financial ethics that she learned in the upper echelons of grand institutions.

This was not lost on Abrar as she so clearly expressed in her carefully written letter that she was not worried about the threats she received more than she was worried and frustrated by the President’s lack of support: “I am the least concerned about the security threat, but I am truly disappointed that I have not received your support and leadership on this matter so that I could objectively perform my duties.”

EXPOSING BUSINESS OF POVERTY

Since Abrar’s resignation, the Somali people and indeed the international community have yet to hear a plausible explanation from President Mahmoud’s government on the damaging information that came in Abrar’s resignation letter other than pitiful denials that carry no facts to clear their position.

After many missed opportunities which led Somalia to become a dangerous place for world trade and security, the international community decided to give President Mahmoud and his government a chance regardless of the corrupt and illegitimate way that he had come to power. With his baby face, ever-present smile, and soft-spoken style, President Mahmoud has won a certain degree of trust. And due to our strong longing for a functioning and recognized Somali government, we all ignored the early voices such as that of the satirical Somali poet and academician Mahmoud Togane, who warned us against the wolf hiding in Mahmoud’s sheep’s clothing in an interview he gave a short time after Mahmoud’s election.  We also understandably dismissed the sharp criticisms that Professors, Samatar and Glaydh, leveled against Mahmoud, due to their known political inclinations. 

But thankfully it took an honest woman like Abrar with no political ambitions of her own to expose that the president’s pose was not more than a fa├žade aimed at buying trust.

Whether the international community heeds Abrar’s wakeup call is yet to be seen. But it is reassuring to know that Abrar’s resignation had already rattled the donors’ trust. Reuters quoted one senior European diplomat saying: “What [Abrar's resignation] has done is woken up a lot of people,” said one senior European diplomat. “The notion that there is a blank check for Somalia, that's over. There's got to be results for money.”

Well said, but the Somali people need more than rhetoric and the best thing that could result from this fiasco is to deposit international aid to Somalia in an escrow account and to appoint Abrar or a person of her caliber as a financial czar to oversee the fair distribution of donor funds for the development of the Somali people.

However, if the track record of the relations between donor nations and corrupt African leaders could be taken as an indication, President Mahmoud’s administration would receive no more than a friendly censure for its behavior. And this explains why the government doesn’t look shaken by what would have been a damaging incident to any decent administration.  

Nevertheless, Abrar should have no regrets even if donor nations decide to continue dealing with Mogadishu government. It will only show once more how much the international community works hand in glove with corrupt African leaders in entrenching “the horse- and-sparrow theory”. No wonder that it is often said poverty is big business.

MISS MANDOSELA: PRESIDENT ZUMA’S NEMESIS

Elsewhere, Thulisile Madonsela, a human rights lawyer, equality expert, and South Africa’s Public Protector, is facing stiff resistance from ministers close to President Jacob Zuma not to publish her findings in an investigation of renovating the president’s retirement homewith $30 million.  

Miss Madonsela who has in her record as one of 11 technical experts who participated in drafting of the final constitution of South Africa in 1994-5, insists that she would go ahead to make the report public regardless.
The multi-resident estate, known as Zumaville, which is reported to have underground rooms, medical facilities, football fields, a theatre, and a helipad, is located in an impoverished neighborhood.  And President Zuma just like President Mahmoud had the audacity to speak: “passionately of his inability to sleep peacefully knowing that there are people still living in shacks in his wealthy nation.”

Now, we can understand when Abrar laments what she could have done if she was allowed to capitalize on the momentum she started in gaining the trust of international financial institutions by saying: “I can only imagine what could have been achieved provided I had your support to perform my duties objectively. Your excellency, while I am disappointed by this lack of support, I am more disappointed for the Somali people who would have benefited the most from these and future contributions.” 

We can equally understand, if President Mahmoud curses Abrar for not allowing him to have his own Damujadidville; a clash of two irreconcilable cultures, indeed.

Being the people’s mules for so long who carried loads on their back and children in their bosom and belly, while at the same time tilling the land, African women have come of age and have another burden to carry today; to cleanse the continent of its corrupt male leaders.

It is reported that Dr. Kuwama Nakrumah, Ghanian Independence leader and an admired African hero, once said that the “black man is capable of managing his own affairs”? I beg to differ with him by saying: “Yes indeed, Mr Nakrumah, the blackman is capable of managing his own affairs; but his own personal affairs only in fattening himself, but it is the black woman who is capable of managing the affairs of the continent and rectifying the historical mistakes that men have committed against the poor people of Africa.” Viva Yussur, Viva Miss Madonsela, and viva all conscientious women of Africa.