Monday, June 15, 2009

Why corruption kills

Last week, the world's longest serving president, Omar Bongo of Gabon, passed away in a hospital in Barcelona, Spain. It struck me how often African leaders have died in hospitals in Europe or North America or sought treatment there for illnesses.

For all the anti-western rhetoric of Guinea's Sékou Touré, dictator for 27 years, where did he seek treatment for the heart problem that eventually killed him? Cleveland, Ohio, United States. Félix Houphoët-Boigny ran Ivory Coast for 33 years but ended up in French hospitals for his prostate cancer. Zambia's Levy Mwanawasa died in a hospital near Paris. Mobutu Sese Seko was in charge Zaire for 30 years but got treatment for prostate in Europe.

It's a scathing indictment of the incompetence of misrulers like Bongo and Mobutu that they can have absolute power for decades but can not find a single hospital in their own country fit to address common conditions like heart problems and cancer. It's disgraceful that these thieves can jet off to Europe or the US at whim for their treatments but ordinary citizens are stuck with virtually non-existent health care systems at home.

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