2.2.12

Beneath our beds

When corruption becomes culture” This was a fleeting statement by a member of the audience whose name I didn’t catch. Brief but bold, it captures the essence of what the new Zambian government is up against if it does, in reality, tackle graft.

However, Zambia wasn’t at the centre of our discussion. Yesterday evening’s intimate meeting at Amnesty Finland’s offices was focused on the Human Rights situation in Cameroun.

Led by ZuzeekoAbang, the core of the discourse was specifically human rights abuse of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender (LGBT) people in Cameroon; nevertheless the evening gave me insight into one of the most oppressive regimes in the Africa. Zuzeeko Abang’s background is in Human rights law, which he pursued as a consequence of his experience at the hands of the Cameroonian police.

Quite interestingly Wikipedia tells us that “compared to other African countries, Cameroon enjoys relatively high political and social stability,” – I suppose that depends greatly on how one defines stability.

Cameroonian president Paul Biya, aged 85 and beginning a new term in office maintains this stability with systemic human rights abuses such as torture, arrests and with the convenient deaths of people in police custody. Any opposition is supressed with, as Abang put it, “impunity as the underlying factor.” The police and army have never been held accountable for their actions in the name of bolstering the ruling regime.  Biya aged 85 (repetition for emphasis), by changing the constitution to allow him an unlimited term in office, has ensured that those who are above the law will, at least for the next 6 years, remain above it.

Thus is enshrined a culture of corruption. While the police uphold their religious and traditional morality by arresting “perceived homosexuals,” corruption, as in many other countries (let’s not forget Burlesconi’s antics), has become endemic. How can it not? How else do corrupt, or corrupted, leaders retain a hold on power?

Unfortunately in places like Zambia corruption has extended from the preserve of politicians into the everyday lives of ordinary people. It has become the way things are done and thus our culture. How many of us think nothing of handing the traffic police twenty thousand kwacha to avoid a speeding ticket? How many police would balk at the offer? What do we do to avoid queues at the passport office? Receiving gifts for placing bulk orders with certain suppliers, using company cars for our groceries, siphoning fuel etc. etc. etc.

Furthermore there is little shame in it. Many people will happily declare in front of an audience that they paid twenty or fifty pin to extricate themselves from this, that or the other. The topic of discussion becomes how little it’s possible to bribe an official with and not the moral question of paying a fine if one has broken the law.

Thankfully, I believe we are still at a point where this can be reversed. If we could look at the bigger picture, I mean, when the “big guns” are caught with billions of Kwacha beneath their beds – we must acknowledge that one of those notes is our own twenty thousand.  



Follow Amnesty's petition for Jean-Claude Roger Mbede

Photographs: Vic_beat, Middle Africa

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