Newspaper article International New York Times

Revelations Are Old News for Africans

Newspaper article International New York Times

Revelations Are Old News for Africans

Article excerpt

Long before the disclosure, African governments were aware of the damage inflicted by financial practices that have spirited away billions of dollars a year.

Outsiders have long claimed the moral high ground in accusing African elites of endemic corruption.

But, by what seems an example of the law of unintended consequences, the disclosures from the Panama Papers of dubious financial dealings by a vast global cast of political and business leaders has -- however briefly -- flipped the perspective.

True, a clutch of senior officials and relatives of political leaders from African nations have been identified in the leak of millions of documents from a Panamanian law firm relating to offshore havens that can facilitate the circumvention of taxes.

But, unusually, attention has been focused on Westerners, including David Cameron, the British prime minister, who was forced to begrudgingly acknowledge that his own wealth at one time included shares in a fund set up by his father and managed offshore.

There has been no suggestion of illegality. But the disclosure tapped a vein of rage for Britons laboring under the government's austerity measures who saw the papers as signaling a parallel universe of fiscal duplicity inhabited by the privileged and the rich.

"Every so often, the presentational masks acquired down the years by British conservatism slip," the columnist John Harris wrote in The Guardian, and "the upshot is a sudden and sobering look at what the Tories might actually stand for."

The view from here is different. Long before the Panama Papers were published, African governments were made explicitly aware of the damage inflicted by financial practices that have robbed countries of tens of billions of dollars a year.

"Over the last 50 years, Africa is estimated to have lost in excess of $1 trillion in illicit financial flows," said a report last year by an African panel headed by Thabo Mbeki, a former president of South Africa. "This sum is roughly equivalent to all of the official development assistance received by Africa during the same time frame."

The consequences run deep. About 414 million Africans live on less than $1. …

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