New investigations lift veil off the ‘Anatomy of Kleptocracy’ in African governance.



COVID-19 relief funds catered for luxury lunches, hotel events and juicy contract for the powerful.


Lack of good governance and corruption problems in African countries are not the result of actions by ‘rotten apples’ or insufficient budgets, but of exploitative mechanisms and processes that ensure that these budgets only benefit a political elite. Ruling politicians and bureaucrats were found to implement, use and abuse processes that keep funds -either from state coffers or from development aid- flowing to their own bank accounts. This conclusion is the result of months of probing into governance systems in African countries by investigative journalists in Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Liberia, and Zambia.


The investigations, conducted in the context of ZAM’s Kleptocracy Project, unearthed practices ranging from opaque and untraceable accounting to the fattening of ‘friendly’ businesses through state contracts and from outright theft of teachers’ salaries to the use of fronts to hide mansions and supercars. These practices were often combined with the outright sabotage of standard management processes and the victimisation of good civil servants and whistle blowers. Powerful individuals in the elite were even found working with criminal syndicates in order to siphon off money.


In one particularly hard-hitting example, diversion of internationally donated COVID 19 relief funds away from citizens and towards luxuriously catered lunches, hotel events and juicy contracts for the politically powerful, was exposed in a Transnational Investigation that covered Mali, Mozambique and South Africa. It was found that these three countries, even if very diverse in language, culture and history, shared the same kleptocratic features in their governance systems.


Though the use of political power tmisappropriate o government funds at the expense of the wider population is the textbook definition of kleptocracy, and African states have been called ‘kleptocratic’ before, the ‘anatomy’ of African kleptocracies has not yet been fully mapped. For the first time, the ZAM Anatomy of Kleptocracy project lifts a tip off the veil in that regard. The mechanisms and processes exposed by the investigations seem to indicate that old colonial ‘plunder’ structures, whereby natural resources are stolen from the countries that produce these, without the countries themselves receiving any benefit, still exist. They now benefit a small local elite.


‘The results show that activists in African countries, like in the recent protests in Kenya against IMF COVID-19 relief support, have a point when they ask international development partners to stop supporting such regimes. They are looking for true solidarity and a joint agenda for good governance and social justice’, said ZAM editor in chief, Bart Luirink. He added that the journalists have amassed an impressive database of documents, budgets, undercover reporting, small surveys and expert contributions, which will be archived by ZAM and serve as a basis for further investigative journalism initiatives.

The investigations will be published over an 8-week period, starting on Thursday 24 June, with the tracking of COVID 19 support funds in Mali, Mozambique and South Africa.

Blurbs can be found below.


To kick off the publication of the investigative series, ZAM in collaboration with Pakhuis de Zwijger (Amsterdam) will screen a livecast event on 24 June 2021 at 20h30. Register here or join a livestream on Facebook here.

For more information contact Bart Luirink (+31 6 34 08 30 24, bart@zammagazine.com).

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Mozambique, Mali, South Africa | Theft of COVID 19 aid Estacio Valoi, David Dembele, Nazlee Arbee A transnational investigation in three countries: Mozambique, Mali and South Africa, exposes how politicians enriched themselves with aid money, while the poorer areas received little to no benefit.

  • In Mozambique, relief funds meant to help people suffering from respiratorial diseases in villages and refugee camps in Cabo Delgado were spent on hotel lunches for politicians, with a leftover for politicians’ pockets. State budget support funded by COVID 19 aid was partially ‘reallocated’ to benefit the military.


  • In Mali, while US$ 400 million was given to the country to fight the pandemic, COVID 19 patients in the capital were given chloroquine tablets or were sent home, while the rural areas in the north received no supplies from the budget at all. A minister in charge of a special COVID 19 reserve was later seen conducting a new election campaign with funds of uncertain provenance.


  • In South Africa, a subsidy meant to help feed people with no income during the lockdown was stopped because of ‘limited budget’ while close to US$ 1 billion in COVID 19 aid was looted by top politicians and bureaucrats.

Uganda | Stealing teacher’ salaries John Masaba The age-old Ugandan practice of theft of teacher salaries by top bureaucrats, and how an online technological solution made it worse. ‘You can now delete, retire, suspend a teacher with one click of the mouse.’ John Masaba entered a world without payslips, where those who complain ‘get victimised extra.’


Zambia | The mills that grind away the money Charles Mafa and John Mukela The ruling party takes foreign loan after loan, but never pays them back; it’s the poor famers who do that. How agricultural projects mean money for a top layer, while farming collectives despair about overpriced milling machines without batteries. ‘They will soon need repairs too, what are we going to do?’


Zimbabwe | From diamond dictatorship to diamond syndicate and back Andrew Mambondiyani Dictator Mugabe is dead, but income from Zimbabwe’s diamonds still doesn’t benefit the public. The once mighty ZANU PF machinery that controlled the Marange ‘blood’ diamond fields and used the money to fund election campaigns, secret service and anti-opposition operations has crumbled into a network of privatised syndicates. Or are the criminals down below still working with those ‘up there’? Zimbabweans look on in fear as the military once more enters the Diamond City.


Liberia | The happy few’s happy places Bettie Johnson Mbayo Even asking the real value of a Minister’s mansion will get you in trouble in Liberia. Asset declaration, a formal anti-corruption measure demanded by donors, is a tool the powerful know how to duck. To the Liberian public, which sees the palatial buildings, rubber farms, couture and supercars owned by their rulers flaunted on Facebook, the big question remains: where did they get the money?


Nigeria | Monetising marriage Taiwo Adebulu Next to passports, a certificate of marriage is the most coveted official paper one can hope to obtain in Nigeria. It is also one of the most expensive. ‘You must know you must also bring money on the day itself’. A formal fee and online booking mechanism mean nothing when corrupt networks of public officials simply won’t give you your certificate until you pay. Taiwo Adebulu went undercover to get married.


Nigeria | Partnership of thieves Theophilus Abbah The Nigerian Immigration Service, being too ‘inefficient’ and ‘compromised’ to do its job properly, outsourced all passport and visa work to foreign companies. Then, NIS’ top officials became shareholders in these ‘partnerships’. Then, they started to rake in two incomes: one from the state and one from the ‘partnership’. Then, they proceeded to rake in ever more money from state coffers and the public. Now, practically all revenue from the ‘uncancellable’ contracts is ‘corruptly shared among a few persons.’

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Editorial College of the ZAM Kleptocracy Project

Ruona Meyer (Nigeria, Germany) is an Emmy-nominated, multimedia investigative journalist, media trainer, and consultant with postgraduate degrees in Journalism from Wits University in South Africa and the University of Westminster, London, UK. She has 18 years experience in journalism across Africa and Europe and her work has been published notably on the BBC, the Financial Times, Reuters, Deutsche Welle and ZAM magazine as well as in various outlets within Nigeria, South Africa, the UK, the Netherlands and Germany. She was named Investigative Journalist of the Year in Nigeria in 2013. In August 2019, Meyer’s one-hour documentary Sweet Sweet Codeine brought a first Emmy nomination for the BBC World Service and Nigeria.


In 2021, Meyer was appointed Africa Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network, which produces evidence-based reporting on solutions to social problems. She is simultaneously studying for a PhD in Investigative Journalism and Media Discourse at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. Her research interrogates the construct of counter power within African-transnational investigative journalism networks. She coordinated and edited four investigations for the Kleptocracy Project: two in Nigeria, one in South Africa and one in Liberia.


Bram Posthumus (Mali, Netherlands) has been covering stories in various parts of West Africa for international radio, press and online publications for close to 30 years. He has covered coups in Mali, Guinea Bissau and Burkina Faso, resource extracting issues in Guinea (bauxite), Burkina Faso (gold), Liberia (timber), Côte d’Ivoire (cocoa) and Senegal (oil and gas) as well as governance issues in all of these countries and a few others. He is the author of a political biography of Guinea.


He has also been keeping tabs on the growing jihadist security threat that started in 1990s Algeria, then spread into Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso and is now making inroads into coastal states, specifically Benin and Côte d’Ivoire. His focus is on what he calls the ‘extraordinarily inept’ national, regional and international responses to the phenomenon, which are likely to constitute fresh contributions to another Kleptocracy Project. For the current project he coordinated and edited investigations in Zimbabwe and the Central African Republic.


Stephen Kafeero (Uganda, South Africa) is a Ugandan investigative journalist who has practiced, contributing to different publications, since 2010. He is an Open Society Foundation fellow for Investigative Journalism at University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and a candidate for an MA in Journalism and Media Studies. He considers himself an activist as well as a journalist and has a particular interest in human rights, the media, politics and the law. He coordinated and edited the investigations for the Kleptocracy Project in Zambia and Uganda.


Evelyn Groenink (South Africa, Netherlands) is ZAM’s investigations and narrative editor. She co-founded the Forum for African Investigative Reporters in 2003 and has coordinated and edited over a dozen transnational investigations on the African continent. She has published seven books, among which an investigation into the assassinations of three southern African freedom fighters, and a five-part series on South Africa’s slide into corruption under the government of Jacob Zuma. She coordinated and edited ZAM’s past four kleptocracy investigations; coordinated and edited the Transnational Investigation into COVID 19 relief funds for the current Kleptocracy ‘Anatomy’ project, while she also served as overall narrative editor.

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