Adesina And Trump’s America: A Case Of Corruption Fighting Corruption?
I’m instinctively suspicious of overly self-promotional people who actively seek the limelight. That is why, although African Development Bank head Akinwumi Adesina has been reputed to be a smart, go-getting, and transaction-oriented leader, I’ve been reluctant to jump on the bandwagon of his praisefest in Nigeria.
I’m also aware, of course, that my instinctual aversion to exhibitionistic people— and my suspicion that their preening is often informed by a desire to hide something untoward— isn’t always justified by evidence. There are showy, attention-seeking people who are genuine. Akinwumi may perpetually bask in the smug glow of self-congratulation and still be a decent, ethical leader.
I have tried to understand why the United States government wants him out as the head of the African Development Bank, but most of the bits of information I’ve encountered seem to be befogged by exaggerated patriotic fervor and knee-jerk racial solidarity. And the US government’s complaints against him are neither persuasive nor watertight.
Well, the Bureau of the Board of Governors of the African Development Bank agreed, after its June 4 meeting, that it would accede to the demand of the United States government to authorize an independent review of an earlier internal ethics committee report that’d absolved Akinwumi of allegations of corruption and conflict of interest against him.
I think it’s fair to await the outcome of the independent review. But while we do that, I can’t help but wonder why, of all governments, it is Donald Trump’s government that is obsessed with ethical conduct and transparency in an African bank—or, for that matter, anywhere.
Trump’s government is far and away the shadiest, most corrupt, and least transparent government in modern American history. It’s impossible to capture all of the government’s unprecedentedly fragrant ethical—and even legal— infractions in a column, so I’ll just share a few.
In February this year, a US government watchdog by the name of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (or CREW) found “an astonishing rate of corruption” in the Trump administration. It discovered that Trump had recorded 3,000 conflicts of interest since he took office in January 2017, which adds up to “the equivalent of two conflicts of interest per day.”
“Every one of the more than 3,000 conflicts of interest that President Trump has incurred through his businesses raises new questions about whether he is making decisions in the interest of the American people or his own bottom line,” CREW’s Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “Not only does he appear to be profiting from the presidency daily, but he is constantly facing new temptations to use his office for his own benefit.”
In America, people traditionally get poorer when they become president; but they later leverage the symbolic and political power they earned from their presidency to get rich after their tenures. But not Trump. Unlike presidents before him, he has refused to divest from his businesses and uses his privileged position as president to make money for his businesses.
Here are a few instances CREW called attention to. Up to 55 members of the US Senate and House of Representatives members visited Trump in his resorts about 78 times. They paid pricey hotel bills during the visits, which added up to a lot of money for him.
Trump’s cabinet members, equivalent to what Nigerians call ministers, attended events with lobbyists, obviously with his implicit or explicit prompting, “at least 30 times” in his hotels since he has been president. Foreign governments—or entities associated with them—have also patronized Trump properties by holding events in them in order to curry favor with him at least 13 times from 2017 to February 2020.
And no fewer than 134 officials of foreign governments have used Trump properties for events since 2017. The list is long, but this violates the Emoluments Clause in the US Constitution, according to CREW.
Another government watchdog called Public Citizen found out, through a Freedom of Information Act request, that since 2017, Trump has charged secret service agents who protect him up to $628,000 for staying in his property while protecting him.
Similarly, in a September 2019 letter to Vice President Mike Pence’s office, the House Oversight Committee revealed that Trump compelled his Vice President to stay in his Doonbeg hotel in Ireland, which had “failed to turn a profit in years,” at the cost of $3.6 million to American taxpayers!
It was also revealed that crew members in the Air Force “stayed overnight in a Trump hotel in Scotland in March 2019 during a routine mission,” which violates the US constitution.
But it isn’t only Trump that is sullied by corruption and conflicts of interest; many of his cabinet members engage in “Third World-level” corruption, conflicts of interest, and evasion of basic transparency. For instance, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo caused a State Department inspector general by the name of Steve Linick to be fired by Trump for investigating him over “allegations of misuse of government resources.”
In the United States, the position of inspector general is “an independent, non-partisan organization established within each executive branch agency assigned to audit the agency’s operation in order to discover and investigate cases of misconduct, waste, fraud and other abuse of government procedures occurring within the agency,” according to Robert Longley, a US government and history expert.
Since Trump came to power, he has been waging self-interested wars against America’s inspectors general. As the Politico newspaper of June 3, 2020 pointed out, “Linick’s ouster came amid a series of moves by Trump to oust inspectors general he viewed as insufficiently loyal and had attacked for investigations that cast him or his administration in a bad light. Trump also ousted the intelligence community inspector general, Michael Atkinson, whom he blamed for igniting the House’s impeachment inquiry by revealing the existence of a whistleblower complaint against him.”
I have lived in America for more than 15 years, but this is the first time an American government has felt like a banana republic. In many ways, frankly, Trump and his government evoke mild, less crude, but nonetheless potent echoes of Abacha—corruption in broad day light, intolerance of dissent, resistance to transparency and, of course, bigotry as an official policy.
The rise of Trump to the American presidency and his sustained and systematic decimation of the values that had made America a beacon to the world is perhaps the best argument against the oft-repeated notion that “strong institutions” are the safeguards against the violence of “strongmen.”
In his July 2009 speech to the Ghanaian Parliament, former US president Barack Obama famously told us that “Africa doesn’t need strongmen; it needs strong institutions.” Well, an American strongman has emerged who is destroying in just three years the strong institutions the country built over centuries.
I am not in a position to determine whether Akinwumi is guilty or innocent of the allegations against him, but it is curious that he is being tormented by the most corrupt government in America’s modern history, by a government that is defined by a mystifying web of conflicts of interest, and that chafes at— and even punishes— the littlest attempt to invite transparency from it from its own institutions.