Kleptocracy, the inverse Robin Hood politics

Kleptocracy, a government stealing from public resources to enrich itself

Kleptocracy, from the Greek words “thief” and “government”, is a term created in the XIX century in reference to the Spanish politic of that time. It became particularly popular in the second half of the successive century thanks to Mobutu Sese Seko, dictator of Zaire.

According to his biographer, Michela Wrong, it’s almost unique that an African president did so little for the economy of his country starting from an enormous potential of natural resources. Actually, Mobutu did something: but for his own bank account, enriched to the detriment of public funds.

Carlos Hank González, a Mexican politician and business man between the Fifties and the Nineties, used to say: “a politician who is poor is a poor politician”. If we take a look around, it seems that he had many acolytes. Not without reason, González’s nickname was “the professor”…

The former president of Zaire, Mobutu. In the modern era, the word kleptocracy was used for the first time to refer to him

Among his aware or unaware disciples there is Slobodan Milošević. He is more famous for the genocide of 8 thousand Muslims in Srebrenica, Bosnia, but he was remarkable also from the kleptocracy point of view. Western media say that he accumulated something like 11 billion dollars, embezzled from the treasury of a Serbia on the brink of collapse.

We remember the last days of Saddam Hussein, hidden in a hovel. But when he was in charge he used to live in very luxurious presidential palaces, while the economy of Iraq was very fragile for anybody else – except for the few oligarchs who managed oil and hydrocarbons.

Ferdinand Marcos did something more to lift the Philippines, kleptocracy and the population of the archipelago were increasing at a higher rate than economy, though, to have visible improvements. The next governments retrieved 648 million dollars from a patrimony of (stolen) billions. A part of it was used for the legendary shoes collection of Marcos’ wife, Imelda.

The interior of a presidental palace owned by Saddam Hussein, built thanks to his established kleptocracy

Known for being eccentric, Idi Amin Dada ran Uganda for eight years without any logic. He resorted to kleptocracy even before becoming president, smuggling gold and ivory to get influence and power.

Like father like son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier followed the footsteps of his dad François “Papa Doc” to lead Haiti and his public finances without transparency (euphemism), also thanks to his control on the tobacco monopoly.

On top of the rank of kleptocracy we find Suharto, dictator of Indonesia. Transparency International, a NGO which study cases of corruption, estimates that Suharto, in his thirty years of domination, robbed something like 35 billion dollars to his own country. His wife, Madame Tien, was called “Tien percent”, a wordplay about bribing percentages on domestic businesses.

Imelda Marcos, wife of Ferdinand, and her legendary collection of shoes. Marcos’ cleptocracy was worth billions

Of course corruption is not an exclusive of dictatorship, like the examples we saw. Otherwise the news wouldn’t be filled with scandals, on a daily basis: from Brazil (Lula and Dilma Rousseff) to South Korea (Park Geun-hye), from the United States (Halliburton and the Bush family for the rebuilding of Iraq) to Italy (a well-oiled system which involved any major Party).

We shouldn’t be pessimistic about kleptocracy though. As the Macedonian writer Ljupka Cvetanova said, “there are honest politicians. They haven’t won the elections yet”.


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