Corruption Net: Small Fish Sit In Jail, Big Ones Swim Free
KINSHASA, CONGO — During his rebellion, Laurent Kabila spoke repeatedly of not only stamping out the endemic corruption that marred Mobutu Sese Seko's reign, but also tracking down offenders and making them pay back the public money they stole.
Public sentiment sizzled with anticipation at such a long-awaited "settling of accounts." But now that Kabila has begun following through on his promise, many Congolese don't like it at all.
"Their attitude has been pretty negative toward us," says Kinshasa pollster Francesca Bomboko. "In the beginning, some ministers even made public statements saying things like 'You are all corrupted, you are all part of the system.' We listen to that and think, 'Who do you think you are?' "
Many also say the new government is too heavy-handed in its pursuit of the country's guilty elite. Some 60 former ministers, bank directors, and businessmen have been detained so far, and confined to cramped concrete-floored quarters around the capital.
"We must even sleep here, with the mice and mosquitoes," says one former ambassador, pointing to the thin foam mattresses stacked against the wall in one of the detention rooms. Family members provide food during restricted visiting hours, and detainees are taken on supervised trips to a nearby field to relieve themselves.
Meanwhile, some have been held more than two months, with no charges levied and no sign of due process in sight.
The government has set up a Commission on Wrongly Acquired Goods and promises well-documented prosecutions. But there's been widespread grumbling that officials are overzealous in targeting the small fish who chose to stay in the country while not doing enough to retrieve millions from the higher level Mobutists who fled for Europe.
Meanwhile some are seeing an irony in the proceedings as accusations mount that Kabila's government is falling back into the same corrupt habits as Mobutu's regime. Senior ministers and military officers have seized luxury homes at will, kicking out owners on the spot. A series of scandals has tainted the Finance Ministry, prompting an investigation.
"We have a kind of proverb in this country about the piglet and its mother," says one prominent businessman now hiding out in his home for fear of being detained. "The baby pig asks its mother, 'Why are you so ugly - with such a big nose and hairy ears,' not understanding that it will grow up to look the same way. This new government will grow up too," he says, "and realize it's no different from the last one."