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Last Updated: Friday, 17 December, 2004, 08:52 GMT
What if Blunkett were African?
By Joseph Winter
BBC News website, Africa desk

UK Home Secretary David Blunkett has resigned after it emerged that his office had fast-tracked a visa application for his ex-lover's nanny.

David Blunkett
Mr Blunkett criticised colleagues in an interview with his biographer
An e-mail was sent which said the application should receive "no favours but slightly quicker".

Mr Blunkett insisted that he had done nothing wrong and his close friend and ally, Prime Minister Tony Blair said he had "left government with his integrity intact".

If an interior minister in most African countries had helped with a visa application for an acquaintance in this way, no-one would have batted an eyelid.

If the details had been leaked to an African newspaper, they would not have seen it as a story - such abuse of power, and far more extreme versions, are taken for granted.

'Big boss'

And this goes right to the heart of many of the continent's problems. If you are in a position of authority, it is to be expected that you personally, and then your friends, relatives and hangers-on will benefit.

Visit the waiting room of most African ministers and there is a long queue of people waiting to see "the big boss".

They will have a variety of reasons, an aunty looking for some money, a distant cousin who has just left school looking for a job and, in all possibility, the nanny of a girlfriend looking for her visa to be fast-tracked.

The pressure on African ministers is well described by one of Nigeria's most famous authors, Chinua Achebe in his book, No Longer At Ease, published in 1960.

Despite starting out with the best intentions as a new civil servant, Obi Okonkwo eventually gives in to the multiple requests from his extended family, leading to his downfall.

Rebel soldier in DR Congo
Many African wars are fought because one group feels excluded from power
In most countries, little has changed since then. And it is not just ministers, but anyone in any position of power.

I have a good friend who used to work at the airport in one African country.

This meant that whenever I arrived at the airport, he introduced me to the customs officials, who waved me through without the usual rigmarole of searching my bags and asking for a bribe in order to waive some customs duty or other fee.

This may seem like a minor transgression - like Mr Blunkett's - but it goes to the heart of Africa's poor governance.

Rule of law

Rules are not the same for everyone.

If you know the right people, you can get a visa quickly. If not, you go to the bottom of a very long queue.

Newly appointed staff in many ministries will be from the same region or ethnic background as the minister and the top civil servants.

A study was recently carried out in Kenyan ministries, which found that many ministries were dominated by one particular group.

One businessman in Somalia, where there is no government, recently told me that he is not allowed to sell certain goods in Kenya because businessmen close to the government have been awarded a monopoly.

Rare resignations

Because being in government leads to such perks, not to mention the possibility of corruption when lucrative government contracts are awarded, people are more willing to take up arms to fight for power.

Especially when people from one region or ethnic group feel that they are being marginalised from power.

And once in power, there is a determination to stay whatever the cost.

Ministerial resignations remain all too rare, although there is some room for optimism now that a few African presidents have voluntarily left power.

David Blunkett's error was nothing compared to the corruption in some governments but the fact that he had to resign should be seized on by those campaigning for better governance in Africa.


What do you think? Would a minister in your country resign over this issue? Would such behaviour be expected or are things changing?

This debate has now closed. Here is a selection of your comments.

A selection will be published and read out on the BBC's Focus on Africa programme at 1705 GMT on 18 December.

Resign? What's that word?
Olu Akinmade,

NO WAY THIS IS FAR TOO OVER BLOWN BY THE PRESS IN THE UK ...SO A MINISTER HAS USED PUBLIC OFFICE FOR PERSONAL GAIN .....EVERYONE DOES IT .....HOW MUCH TIME EFFORT HAS AN ENQUIRY INTO THIS MATTER TAKEN ????
ERIQ MUTHEMBA, NAIROBI, KENYA

In Tanzania,during Nyerere's era we had several resignations and ministers were held responsible.Even now several ministers have resigned even if their mistakes were committed by their juniors.If a minister can not resign then the President has to sack him or her.Though this is not the case always but at least we have seen people taking responsibility for scandals However we have to conguratualate David Blunket for taking responsibility regardless of the truth on the issue. Similarly the British media needs special credit on how they handle home issues.
Emmaus Bandekile Mwamakula, Tanzanian (Redcliffe College, Gloucester, England)

Well from the experiences here in Tanzania, I must say, that issue wouldnt have lead to resignition. We have seen ministers here holding their positions even after loss of lifes eg. MV Bukoba tragedy
Masatu, Fimboyamnyonge, Tanzania

I understand Mr. Winter's concern for good governance (or the lack of it)and the need to redress such issues in certain countries. I do not however see the link between Blunkett's blunder and the situation in some African states. Firstly, Blunkett did not admit to any wrong doing and only resigned, honorably, in order not to disgrace the government. Secondly, the link between nepotism and civil war in African states is somewhat far-fetched. THe two biggest cases in Africa: Ruwanda and Sudan are examples where those in power terrorise the weaker, not of the weaker taking up arms against hegemonic rulers.
Zwelithini Simela, Bremen, Germany

Nepotism exists everywhere, don't highlight this as if it were only an African problem.
thato, cambridge, USAIt is in bad taste to compare the case in Britain with the African experience. First, there is untold suffering in most African countries that anybody who is working, leave alone a minister or an MP, is expected necessarily to help his or her community. Again, most African countries are communitarian, it does not help to wallow in riches while your neighbour is sleeping on an empty stomach. We define our humanhood by the way we are integrated into the society. It has a lot of meaning to our wellbeing. The case with Blunkett's resignation does not hit me as a person who did so out of character but out of pressure. There is a big difference here and the media must highlight such divergence. If he was of good character, he could not have waited that long to call it a day.
joseph Okech , Kenya , in Texas

This is the most stupid comparison the BBC has ever made. It is like comparing goats' food with lions' one.
Sintoiya Ole Lekumbai, Nairobi, Kenya

In Nigeria that type of attitude will draw laughter,and even scorn from most people, especially his tribesmen,including those in the media itself.Personally i don't think the President will even accept a resignation of a minister who is caught in a minor scandal, especially if the minister holds a crucial post, or is a prominent party member like Mr Blunkett.
Uche Ibemere, Lagos, Nigeria

It has never happened under this Cameroon's present regime, for a minister to resign - no matter the depth his mismanagement. Only the "self-powered" president decides if you should leave or otherwise. In cameroon, a minister WILL NEVER resign on this issue.
akere, Aarhus, DK

People need to stop been so maopic and narrow minded as to think this kind of corruption only happens in Africa. Look west and see how much rumsfeld and george bush's government has gotten away with murder and is still there. This is not an African problem,its a problem of the world of power
kenneth mwase, harare zimbabwe

What the former cabinet minister did was wrong and it is good he resigned from office. This is intolrable in present Ethiopia and such things do not take place openly. The prime minister of Ethiopia and the smart Ethiopian political leadership would have simply have kicked or even sent to jail to a person like Blunket. What he did was really morally wrong and not acceptable in Ethiopia.
Alemuye, Addis, Ethiopia

The real reason for the impunity of some African leaders is that both they and their ill-gotten gains are very, very safe in the Western European societies that cynically criticise "African corruption".
Doye Agama, UK

Winter's concern for Africa,s poor governance is appreciated. Such climate as nepotism exists in Africa. However helping out illegal immigrant nanny's and other bigbrother favoritism among friends and cliques are far more common in today's USA.
Ifeanyi Ughanze, Houston, Texas

It is not only Africa that this happens. Here in the USA any good political contributor would expect the same sort of access and favours from the person they contributed to. Visa and greencard queues can be jumped in the USA if you know someone.
Mike Thompson, Fairfax, VA USA

In Uganda, that wouldn't have come to the media.

By our standards that is a non-issue.
mukiibi, kampala-Uganda

l haven't heard of such resignation in Africa. Power and position is constantly abused to create personal wealth. There is hardly any form of accountability. Hope African leaders learn from Mr. Blunkett.
sena aniwa, london, england

In Zimbabwe the authorities can and do what they want. They must think Blunket mad to have resigned! The whole point of being in power is to enrich yourself and your family. The idea that you are there to serve the people is as alien to the ruling party as you can get. The only time the politicians show an interest in the people is when masses start to show signs of removing them from power!
Alex, Zimbabwean in UK

I don't think a minister in Liberia would have resigned over such a row as "visa favor". Normally, the public will see it as a sign of great help and perhaps would shower him with praises. Anyone criticizing the minister will be looked at out of touch with the norm of society. Public servants should be above the suspicions of public eyes but unfortunately this is not the case in most African countries.
J Duwar Kollie, Palm Coast, FL USA

I've been a resident of the United States for 11 years. I work for a company involves in contracts with the federal government, and believe me, corruption is widespread in the US too. Who you know makes who you are. To get a government contract in the US, you must rub elbows with the right people. White people just do it with more "finesse". Campaign contributions are a form of legal corruption.
C. IVERS, Fulton, Maryland, USA

That is one thing I like with western democracy.Maintaining one's integrity is something African politicians have yet to do,and will unfortunately take a long time to be entrenched. In Kenya,despite many corruption claims,involved politicians are getting stronger by day.
weru macharia, Kenyan in Brighton,

This behavior is common in SA, the minister would have gotten a promotion and the nanny would have taken his old position.
ryan, JHb South Africa

It is a natural fact that power is not easily relinquished. If we think that ministers in western governments are more honourable than their counterparts in African governments, then why didn't Mt Blunkett resign as soon as the story came out, but he tried to stay in power and twist the fact as best as he could to get out of it. These things happen everywhere in the world and it so happen that in Africa it is not seen as an abuse of power, but merely given a helping hand to those who need your help. It is a human nature and whether it is in America or Britain we know favourtism (and corruption)exist. The difference in Africa is that the media will not seize upon it as media in the west does. More importantly because of poverty and the close knit community that we live in a lot of people depend on the few who have jobs.
Banky Njie, London/Gambia

Definately not, i think that the ministers in our country might have been debated in the media, but such a trivial thing like this could never have forced a minister to be forced to leave the cabinet, let a lone resign.
Jonathan Damsgaard, Malmoe Sweden

This type of "corruption" is not only common in Africa amongst Africans but in most if not all developing countries. In all of the Middle Eastern states this is a common practice of Govenors down to the traffic police. It is called "Wasta" which basically means having and using connections to obtain special favor. I have seen the same thing in Mexico and Asia. I think this practice is not related to geographic location but rather economic situation.
Brian Green, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

I WAS QUITE SHOCKED AT THE WAY THE BRITISH PRESS PUSHED THIS ISSUE,IN MY COUNTRY,MRS QUINNS FRIENDS AND RELATIVES WOULD BE ENTITLED TO FREE TICKETS,USE OF OFFICIAL CARS,IN NIGERIA MR BLUNKETT WOULD'VE DONE THE RIGHT THING,COS IF HE DOESNT OFFER THIS KIND OF FAVOURS HIS CONSITUENCY WOULD CRUCIFY HIM,FOR NOT TAKING ADVANTAGE OF HIS POSITION.
IRENE, NIGERIA

Call it nepotism or network. It exists everywhere. Its also a way of life and business in Asian countries.
Lynette Chua, Singapore

I think it would amount to a major wonder of the world if a Nigerian Minister, Governor, Senator or any other government offical chooses the path that Blunket had chosen- resigning over a mere assistance to fast track a visa application. Given my experiences here in africa I still find it hard to come to terns with the fact that Blunkett resigned under such circumstances, even when he did not 'bribe' anyone nor did he even pick up a phone to make a call to ask for assistance on the visa application.
Jonah Iboma, Lagos, Nigeria




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Analysis of the events that led to the resignation



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