NAIROBI, Kenya - This dispatch was meant to be about saving the noble elephant. But after a hard look at Africa today, with an eye on the narrow worldview of ignoble pachyderms in America, the focus shifted to jackals and hyenas.
Consider Kenya, a once and future hope as a model for an enlightened dark continent. It throbs with potential. Young people with fresh ideas join an old guard in transforming it beyond recognition. Yet despite its outspoken courts and critics, it is shot through with corruption.
Those endangered black elephants are, in fact, making a comeback. Asian appetites for ivory are waning. Young Kenyans are taught to protect their wildlife heritage. The problem is white elephants, giant dubious schemes with ample opportunity for skimming off the top.
Plunder is old news in Africa. Since winds of change brought independence in the 1960s, uncounted billions in public funds have vanished into private pockets. Now, however, plunder is organized and obvious, an entrenched component of global geopolitics.
Kenya is hardly the worst case, but it illustrates clearly new winner-eat-all directions across sub-Saharan Africa.
Washington, thinking small, is slashing vital development aid in favor of private deals that enrich U.S. companies. That enables China, thinking big, to recolonize Africa, securing vast repositories of raw materials, minerals, oil and arable land vital to its manifest destiny.
Western aid to Africa requires transparency and protection of human rights. China simply pays the price of admission, adding off-the-books incentives. At a summit in Beijing, Xi Jinping just pledged another $16 billion to Africa in grants and loans that put recipients in his debt.
Previous U.S. administrations helped journalists track hijacked aid, and the State Department weighed in if authorities got tough with them. Donald Trump changed that. His signature phrase, fake news, is a godsend to any government eager to muzzle its press.
"I'm following so many scandals I can't keep track of them," a skilled Kenyan investigative reporter told me. "You can't follow the money when it's cash stuffed in briefcases or if it disappears in mysterious shell companies and foreign bank accounts."Read More