Trending Topics:

The U.S. media dwells on corrupt African leaders — but whitewashes the Western billionaires and oil giants that pay them

on 5 Comments

Mainstream U.S. press coverage of government corruption in Africa is all too often marred by unconscious racism. Reports dwell at loving length on the grotesque wealth of certain African leaders, but the same articles will often forget to even name the big oil companies, mining giants and hedge funds that pay and sometimes bribe them.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a prime example. The world is slowly waking up to the latest humanitarian disaster that is underway there, as the repressive regime of President Joseph Kabila stokes violence and crushes dissent after refusing to hold new elections. Thousands have already died and more than 1.3 million Congolese are fleeing for their lives.

Recent reports have chronicled the Kabila family’s wealth, reckoned in at least the tens of millions, and included the usual prurient details; the New York Times explained that Kabila has “a collection of expensive watches, expensive motorcycles and a chimpanzee in a cage,” and, for good measure, he sometimes wears “two expensive watches at the same time — a Rolex and a Patek Philippe — one for each wrist.”

But the reports downplay or leave out entirely that rich world mining enterprises and oil companies, and a New York hedge fund, have paid and sometimes bribed Kabila, using an Israeli billionaire as intermediary. The hedge fund, Och-Ziff Capital Management, was hit with a huge $413 million fine in September 2016 for giving Kabila a $100 million bribe in return for mineral concessions, but the New York Times buried a dry account in the financial pages. Months later, when a federal judge in Brooklyn, Nicholas Garaufis, was sentencing a hapless African middleman to prison for his role in the scandal, the judge noted with anger that the American hedge fund officials who masterminded the bribery scheme were getting off without jail because high-priced attorneys had defended them. “I’m sick and tired of lawyers from white-shoe law firms marching into my courtroom and getting a deferred prosecution agreement for their clients,” he said. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported his remarks, but not the New York Times.

The mainstream media did not follow the disgrace at the Och-Ziff hedge fund with vigorous reporting about Daniel Och, the 56-year-old founder, who is worth an estimated $3.2 billion. In May 2015, the activist group Hedge Clippers had rallied outside Och’s $41 million Central Park West penthouse, but reporters were not sent there, or out to scrutinize his $26.5 million estate in Southhampton, Long Island, or to his mansion in Aspen, Colorado, valued at another $20 million. No one was interrogated about Och’s various possessions — including what kind of wristwatches he favors.

The Israeli billionaire, Dan Gertler, the man who actually passed the bribe from Och-Ziff on to DR Congo President Kabila, is also sailing under the radar. Gertler has used his close relationship with Joseph Kabila to arrange deals that have boosted his net worth to more than $2 billion, money he has drained from one of the poorest nations on earth. But the mainstream press, with the honorable exception of Bloomberg, did not rush to profile him, and no one is making lists of his possessions either.

Another favorite for salacious media scrutiny is the Obiang family dictatorship in Equatorial Guinea. A few years back, a New York Times report included a thorough census of the holdings of Teodorin, the son and heir apparent; “roomfuls of expensive goods, including bottles of Chateau Petrous, among the world’s most expensive wines, and a $3.7 million clock.” The article also carefully listed the 7 brand names of his luxury autos: “two Bugatti Veyrons; an Aston Martin; a Ferrari Enzo. . .” Yet somehow Exxon, the poor country’s biggest oil exporter, and the source of much of that wealth, was not even mentioned by name in the report.

Angola is one more example in which the mainstream exposes the wealthy Africans and not the large enterprises that pay them. Two recent New York Times stories provided the usual details, (. . . the president’s daughter, “Ms. dos Santos, worth $3.5 billion according to Forbes, mingles with Hollywood and European celebrities. . .”). But the Times could not find room to even mention Chevron or Exxon, two of the leading giants that export Angolan oil.

Naming corporate names is even more essential now that Donald Trump is in power. The very first legislation that Trump signed, back on February 14, scrapped a proposed part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank legislation, known as Section 1504, that would have required oil and mineral companies listed in the U.S. to publish what they pay to foreign governments. The measure was mild, but Big Oil and Big Mining fought successfully to delay it for years until the GOP Congress killed it.

By hiding the connivence of the rich world, the press is not just wrongly shifting all the blame onto Africans. Och-Ziff Capital Management, at one time the fourth-largest U.S. hedge fund, is publicly traded, and pension funds made up half of its shareholders. The teachers and municipal employees whose money is invested in Och-Ziff might want to know how their company is behaving in some of the poorest countries on earth. Owners of Exxon and Chevron stock may also be curious about the direct connection between the companies that pay their dividends and the terrible health conditions and lack of schools across Africa.

This pattern of whitewashing rich world complicity is too common to be an accident. Of course mainstream journalists don’t sit down at their keyboards and consciously ask themselves how they can ridicule African kleptocrats while ignoring American oil companies. But until they can break free from racial stereotypes that are now ages old, their reports will keep on distorting the truth.

James North

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades. He lives in New York City.

Other posts by .

Posted In:

5 Responses

  1. Keith on November 6, 2017, 3:15 pm

    JAMES NORTH- “But the reports downplay or leave out entirely that rich world mining enterprises and oil companies, and a New York hedge fund, have paid and sometimes bribed Kabila, using an Israeli billionaire as intermediary.”

    Actually, the situation is a helluva lot more serious than this, involving the Zionists’ favorite African, genocidaire Paul Kagame and AFRICOM. The situation in the DRC is a direct consequence of imperial policy and plunder utilizing Kagame’s army as proxy forces to impose Joseph Kabila on the Congolese people. Two articles and quotes/links to the Black Agenda Report. The BAR is essential reading for those who wish to keep abreast of African developments.

    “Beginning in 1996, Rwanda and Uganda invaded the hugely resource rich Democratic Republic of the Congo, enabled by U.S. weapons, logistics and intelligence. They expelled Congolese President Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 and replaced him with Laurent Kabila. When Laurent Kabila raised an independent head and expelled Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers, Rwanda and Uganda invaded Congo again and replaced him with his more compliant adopted son Joseph Kabila. Today, after the death of millions in the First and Second Congo Wars, Rwanda and Uganda continue to commit atrocities and plunder eastern Congolese resources. Right now 60 people a month are being massacred in Beni Territory, but the world isn’t much more likely to hear about that than about the Acholi Genocide.” (Ann Garrison)

    “The eastern Congo remains awash in bloodshed due to western mining companies and their proxy armies, the military regimes of Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), and Joseph Kabila (DRC), all hidden behind reams of western newsprint blaming Congolese victims for their own suffering. Across the continent a new rebellion in western Congo has reportedly engaged Belgian paratroopers and UN “peacekeepers” in alliance with the DRC government. With massive casualties and more than 200,000 civilians forced to flee western Congo the United Nations and western media have covered up the new rebellion. Meanwhile, AFRICOM under the Obama administration has major base constructions and secret deployments across Central Africa, with NATO, Dyncorp and Special Operations Command shipping Ugandan grunts to the U.S. wars in Somalia, Afghanistan, Darfur and Iraq.

    With the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) engulfed in bloodshed and terrorism due to the secretive occupation and expansion by the Rwandan regime of Paul Kagame, Congo’s President Joseph Kabila has received support from Belgium and the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) to crush a growing rebellion sparked by resistance forces in far Western Congo. But the United Nations Observers Mission in Congo (MONUC) has downplayed the new rebellion and hidden massive military and civilian casualties.” (Keith Harmon Snow)

  2. JosephA on November 7, 2017, 10:19 am


    Thank you for the eye-opening article.

  3. Stephen Shenfield on November 7, 2017, 2:14 pm

    Neo-liberal ideologues object to corruption because it makes capitalist exploitation less ‘efficient’ — meaning that ideally government leaders should be willing to serve foreign capital without having to be bribed to do so.

  4. DaBakr on November 8, 2017, 2:31 am

    I didn’t even read this yet but I am betting there is little to no mention of the double, maybe triple billions unscrupulous Chinese conglomerates are pouring into African countries primarily to rape them of their natural resources. China is not known for its sensitivity toward their darker skinned brethren in Africa. But of course north focuses on the US Israel and all that’s evil about the west. He’s never going to climb out of the biased obsessive anti Zionist hack category if he doesn’t branch out from bigoted blogs.

    • CigarGod on November 8, 2017, 11:27 am

      It’s called focus and knowing your audience, BakrBoy.
      Since you are so tight with the Chinese, I look forward to your research/article.

Leave a Reply