To Ivory Coast President-elect Alassane Ouattara
-- on the eve of victory in your nation's recent civil war.
Dear President-Elect Ouatarra,
I offer that salutation in light of statements by the United Nations and other international agencies, who vouch that you were the victor in Ivory Coast's recent election, an outcome that former history professor-turned-politician, Laurent Gbagbo had refused to accept, terminating his 10-year rule. Along with all the world, I hope and pray that the violence in your country will end soon and that you will usher in an era of reform, peace, integrity and respect for democratic principles.
But others are talking about all of those things. So I want to focus on something else. Something much less airy and far more immediate. The end-game, as you close in on Laurent Gbagbo, who is at this moment (according to news reports) holed-up in the basement of his palace, trying to negotiate a way out.
Now, some are urging you to refuse negotiations, in order to make the dictator stand trial. Others hope that a way out for Gbagbo will bring peace and help build trust with his followers in a nation deeply riven by tribal suspicions.
The Unspoken Chips on the Table
Whichever path you choose, let me suggest an extremely hard-nosed factor. It is common knowledge that almost every powerful man of Gbagbo's ilk - on every continent - has engaged in graft for many years, siphoning away value that should have been spent on the people. But the damage extends beyond simple rip-off corruption. Instead of being invested in productive capacity in your nation, venal officials nearly always shunt most of their ill-gotten gains overseas, squirrelling their loot away for safety (and interest) in Swiss and other secret accounts. This compounds the evil done by corrupt leaders, leaving their nations capital-poor.
I am not telling you anything new, of course. In negotiations with Gbagbo, I am sure these accounts have been -- shall we say -- topics of conversation. The most natural human thing for someone in your position to do would be to demand some fraction of these accounts as a "fee" for allowing Gbagbo to escape -- so he can live in comfort on the rest of his loot. Let's be frank; that is how it was traditionally done.
May I offer an alternative, though?
By all means, demand the keys to several accounts, as a measure of good faith. Pretend to take the bribe. Verify the funds and transfer them...
...only then... announce to your nation and the world what you have done!
State the accounts and amounts openly. Tell Gbagbo's supporters that this is proof he never deserved their loyalty, in the first place. And go on to say that you are setting an example for a new age.
The advantages of doing this will be immense. You will undermine the tribal resentment of Gbagbo's followers. By refusing a blatant chance for graft, you will build trust and goodwill, at home and abroad. You will become a Mandella-like figure, overnight!
And you will then be in a position to say to Gbagbo -- "No, we will not let you go. There was no deal. This was never your money, in the first place! Surrender for trial and hand over the rest of what you stole!"
Helping to Transform the Planet
In fact, if you really want to shake things up... why not become a hero of the entire developing world by demanding that all the nations that are secret banking havens come forward at once, offering back ALL of the money stolen from Ivory Coast, across the last 50 years. And declaring that they will be answerable - double - for anything they hold back. As well as for anything deposited in secret by Ivorians in the future, ever again.
Oh, I know this will be hard. Many of those surrounding you already have their eyes on this luscious prize. Gbago will offer some pretty hefty bribe-incentives. But I can even suggest a way around that problem!
For example, you might place HALF of the recovered money in a "Corruption Remedy Fund" that will provide big bonuses to those public officials who spent the next 5 years living as open-book paragons of honest public service. (A pattern that should apply to their entire extended family.) Bonuses so big that they will care very deeply about winning them.
Who could complain about that? If the prizes are carefully administered by respected international and African figures, under transparent rules that truly put your officials under a relentless spotlight... then this money will be well-spent. No one will complain much. Especially if - during that five year wait - all the money is invested where it belongs. Back in the Ivory Coast.
Mr. President-Elect Ouattara, please understand. I know and everybody knows what temptations await you. Humanity is emerging from many thousands of years in which certain "corrupt" aspects of leadership were considered normal. But the future will honor and exalt those who help to lead their nations -- and lead us all -- out of that dark era. You have an opportunity to be one of those exalted ones -- though it will be hard to do.
The Decision is Yours
I don't know you. I have no idea whether you are already determined to be a transforming figure, or already far-gone down the traditional, dismal path. Or - perhaps - teetering somewhere in between. Time will tell, I suppose. I admit, the odds aren't good.
But I hope -- we all can hope -- that you will turn out to be one of those men about whom history looks back, with pride. One who is savvy enough to play hard and well... but far-seeing enough to understand the real prize.
With cordial regards,
author of The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?