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June 5, 2015

Editor’s letter: The land of the upright men

Not that long ago, in April 2012, The Guardian reported on Britain’s destruction of its colonial archives. Thousands of documents, sometimes referred to as the "legacy files", were destroyed by the British colonial rulers in the last years of the British Empire to avoid being handed to the indigenous governments that were to take office.

Those were the findings of an official review that started a year earlier, in 2011, when an archive was released by the UK High Court in a case that investigated the torture and murder of Kenyan Mau Mau rebels during the fifties and early sixties.

The files saved from the flames were kept in secret for 50 years at Hanslope Park, 60 miles up north London, a facility of the UK Foreign Office.

As The Guardian reported, among those files were instructions offering evidence of the systematic destruction of any material that "might embarrass Her Majesty’s government" or that could be "used unethically by ministers in the successor [post-independence] government".

Here it is the epitome of Western patronising attitudes towards Africa. But what could possibly put to shame Her Majesty’s government? The case, for example, of a British officer accused of "beating up and roasting alive" a Mau Mau insurgent.

And what on earth has this to do with accountancy? Well, the messages expressed by delegates and speakers at the Africa Congress of Accountants held in Mauritius were clear.

African countries are resource-rich and yet their citizens do not reap the benefits of the national wealth, a phenomenon called the resource curse which perpetuates those patronising attitudes. Corrupt local elites in association with voracious multinationals take advantage of weak institutions to syphon the wealth that should be paying for the development of those emerging economies.

And let’s be honest, this is happening under the watch of the accountancy profession. A new leadership of Africans is needed in all fronts: politics, business, and economics and of course accountancy. That was another message of ACOA15.

Perhaps this future leadership may want to follow some aspects of Thomas Sankara’s philosophy of life. Burkina Faso’s president and revolutionary leader was known for his austere way of life.

The BBC World Service interviewed his brother Paul, in exile after the coup that murdered Thomas in 1987.

"He asked every one of us, the whole family to avoid receiving gifts, especially from the business guys, because sooner or later they would ask you for something in return. An appointment with the president or a contract," Paul told the BBC.

Other examples of Sankara’s personal austerity: the previous government’s fleet of Mercedes was sold off and made officials to drive small Renaults 5 instead. He also changed the name of the country from Upper Volta to its current name, which means the land of the upright men.

The man who orchestrated the plot against Sankara was his best friend Blaise Compaoré, the same man who stayed in power until October 2014. He was ousted in the so-called Burkinabé uprising when he tried to change the constitution to run again in an election. Africa is rising.

Carlos Martin Tornerocarlos.tornero[at]

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