There is a pathological illness among African leaders, especially in the SADC region that gives them an impression that winning an election is winning a lottery ticket to a lifetime of luxury and expensive living, says newly appointed Amnesty International Secretary general Kumi Naidoo.

And Naidoo, a South African-born human rights activist of Indian descent, says he is taking over the leadership of the global human rights body, fully aware of the abuses that are going on in Zambia.

He told News Diggers in an interview that the problems facing Zambia were reflected in other countries in the region, adding that government’s should not rush to make conclusions on the election results in Zimbabwe.

“I’m so unhappy with President [Cyril] Ramaphosa for coming out to make conclusions on the election of the Zimbabwean President. I think all the governments in the African union and the SADC region Should just wait for the courts to decide, after that people can take whatever positions they want,” he said.

Naidoo expressed concerns that some good people in Africa were turning into thieves once elected into political office.

“Most of the leaders who were involved in the liberation struggle in Africa are those that Amnesty helped to lobby for. Once they were released and got into power, they went back on their promises and started stealing. I have seen how very good people can do very bad things and their goodness can be wiped out by their actions,” he said.

“The worst disease we suffer in the word today is not HIV/AIDS, it’s not cancer, it’s not influenza it’s a disease I call affluenza. This is a pathological Illness where powerful people have come to believe that happiness and meaning only comes from more, more and more wealth. It comes from the word affluence, the rich.”

Naidoo said there was shocking inequalities on the African continent.

“The inequality among citizens in Africa and South Africa as well as countries like Zambia Zimbabwe etc, is unbelievable. When you look at what the leaders are stealing. Look at what Zuma and the people around him stole. I mean, how much can one person or one family consume? The answer seems to be limitless amounts. And the problems with affluenza is that it does not only affect the rich. It also affects the poor because even if you are poor, your aspirations are in that direction. So a lot of people today think it’s normal to get elected and to steal. It has become normal,” he said.

“Sadly there are not many presidents on the African continents that we can point at and say this is what a good leader looks like. For me, one of the people that stand out is Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, he stayed at his mother’s house, he rode a bicycle to work, he took gender equality very seriously. There was of course Julius Nyerere who went back to his village after his presidency. There are very few individuals we can point at. Right now, there is a perception that winning an election is winning a lottery ticket to a lifetime of luxury and expensive life.”

He added that corruption was a cancer that was killing Africa.

“Corruption has to be taken seriously because it’s a cancer that’s killing us. One of the lies we have been told in Africa is that Africa is one of the poorest continents. But Africa is the richest continent underneath the ground; name it we have it. But precisely because of the same wealth we have underneath the ground, we are one of the poorest continents above the ground. We need to build the campaign called stop the bleeding and curb all the illicit financial flows in Africa. There lies a lot of work ahead,” he said.

Asked if Amnesty would consider opening a national office in Zambia, Naidoo said that would depend on many factors, but acknowledged the breakdown of rule of law in the country.

“I hear of a concern about opening an office in Zambia, so I would have to go and ask the question at the general assembly with all the African participants. It is my hope that by that time I’ll be leaving amnesty we will have extended our presence in other countries including Zambia. But obviously for me the only issue with this is going to be resources and capacity but also that leadership will have to come from the regional office so I will have to encourage you to have the conversation with Deprose Muchena,” said Naidoo.

“I know that the population size of Zambia is substantial and given what is happening there there might be need, but I’m not promising anything. What I’m saying is that you need to continue to have conversations with the regional office, if something like that was to happen it would require people like yourselves to help us set up.
But of course Amnesty is deeply concerned with what is happening in Zambia and it is worrying. That is why my predecessor had to come all the way to meet President [Edgar] Lungu.”