When you think of “heists,” a few things probably come to mind. Precious artwork, stolen off the wall of a museum after an elaborate scheme to bypass the laser security system. Ocean’s 11 hitting a Las Vegas Casino—and getting away with it. Or maybe a getaway car and masked bank robbers. But governments commit heists, too, and they are not just wild and weird; they also often get away with it. In this episode, we look at three different heists related to governments. The first, the North Korean bank heist, involves an audacious attempt to steal a billion dollars from the Bangladesh Central Bank without anyone noticing. The second, a heist carried out by former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh, involved the looting of nearly a billion dollars during his twenty-two years in power. Over that period, he pledged to rule for a billion years, announced that he had found a cure for HIV/AIDS involving peanuts, bananas, and condensed milk, and had an obsession with mayonnaise. And the third and final heist is called the Blue Diamond Affair, a stranger-than-fiction tale of a Thai gardener, a vacuum cleaner bag, Saudi jewels, murder, kidnapping, and an unsolved mystery that continues to sour diplomatic relations between Thailand and Saudi Arabia.
“Over the past several years, there has been a hugely significant increase in the number of U.S. lobbyists representing foreign nationals, many of them connected to the Trump administration,” said Jeffrey Smith, the executive director of Vanguard Africa, which supports democracy movements in the region. “Many of Trump’s fundraisers and supporters have struck it rich in this sector, often working on behalf of the world’s worst human rights abusers,” said Smith, who has done work on behalf of Cameroonian opposition figures. He cited Zimbabwe, which hired the Trump-linked lobbying group Ballard Partners in a bid to scrap long-standing U.S. sanctions, as well as Clout’s work for Cameroon.
“In Washington, this sort of access to Trump, whether perceived or real, is a hugely lucrative endeavor,” Smith said. It’s difficult to say how such lobbying efforts have yielded results yet in Zimbabwe’s case, as it is still under U.S. sanctions.
“[Mr Kabendera’s] abduction is part of a larger pattern in the country that should send alarm bells blaring” said Jeffrey Smith the founding director of Vanguard Africa, a Washington based non-profit organisation that says it supports ethical leadership in Africa. “Over the past several years, basic freedoms and human rights have been violated with alarming frequency and impunity.”
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Jeffrey Smith, founding director of Vanguard Africa, and executive director of Freedom Forward Sunjeev Bery also applauded Minaj.
"Pocketing millions of dollars from, and representing the selfish interests of, ruthless dictators has become a lucrative business,” said Jeffrey Smith, the founding director of Vanguard Africa, a Washington based non-profit organisation that says it supports ethical leadership in Africa. “It’s an upside-down world in which priorities are misplaced, the people suffer, and abusive leaders inevitably grow stronger and more emboldened.”
Jeffrey Smith, a US-based international human rights activist, said on Twitter: “An unsolicited piece of advice to Mnangagwa, Moyo and the government of Zimbabwe: respecting the human rights of your citizens – regardless of political affiliation – and implementing your own constitution and regional conventions costs nothing. It’s free. Try it.”
Move back a few steps to get the bigger picture and the retreat of democracy looks like a global rout. Here, for instance, is Nic Cheeseman’s and Jeffrey Smith’s take on Africa in Foreign Affairs:
IN TANZANIA, PRESIDENT JOHN MAGUFULI HAS CLAMPED DOWN ON THE OPPOSITION AND CENSORED THE MEDIA. HIS ZAMBIAN COUNTERPART, PRESIDENT EDGAR LUNGU, RECENTLY ARRESTED THE MAIN OPPOSITION LEADER ON TRUMPED-UP CHARGES OF TREASON AND IS SEEKING TO EXTEND HIS STAY IN POWER TO A THIRD TERM. THIS REFLECTS A BROADER TREND. ACCORDING TO FREEDOM HOUSE, A THINK TANK, JUST 11 PERCENT OF THE CONTINENT IS POLITICALLY “FREE,” AND THE AVERAGE LEVEL OF DEMOCRACY, UNDERSTOOD AS RESPECT FOR POLITICAL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES, FELL IN EACH OF THE LAST 14 YEARS.
As Jeffrey Smith, the founding director of Vanguard Africa, told me, "the more that the Museveni regime tries to muzzle its rightful critics, the more admired and respected they become, both in the country and outside its borders."