Today as the public domain is awash with the Pandora papers discourse, the issues of the political will to fight corruption will emerge. But what will not be pronounced in the public domain is the issue of corruption fighting back and which is a lot more pertinent and lethal, especially when it is the combination of corruption fighting back and a consistent narrative to bastardise the fight. This combination makes corruption just another buzzword for political rhetoric. Unfortunately, even the trust we bestow on the media is diminished when corruption becomes the very playground where the very noble function of holding power accountable becomes contestable. That when power is questioned the quest for power either crops up as the protagonist or antagonist.
Wealth accumulation and investment of legally acquired wealth cannot be criminalised just like the rich cannot be allowed to use their privileged position to trample on the citizenry. Therefore, even though scrutiny is a lot more serious for the rich and those in public leadership positions, the need to interrogate culpability or suspicion of wrongdoing is only warranted when there is public interest and clarity on how such interrogations are transparent and accountable.
But without going into the granular details of whether the Pandora papers are substantive or not, let me say that what is in the public domain appears to expose us to the rich list only that it has been thrown to the public in a fashion that calls too much attention to the exercise. It is actually safe to argue that information that is private has been disclosed with a dearth of two critical aspects that define the journalistic pedigree of the purported expose: public interest and the criminal element.
As a country we lose it when we politicise corruption and increasingly we are trudging this dangerous path where our principal purveyors of information go on a fishing expedition to come up with corruption allegations that easily become fodder for politicisation, trivialisation and ethnicisation. Societies after society, the public spaces of liberal information play critical roles and as an institution upon which the society bestows some trust, you realise that the actions of mainstream purveyors of information must be beyond both reproach and contest. Unfortunately, during and in the post Donald Trump world order, if you don’t agree with it you call it fake news and perhaps if you want to push a narrative there is a perception that all you need to do is outbid your rivals.
But going back to the ancient times, and perhaps our very own African traditional societies before the advent of colonialism and modernity, we can retrace the noble responsibilities of purveyors of public information. Court poets and griots were allowed to critique or out rightly call out the king or chief, and unbeknown to many the watchdog tradition of the media was with African traditional societies even before colonialism and modernity. And back then just like is the expectation today griots and court poets would only call out the king and critique events in the palace if the weight of evidence and the greater societal interest anchored the critique. Back to the Pandora papers and even as we discourse and take sides, we need to note that the moment it is politicised, the political clout and perceptions that different political formations want to create will be the contest, not corruption. You look at the kind of framing certain political formations are pushing and it is clear that it is no longer corruption. The conversation around these papers has easily and quickly morphed to a calculated and concerted push to paint all and sundry as corrupt and in an orchestrated ploy to wipe out corruption as an issue in the run up to 2022 elections. The proponents of this narrative are essentially looking at creating a perception and triumph in pushing their agenda, and they are racing against time with their narratives because the truth is soon to be out.
Citizenship calls for the ability be cautious of political narratives regardless of where they originate from and in doing so ask some pertinent questions. Is there any wrong doing in holding off shore accounts, especially against the backdrop of the timelines we are seeing in the papers? Number two, who are the 7000 thousand plus journalists and what weight of evidence to they have anchors their actions? And did the weight of evidence looked at against the backdrop of public interest public warrant their use of surreptitious means to obtain private and confidential information? Will we have a robust discussion if we can cite evidence of criminal activity in all these allegations? And most importantly is it possible to have clarity on the public interest dimension when political formations use the Pandora papers to push expedient narratives?
The author is a PhD Candidate in Media Studies and Political communication.