by Teshome Debalke
As Ethiopians around the world call for boycott on money transfer companies to Ethiopia due to the ongoing mass atrocities of the regime since it declared State of Emergency two years ago, the world well-known Master Card Corp partnering with the ruling party affiliated Kifiya Financial Technology in defiance of the boycott was a surprise and unexpected.
Chris (Christian) Bwakira, Vice President and area Business East, East Africa on behalf of Master Card in Kenya (picture left) and Munir Duri, CEO on behalf of Kifiya Financial Technology in Ethiopia (picture right) signed the agreement.
In the Press Releases, VP Bwakira reasoned; “current money transfer services fail to adequately address because they are expensive and there is a lack of control as money is not directly paid toward the service provider in question” without specifying ‘the current money transfer service that failed nor ‘the lack of control’ by who. In addition, by implementing the digital solution, he said; “Master Card and Kifiya are working to displace cash’s stronghold in Africa” again without reviling; how the giant multinational corporation can partner with a ruling party operated Kifiya Financial Technology that is run by questionable characters to ‘displace cash’s stronghold in Africa’ when it can’t tend the local problem of one nation.
It is not clear whether VP Bwakira representing one of the world’s major Credit Card company performed the necessary due diligences. Nor, if he is aware; the ruling party operates 100s of private enterprises including money transfer service providers and the supposedly private firm Kifiya Financial Technology’ CEO Munri Durdi background.
For instance, in March of 2000, the London based All Africa online Media reported, Munri Durdi was sentenced in the Federal Court for three years prison time on charges of corruption along a half-dozen Co-defendants, including the then seating Prime Minster and Defense Minister Tamerat Laye that after his release sought asylum in US with assumed name.
But, Duri mysteriously reappeared from US several years later as the Founder and CEO Kifiya Financial Technology and awarded government contracts by the approval of Debretsion Gebremikael (pictured), the regime Deputy Prime Minster and the long-serving Communications and Information Technology Minister, the de facto Prime Minster of the nation known as spymaster that presides over the only government run internet provider in the nation and 100s of party owned enterprises.
Ethiopia is known as one of the world’s worst nation with internet access at 1.7% penetration according to 2015 Fortune Report. Two decades under the same man, nothing goes online without his explicit approval and the blessing of the spy agency he oversees as the Chairman of the Central Committee of the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF). His notorious record of monitoring and blocking social and online media earned the country as one of the top ten Free Press violator and journalists’ jailer in the world.
Therefore, how VP Chris Bwakira failed to do due diligence to safeguard the image of Master Card brand to the public and legal exposure with prevailing laws on sensitive money transfer services to involve with Kifiya Financial Technology under a regime infested with nepotism and corruption defy logic.
Furthermore, it is not a secret the ruling party owned companies not only dominate the financial sector operating several ‘private’ banks and financial service enterprises including the infamous Wegagen Bank (www.wegagenbanksc.com) established in 1997 with money transfer services but, funnel money through many charity organizations it operates around the world.
By some estimate, the ruling Tigray People Liberation Front party controls 50% of the Ethiopian economy running quasi private enterprises and front charity organization and increasingly becoming belligerent to stay in power by legitimize its corrupt business and nonprofit enterprises to foreign investors and donors. Inter Press Agency in 2013 report “According to the World Bank, companies held by business group the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT) account for roughly half of the country’s modern economy. The group is closely allied with the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPDRF), an alliance of four parties.”
No one better described the Ethiopian ruling party’s corruption than David Steinman, the renowned advisor of foreign democracy movements and the author of ‘Money, Blood and Conscience’ on Ethiopia.
His March 2017 Forbs’ article titled “Ethiopia’s Cruel Con Game” summarize the level of corruption as;
“Two numbers tell the story in nutshell:
- The amount of American financial aid received by Ethiopia’s government since it took power: 30 billion.
- The amount of stolen by Ethiopia’s leaders since it took power: 30 billion”
That isn’t counting how much billions of more dollars the ruling party launders through shell companies around the world run by its expat associates with assumed names, particularly in the lucrative business of remittance and tourism.
For instance, a Pennsylvania base and Delaware registered Global Financial Holding L.L.C. run by Sisay Shimelis, a US national of Ethiopian origin that operates half a dozen companies including remittance transfer services through its subsidiary Birrtu Express base in Washington, D.C. But, according to the New York based Tadias Magazine affiliated with the ruling party that caters the diaspora Birrtu Express was presented; it was established by two random expat investors with no affiliation to the ruling party. The subsidiary is no longer in business for unknown reason, according to public record. But, SkySkim Travel Services established in 2012 in Washington D.C. that engage in tourism in Ethiopia claims, Birrtu Global Express is a sister company and appears to take over its remittance transfer service.
As money laundering scheme become increasingly difficult around the world due to tightening laws and regulation, the search for ways and means to launder ill-gotten money without a trace is becoming more and more creative. Therefore, the Ethiopian ruling party that owns and operates 100s of ‘private’ business around the world with assumed names and shell companies is desperately looking for ways to tap on diaspora remittance. Master Card appears to be the latest victim of ruling party ‘Con Game’ not only to capture the badly needed foreign exchange to run its affairs but, to earn political capital by associating with a multination brand like Master Card Corp.
For people, foundations, bilateral and multilateral organizations as well as independent watchdogs familiar with the ruling party’s atrocities and corruption and warned the regime unsustainable maneuver to maintain the status qua wouldn’t be surprised. Yet, the regime managed to bamboozle enough companies like Master Card Corp to involve in uncharted water failing to understand the dynamics of the ruling party determination to sustain its grip on power and corruption.
Even the World Bank known for its soft-glove treatment of the ruling party in violation of its own charter several times in the past years warned; the ruling party to divest its business holding that is draining the economy and to maintain minimum foreign exchange reserve yet continue to provide unprecedented support to the regime to keep the government afloat.
As the political oppositions at home and around the world intensifies to end the 27 years old oligarchy regime so the call for more economic and political boycotts and sanctions. What started as remittance boycott over a year go to deprive the regime capacity to wage atrocities and corruption on the people of Ethiopia eventually will catch up with Master Card like it did to others caught up in political and legal predicament to withdraw.
Therefore, the ruling party aggressive posture to tap on remittance using Master Card Corp in the middle of a worldwide remittance boycott shouldn’t surprises the Credit Card giant when it knocks on its door.
VP Chris (Christian) Bwakira of Master Card East Africa may have to redo the due diligence on the partnership agreement on its merits and transparency he failed to do or leave it to someone who knows. Under no circumstance he should have taken the words of the ruling party rift with corruption to form Master Card’s partnership with its affiliate Kifiya Financial Technology.