Filmstill: Seun Kuti feat. Dead Prez (Music), Jérôme Bernard (Video): «IMF» (France/Nigeria 2014)

Singing Against Corruption

When African musicians denounce corruption in music videos, they often focus on its pettiness: everyday, local bribery among commoners. However, Seun Kuti (Nigeria) and Fiesta Black (South Africa) are examples of artists who also tackle international, corporate-based corruption, as we see in the discussion of their clips below. From the Norient book Seismographic Sounds (see and order here).

In 2006, I visited Lycée Toffa 1er (Girls’ High School) in Porto-Novo, Benin, and came across a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) message on one of its walls reading «Béninois, la source de ta pauvreté réside dans la corruption. Œuvrons pour son éradication» (Fellow Beninois, the root cause of your poverty lies in corruption. Let us fight for its eradication). Corruption is understood here as everyday, petty corruption of police, customs officers and other public servants who racket citizens. USAID’s statement is disingenuous and epitomizes the trend of aid organizations to ignore corporate, international, and institutional corruption, and to emphasize individual and local failings. An example is the clip «Corruption» by the Nawaberu Primary School Choir (not available on YouTube anymore). The lyrics describe corruption as «a sickness eating us [Ugandans] … The people that contracted this disease are judges, politicians, journalists, security officers, business and religious people.» The song refers to well-known corruption scandals such as the Temangalo land scandal whereby the Prime Minister, then security minister, and a colleague of his sold land to the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) at a rate higher than its market value, causing the latter to lose billions of shillings. The choir then asks to pray for Uganda and requests God’s help. This sense of powerlessness and invocation of God’s intervention is prevalent as musicians often condemn the «everyday» corruption that they experience. Actually fraud and bribery are so entrenched that imagining its eradication appears to be like the myth of Sisyphus.

«International Mother Fucker»

Ironically, big transnational axes of corruption between powerful corporations, governments and banks, as documented in the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) documentary Black Money (Lowell Bergman & Oriana Zill 2009) and in the Al-Jazeera documentary How to Rob Africa (2012) hardly make it to songs and music videos. Black Money uncovers the sophisticated dealings of ghost companies, slush funds, and secret payments that shovel billions of dollars around the world – three of four times the budget of some African countries. The story of Black Money involves BAE Systems, the British aerospace corporation, and the Saudi royalty in an eighty billion dollars international arms deal known as «The Dove» or «Al Yamamah» in Arabic.

In a rare and stunning black and white video clip against corporate corruption («IMF», 2014), Seun Kuti, in the anti-corruption, anti-establishment, and irreverent footsteps of his father Fela Anikulapo Kuti, criticizes the IMF (International Monetary Fund) that he names «International Mother Fucker.» His nicely cut and conventional suit would soon appear over a greedy, scary, awe-inspiring vampire, ready to drink blood. The lyrics establish links between international organizations, local rulers and the impact of their networks on the people. This song could have been written in the early 1980s, when Fela released ITT (International Thief Thief) to criticize multinational corporations and the IMF and World Bank’s neo-liberal structural adjustment programs. By featuring the American rapper Dead Prez in «IMF», Seun universalizes his message.

You [IMF] bring pain (people power)
You bring tears (people power)
You bring suffering to my people (people power)
International Mother Fucker

I say na so so cheating from IMF
So much lying from the IMF
So much killing from the IMF
So much stealing from the IMF
Manipulating from the IMF
Intimidation from the IMF
So much suffering from the IMF
Very dangerous people

Dem and their World Bank brothers
And some African fools
Dem go give them title
Make dem come rule
Dem go say do as we tell you
Lie to the people

Dem go say do as we tell you
Cheat your people
Them go say IMF know
What’s best for me
I tell the fool
IMF no know what’s best for me

So dem go give one dollar to their boys say na for we people
and will get back 20 in the name of debt from the people
We never see no dollar (my people)
We never see no aid (my people)

But we dey see all the pain wey dey come with their knowing
And we dey see all the debt and how we money dey fall down
Dem go pollute our land and call a foreign investment
Spread their lie through dem boys for government
(International mother shut your mouth)

Make we dey ranju
Make we dey begi o
Make we dey feju
(International mother shut your mouth)

As he declared in an online interview by Factory78, Seun’s message is for all the poor in the world, paying for the «mistakes» of the wealthy. The denunciation of other forms of corruption – politics, social practices, religions, traditions, historical discourse as in Tiken Jah Fakoly’s Cours d’histoire (1999) are not popular and attractive to musicians.

A Campaign Against the Elites

A second example of a music video that broaches the issue of international corporate corruption was released by South African Fiesta Black, a fiery black musician. With her «Hayi Basile» (They Are Wicked, 2015), she started a campaign against the elites who, after Apartheid in 1994, have become wealthy at the expense of the black majority. She wants South Africans, especially the youth, to stop paying bribes and fight back. In her effort, Fiesta teamed up with Corruption Watch, a Civil Society Organization (CSO) fighting corruption in South Africa. The CSO’s website explains how corruption works, who the national and international perpetrators and the victims are, and how to fight it. Their campaign is active on the site and anybody can join. Internationally, together with five other organizations, they successfully campaigned against the appointment of Richard Alderman to «sit on the high-level advisory panel reviewing OECD efforts on bribery,» as quoted from their website. Alderman had to step down on May 7th, 2015, because of his «apparent preference for using opaque settlements to wrap up cases of foreign bribery by UK companies, rather than pursuing a more appropriate punishment through prosecution.»

Seun Kuti and Fiesta Black are some of the few who tackle corporate corruption in current African music videos. It is an illusion to believe that song, despite its power, can uproot corruption. It certainly creates awareness and galvanizes social movements. It is high time serious action took place, but without effective legislation and enforcement, strong traditional redistributive systems, and efficient political and social movements – not political parties – the results will be thin. Musicians do their part. Change is everyone’s responsibility.

This text was published first in the second Norient book Seismographic Sounds.

Published on March 31, 2017

Last updated on April 05, 2020


Simon A. Akindes is an Associate Professor in the department of Politics, Philosophy and Law at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, USA. He is interested in music as a place of political contestation.
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