HomeOpinion & AnalysisEditor'sDesk: Of First Ladies, obscene wealth and fugitives

Editor'sDesk: Of First Ladies, obscene wealth and fugitives

According to her biography posted on website WHO2?, “The Marcos regime was marked by notorious corruption, political repression and gross financial shenanigans, acts to which Imelda was almost certainly privy.”

She is best known for her shoe collection. When she and her husband fled the Philippines after a popular rising, 3000 pairs of shoes were reportedly found in the presidential residents.

“They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but thank God, all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes,” Mrs Marcos is famously quoted as saying.
She disputes the number of pairs of shoes found. “I did not have 3000 pairs of shoes, I had 1060,” she said in 1987.

According to BBC News, in 2001 she opened a museum in which most of the exhibits are her own shoes.

The Marikina City Footwear Museum in Manila contains hundreds of pairs of shoes, many of them found in the presidential palace when Imelda and her husband fled the Philippines in 1986. The exhibits include shoes made by such world-famous names as Ferragamo, Givenchy, Chanel and Christian Dior, all size eight-and-a-half.

During her time as first lady, Imelda was famed for travelling the world to buy new shoes at a time when millions of Filipinos were living in extreme poverty.

She is stinking rich: “If you know how rich you are, you are not rich. But me, I am not aware of the extent of my wealth. That’s how rich we are,” she said after promising to give US$800 million to poor Filipinos if she becomes president, quoted in The Philippine Daily Inquirer, in March 1998.

About her lifestyle she says: “I was born ostentatious. They will list my name in the dictionary someday. They will use ‘Imeldific’ to mean ostentatious extravagance.”  (Cited in an Associated Press report, April 1998.)

She is nicknamed the “Steely Butterfly”. She is still going strong at 81. She calls herself the “grandmother of the nation”.

She has been mentioned regularly in the news in the past few weeks. The reason is that her lifestyle has spawned pretenders all over the world. One of her imitators is Leila Ben Ali nee Trabelsi, the former First Lady of Tunisia whose husband was deposed a few weeks ago in a popular rising.
Leila is infamously called the Imelda Marcos of the Maghreb (Arab World).

Before she fled she reportedly went to the country’s Reserve Bank and ordered the governor thereof to hand over to her solid gold worth US$56 million weighing one and a half tonnes.

Leila (53) is, according to reports, known for her penchant for fast cars of which the family owned more than 50. She is also known for her “extravagant designer shopping jaunts to Dubai”.

She was formerly a humble hairdresser but she had one asset that must have endeared her to the former president; she was a beautiful brunette. She was about 20 years younger than her husband but had immense control over him.

Her family was despised by all in her country except members of her clan which was known as “The Mafia”. The family business empire is reportedly worth US$5,6 billion; it has its tentacles in construction and foreign investment among other sectors.

She loved to travel regularly flying from continent to continent just for the hell of it. To her credit she ran several charity foundations but commentators say these disguised her rapacious love for wealth.

The former first couple has a 24-year-old daughter, Nesrine, who is married to Sakhr el Materi described by many as a playboy. They are holed up in Disneyland Paris. Sakhr reportedly has a tiger as a pet. Another man who had a tiger as a pet was Uday the infamous son of Saddam Hussein.

In the aftermath of the uprising, now christened the “Jasmine Revolution”, which culminated in Ben Ali’s flight on January 14, 33 members of Leila’s family have been arrested. All the property that was known to belong to them has been ransacked.

“All President Ben Ali’s power and wealth became concentrated in the family, and especially that of his wife,” said Saad Djebbar, an Arab political analyst. “He was so arrogant that he undermined his own power base, alienating supporters in the party and the business community.”

He was in power for 23 years.

The questions to ask in the wake of the Tunisian revolution are: What power do First Ladies have in the day-to-day running of their countries and what role do they play in the fall of their husbands?

One sultry lesson has been learnt though: Relatives of First Ladies all over the world beware; the people know what you are up to. The majority cannot continue to live in unexplained luxury when the rest of the populace lives in abject poverty. First ladies such as Imelda Marcos and Leila Ben Ali were able to run away but their relatives had nowhere to run to. This is important because there will be no impunity.

Leila also taught other first ladies that it is of paramount importance to be close to the governors of central banks in their countries; they will give you the gold when time is up.

But the world community must be praised for their swift actions to ensure that looted wealth would not get into the hands of dictators and their cohort. France was quick to stop any sudden flow of Tunisian money; Switzerland too must be commended for freezing the accounts of the charlatans.

This should discourage future fugitives from justice from living in the comfort zone where they are assured of their obscene wealth even after vacating power.

In the Ivory Coast where Laurent Gbagbo has refused to be unseated from power democratically, the same treatment has been meted to him. This should become a world standard.


Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading