A ruling class that helps itself to a nation's wealth, with sufficient plausible deniability that we can only chalk it up to kleptomania. Usually centered around a dictator: Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko, and Suharto became quite rich, all while leading countries with a per-capita GDP of a kindergarten. It wasn't by shrewd investments or by being the best quarterback in Manila. Compare to the US, where looting is privately financed, e.g. by lobbyists and corporations.

The term kleptocracy (lit. "leadership by thieves") was coined, as far as I recall, by the late Laurent Kabila, military dictator du jour in Zaire/Democratic Republic of Congo, during his insurgency against the also late Mobutu Sese Soko. From what I've read since then, he wasn't much better about it, which isn't terribly surprising.

Extreme corruption is endemic everywhere in the Third World, along with an incredibly extreme stratification of wealth, to the point where typically a few thousand people will effectively control as much as 99% of the wealth in a given country - typically all members of the same tribe, who comprised an administrative and collaborationist class during the country's period of colonial occupation.

This is one of the reasons that Marxist and Maoist ideologies were, and sometimes still are, so attractive to undeveloped and developing countries; they promised a redistribution of wealth that was manifestly concentrated into the hands of a rich elite. This is also one of the driving forces in the vicious ethnic conflicts which tear up the Third World (e.g. the Hutus and Tutsis in East Africa).

Monetary aid and loans from America and the developed world is usually filtered into the hands of these few wealthy citizens, while responsibility for the debt affects the entire nation; the result is crushing Third World debt, coupled with little of the actual development that might make paying it off practical.

The problem is without any obvious solutions; revolutions sparked by the unequal distribution of wealth lead, with almost total inevitability, to the establishment of a new kleptocratic elite, with the old elite simply fleeing the country for Switzerland or the Carribean and taking their money with them.

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