Africa corruption not special

2012-10-11 21:26

Johannesburg - Corruption in Africa is no different to corruption anywhere else on the planet, according to a new book by the former chair of graft watchdog Transparency International.

The image of Africa as a continent beset by corruption has dominated the popular imagination for decades, reinforced by its consistently dismal performance in anti-corruption league tables.

From routine demands for bribes by policemen to grand scale looting of state funds by its rulers, corruption has been blamed for stunting Africa's growth, keeping millions in poverty and scaring off investors.

But now may be the time for international investors especially to reconsider their perceptions.

In Global Corruption: Money, Power and Ethics in the Modern World, Laurence Cockcroft argues that the main drivers of corruption, including the informal economy, political funding, the role of multinationals and organised crime, are common to many countries and graft is not intrinsic to Africa.

"The pattern of corruption which occurs in Africa is remarkably similar to that elsewhere," Cockcroft told Reuters. "This is an international phenomenon and it's certainly not a uniquely African issue."

Cockcroft does not deny that corruption is a huge problem in Africa.

While average GDP growth of around 5% over the last decade has led to higher urban living standards, life for poor, rural dwellers in the bulk of sub-Saharan Africa has not improved because governments cannot deliver basic services, he said.

The book has no shortage of examples of African kleptocracy, from Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire - now Democratic Republic of the Congo - to Nigeria, where oil wealth has brought prosperity to only a few.

Gloomy view

Still, Cockcroft finds equally egregious examples in other parts of the world, and of the "mega corruption scandals" over the last 25 years, not one has been in Africa.

He cites former Indonesian president Suharto, whose family amassed a fortune of at least $15bn; the presidency of Alberto Fujimori in Peru in the 1990s, where corruption is believed to have halved the revenue due to the government; and India, where a 2008 telecoms licensing scandal cost the government an estimated $30bn in lost revenue.

More recently, he points to Russia, where protests since December against President Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule have focused on corruption, and the downfall of former politician Bo Xilai in China after his wife murdered a British businessman.

"We can safely say that these dramas in relation to corruption which are happening outside Africa are at least the equal and in many cases on a grander scale than what happens in Africa itself," Cockcroft said.

He reckons Africa has been unfairly singled out when it comes to corruption in part because of the legacy view of the late colonial period.

"People have taken a very gloomy view of what's happened in Africa since independence, sometimes with justification and sometimes not," he said. "Some of that is built into this assumption that if you talk about corruption you're talking about Africa."

It is true that many African countries languish in the lower half of most anti-corruption indices, although in Transparency's latest Corruption Perceptions Index, the bottom 10 has only two African states - Somalia and Sudan.

Huge shadow economy

The annual index ranks countries from 0, highly corrupt, to 10,  very clean. Most African nations score below 4.

The most urgent priority for African governments, Cockcroft argues, is to reduce the size of the shadow economy, estimated to be as much as 60% of GDP in Tanzania. He describes it as "a huge reservoir for bribes" and payments that are completely untraceable.

"It doesn't matter what the legislation is," he said. "As long as you have a huge informal sector, people can still buy off officials in city hall."

There are no clear cut success stories in the fight against corruption in Africa, he notes, as former opposition leaders who come to power on anti-corruption tickets are often derailed by the desire to remain in power.

But he adds that one leader who could buck the trend is Zambia's president Michael Sata, whose government has reversed a number of privatisation deals initiated under the previous regime.

Cockcroft says Zambia and Ghana, which also seems serious about tackling graft, will be the countries to watch.

  • fred.fraser.12 - 2012-10-11 21:53

    Yeah right. Try bribing a traffic cop in the US or Europe and see what happens.

      Nicholas.Spaggiari - 2012-10-12 05:57

      This article is a poor attempt to try and justify corruption in Africa. Corruption is indeed corruption and the same everywhere, it's not that you get different types of corruption hahaha. It's the amount that counts and in Africa it’s in ever crack and corner. There are different amounts of corruption in different countries, to say there is the same amount of corruption everywhere is idiotic. Otherwise we wouldn’t have organisations like the corruption index where Africa is doing... poorly. Most people who say, ahhh it’s everywhere are simply trying to make themselves feel better about the situation, where the truth is that Africa has a culture of corruption & violence etc. I'm sure the millions that left the place would agree and I don't think they all just went on holiday.

  • Eterni80 - 2012-10-11 21:55

    hmmmm...what a pile of crap. take a map of africa, stick it up on a wall, and color all the countries where democracy reigns in blue and dictatorships in will look like a bloodbath...

  • Anthony - 2012-10-11 22:04

    what a load of crap --bock sponsored by anc

  • wilsong1973 - 2012-10-11 22:29

    Load of rubbish, may be he need ot go to africa. In Zanzibar we were stop at every road block and had to pay a bribe to the police. You know in south africa when your caught for drink driving you hand over you walet.

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-10-13 11:31

      Compare that with the billions of $ involved in white collar corruption regarding multi national corporations and governments in the developing world. How much did the BAE pay to both the Saudis and the SA government, to name but a few.

  • desertratbkf - 2012-10-11 22:31


  • isaac.tapfumaneyi.5 - 2012-10-11 22:56

    corruption is corruption and it wont change colour.if it happens in africa or n america it is still corruption.let us not talk about regions or else we risk fuelling it

      jacque.raymer - 2012-10-11 23:04

      in this country its face is black. there is no whites running the government.

  • chris.buchner.12 - 2012-10-11 23:53

    Excuse me sir, may I call bullsh*t on this one? Mr. American please take your ass off your comfy chair and take a nice long flight to Zimbabwe then after a nice long holiday there may I suggest sudan followed by a nice spa treatmeant as we drive by millions of poor shack dwelling people in our very own Nkandla Zuma Spa and health complex and then ill kindly ask you where in America do you see this? Or Europe? Or Asia? Where Presidents live lavish lives while millions starve? Then please tell me how its not different! Corruption is corruption but we have it way worse than anywhere else!

      bantu.jonginamba - 2012-10-12 07:06

      So u are the expert now?U need a hug.

  • lerato.kay.3 - 2012-10-12 00:13

    of the \mega corruption scandals\ over the last 25 years, not one has been in Africa. Thanks for the info

      Nicholas.Spaggiari - 2012-10-12 07:16

      That's just what we hear of, in Africa it happens all the time but it's overlooked. Such as the recent billions of rands that come from where? In a secret account of whos? Or what about the millions of millions in kick-backs to buy obsolete military equip. Lol, or when members of your government get caught out for corruption and then get off with it because they are feeling sick.

      Nicholas.Spaggiari - 2012-10-12 07:17

      Is that not mega enough for you?

  • frank.crane.180 - 2012-10-12 07:22

    The author was bribed

  • frank.crane.180 - 2012-10-12 07:23

    Was the author bribed?

  • Vince.York - 2012-10-12 08:02

    I understand Mugabe in Zimbabwe and some Kenyan's have found the ideal solution to this - "wake up one morning and send out troops or veteran squads of violent youth to destroy and kill 20,000 odd citizens in specific areas" and return to the 'starting point one' of the cycle again.

  • fidel.mgoqi - 2012-10-13 11:37

    The biggest corruption afflicting Africa is foreign aid, which is nothing more than buying influence to unelected unaccountable elites who are then forced to vote against their own countries' interests when it comes to intl forums. The same corruption allows them to loot their countries' fiscas and stash their loot in western financial institutions. These elites are even allowed to buy and invest in all sorts of properties in the west using stolen funds, and western governments do nothing about this corruption as their countries' corporations benefit from these corrupt dealings.

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