Corruption is Africa's greatest foe

2017-01-25 08:47

Corruption can no longer be viewed as the “victimless crime”. Corruption is a crime against humanity. Corruption has existed since time immemorial; even in biblical scriptures corruption is present in many stories. The scourge of corruption in post-colonial Africa is gnawing at the progress that the continent could be enjoying. The continent has many ideological voices all seeking relevance. Politicians and statesmen in Africa are in an ideological tug of war. From Nkrumah’s Scientific Socialism, Nyerere’s Ujamaa socialism and Senghor’s Negritude-all these ideologies had good intentions but none materialized. Regardless of ideological persuasion, from the post-independence era to date, Africa has produced few states capable of creating enabling environment for economic development. It is not a contest of which ideology is suitable for Africa, it is a question of whether all these ideologies can be implemented free of the shackles of corruption.

Corruption emerges from many avenues. In Africa some of the identifiable causes of corruption include the negative colonial legacy, poor leadership, politics of the belly, omnipotent state, greed and selfishness. Clientelism and patronage nepotism, absence of popular participation of the public in government, weak institutions of governance, lack of accountability and transparency, lack of political will, weak ethical values, centralist nature of the state and concentration of state power, weak judicial system and constant insecurity and conflicts are also the causes of corruption. It is the top African echelons who are mostly the perpetrators of corruption.

Former Nigerian president Sani Abacha was estimated to be worth $20 Billion at the time of his death. How a president, a public servant ends up being a billionaire can only be attributed to corruption. In South Africa, Jacob Zuma was found to have unduly benefited from the taxpayers money in the infamous Nkandla debacle. In Congo, Joseph Kabila and his family are among the richest people in the continent owing their wealth to diamond mining. Uhuru Kenyatta, the president of Kenya and son of Jomo Kenyatta was on the Forbes list of the richest men in Africa. Jomo Kenyatta openly grabbed vast tracts of land from the British when Kenya attained independence. Paul Biya in Cameroom is also amongst the richest people in Africa and corrupt dealings have been synonymous with his name. In Zimbabwe, top government officials are notorious for their lavish lifestyles. Money has been stolen from the government coffers without any apology or remorse. The examples I have given here are not exhaustive. The mention of trillions lost to a few powerful individuals should make all of us Africans to pause and see that we will not progress if we do not tackle corruption by the horns.

The culture of corruption has entrenched its roots in Africa. South Africa the youngest democracy is seeing nascent corruption, grand or petty. Twitter was abuzz a few weeks ago- the talking point was bribes being paid for driver’s licenses. Of course the hype degenerated into a joke but the crisis cannot be minimized. We are unashamedly wearing the cloak of corruption without taking cognisance of the fact that it is our society that is rotting. Traffic violations that merit traffic fines are swept under the carpet as traffic officials openly ask for bribes. Civilians like you and me are familiar with petty corruption; similarly the ruling classes are familiar with grand corruption. Karl Kraus, an Australian satirist said that corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual; the former invariably endangers the morals of an entire country. Africa is poor not because the right political ideologies are not in place. Africa is poor because of the far reaching effects of corruption.

Political parties chant mantras of helping the poor. Irrelevant politicians were propelled into power because they were riding on the tide of “helping the poor”. Because of corruption, the poor suffer disproportionately from the effects of corruption. When health and basic education expenditures are given lower priority in favor of capital intensive programs that offer more opportunities for high-level rent taking (such as defense contracts), lower income groups lose services on which they depend. The poor do not eat political dogma; they need services provided to them by politicians who are not corrupt.

Corruption impedes economic growth by discouraging foreign and domestic investment, taxing and dampening entrepreneurship, lowering the quality of public infrastructure, decreasing tax revenues, diverting public talent into rent-seeking and distorting the composition of public expenditure.  In Zimbabwe, funds that are allocated by donors are openly embezzled by the political elite. The purpose for which the funds are donated for end up at the lowest priority rung and suffering continues.

South Africa and Lesotho have the highest inequality in Africa. Politicians will make noise on what ideology will work to correct the income inequalities but the problem can be surmounted by vanquishing corruption. There exists a positive correlation between corruption and income inequality. Explanations for this link are that corruption distorts the economy and the legal and policy frameworks allowing some to benefit more than others. Corruption leads to unfair distribution of government resources and services. Corruption reduces the progressivity of the tax system. Corruption increases the inequality of factor ownership; and lower income households (and businesses) pay a higher proportion of their income in bribes than do middle or upper-income households.

While there is no immediate panacea for corruption, I am of the conviction that ethical leadership will be a huge leap towards creating one. Ethics, a branch of philosophy that deals with morality should be a compulsory discipline for our leaders. A code of ethics that addresses the limitation of power, accountability, effectiveness and justice should be mandatory for all public office bearers. I cannot think of one solution but there are colorful measures that we can take against corruption. Establishing a court that specifically deals with corruption like the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is essential for every country. Africa needs to strengthen democratic institutions in order to ensure governmental accountability and transparency. Public participation in decision- making, the working together of private sector and civil society institutions must be ensured. Economic rights must be guaranteed to all. The judicial system must be modeled on an autonomous foundation. An open   review of public salaries and a free media which works closely with other stakeholders to create awareness to make sure the public is supportive of the anti-corruption campaigns are amongst the leaps we can take against corruption.

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