In celebrating Africa Day, Chris Jones and Pregala Pillay focus on corruption in Sub-Saharan Africa and what certain well-performing countries are doing right in their fight against the scourge.
Africa Day is commemorated annually on 25 May to mark the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, the precursor to the African Union (AU), on this day in 1963. The theme for this year is "Africa – Opportunities in Challenging Times".
Hopefully, we can show (other) underperforming countries the opportunities they can use to possibly intensify their efforts in rooting out corruption.
Stagnation and decline
Transparency International’s report Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2022 for Sub-Saharan Africa: Compounding Multiple Crises, starts as follows:
This report indicates how corruption erodes democracy, security and development in Sub-Saharan Africa – and this while the region is struggling to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and with a rise in the cost of living.
Funds are desperately needed for, among other things, the economic, ecological and healthcare challenges in this region, and therefore everything should be done not to lose money to corruption.
In this region, Seychelles continues to lead with a CPI score of 70 out of 100, followed by Botswana and Cabo Verde, each with 60.
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The most significant progress has been made in Seychelles. Since 2012, they had improved their score on the CPI with 18 points. Angola improved with 14 points since 2018, standing on 33 in 2022, while Côte d'Ivoire climbed with 10 points since 2013, finding themselves at 37 in 2022.
The worst-performing countries in this region are Burundi and Equatorial Guinea, each with a score of 17 out of 100, South Sudan with 13, and Somalia performing worst at 12.
Conflict and various security challenges have over time weakened institutions and undermined governments’ ability to curb corruption.
Consequently, opposition in this region is not tolerated. It is opposed, people are smeared and even arrested. Although the impression is often created that corruption is seriously fought, this is mostly pretense.
Considering this, one understands that there is a lot of focus on corruption during elections in this region. In some cases, integrity of the vote is lacking, and political financing, especially in the run-up to, but also during elections (Kenya in 2022), is a major concern.
Botswana performs very well because they have a robust democratic system in which legislative and policy frameworks are constantly being improved. Public sector reform has also made Cabo Verde a top performer in this region. Transparency in government and in business transactions receives a lot of attention too.
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Commitment appears to be essential for improvement. By way of example, the President of Angola João Lourenço, shows continued urgency and commitment to eradicating systemic corruption, especially through better and stronger legislation.
Furthermore, Seychelles amended its anti-corruption act in 2019 and this was a definite step forward, but unfortunately, its Public Officers’ Ethics Commission does not have investigative powers.
Where countries have fallen back on the CPI during the last number of years, such as Lesotho for example – down with 12 points since 2014 to 37 out of 100 in 2022 – it can be explained by powerful executive interference in independent institutions.
Conflict and corruption
In addition to the major global crises – such as climate change, the war in Ukraine and the rise in the cost of living, which directly affect countries in Sub-Saharan Africa – several countries face security challenges in the form of military coups, extremists, terrorist attacks and an increase in crime. Many of these contexts show how conflict and corruption are intertwined.
According to the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index 2022, the Central African Republic (24), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (20), Somalia (12), South Sudan (13) and Sudan (22) are five of the 10 least peaceful countries in the world. The CPI also places them among the bottom 30 countries in terms of perceptions regarding public sector corruption.
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In addition, militaries across this region are poorly managed and struggle with security challenges – and some countries, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are also vulnerable to corruption and plundering of resources. Along with this, there are armed groups that destabilise countries in this region, such as the Islamic State that collaborates with certain groups in Africa, for example in Mozambique.
Having said that, the absence of armed conflict does not automatically or necessarily mean political stability. In many countries not affected by war, anti-corruption activists are still considered public enemies. This can be seen in Madagascar, where the executive director and board chair of Transparency International are facing criminal charges after calling for an investigation into companies involved in the Malagasy lychee trade.
This just shows the enormous risk that anti-corruption activists and whistleblowers experience when they stand up against corruption.
In countries where there is such legislation, such as Nigeria, there are many loopholes, or its effective implementation is seriously lacking.
It is, however, not all doom and gloom for Sub-Saharan Africa. According to Transparency International, more leaders are defending democracy in this region, and the AU has condemned military takeovers while continuing to promote Africa’s economy, security, and political integration.
Most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have signed or support the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. This shows the positive attitude to fight corruption, but leaders should go further. To show they are serious, good governance reform must be prioritised, as well as measures that guarantee basic freedoms. Good conduct and integrity must be promoted in politics, and public resources must be used in the interest of the people. Civil society must also be adequately protected so that they can hold their governments accountable.
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Special attention should be given to anti-corruption measures, especially in times of emergencies such as those related to conflict, public health, and natural disasters. Countries must also do more to stop billions of dollars being siphoned offshore annually.
On Africa Day, we should remind each other of our anti-corruption commitments, and use every opportunity to introduce further measures against corruption and plundering in a proactive way, so that Africa can rise above the grim circumstances often enveloping us.
In the words of AUDA-Nepad CEO Nandos Bekele-Thomas: "And the road which will take our continent towards its bright future starts with building the road itself."
- Dr Chris Jones is chief researcher in Stellenbosch University’s department of systematic theology and ecclesiology.
- Professor Pregala Pillay is in the School of Public Leadership at Stellenbosch University.
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