Africa has long been considered among the world’s most corrupt places, a factor seen as contributing to the slow development and impoverishment of many African countries. Out of the ten countries considered most corrupt in the world, six are in sub-Saharan Africa. Anti-corruption efforts on the continent have shown mixed results in recent years. Major international partners are unwilling to exert leverage over African government. Ultimately, It seems Africa’s interest in attracting foreign investment will serve to spur more substantive efforts in the fight against corruption.
Corruption in Africa ranges from high-level political graft on the scale of millions of dollars to low-level bribes to police officers or customs officials. In as much as political graft imposes the largest direct financial cost on country, petty bribes have a corrosive effect on basic institutions and undermine public trust in the government. Graft also increases the cost of doing business. The prevalence of corruption also warps the political process. Many public officials in Africa seek re-election because holding office gives them access to the state’s coffers, as well as immunity from prosecution. When the stakes for remaining in office are so high, candidates are more likely to buy votes or rig an election. For the past 5 years African governments have made some efforts to fight corruption. In many cases, they have been spurred by international donors pushing for transparency and good governance as well as domestic pressure to fulfil promises of reform made on the campaign trail.
Countries such as Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Botswana and Tanzania have made substantive progress on reducing corruption. All these countries have established anti-corruption agencies that seek to prevent, investigate, and prosecute corruption. But many countries, including Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa, have made meagre progress on fighting corruption. As a matter of fact, anti-corruption commissions set up in these countries have been largely inefficient and ineffective due to their uncertain political footing. Often funded and overseen by the executive branch, the tendency for political interference always seems inevitable because of this influence.
Corruption in Africa must be approached with the understanding that it is a global phenomenon with strong international dimensions and that there must not only be a political commitment but a battle that engages all the stakeholders. Setting up anti-corruption commissions as stand-alone interventions won’t make a difference. As President Ernest Koroma of Sierra Leone would tell you; attitudinal change is an integral component for change. The Sierra Leone President has indeed taken steps to put in place the mechanisms necessary for accountability and good governance in his country; the question is are the necessary stake-holders engaged to implement change?
Recently, the Guardian newspaper in Britain reported a corruption scandal perpetrated by former president of Kenya Daniel Arap Moi and his family. According to the Guardian a 110 page report prepared by international risk consultancy firm Kroll exposed Arap Moi and his family and accused them of banking £1 billion in 28 countries including Britain. The report went further to say that the family used Shell Oil Company, secret trusts, front men and his entourage to siphon the money away.
Apart from the money, the Moi family also bought several multimillion pound properties in London, New York, South Africa including 10,000-hectare ranch in Australia and bank accounts containing hundreds of millions of pounds. It is on record that Mr. Moi’s sons Philip and Gideon are wealth £384m and £550m respectively. While majority of Kenyans live in rural areas, and live in mud/thatched houses with bamboo/raffia leaves as roofing sheet the Moi family live in a £4m home in Surrey and £2m flat in Knightsbridge. Arap Moi’s 24 year rule was largely corrupt and contributed to endemic poverty seen in Kenya today.
Former Guinean President Lansana Conte ruled his country for 24 years from 1984 to 2008. Sometimes having a leader maintaining stability in a country could translate into economic prosperity but this is not the case for Guinea. Even though Guinea is the world’s biggest exporter of bauxite, there is very little the country can show for it. Apart from bauxite, Guinea also have large deposits of gold diamond, iron, nickel and uranium yet poverty is so severe that the country was ranked among the top 1% of most corrupt countries in Africa. In fact according to a report by UN, Guinea ranks 160th out of 177 in the UN’s Development scale.
50 years ago, oil was discovered in Nigeria. Over $400 billion have been realised from its sale but today the whole population continue to live in abject poverty and the country has nothing to show or account for the billions of dollars she has received for years. Those who have benefited from the oil are corrupt politicians, civil servants, a shadow economy, armed bandits, army generals and the big oil corporations such as Shell, Mobil, BP and their American counterparts. As a result able men and women are battling dangerous waters just to enter Europe and try their luck. Others have resorted to 419, a popular scam used to trick people into given out their money and valuables. In fact Nigeria has consistently featured in the top 1% of the most corrupt nation on the planet.
Former president of Malawi Bakili Muluzi was arrested for pocketing $12m in 2006 donated to his poor country by foreign governments. Again former Zambia president Frederick Chiluba was arrested together with two business men Aaron Chungu and Faustin Kabwe and charged with 11 counts of stealing money meant for the Zambia’s development. From one country to another, corruption in high places has plagued our societies.
Africans must demand transparency and accountability in government. Independent Corruption watchdogs free from government control and influence must be established to investigate, prosecute and severely punish officials who engage in corrupt practices. The people should be given access to state revenue statistics in all its form through publication in local media. We must take control of our country’s finances and end this era of corruption and mismanagement of our wealth and resources.
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