Corruption in Africa

June 10, 2015

Corruption in Africa is well documented from pre colonial to post independence era. For all graft indexes released globally, African countries always rank among top 10 corrupt countries in Transparency International’s corruption perception index. It’s not surprising that African countries are known for graft.Barely a day goes by without media reports of corruption in political parties, trade unions, sports bodies, companies. It is any wonder that confidence in African political leaders and public officers is ever low. So much of politicians’ energy seems to be aimed at progressing their own or their party’s interests and very little seems to be aimed at the public good. Unfortunately many leaders in Africa have not led by example and even those implicated in corruption scandals, allegations are largely brushed over and never really addressed.What would your employer do if you claimed false per diem? There should not be two standards, one for the general community and another for our politicians but sadly thats the situation in African countries.

The bedrock on corruption is infrastructure projects.But do Africans need it in the development of today’s Africa? With public investment in infrastructure reaching an all-time high and countries across the continent relying on the successful delivery of several mega projects for support, this question begs an honest answer.After decades of neglect, current governments have finally moved infrastructure development to the top of its priority list. For the next ten years,huge infrastructure budgets are to be spent on several mega projects, such as new ports,modernization of old ones, as part of the maritime highway program, new dams, toll roads and railways,power plants among many others. This much-awaited commitment is crucial for the continent to sustain its economic growth. Poor quality and insufficient roads, bridges and ports have resulted in not only skyrocketing logistics and transportation costs but also significant disparity among African countries.

Damaged dams and irrigation systems pose a threat to Africa’s food security.The inadequate capacity of existing power plants has already caused power shortages in many parts of Africa.Without taking drastic measures,many countries, will continue experiencing power crises.However, whether African governments can translate their commitment into successful implementation is another issue. At the heart of the question is corruption, which has long plagued the construction and other sectors for decades. A report last year examining bribery cases from African nations points out that construction tenders, along with mining licenses, are among the sectors most prone to corruption. The study further stated that the most common form of corruption is paying bribes to win public procurement contracts with East African countries leading the regional blocs.

Public works projects in Africa are known to be fertile ground for corruption, where old-school bureaucrats and politicians advance their vested interests.Whenever there’s a new administration, it is always faced with a difficult dilemma and to build infrastructure using a corruption-ridden public works sector is always a hard task.Reflecting on the two contesting theories on the relationship between corruption and development, newly elected governments in Africa have always faced two choices to solve such a problem.The most prominent viewpoint regards corruption as an absolute evil that impedes development. It instills distortion in the economy by adding costs to transactions and redirecting resources from productive activities to rent-seeking. Corrupt practices reduce government capacity and legitimacy.

On the other side of the spectrum is the viewpoint that recognizes corruption as necessary grease to turn the wheels. Harmful as it may be, corruption could be the only way for a system that harbors ill-functioning institutions to run as has been seen in countries like Malawi and Nigeria. Thus, instead of aiming to eradicate corruption in Africa,which would compete with other development priorities,governments in charge should instead try to control it.If the government is to adopt the stance of zero-tolerance on corruption, as it is now being publicized all over the continent, it needs not only to further support and strengthen the graft fighting agencies, implement more transparent systems and invite civil society to take part, most importantly, it must completely reform the political party financing system to limit political corruption like the way countries like Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya have done.

Transactional politics are rampant, as politicians have to raise funds or return sponsor favors as we all know happened with Africa National Congress in South Africa few years back. Implementing an iron-handed policy to combat corruption under such conditions would only result in infrastructure project delays, either because of the arrest of those connected to corrupt practices like Standard Gauge Railway line scandal in Kenya, or because bureaucrats at the executing ministries would avoid carrying out projects for fear of being arrested.It is unrealistic to expect old-school politicians to stop preying on state resources without a major revision of the system. Increasing the state subsidy for political parties could be a path to reform as Uganda has successfully done, yet it is an impossible option in the midst of competing development priorities.

African countries could also initiate an expenditure cap for political parties and put in place a strong oversight mechanism. A corrupt system on which the successful delivery of the infrastructure development plans is dependent, and on the other side, an enforced zero-tolerance stance on corruption that may impede immediate implementation of infrastructure development plans as it happened with Ghana energy pipeline projects, if they can happen at all. Having both systems on the table may result in not only the delayed, or even failed, delivery of badly needed infrastructure projects, but also possible systematic pushback to weaken those who are tasked with eradicating corruption in the name of Africa rising development.

Contador Harrison