Why Africa needs to find new ways to fight corruption

There is no doubt that corruption remains one of the most significant challenges to good governance, sustainable economic growth, peace, stability and development in Africa.

Addressing corruption in a strategic and comprehensive way is of paramount importance and an urgent priority for the continent’s development.  According to Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index of 2014, some five out of the world’s 10 most corrupt countries are in Africa.

The socio-economic and political cost of corruption in Africa is tremendous.  The Control Risk Group estimated in 2011 that developing countries lost close to US$ 1trillion  to fraud,  corruption and shady business transactions.

According to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, corruption costs Africa over US$148 billion per annum –equivalent to 50% of tax revenue 25% of Africa GDP.  In addition, illicit financial flows – especially via multinational corporations and mostly through corrupt practices – continue to deprive countries of much-needed financial resources.

In an effort to fight corruption, several African governments have established national anti-corruption institutions. The spread of corruption has been unrelenting, however. According to World Bank, quiet corruption is pervasive across Africa and is having a disproportionate effect on the poor, with long-term consequences for development.

Some countries, such as Rwanda and Tanzania, have made significant advances in reducing corruption. But others, including Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Sudan, have made meagre progress. All of these countries have anti-corruption agencies. However, in countries where progress has been slow, their commissions are often made inefficient due to political interference, a lack of independence and a general lack of political will.

Countries like Rwanda have had some success because they focus on people-centred and ‘home-grown’ ideologies, systems and organisations. This builds a culture where integrity is valued and corruption rejected. By contrast, Kenya’s drive to fight corruption has remained at the helm of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, and has yet to make progress in establishing an anti-corruption culture.

In the late ’90s, Western stakeholders became significantly more in Africa’s fight against corruption. In 1996, former World Bank president, James Wolfensohn, and International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director, Michel Camdessus announced that donor leverage would be used to eliminate corruption. This gave many anti-corruption campaigns a Western rather than local identity, which partly explained the failure of some commissions.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF)  suspended US$220 million worth of aid to Kenya   in 1997, at the same time calling for privatisation to be increased, for the state tax-collection agency to be made independent and for an anti-corruption authority to be established.

Kenya’s attorney general at the time, Amos Wako, reportedly said an IMF team had forced his office to draft the Prevention of Corruption Bill within one week.’ The bill led to the Kenyan Anti-Corruption Authority being established. Donor funding was renewed but suspended again in 2000 given a lack of progress on anti-corruption efforts.

The challenges Africa faces in fighting corruption cannot to be underestimated. Constructive dialogue must take place between governments and people to create anti-corruption commissions that truly serve the interests of the local society. Going forward, this calls for a participatory evaluation of commissions, as well as an inclusive decision-making process. This is crucial if Africa is to grow and nurture its own ideas, processes and mechanisms to deal with the corruption.



…With Atta Kwaku Boadi

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