Africa: Corruption a marriage of natural relations or an overestimated burden?

Africa: Corruption a marriage of natural relations or an overestimated burden?

12.12.2012. A longstanding critique of Africa's underdevelopment is corruption. Aprofound and widely held opinion is that Africa, in all its complexities and varied states, runs rampant with corruption from politicians to major corporations. Corruption does play a role in inefficient governance, aid, and social policy, however it is far from a simple pointing-fingers-issue.


International media and non-governmental organizations are bombarded with the challenges of corruption in many African states. News includes cases of corruption charges such as those in Tanzania over the production and sale of fake HIV anti retroviral drugs to the suspension of South Africa's police chief, Bheke Cele. Whether corruption is in the form of millions laundered or bribery on local levels what is irrefutable and grotesque is the millions of lives affected by (and potentially lost) due to corruption.

The nature of corruption in Africa is crucial to understanding its scope and pervasiveness. First and foremost, corruption is expensive. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, corruption costs Africa upwards of $150 billion a year (CFR, 2009). The $22.5 billion in aid received by sub-Saharan Africa in 2008 pales in comparison (CFR, 2012). Second, corruption  is particularly widespread in Africa. Of the ten most corrupt states in the world, six are African according to Transparency International. Arguably, corruption breeds corruption and upon snow-ball effect is harder to contain. Third, corruption is invasive. Most headlines concerning corruption involve public leaders and large sums of money, however corruption also affects daily life in the form of bribery for services, goods, legal processes and voting. Four, corruption often supersedes laws. For example, Kenya, often cited as a highly corrupt state, has had anti-corruption laws in place since 1956.

So, if corruption appears such a behemoth and lawless beast, is there a potential solution?

The three most commonly cited options are: 1) creating anti-corruption agencies (that are autonomous), 2) strengthening existing institutions
(including the police force, judicial system, and civil service), and 3) reducing dependency on foreign aid (shifting accountability from
donors to locals). Nevertheless, both the implementation and success of these options is complex and only effective over longer periods of
time. For example, aid tied to performance indicators or the incentive for foreign investment can curb corruption. But foreign investment
such as China's no-strings-attached approach displaces the emphasis on good governance.


Regardless, corruption continues to persist in many parts of Africa, leading leaders, scholars and citizens to ask what else can be done? Part two of this post, to be continued next week, will discuss an alternative viewpoint on corruption: that it is not all bad…

Source: BBC World News, CFR Report


Alex McPhedran