Corruption in Africa has reached cancerous proportions. In fact, so pervasive is
this phenomenon in the region that it has been labelled the ‘AIDS of democracy’
which is destroying the future of many societies in the region. The corruption
problem in Africa reflects the more general, and now legendary, climate of uneth-
ical leadership and bad governance found throughout most of the continent.
The pandemic of corruption in Africa, and its extremely negative impact on
socioeconomic development and the fight against poverty in the region, have
become matters of global concern; a number of international organizations are
now focusing their attention on the root causes and consequences, as well as on
action to control this cancer in society. At the 1996 joint annual meeting of the
World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), for example, World Bank
President James Wolfensohn declared: ‘Let’s not mince words, we need to deal
with the cancer of corruption. In country after country, it is the people who are
demanding action on this issue’. Mr Wolfensohn also made similar statements in
his 1997 address to the Board of Governors where he said: ‘We have seen how
corruption flourishes in the dark, how it prevents growth and social equity, and
how it creates the basis for social and political instability’.
Similarly, and quite surprisingly, the United Nations General Assembly issued
a resolution, on 16 December 1996, aimed at promoting social responsibility and
ethics. The ‘UN Declaration Against Corruption and Bribery in International
Commercial Transactions’ emphasized the need to ‘promote social responsibility
and appropriate standards of ethics on the part of private and public corporations,
including transnational corporations, and individuals …’. It further stated that
fighting and controlling corruption are also necessary to ‘enhance fairness and
competitiveness in international commercial transactions’.
This concern with corruption in Africa is also being vigorously pursued by
Africans themselves, who now talk openly about how their everyday lives are
permeated by behaviours and values which are unethical and contribute to the
entrenchment of norms perpetrated by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.
Indeed, such concern is a good thing, for until Africans themselves decide to
react forcefully against the stench of corruption to which they are currently sub-
jected, it (corruption) will remain a societal norm poisoning civil society and
splitting it into rent-seeking elites and helpless spectators.
Drawing on examples from a wide range of countries, this chapter assesses the
problem of corruption in Africa with particular emphasis on its causes, develop-
ment consequences, and efforts to control it. Before proceeding, however, it
would be useful to develop a working definition of corruption to provide the
framework for the rest of the discussions to follow.
WHAT IS CORRUPTION?
After independence, most African countries drifted shamelessly from a bureau-
cratic administration that emphasized good governance to one that emphasized
the sovereignty of politics. This resulted in the emergence of a politicized bureau-
cracy in those countries which began to engage in centralized economic decision-
making and patrimonialism. The new states were not only bureaucratic autocracies
but also political and economic monopolies now lacking in accountability, trans-
parency and the rule of law. Thus, the post-independence govern-
mental bureaucracy that emerged in most African countries contributed to
institutional instability, the politicization of the state, and patrimonial economic
management and incentives, whereby clientelism replaced moral and political
legitimacy, and political and personal loyalty and obedience were rewarded more
This then was the genesis of rampant corruption in Africa. The unethical politi-
cization of the bureaucracy allowed for the entrenchment of the use of per-
sonalism and patronage as the means through which authority and influence
were exercised. The politicians and the bureaucrats forged a
dependent patron/client relationship through which administrative decision-
making occurred. This process, inevitably, led to a cooperative and institutional-
ized abuse of public office for private and personal gain.
Corruption can now be defined against that foregoing background. The term
corruption comes from a special form of the Latin verb to break, rumpere – which
implies that something is badly broken (Tanzi, 1994). This something might be a
moral or ethical code or, more often, an administrative rule or a law. The person
who breaks it derives therefrom some recognizable benefit for him/herself, fam-
ily, tribe, party, or some other relevant group. In this chapter, corruption is seen,
first and foremost, as the utilization of official positions or titles for personal or
private gain, either on an individual or collective basis, at the expense of the pub-
lic good, in violation of established rules and ethical considerations, and through
the direct or indirect participation of one or more public officials whether they be
politicians or bureaucrats.
In a somewhat more simplistic sense, corruption may be seen as partisanship
that challenges statesmanship. It is an act or acts undertaken with
the deliberate intent of deriving or extracting personal and/or private rewards
against the interests of the state.
The famous saying still linger. ’An apple does not fall too far away from the tree ‘and “no tree grows without its roots”, so everything that has grown, it surely have its own roots from where it comes from, which are the basis and strength of such a thing, with a stem from the roots, to the branches and finally the fruits or whatever products such a tree is bound to bear, either positive or negative, good or bad, sweet or sour, harmful or not harmful. This is exactly how corruption is. No one knows what a tree is going to bare or produce, just like corruption, if it’s going to be good or bad, harmful or not harmful. After colonialism, different people, countries followed the evil practices of exploiting government for their personal gains just like the colonial leaders used to use state resources to build their home country (as its widely accepted that the West got rich at the expense of African people). They did without knowing the negative impacts it might or does or would have on the people and the leaders themselves. During colonialism, people in African countries fought together as a collective unit, not only for themselves but for their countries, the lifeline and livelihood for themselves and that of their own countries, the land and its resources, mineral resources etc. Nowadays, the collectivism has effectively disappeared and has been replaced by individualism, selfishness, nepotism and the mentality of “every man for himself”, which above all disadvantage the poor, the unemployed people, and fail to take into consideration the youth and also disabled people or people in rural areas. The mentality of “every man for himself” or liberalism itself is the greatest fertilizer of conflict.
Corruption originates from these kinds of mentalities. African leaders have these mentalities, they ignore the mases or perhaps the better word is ‘block them out’, they ignore their voices, their needs and focus solely on themselves, selfishness! The resources supplied, for example money or materials supplied or handed out to build a hospital is instead invested in a single person by that person himself or by a person related or close to him/her for his/her own personal interest or entertainment at the expense of the mases who would have otherwise be using that certain hospital and who are in greater need of such services. People therefore end up suffering the consequences that they would have otherwise avoided, such as deaths and suffering at the hands of different diseases and illnesses because of lack of these health facilities, and who will care? Apart from their families or siblings, the leaders hardly pay attention to the society! But this is not really the focus of this article; the article focuses on corruption and the role players in the practice of corruption (Leaders) in Africa and why it will never end while such leaders are still in power. The roots of conflict in Africa, just like the devastating effects it might have are equally important going forward and in our efforts to reduce this practice in Africa.
After colonialism, as I have said before, people where fighting as a unit in Africa, a lot of people were killed in the process, so in respect of these people, many African countries honor them each year with events like hero’s day, Cassinga day in Namibia etc., to commemorate and remember what they have done for their respective countries and for the continent in general, especially great leaders like Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkurumah, Keneth Kaunda and many others. But despite the sacrifices made by all these people or citizens for their countries, most African leaders , many who participated in the colonial struggle and war, or domestic conflicts (civil wars), feel that they are more entitled to different resources and privileges more than their compatriot from the colonial times owed to them by their home countries and its people, so they refuse to recognize corruption as inappropriate or as a crime to them, they mostly take what they want , from whoever they want, at anyone’s expense, without considering who suffers the most from this practice. But war in Africa as I mentioned was not fought individually or by an individual but by collective units, groups organized in unity, a sense of belonging was created and developed, a feeling of togetherness, nationalism and nationhood, this is what won Africans the war against the European whites. This is why there are people in rural areas at a completely different level in African countries who fought in the war along our political leaders e.g. the president, but did not get the privilege or recognition they deserve to be at the same level as their compatriots. So why do African leaders think is owed to them and not anyone else? What had they done so hard or had to do at that time that others didn’t do? If they were all fighting the same enemy, the same war?
Robert Williams in his book “Corruption in Africa’ states that corruption in Africa is not a carbuncle on the body politics, but a virus in its bloodstream. A virus spreading at a very rapid pace. He adds that if we are to remove corruption, we will have to threaten the state itself and this should include the state actors and everyone involved as the state now act as a lubricant to an otherwise static and inefficient bureaucracy. This is indeed a fact and a bold suggestion or statement which highlights the importance and relevance of this article.
Julius Nyerere (1996) greatly questioned the benefits of independence of the African states, and if the people would be able to enjoy the true benefits of independence if corruption was allowed to continue. He was also afraid that confidence in their government, including the very foundation of justice which will be shuttered if corruption is/was not confronted in all diversity.
Corruption is a dangerous practice; greatly it’s not only the author who notices. Decades since these leaders emphasized on these issues, fears of both Nyerere and Nkurumah who cited corruption as a vice that risked gravely harming millions in Africa striving for freedom and justice, he said that Tanzania risked adding another enemy to their list of commonly cited and known enemies, Poverty, Ignorance And Disease-the fourth to be Corruption (Nkrumah, 1961). Fears of both Nyerere and Nkurumah has been realized if not confirmed, ironically its African leaders that have been the causes or roots of these evil deeds that their former leaders so dully hated and dismissed as terrible for the continent or countries in general. The African leaders have since exploited the institutions and government agencies and the public resources at their disposals after being drafted into the office after independence. Nyerere and Nkuruma’s fears have been integrated into the very social, political and our economic systems that are being used in our societies, communities, nations and countries. The practices of nepotism, patronage, and paternalism have been employed to secure and maintain control of resources and material benefits and material for African leaders. Exploitation, nepotism and totalitarian has been used and embraced by African leaders especially dictators and authoritarians to control the people and maintain control over resources or the people to control resources and use it/them merely for their personal gains! (Timamy, 2005).
Corruption is not only about stealing funds. It is also about putting bad people in prime positions. People who have neither the passion (sincerity) nor the qualification (skills) to do the job. This form of corruption is crippling Africa’s development. In the African union you get a department full of village friends. No one with the qualifications to do the post, other than being clan members. The price of nepotism causes a complete failure of a country, or an organization to develop. Corruption is worse than murder. It kills more than warfare; it takes land and money to build a hospital and buys a private jet, condemning thousands of people over multiple generations to die of curable diseases. And the indirect consequences are, from that poverty pool lie the next genius to lead Africa out of this morass; the next Malcolm X, the next Imhotep, the cure for cancer, the woman who will make cars run on air.
Corruption in Africa and its leaders
Corruption is one of the biggest problems that African has had since independence and it has been crippling our African economies and development ever since. Many African countries have made considerable efforts to reduce corruption potentially to abolish from citizens and the system in general, but so far we are not making enough progress as corruption persists in our countries most especially among the government officials, politicians and public servants. Although, despite the established institutions and many other mechanisms to cater for the reduction of corruption, it’s going to take more than several people and one institution to abolish corruption on the African continent. This is mostly because corruption in Africa starts from the top officials, the very same people always preaching about, Harambee, Ubuntu, Ujamaa, Kaunda’s humanism, Nkuruma’s consciencism, “Rainbow nation” and many other ideologies mostly aimed at blinding people and excuses of making people believe the system is all good! African leaders are a disease, a corruption cancer that has grown and spread its wings and roots and affected many other people.
Corruption in African leaders
Angola’s president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, has been accused of creating one of the most corrupt ruling environments in Africa by ignoring the everyday needs and concerns of citizens and focusing, instead, on accumulating a massive fortune for himself and his family and crushing all political opposition. Jose Eduardo is the second longest serving president in Africa; he run his government like it’s his personal, privately-owned investment holding company. In 2013, President dos Santos named his eldest son, José Filomeno dos Santos, as the head of Angola’s sovereign investment fund, in charge of over $5 billion. His cousin serves as Angola’s vice president, and his daughter, Isabel Dos Santos is arguably the wealthiest woman in the country, he has also appointed his daughter as head of state oil firm Sonangol, the biggest oil producing company in Angola. Rumor has it that when Isabel Dos Santos got married in Ruanda in 2002, the wedding ceremony cost about US$4 million, with a special choir flown in from Belgium and two planes chartered to bring food from France. About 800 guests were present at the wedding, half of them relatives of the couple, and also several African presidents. What a life? Sonangol manages Angola’s lucrative oil and gas reserves, which contribute to about half of the country’s annual GDP while fueling a precarious and lop-sided post-war boom. The drop in global oil prices has hit Angola hard, forcing the country to cut public investment by 53%. Sonangol reported a net profit $710 million last year, down from more than $3 billion, according to Bloomberg.
The African Development Bank and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on Wednesday led calls among partner institutions for greater vigilance to tackle corruption and ensure the best environment to build back African economies after the Covid-19 pandemic.
The organizations made the call at a virtual roundtable meeting, titled „Corporate Compliance in the Fight against Corruption in Africa: Practices, Challenges and Prospects.“ Nearly 200 experts, representing government, academia, business, and multilateral institutions, participated in the meeting, where they assessed anti-corruption efforts and shared experiences to promote corporate integrity.
In 2020, 41 African economies contracted due to the Covid-19 crisis, the continent’s worst economic downturn in half a century.
Paula Santos Da Costa, Acting Director of the Integrity and Anti-Corruption Office at the African Development Bank, noted that the crisis presented new risks, given its unprecedented scale and demands, while increased digitalization had generated new forms of corruption that will require innovative responses.
„Our partners‘ integrity is a priority for the Bank. The Bank must ensure that the resources entrusted by partners are used wisely. The Bank takes a preventive and curative approach to fight fraud and corruption in companies that have benefited from our financing,“ she said, adding that the fight against corruption is anchored in a zero-tolerance policy, especially in its dealings with contractors.
In his remarks, Patrick Moulette, Head of the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Division, said it was more important than ever to intensify efforts to fight corruption and strengthen corporate integrity to ensure a strong economic recovery in Africa, especially through the private sector.
During a panel discussion, moderated by Elsa Gopala Krishnan, Senior Legal Analyst in the OECD Anti-Bribery Division, the speakers called for leadership and political will, educating the youth and promoting the role of women and the youth in anti-corruption efforts in Africa.
Businessman Cas Coovadia, chairman of Business Unity South Africa, stressed the significant contribution of business organizations in fighting corruption and promoting compliance. „These business associations must take the lead in the fight against corruption and the promotion of ethical values by working daily to encourage their members to join the fight. They can also sanction companies that do not comply with the defined rules. This requires a certain amount of courage,“ he said.
Jovita Fazenda, Head of Regulatory Affairs at Multichoice in Mozambique and a member of the Coalition for Organizational Integrity, said international standards for compliance promotion and anti-corruption must be adapted to national and local realities.
„We need to go further by building the capacity of these national companies, both public and private. We must also work on adapting international standards to the country context,“ she said.
Others also called for capacity building for investigative services specializing in the fight against corruption and fraud. „The current pandemic is not only a health crisis. It is also a crisis of corruption – states have taken emergency measures such as curfews, and state of emergency and lockdowns. Corporations have engaged in emergency donations, breaking many of the rules. All this has created a context that requires more vigilance in fighting corruption and promoting compliance,“ said Natascha Linn Felix, compliance director at Burmeister and Wain Scandinavian Contractor and former chair of Transparency International Denmark.
The African Development Bank and the OECD have been cooperating for several years on business integrity and anti-corruption efforts in Africa(link is external). After launching a partnership in 2008 to support African governments on this subject, the two institutions developed the Anti-Bribery Policy and Compliance Guidance for African Companies(link is external) in 2016.
In 2008, the OECD and the African Development Bank (AfDB) launched a partnership to support African governments in their efforts to fight bribery and corruption. Twenty-one African countries are members of the Joint Initiative: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
The Joint Initiative helps African countries in their fight against the bribery of public officials in business transactions and to improve corporate integrity and accountability, while promoting growth through an environment conducive to attracting foreign investment. The overall objectives of the Joint Initiative are to increase the capacity for effective anti-bribery enforcement, support international anti-bribery efforts, enhance public and private sector integrity, and contribute to transparent and accountable business conduct in Africa.
These policies and standards are grounded in the anti-bribery and anti-corruption provisions of the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, the UN Convention Against Corruption, and the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials.
Within a framework of strong African leadership, the OECD and AfDB are working together to design and implement effective measures to combat the bribery of public officials that draws from these international and regional instruments. Through the involvement of African business and industry, as well as policy makers, the Joint Initiative also focuses on providing technical support to Africa’s private sector to improve standards of corporate integrity and accountability. Indeed, while African economies are among the fastest-growing in the world, the perceived levels of corruption in the continent are hindering foreign investment and the ability of companies to conduct business fairly, and on a level playing field.