Increasing Scale of Corruption and its Impact on Development in Africa

Political History has indeed documented that power collapses, absolute power collapses absolutely. The worst scenario is political power fraught with deep-seated corruption, lack of transparency and lack of public accountability. This has been the case, over the years, throughout the world. And, of course, examples are abound in Europe, Asia and Africa. Corruption has been an unerasable characteristic feature of African politics, from Maghreb down to the Southern African Development Community, from East African Community and the Horn of Africa across the Sahel to the Atlantic coastal West African States.

During political campaigns almost all the potential candidates eyeing for the presidential position make skyline promises and pledges to uproot corruption. Military also use corruption as one of the reasons for overthrowing constitutionally elected governments. The practical reality is that corruption has become part and particle of African political culture, and politicians are always getting involved in flagrant violations of constitutions. 

Transparency International, a Berlin-based global NGO that focuses on reducing graft, these past years, has attempted researching and documenting reports on corruption. It says corruption, in practice, is worldwide. It ran a survey in 28 countries in sub-Saharan Africa in 2019 and this year to attempt to measure the level of corruption. The latest survey report says only a few countries, though, stood out as remarkably clean across Africa.

Senior Writer Kate Whiting indicated in her report on the Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer – Africa 2019 found more than half of 47,000 citizens in the 35 countries surveyed believed their nation has become more corrupt – and that the government isn’t doing enough to tackle the problem.

The report says: “Corruption is hindering Africa’s economic, political and social development… More than this, it affects the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities.” And in some countries, including Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda, two-thirds of people fear retaliation if they speak up about corruption, so it goes unreported. The report attributed the deterioration of rule of law and democratic institutions, as well as a rapidly shrinking space for civil society and independent media to corruption in Africa.

In July 2009, Barack Obama was right when he told political tyrants and autocratic African leaders who have enriched themselves through opaque deals that Africa’s future (including efforts to uprot all kinds of crimes, engage in sustainable development et cetera) is up to Africans.

“Development depends upon good governance. That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That is the change that can unlock Africa’s potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans,” Obama said during his first landmarked presidential trip to Africa.

Obama, in addition, declared that “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” Some leaders of external countries have it a policy to interfere in the internal politics of African States, and as a result end up supporting long-time corrupt autocratic leaders. Here it must not be absolutely analysed that the United States is dictating or imposing its form (model) of democracy.

It is a normal political culture to show tenets of good governance by public accountability and that business deals at the highest levels are conducted with transparency. For instance, large-scale deals involving natural resources and financial, must be thoroughly discussed at the legislative assembly, and approved by the executive cabinet. Unilateral decisions taken, without consulting with legislative body or parliament and the cabinet, by a leader are proned to be also criticized by the civil society. 

Under the presidency of Jacob Zuma, who ruled South Africa from 2009 to 2018, corruption was at its highest. Zuma participated in anti-apartheid struggle until South Africa finally attained its independence in 27 April 1994. He held various positions in ruling African National Congress (ANC) until he was elected president of South Africa. Before that, he was the deputy to President Thabo Mbeki, but was dismissed of corruption over arm deals. There were multiple graft scandals, that he was forced to step down in February 2018, and currently spends time in prison, and faces corruption allegations in court. 

In January 2018, as elected president of the African National Congress, Cyril Ramaphosa has raised hopes that he will stamp out corruption. “Corruption must be fought with the same intensity and purpose that we fight poverty, unemployment and inequality. We must also act fearlessly against alleged corruption and abuse of office within our ranks,” Ramaphosa declared in his maiden speech after his election. “We must investigate without fear or favour the so-called ‘accounting irregularities’ that caused turmoil in the markets and wiped billions off the investments of ordinary South Africans,” he added.

Last May 2021, the South African commission investigating corruption and graft, Ramaphosa acknowledged that the ruling ANC party did little to prevent corruption, including by his predecessor Jacob Zuma. “State capture and corruption have taken a great toll on our society and indeed on our economy as well,” Ramaphosa said. “They have eroded the values of our constitution and undermined the rule of law. If allowed to continue they would threaten the achievement of growth, development and transformation of our country.”

Since Ramaphosa made his promise in 2018, already five years, there are still fresh demonstrations and allegations of persistent corruption in Ramaphosa’s administration and inside the government. 

South Africa is not an isolated case. It’s neighbouring southern States including Mozambique and Angola have similar horrible cases. After 38 years of rule, in 2017 President dos Santos stepped down from MPLA leadership. in efforts to fight corruption, Angolan leader João Lourenço removed many of the country’s top politicians including Isabel dos Santos who were seriously corrupt under Jose Eduardo Dos Santos. 

According to the Economist, diamonds and oil make up 60% of Angola’s economy. Its population estimated approximately 25 million. The country now depends on expensive food imports, mainly from South Africa and Portugal, while more than 90% of farming is done at the family and subsistence level. Thousands of Angolan small-scale farmers are trapped in persistent poverty.

From the Maghreb coastline to Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia are all engulfed with corruption. Sudan, located in northeast Africa, has economic crisis, social problems despite its huge natural resources. Apparently, Omar al-Bashir, who had ruled the country for 30 years, did little for native country, his motherland, monopolized political power and ran deeply corrupt government. The New York Times wrote that Sudan’s economy was largely shattered due to political tyranny, deep-seated corruption and poor policies.

Peter Fabricius, Research Consultant from the South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies (ISS), cited corruption, quite recently in his article headlined – African Coups Are Making A Come Back – as one of the factors negatively affecting development.

Nigeria has also experienced the worst and the highest levels of corruption. In an interview, Ambassador Uche Ajulu-Okeke with thirty-year achievements in the Nigerian Foreign Service spoke about the present-day Federal Republic of Nigeria, located in West Africa. Several years after its independence, the leaders have not succeeded in rebuilding the state institutions enough to reflect all-inclusive ethnic diversity, let alone in adopting Western-style democracy that takes cognizance of different public opinions on development issues in the country. The struggle for and misuse of power have brought the country into a stalemate, disrupting any efforts to overcome the deepening economic and multiple social crisis.

She further pointed to nepotism at all levels and institutions of government. Morbid corruption. Endemic kleptocracy. Ethnic cleansing and persecution of christians and ethnic capture of the military and security apparatus of the state. Massive corruption and widespread kleptocracy with indigenous ethnicities in power making strenuous effort to capture state resources to the exclusion of other ethnic groups.

Still in West Africa on the Atlantic coast, Guinea early this month said it would prosecute former president Alpha Conde, who was toppled in a military coup last September, for mismanagement, misuse of power and corruption, for murder and other crimes committed during his time in office. Conde will be among 27 former senior officials to face prosecution.

According to AFP report, the list of names includes a former president of the constitutional court, ex-speakers of parliament, a former prime minister and many former ministers, legislators and heads of the security services.

In 2010, Conde became the first democratically elected president in the history of the West African country. But his popularity dived in his second term as critics accused him of authoritarianism, and opposition protests were violently repressed. He was deposed on September 5, 2021 by army officers led by Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, a former special forces commander. Doumbouya has since been sworn in as interim president and implemented a crackdown on alleged corruption by the former regime.

Mineral-rich but deeply poor and saddled with a reputation for corruption, Guinea has enjoyed few periods of stability since gaining independence from France in 1958. Many Guineans initially welcomed the coup but there is growing discontent in the nation of 13 million people.

Reports documented extravagant lifestyles of a small elite class in Africa. Such lifestyles are inseparately linked to corruption and misuse of siphoned funds. The case of the following: British Broadcasting Corporation reported last September 2021, quoted an official statement that “wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption” and that was the case relating to the Justice Department of the United States decision to sieze $26.6m (£20m) from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue.

He is popularly known for his unquestionable lavish lifestyle, he has been the subject of a number of international criminal charges and sanctions for alleged embezzlement and corruption. He has a fleet of branded cars and a number of houses, and two houses alone in South Africa.

Teodorin Nguema has often drawn criticisms in the international media for lavish spending, while majority of the estimated 1.5 million population wallows in abject poverty. Subsistence farming predominates, with shabby infrastructure in the country. Equatorial Guinea consists of two parts, an insular and a mainland region. Meanwhile, Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.

In Mozambique, Armando Ndambi Guebuza, the oldest son of of the former President Armando Guebuza has been targeted and accused of allegedly receiving the biggest share of the money embezzled from the loans mobilized with State guarantees, having pocketed US$33 million (equivalent €28 million). With the money, Armando Ndambi Guebuza bought top-of-the-range cars, some of which he gave to friends, and in addition purchased real estate inside and outside the country and paid for super high-class leisure trips. Armando Ndambi Guebuza used his influence with his father to make business schemes possible and to take advantage of his wealth for himself and his associates.  

Still in southern Africa, and back to Angola which has its own corruption tales. As known, it is a country on the west coast of southern Africa. It is the second largest Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) country in both total land space and by population (behind Brazil), and is the seventh largest country, endowed with natural resources, in Africa.

Understandably, this is just one isolated case here. Isabel dos Santos amassed an empire worth more than $2 billion as the daughter of the former president. Dos Santo has come under scrutiny after a number of media outlets, including the New York Times, the BBC and The Guardian published artciles based on the “Luanda Leaks” – a cache of some 700,000 documents related to her allegedly corrupt business dealings that were released to the International Consortium of Investigation Journalists (ICIJ).

Dos santos was appointed to head Angola’s state oil company Sonangol in 2016 when her father was still the president of the country. (He finally retired in 2017 after ruling Angola for 38 years.) Growing revenue from resources including oil has created opportunities for corruption, an estimated $32 billion disappeared from government under Dos Santos administration, according a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

President João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço asserted in his many speeches, promised to scale up the fight against systemic corruption, at least, a new narrative for Angolans and the entire Africa. Arguably, he has the mandate to discharge that responsibility for the benefits of his people. Whether João Lourenço will deliver his dedication in tackling corruption head-on and reducing economic graft in his country, time will definite tell. The society is watching.

Angola, Mozambique and South Africa are members of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). Notwithstanding so many problems that hinder Africa’s development, the postcolonial period has seen quite an array of oppressive systems. The so-called democratic but dictatorial regimes, many previous military dictatorships have primarily failed to develop the economic, leaving dilapidated structures. Siphoning state coffers through dubious and opaque means is still the order of the day.  

While African politicians continue blaming foreign actors and external factors for their economic woes. The statist economic systems of the past fifty years miserably failed to create free and prosperous African societies, even while they have been incredibly beneficial to Africa’s ruling elites and people who are politically connected. 

William Gumede, an Honorary Associate Professor, Public and Development Management, University of the Witwatersrand; and author of the recently released bestselling ‘Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times’ wrote a briefing paper for the Foreign Policy Centre in which he criticized Western countries for protecting their allies by turning a blind-eye to official corruption by ruling parties and leaders in the name of the so-called ‘war on terror’ or craftily overlooked corruption in order to secure mineral or oil rights as well as lucrative contracts.

“Civil society in Western countries and new emerging powers entering Africa should also hold their governments and businesses to account to ensure they are not overseeing corrupt and opaque operations. Corrupt governments, businesses and individuals – from Western as well as new emerging powers must be named and shamed in order to feel the reputational effects of corrupt activities,” he suggested in the policy paper.

Corruption in business is often not seen in a serious light by business leaders either globally or locally. The global financial crisis was essentially caused by corrupt and greedy bankers, traders and those working in the corporate sector. Yet, many of these business leaders and companies now flourish in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, as if they are blameless. Companies should be compelled to adhere to a set of integrity standards (in which they would foreswear corrupt activities) when trading in government contracts.

African public officials often dismiss international organisations’ corruption reports on Africa, saying these reports are infused by Western bias. African critics claim that such analysis overlooks corruption in Western countries and only focuses on developing countries. This is of course true, but only to some extent. The hypocrisy issue is a valid but separate debate and should not downplay the real seriousness of corruption at home.

Alternatively, Western countries look the other way when corrupt African governments are their allies, this has in fact encouraged corruption. Western business organizations also exercabate corruption by colluding in corrupt practices. China, as a new emerging power on the block, has continued these age old practices in return for investment opportunities.

The organs of the state, that is the executive, the legislature and judiciary and the fourth estate (media must necessarily do more effective investigative journalism to uncover wrongdoing) must engage in “checks and balances” – this to a considerable extent, will scale back corruption in society. The political leader and the executive mus periodically account for certain decisions in parliament.

In the long-term, the best antidote to corruption is to foster values (fairness, transparency, public accountability) across the continent which reward honesty and discourage dishonesty. Besides setting up anti-corruption committees and commissions, civil society organizations at the grassroots should step up public campaigns across Africa against corruption. The masses must know the extent of corruption, the impact it has on public service delivery, and how to monitor as well as report it, and the importance of holding their elected leaders and public servants more vigorously to account.

In final conclusion, it is worthy, at least, to keep in mind the suggestion made by the Republic of Ghana’s Vice President, Mahamudu Bawumia, who early May 2022 stated: “Building strong institutions means putting in place the right systems and practices that ensure transparency and brings about efficiency. As the saying goes, the biggest disease is corruption and the vaccine is transparency. The fact is that corrupt people hate transparency.”

Kester Kenn Klomegah
Kester Kenn Klomegah
MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.