Corruption is a major problem for many African countries. Its corrosive effects on democracy, development, and security remain a concern for African citizens who in various surveys have made it clear that this scourge is among their top priorities for government intervention. To realise significant progress, African countries must create a new era in which good governance is appreciated and anti-corruption measures are prioritised.

During a recent social media campaign in Uganda, dubbed #ExposeTheCorrupt, #CorruptionIsWinnable, one citizen echoed the concerns of many Africans in this lament: “Corruption poses a serious development challenge … in the political realm, it undermines democracy and good governance by subverting formal processes … corruption is the main reason why our country is debt-burdened.”

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa has characterised corruption as both a product and cause of poor governance and weak institutions, and one of the major costs and impediments to structural transformation in Africa. In the words of Transparency International, corruption not only wastes scarce public resources that could instead be used for public services and meaningful development, but also weakens democracy by eroding public trust in the government’s ability to act in the best interest of the citizenry.

The Transparency International 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) revealed that most African countries have continued to perform poorly in the fight against corruption, with a regional average score of 33 out of 100. According to Transparency International, the top six least corrupt countries in Africa include Seychelles, Cape Verde, Botswana, Rwanda, Mauritius and Namibia. The top six most corrupt countries, on the other hand, include Somalia, South Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

But while there’s no doubt that the figures reveal that some African governments are crippled by corruption, there are encouraging reports of initiatives across the continent to tackle the vice.

Botswana, for example, is perceived to be one of the least corrupt countries in the region, and has continuously maintained comparatively low levels of perceived corruption. Compared to other African countries, Botswana reports fewer crimes and bribery cases. It has a public whistleblower hotline, for example, which citizens can call and report corruption.

Somalia, ranked among the world’s most corrupt countries, has acknowledged that weak justice systems undermine accountability for public officials and that the judiciary has an important role to play in the fight against corruption. Speakers at the sixth Somalia Judicial Conference on corruption and its eradication, held in the capital Mogadishu in January this year, including top officials from three branches of the government, pledged to support judicial institutions in the fight against corruption. As Transparency International has pointed out, for countries to make progress, African governments must give the justice system the independence, resources and transparency required to effectively punish corruption offences.

In Nigeria, corruption has paralysed government, with several stakeholders calling for anti-graft efforts to be prioritised. Speaking at a strategic meeting with delegates from the African Union Development Agency-New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA-NEPAD) in Nigeria, in January this year, the chairman of Nigeria’s Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Dr Musa Adamu Aliyu, reiterated that the impact of corruption manifested in underdevelopment and poverty, making the prospect of investment in the country unappealing.

“The ICPC is willing to go all out in its bid to stamp out corruption as one of the keys to actualising good governance, growth, and development in the country,” Aliyu said. “However, the responsibility of projecting the country in a positive light must be a collective effort.”

Maria Sarungi Tsehai, a Tanzanian activist known for her online campaign “Change Tanzania” shares the idea of active citizenship. Speaking at the Mo Ibrahim Governance Weekend in 2018, Tsehai reiterated the need for citizen engagement in the fight against corruption. “We need citizens who are active,” she said. “We must hold leaders accountable and make them listen to us.”

It is worth noting that the African Union Advisory Board Against Corruption (AUABC) has praised Tanzania for making significant efforts – and demonstrating its intent – to stamp out corruption, including through school clubs, an initiative launched in 2015 to encourage learners to campaign against corruption. Tanzania is the 84th least corrupt nation out of 180, according to Transparency International’s 2023 Corruption Perception Index, a performance that could partly be attributed to citizen engagement.

Noteworthy is that the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) provides the foundation for citizen participation in anti-corruption efforts and obligates states to take appropriate measures to promote the active participation of individuals and groups outside the public sector, such as civil society, non-governmental and community-based organisations, in the fight against corruption.

Charles Kulo, an anti-corruption campaigner in Uganda, believes that youth participation is essential. “The youth must be a pillar in the fight against corruption, since it affects them the most,” he says. “Support a corruption free Uganda … together, we shall stop corruption.”

Victor Bruno Paledi, the director general of the Directorate on Corruption and Elections crime in Botswana agrees. “We need deeper conversations amongst young people on ways to tackle corruption in Africa,” he says.

However, for real progress, citizens must stand together to fight corruption, thinking beyond regional, tribal, and religious loyalties, some of the tools used to conceal wrongdoing and hinder accountability.

In Kenya, which scored 31 points on the 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index, there have been calls for the government to establish a State Capture Commission to demonstrate commitment to the fight against graft and to promote good governance. Kenya’s score fell below the sub-Saharan Africa average score of 33 and the global average of 43; a score below 50 indicates serious levels of public sector corruption. The Corruption Perceptions Index scores on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

Similarly, South Africa, which achieved its lowest score ever on the CPI Index, at 41 points out of 100, is grappling with how to deal with corruption in the face of growing public anger at the hollowing out of state-owned companies, the breakdown of service delivery, and with, to date, none of the government ministers and functionaries implicated in graft yet prosecuted.

In referring to his own country, Rockson-Nelson Dafeamekpor, a legislator in Ghana, also summed up what other African countries must do to counter corruption, telling Africa in Fact, “Nothing will minimise or stop corruption in Ghana until constitutional law empowers all incoming governments to probe and hold accountable all outgoing governments.”

Truth be told, nothing less than robust and decisive action is required to fight the pervasive corruption that continues to undermine good governance in Africa. It has become fashionable for leaders in Africa to say “we are going to fight corruption” but we need decisive action, leaders who are fully committed to securing brighter futures for their countries, instead of mouthing platitudes for the cameras or as a sop to a public outcry. 

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Raphael Obonyo is a public policy analyst. He’s served as a consultant with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). An alumnus of Duke University, he has authored and co-authored numerous books, including Conversations about the Youth in Kenya (2015). He is a TEDx fellow and has won various awards.

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Raphael Obonyo is a public policy analyst. He’s served as a consultant with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). An alumnus of Duke University, he has authored and co-authored numerous books, including Conversations about the Youth in Kenya (2015). He is a TEDx fellow and has won various awards.

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