A Research paper by NKETIA, Fidelis Kwadwo.
CORRUPTION AND BAD GOVERNANCE – WHY POLITICAL CORRUPTION IS DIFFICULT TO DETECT IN AFRICA.
Africa has continuously been at the center of most scholarly works on underdevelopment. This part of the world is characterized by massive corruption, extreme poverty, regressing economies and political instability. In trying to understand the reason for the current state of the continent post-independence, many scholarly works attribute the underdevelopment of Africa to corruption and bad governance. Corruption in Africa is pervasive to the extent that some scholars has made it an important characteristic in describing African politics. Somalia, per the 2019 Corruption Perception Index published by Transparency International, is the world’s most corrupt country and other African countries are not faring well on the index either. The question that continuously begs for an answer is what is accounting for the endemic nature of corruption in Africa. This paper will examine and do and in-depth evaluation of corruption on the continent and further analyze the cultural underpinnings favoring the growth and promotion of corruption in Africa. I argue that, cultural underpinnings like the culture of gift giving, redistributive accumulation and solidarity networks among others are the way of life of Africans that continuously blurs the lines between what is supposed to be public duties and private gains and therefore makes corruption difficult to detect in Africa.
Keywords: Corruption, bad governance, culture, neo-pratrimonialism, clientelism, endemic, pervasive, kleptocratic, political environment, primordial, civic, donor, anti-corruption.
The attainment of political independence was a welcome agenda to every African on the continent. It was their fervent hope that the political independence was going to equate economic independence, which was going to build a solid base for social and economic development. (LeVan, 2015), confirms this in his work when he tries explaining the political mood as at that time of independence. He asserts that, the wave of independence brought about huge optimism about the future of Africans as decolonization neared its end in the 1950’s. More than half a decade after independence, the continent is far from the ‘Caanan’ the first generation of political leaders in Africa promised. Africa is seen as a continent rife with corruption, poverty, regressing economies coupled with mass political instabilities and this has made the continent earn the tag as underdeveloped, third world just to mention a few. This has whipped the interest of many scholars in trying to understand what accounts to the current state of the continent. (Austin, 1964) wonders why the Gold Coast colony, now Ghana, which held so much prospects with regards to national life and natural resources as predicted by experts in 1946 ended up in a an intractable and violent political conflicts. This assertion does not just apply to modern day Ghana, but most countries south of the Sahara. By the use of the word ‘most’, I seek to convey that not all South Saharan African countries share the same trajectory of corruption, bad governance and under development. Botswana is a typical example of an African country who has made and is still making considerable progress. If not for nothing at all, they are the best placed African country on the 2019 Corruption Perception Index placing thirty fourth (34th) out of the one hundred and seventy eight (178) countries.
Corruption has become a dominant phenomenon in the underdevelopment scholarship in Africa. In trying to make sense of the underdevelopment crises of post-independence African states, scholars like Van de Walle (1997) and Englebert & Dunn (2013), have liked corruption as a major direct cause of Africa’s under development. It has become pervasive having deep roots in the economic, social and political structure of African states. But corruption is no new phenomenon. In fact, it has existed since time immemorial and can be found virtually everywhere in world politics. What has made scholarship on corruption in Africa important as compared to other regions in the world is the nature of contemporary African states and their depth of crises. What this means is that, to be able to understand and possibly push for development in Africa, it is imperative to first understand corruption in Africa, its conceptualization, historical perspectives, possible causes, impact on countries and effective ways to tackle it. In this paper, I will begin with an in-depth evaluation of the various conceptualization and definition of corruption as a term. I will go ahead to also evaluate the historical perspectives of corruption in Africa, then attempt some possible causes of corruption and reasons for its spread and generalization in Africa. I will further explain extensively the cultural underpinnings in Africa that promotes corruption and show why such cultures make it hard to detect corruption in Africa. Afterwards, I will analyze the impact of corruption in Africa and then conclude with why the fight against corruption in Africa seems like an exercise in futility and explore some possible mechanisms to tackle corruption on the continent.
CONCEPTUALIZATION AND DEFINITION OF CORRUPTION
Corruption, like most terms in social sciences has no fixed definition. The various attempts of conceptualizing it by scholars is influenced by their standpoints and views of what they think should be characterized as corruption. In what is termed as a classical definition of corruption, (Nye, 1967) defines the concept as behaviors which deviates from the formal duties of a public role for private regarding. This definition focuses on the illegality of such practices when juxtaposed with the country’s laid down rules of conduct for public officers. (Osoba, 1996), builds on (Nye, 1967)’s definition and places corruption in the African context while going further to introduce the concept of morality. (Osoba, 1996), explains corruption as anti-social behavior conferring improper benefits contrary to the legal and moral norms and which undermines the authority’s capacity to secure the welfare of its citizens. This definition becomes important to this work because it situates corruption in the African context and inherently confirms corruption as a major reason for African states’ inability to cater for the needs of its citizens. But the introduction of morality is what makes it difficult to generalize the definition. This is because, morality is relative and what may be morally right for someone will be wrong for another person.
From a very different perspective, (Shleifer & Vishny, 1993) limits corruption to the sale of government property by government officials for personal gains. This conceptualization of corruption is purely economically motivated and projects corruption as a business. It excludes the abuse of power of government officials and other non-monetized forms of illegal activities of public officials. In an attempt to give a much broader definition that captures every form of illegal activity by public officials, (Olivier de Sardan, 1999) uses the term corruption complex. His usage of the term corruption complex goes beyond the strict sense of corruption to capture other illegal activities, both monetized and non-monetized like nepotism, abuse of power, embezzlement insider trading and influence peddling among others.
One important theme that runs through the various conceptualizations of corruption as I have earlier highlighted is how corruption is placed in the public domain. Since most scholars places emphasis on misappropriation of public roles, I question how we will define the illegal activities of people in the private domain of society. Someone who runs his private company that is not subject to the strict legal roles defined by the society definitely escapes the corruption tag. For example, the bread seller who has employed someone to help her sell the bread decides not to pay her what she is due because she didn’t reach her expected sales. In the act of such illegality, it is right to say the owner has abused her power even though there is no strict public roles to back such a claim. For the purpose of this paper, I will define corruption as the misuse of any entrusted power for personal gains. This definition gains more cognizance because it encapsulates all forms of anti-social behavior, either public or private that undermines an authority’s ability to cater for the needs of people who depend on it.
It is quite evident at this point that finding a universal definition of corruption is problematic. As to whether corruption is the bribing of a civil servant in return for a favor, the misappropriation of public funds, nepotism, selling of government property, the subverting of laws or the plundering of state resources, it solely depends on the standpoint of the reader and subsequent scholars to explore.
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES OF CORRUPTION
Corruption is a global phenomenon with deep historical roots which manifests differently in different societies over different time periods. (Hill, 2012), traces corruption back to the eighteenth century and tries to explore what the idea of corruption meant as at that time making references to the competing ideas of Adam Ferguson and Adam Smith. She opines that the crux of Ferguson’s idea of corruption was a progress induced decline in civic duty but Smith saw it as violations of the system of natural liberty that corrupt the natural behavior of individual actors. This implies that, as far as society makes progress, there will be the tendency for individuals to violate the natural order of doing things in order to keep up with the flamboyant lifestyle associated to progressive countries. Perhaps, this explains why developed countries also experiences varying forms of deviant behaviors and are not free of corruption.
In Africa, corruption has existed and manifested from colonization to the era of post-independence. (Fraser-Moleketi, 2009), explains that global super powers in their attempt to fight the cold war through their proxy nations in the south, overthrew many democratically elected regimes in Africa and replaced them with stooges or malleable regimes. Such regimes, lacking legitimacy resorted to excessive plundering of state resources and has contributed to the pervasive nature of corruption in Africa now. A much more comprehensive analysis of the historical perspective of corruption is done by (Osoba, 1996). He posits that the unrestricted and highly authoritarian nature of colonialism is the genesis of corruption in Africa. The colonial authorities presided over a fraudulent capital accumulation system which appropriated huge surpluses off the backs of indigenous farmers via unequal terms of trade. The decolonization period saw a handing over of power to an African bourgeoisie in an unequal power sharing method. This African bourgeoisie, which hitherto were nowhere near such positions ascended to ministerial roles whiles some became chairmen and board members of state parastatals. Their roles as economic and political decision makers paved way for corrupt and substantial private accumulation of state resources through kickbacks from the awarding of state contracts, licensing, awarding of scholarships, among others. The scramble for money then became a definitive character of African politics as groups begun the struggle for power at all cost. This facilitated the intrusion of the military as a form of corrective governance. But as the popular saying of Lord Acton goes, power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely, the military performed no better. They exhibited lack of budgetary discipline and financial accountability. After all, they didn’t owe the citizens anything. Democratic leaders after military regimes had to spend a lot on campaigning, much more than they would have even legally accrued in a four year tenure. Their acts of recouping their money was what have deepened corruption in Africa. It therefore becomes clear at this point that the transition from one party states to military regimes and back to democratic regimes has all been in the name of fighting corruption but till date, we are yet to reduce corruption to its barest minimum in Africa.
CAUSES AND REASONS FOR THE GENERALIZATION AND SPREAD OF CORRUPTION
In an attempt to fully comprehend the nature of corruption in Africa, it is important we find out the causes of corruption, and reasons for it spread and generalization of on the continent. Scholarship on corruption in Africa have attributed the causes of corruption to an inexhaustible list. It cuts across the political and economic environment of African states, degradation in moral virtues as well as professional ethics. (Olivier de Sardan, 1999), argues that the crises of African states, that comprises massive unemployment, irresponsibility of ruling elite causes Africans to seek for illegal means of survival. The underpayment of civil servants forces them to augment their salaries with bribes so they can cope with the high cost of living caused by the economic crisis African states faces due to devaluation, high debt rates and inflation. (Shleifer & Vishny, 1993), attributes the causes of corruption to weak governments with no control over their agencies. They purport that if a government is not able to put their institutions in check, the civil servants feels free to engage in corrupt deals with impunity. Corruption now becomes a competition between officials and citizens with officials competing to engage more in dishonest deals to make more money and citizens in turn competing to circumvent their way around rules. (Achebe, 1983), confirms this assertion by saying Nigerians are corrupt because the system makes corruption makes it easy and profitable. Contrary to the previous assertions, (LeVan, 2015) rather sees the scarcity or abundance of natural resources in a country as the cause of corruption. Countries rich in natural resources provides the ruling elites the opportunity to siphon state resources recklessly. Nigeria, during the oil boom in the 1970’s is a typical example. The Nigerian finance minister at that time confirms this narrative when he says that ‘money is not a problem for Nigerians but rather, how to spend it is the problem’. Countries with scarce resources too produces corruption tendencies because the state will be unable to cater for its citizens adequately hence propelling citizens to seek illegal enrichment. The international economy too has opened avenues for corruption to thrive (Bayart, Ellis, & Hibou, 1999). The globalization of trade has facilitated money laundering and other lucrative smuggling trades like arms deals which normally comes with bloated military budgets.
On a different twist, the politics of identity in Africa is a recognizable factor to the prevalence of corruption. The politicization of identifiable groupings like ethnic and tribal groups facilitates corruption because state leaders feel indebted to such groupings and resorts to rent seeking and pork barrel techniques to show appreciation and further consolidate and maintain political power. The inflows of development aid also becomes a stimulant for corruption as it provides leaders of ailing economies in Africa the resource base for neo patrimonialism and clientelism. The anti-corruption measures in a way has rather helped generalize corruption. The Driver’s Licensing Authority in Niger, in their bid to curb the payment of bribes to officers supervising licensing exams made use of policemen as additional supervisors. The end result was the bribing of both the officer and the policeman so as to obtain a driver’s license at ease. Evaluatively, we realize here that corruption penetrates beyond the institutional and state actors to the structural capabilities of state agencies and down to individual actions and tendencies of citizens. It is safe to say at this point that the continuous plundering of resources at the top makes mockery of the citizens and leaves them no option than to engage in petty corruption. Africans, over the period has come to realize that being honest and law abiding does not pay in the African system.
CULTURAL UNDERPINNINGS THAT PROMOTES CORRUPTION
Corruption, on the normal is something that is done in secrecy because of the shame that comes with earning the corrupt tag but this is not so in contemporary Africa. Corruption has become so normalized and clearly visible. Policemen openly take bribes from recalcitrant drivers who falter and drivers readily comply to escape legal prosecution. Civil servants openly requests for ‘incentives’ before they perform roles they are being paid to render and individuals who wants to fast track their request proposals will cooperatively patronize. The manager of a government corporation won’t think twice before recruiting a family member regardless of his qualification. A major bone of contention with the corruption phenomenon is, whose norms should be used to determine what is legally right and what is not? That is to say, what metric should be used to classify as activities as corruption. In the 1920’s, Bryce proposes that a country’s legislature and judiciary should decide. I agree to this completely because a country’s legislature is made of elected officials selected by the people themselves so inherently, it is the citizenry themselves deciding on what should be labelled as corruption. Additionally, since the judiciary interprets the law in the promotion of the aspiration and ideals of the country, it is safe to have them being instrumental in setting the rules of the society.
This is however challenged when it appears that the constitution of African states is a direct copy of that which is being used by their colonial master with little adjustments. There is little indigenization and local content and mostly conflicts with indigenous values and cultural codes of African states. That is why it is easy for Africans to alternate between the blurry lines of both public roles and private gains. Placing activities that has characterized the way of life of Africans over time into the modern bureaucratic system blurs the lines of the single actor operating in what (Ekeh, 1975) defines as the two publics. (Ekeh, 1975), explains that the African is always in constant dilemma operating between two publics; a primordial public tied to primary groupings(family) and sentiments and a civic one formed from the legacy of colonialism which has subsequently produced the nation states that defines contemporary Africa now together with its associated laws or constitution. There is no valid measuring point that shows the limit where he should cease acting in the primordial public and commit to the civic public and these pushes the African to be ‘corrupt’ by the mere fact that he has transferred behaviors from the primordial public to the modern bureaucratic system (civic public) sometimes without him even realizing (Ekeh, 1975). There are therefore some cultural codes and value systems in Africa that permits a subtle justification of corruption by those that engage in it. They are engrained on current social life and underlie most behavioral traits exhibited by Africans. In an effort to explore the cultural activities that has made corruption thrive, (Olivier de Sardan, 1999) identifies six cultural embeddedness of corruption. These cultures, in their practice alone has nothing to do with corruption but they pose corruption threats when it is continuously and unrestrictedly practiced and as such conflicts with the modern bureaucratic system. At this point I will expatiate on these cultural tendencies and show why in as much as they promote corruption in Africa, they are also responsible in making corruption difficult to detect.
The culture of gift giving
It is an everyday practice in Africa to show appreciation for a service rendered or show love by the issuing of gifts. In fact, it is a moral duty. It is right for the beneficiary of any kind of aid in Africa to show appreciation. The person who goes to the market should come back with something for the relatives at home same as the traveler that returns from a journey. One visits a home in Africa and expects either to be given transport fare back or is expected to leave something behind. At a much higher level, chiefs in most African country’s typically Niger and Ghana can’t be visited without the bearing of gifts even if it’s just a routine checking up visit. This has created a norm where receivers feel they have a right to claim such benefits in the event of reluctance or noncompliance from the giver. People even feel obligated to give in the assurance of a goodwill in future.
The monetization of everyday lives in contemporary Africa has created the situation where one always have to have cash in hand so as to easily navigate his way through the ordinary way of doing things. It is in this category that most petty corruption cases happen. One feels obligated to give a gift, in the form of money to a helpful civil servant. And if it was a circumstance by which the person was protected from an action that was punishable by law, the ‘helpful’ civil servant will claim his appreciation. In some instances, gifts are given in advance to secure the good will of the civil servant and possibly fast track the processes for which one is applying for. It is sometimes demanded by civil servant with a subtle threat of documents vanishing into thin air or going under a huge pile of other documents if the one in ‘need’ seem recalcitrant or reluctant to offer a bribe. Successful gift giving deals paves way for more future collaborations and both parties involved would obviously want to be on the beneficial side of such a collaboration. In retrospect, the borderline between corruption and everyday practices are thin and vey blurry. The continuous gift giving practices allows for the drowning of illicit gifts within the mass.
The culture of negotiations.
One would agree with me at this point if we characterize corruption as a form of transaction between a perpetrator and a receiver. Bargaining is instrumental in any form of transaction. In Africa, it does not just confine itself to the pricing of commercial transactions, but the broader configuration of everyday negotiations extended to even the negotiating of the rules that set up a society. This acts of bargaining has been modified and reinvented in modern African states. The reinvented bargaining techniques has gotten to the extent where rules of the political game are negotiated upon together with how such rules are interpreted. The obvious reason why the driver in Ghana will offer a bribe is because he has violated a traffic law or road sign. Here, just by the road side, the traffic rules put in place by a system and its interpretations are bargained upon and settled. Corruption, once again has benefitted from a culture that hitherto had nothing to do with corruption.
The culture of solidarity networks.
The solidarity networks in Africa is far greater than in Europe. While they take pride in withdrawing from the nuclear family, limiting circles to close friends and other weaker sociability measures, Africans embrace the expansion of social circles. These networks goes beyond the family to include links created within peer groups from primary schools until retirement. These networks comes with it associated pressure and solicitations which cannot be easily ignored. The priority placed on the need for social capital in Africa is overwhelming even though it is not wrong in its normal sense. However, the obligation to provide mutual assistance to members of such networks is where problems can arise. One cannot refuse a favor, service or pulling of strings for a friend, relative or even someone sent by a friend even if it violates the modern bureaucratic system. A case for concern is that, the pressure to conform to the pressures of these networks is so rigorous that one suffers reproach, sustained pressure and even possible ostracizing from the group if he fails to respect his obligations as a member of the network. He therefore will not mind bending the rules and engage in corruption to ‘live up to expectation’.
Also, modern African states, with its dysfunctional administrative and bureaucratic structure and extreme scarcity of resources, belonging to a solidarity network becomes profitable in ensuring a modest living. The man who knows no one struggles to survive in the system and as such resort to bribery in order to have his way. A culture where people looked out for each other, in the presence of state’s inability to authoritatively allocate resources has provided a very fertile ground for corruption.
The culture of redistributive accumulation.
An individual who is ‘fortunate’ enough to ascend to a prestigious position or get a ‘juicy’ appointment is expected to profit from it and spread the benefit around to a large number of relatives, friends and acquaintances. This is inherent in the culture of Africans since pre-colonial times. It was a culture for chiefs, family heads or well to do members of a society to accumulate wealth and redistribute it across to the benefit of all family, friends and acquaintances. This allowed for public praise of one’s generosity. This is what is being replicated in contemporary African states. To refuse to grab such an ‘opportunity’ to make a fortune for one’s self and that of his relatives makes one subject to mockery and loss of reputation. Illegal enrichment is supported by society as far as the benefits are extended to them and it is subtly justified with the narrative of ‘seizing all opportunities’ that comes your way. Social pressure is very strong when it comes to accumulation and redistribution primarily because society tends to have direct benefits and the prestige and psychological security associated with being able to perform to societal expectations makes corruption an easy thing for people to engage in.
The culture of predatory authority.
The culture that gives rights to people in position to stamp their authority in power is not a new concept to Africans. In their bid to exert authority, people in power resort to varying types of extortion and abuse of power. It is assumed that, it is only through that do you earn reverence and respect from those below you so people in power assume a predatory dimension so they can cow those beneath them into submission. The African history, from precolonial chiefs and kings through the authoritative nature of colonial administration and to leaders of independent African states; one party states and military rules have all contributed to the creation of a culture of predatory authority. Corruption benefits from this narrative when this predatory nature of authority results in abuse of state power and plundering of state resources. The lay man on the other hand, far from the helms of power has to resort theft, cheating and illegal activities in order to survive under such authority.
WHY IT IS DIFFICULT TO DETECT CORRUPTION IN AFRICA
To assess why corruption is difficult to detect in Africa, you have to look at it from the perspective of the Africans engaged in the act. Any perspective of this subject matter outside the African perspective makes it easy for the characterization of the actions and inaction of Africans as corruption. The previous theme has elaborated on cultures in Africa that provides a favoring grounds for corruption to thrive. On their own, these cultures have no negative connotations but just seeks to describe the African way of doing things. But these cultures are what has blurred the lines between what is supposed to be public and what is supposed to be private and as such has made the transfer of these cultures to the modern bureaucratic structure of African states earned the tag ‘corruption’.
Drawing inferences from the arguments of (Ekeh, 1975), the existence of the two publics; primordial and civic public as a result of colonialism in Africa, it is easier for the African to recoil more into the primordial public which shares the same moral imperatives as his private realm. His relationship with the civic public on the hand is amoral and he clearly sees it as a colonial heritage which he feels no attachment to. It is this civic public too that defines the modern bureaucratic state in Africa. So since there is no moral linkage between his private realm and the civic public, stealing from the public or abusing a public office to satisfy his primordial groupings which shares moral imperatives with his private realm seems okay for him and easy to justify. The culture of gift giving, accumulative redistribution and solidarity network as espoused by (Olivier de Sardan, 1999) operates on the principle of concern for immediate groupings (family, friends, acquaintances). The inclination of the African to his primordial groupings which also shares the same principle makes him see his duties to the primordial public as morally right in order to benefit and sustain it. And that, it is legitimate for him to rob the civic public in order to strengthen the primordial public. The African operates simultaneously between these two publics virtually all the time. He auto legitimizes his corruption and sees nothing wrong with it. In fact, sometimes he hardly recognizes the realm he is operating in and this has caused the perpertualization, trivialization and generalization of corruption. It has grown to be a normal way of life, blended with the African culture and shaped the nature of contemporary African states.
IMPACT OF CORRUPTION
In all analysis of corruption, the general idea of the impact of corruption are often about negative tendencies. It is not far from right because times without number, corruption has shown very devastating results and Africa is an example to this claim. Scholars like (Huntington, 1968) shares a different view. He believes that an optimal level of corruption is positive. This is to some extent justified in terms of a business economy where it is believed that sometimes, corruption is a rational bureaucratic response to bureaucratic hurdles (Van Donge, 2008) and is needed to grease the wheel of a rigid bureaucratic state so that businesses can thrive. I find this view problematic, simply because, defining and measuring optimal corruption is not an easy task. And even if there is something like optimal corruption, what is the guarantee that it will not degenerate into high levels of corruption over time?
In analyzing the impact of corruption, scholars like (Klitgaard, 1991) shares the view that corruption is detrimental to development. (Osoba, 1996), explains that corruption empties the national treasury due to the kleptocratic nature of the ruling class which often leads to indebtedness to almost bankruptcy. The internal politicking of countries with high corruption rates becomes intense and violent as a result of the winner takes all politics that characterize such states. With the state’s inability to cater for the welfare of its citizens, social vices becomes rampant and brain drain becomes inevitable.
Corruption exists everywhere on this planet and is seen to be an unavoidable part of humans and for that matter, will never end. What is important is the ability of states to reduce it to its barest minimum so they can develop. Africa has not done better with regards fighting corruption. This is not to say the continent has not seen anti-corruption fights. The trails of Frederick Chiluba and his friends in Zambia is symbolic because is the first time an African country has forced a previous president to stand trial for abuse of public office. But mostly, prosecutions against corruption are a geared towards scoring political point. Offenders hardly feel any remorse and are quick to characterize such prosecutions as political witch hunting. The lack of political commitment coupled with deliberate attempts by political leaders to weaken oversight institutions to protect their corrupt practices makes the fight against corruption a mere symbolic gesture. The Office of the Special Prosecutor in Ghana has continuously complained about government sabotage of its investigative powers. This, makes one wonder if corruption will ever reduce in Africa.
The good news is, there are still continuous help to fight corruption in Africa. Donor involvement still continues partly because they believe good governance is a panacea to corruption and under development in Africa (Van Donge, 2008) and partly also because highly corrupt countries poses threat to international peace by way of providing avenues for terrorism to thrive. (Shleifer & Vishny, 1993), opines that more political competition has much stronger public pressure against corruption. The use of laws, democratic elections and the independent press by opposition parties will force government to use political power judiciously. (Mbaku, 2010), while attributing corruption in Africa to the poorly developed and inappropriate institutional arrangements suggests an all participatory top-down stakeholder consultation in structuring proper institutional arrangements that will reflect the values of Africans as a measure to solve corruption. But can the African overcome entrenched interests which benefits the status quo and successfully carry out the institutional reforms? This is a question that only time can answer.
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