Corruption: When will Africa overcome?

The Corruption Perception Index (CPI) recently published its 2017 analysis on corruption in the Asiatic, African and American regions. Each country in the report was measured using a point-based scale, the lower the figure, the more endemic the corruption. Everything below 50 points was considered grave. Whilst revealing notable improvements in certain countries, the CPI also cast light on regions where dire levels of corruption had either remained unchanged or worsened.
Africa overall appeared as the worst performing region last year, with Somalia and South Sudan virtually scraping the bottom of the index (CPI’s of 9 and 12 respectively), the report recognised progress in strategy and law-enforcement vis-à-vis the eradication of the continent’s venomous web of fraud, bribery and money laundering. Long-term anti-corruption efforts have shown positive and steady transformations in Cabo Verde, Botwana, Seychelles, Rwanda, Cote d’ivoire and Senegal. In fact, Botwana, Seychelles, Cabo Verde, and Rwanda all performed better than developed nations Italy, Spain and Greece (CPI’s: Botwana- 61, Seychelles- 60, Spain- 57, Italy- 50).
Botswana emerged as the nation with the fewest cases of bribery in Africa. Through a vehement ‘zero-tolerance’ clampdown on subornation, Bots§wana President Ian Khama has the world the fervour with which he will pursue his anti-corruption campaign. The non-partisan, law-abiding judiciary is focussed and dedicated to its corruption cases, resulting in swifter resolutions and justice against the guilty. ‘Any corruption case goes straight to the judge and he deals with it, and we see justice being served expeditiously’ stated Khama during his two-day state visit to Namibia, ‘we don’t just put up words there, we also take action’. He furthermore signposted the establishment of several anti-corruption units in his government departments, including and especially those predisposed to graft, to check for leads to corrupt individuals. These Units work as they are independent and autonomous from federal agencies and have no political affiliates. Botwana has also allegedly set up a successful whistle-blower hotline for civilians to report suspicious activity.
The highest-performing African countries have one common characteristic: a determined and earnest leader who is wholeheartedly committed to uprooting corruption. While countries in the America’s and other parts of Africa have anti-corruption laws in place, because of their inefficient or even corrupt law-enforcement bodies, the legislation is ineffective. During the famous ‘Tangentopoli’ scandal in Italy in the early 1990s, which saw the arrest of nearly every parliamentary and federal politician for corruption scandals and the extinction of the Italian First Republic, Christian Democrat Gianstefano Frigerio was one of many politicians who had a different fate. Despite being found guilty of corruption in three out of four prosecution cases, Frigerio managed to have his six-year sentence reduced, and a life behind bars then turned into community service. He was subsequently re-elected to parliament in 2001 and arrested again in 2014 for participating in a huge corruption scheme involving the 2015 Expo in Milan. Evidently, an effective judicial system necessitates an impartial and unyielding iron fist, so as the guilty are exposed and brought under the full wrath of the law. Political will and a sustainable commitment to reforms are the prerequisite to ending corruption.
The CPI has linked prevalent corruption to poor civic scrutiny on government and corporate bodies, which includes the liberty of journalists to expose wrongs committed by public officials. A reduction in press freedoms has seen a 7-point drop in Brazil’s CPI over the past 3 years. Corruption is illegitimately dealing and decision-making in favour of one’s personal interests, to the intrinsic disadvantage of another. As the public and private sectors are, fundamentally, representatives of or in some way morally obligated to their electorate, this activity is dishonest and hence illegal. This wheeling and dealing will therefore only exist and thrive behind closed doors. The obvious counterattack is, consequentially, transparency and accountability: wearier of public disgrace, harsh sanctions or even imprisonment, individuals may feel deterred from this activity if citizens openly and freely lead public rhetoric, including scrutiny. Adversely, corruption can fray freedom of speech itself: if journalists don’t feel safe enough to write what they think, chances are they won’t write it at all. Brazil is a dangerous place for journalists, with as many as 20 killed in the last six years. Mexico has committed yet more egregious violence on its journalists, killing 6 in 2017 alone which, uncoincidentally, was the same year that the country’s CPI dropped to 29. Cote d’Ivoire saw improvements in its CPI score, which increased to 36 last year from 27 in 2013, in correlation with greater civic participation in politics and human rights. Where law enforcement lacks the ‘teeth’ to punish corrupt individuals, or where the judiciary themselves are too corrupt and do nothing, journalists provide the crucial voice of reason and impartiality to prevent impunity.
While one should commend those African nations that have made considerable improvements in their battle against corruption, the CPI makes it clear that the region, and extensive parts of the globe, have yet further to go. But a lesson can be learned by these successful countries: a genuine political will and determination to see anti-corruption reforms through, and an uncensored zone for the press and citizens, can fuel the transparency, accountability and retribution necessary for a corrupt-free nation.


Writer: Lavina Butt