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Corruption in Africa
Agenda for Africa's Economic Renewal, which was reviewed by
Hiroyuki Hino in the March 1997 issue of Finance & Development,
should interest anyone who desires the economic emancipation of Africa.
However, better results would be achieved by identifying and tackling the
root of the problem, which is to be found in pervasive corruption.
Corruption is not unique to Africa but its institutionalization and
glorification in some African countries are phenomenal and serve as the
force behind the gross mismanagement too often witnessed today. In fact,
corruption is central to the economic woes of the continent. For example:
- Some African governments have come up with good economic policies
and programs. However, implementation has foundered because of corruption
within the system. Programs that would benefit the majority are too often
sacrificed to someone's personal interest.
- A government official who benefits from importing agricultural
machines and working with powerful businessmen can ensure that a program
for the local fabrication of machinery fails totally. He is interested only
in huge profits from inflated invoices at the expense of a program that
would best benefit the agricultural sector. Also, contracts for
agricultural infrastructure (such as feeder roads and storage facilities)
are often abandoned before they are finished—but government records
show them as having been satisfactorily completed. It is likely that
contractors have "settled" with the officials in charge.
- Government policies and programs are administered by civil servants,
some of whom are corrupt or unmotivated. They know that many of their
superiors take bribes, inflate contract prices, receive kickbacks, and the
like. Every official transaction thus provides an avenue to amass wealth,
which leads to poor service and failed government programs.
- Public corporations are supposed to provide quality services to the
public that are vital to economic development and growth, but corruption
has taken center stage. For instance, in Nigeria electricity is a luxury
affordable only by the elite, and some areas remain in darkness for months.
The power company's position is that the equipment is in dire need of
repair or replacement, even though the government insists a lot of money
has been spent on it. The real problem is corruption and lack of
- The genesis of Africa's external debt burden is wide and
multifaceted. But most of these debts and loans were never accounted for or
of any real value to the people of the countries involved. Rather, the
loans provided a gold mine for government officials. The selection of the
few projects financed with these loans was not based on sound economic
parameters but on the whims of power brokers in the government.
- It is unlikely that international financial aid will be properly
accounted for in a setting viewed as corrupt. Aid is seen by officials as a
source of self-enrichment since hard currencies are involved. Officials in
donor countries cooperate with their counterparts in recipient countries to
divert aid into their own pockets so that aid exists only on paper.
- Leadership in Africa, with a few exceptions, is seen as an
opportunity to get rich rather than serve the people.
- Corruption is most likely to thrive in societies where relatives and
friends routinely expect preferential treatment, as is the case in most
African communities. These societies, if they also lack transparency and
accountability, are prone to corruption.
This scenario is, of course, not typical of all African countries. In
the final analysis, I'm not writing to praise or discredit any country but
rather in an attempt to highlight the dimension of corruption so that the
causes, rather than the symptoms, of Africa's economic diseases may be
Tony Nze Njoku