Africa is the world’s second fastest-growing region, and yet 100 million more Africans live in extreme poverty today compared to the 1990s. Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, is home to the largest share of people living in extreme poverty.
Corruption continues to harm the efforts to bring people out of poverty. In recent years, many national governments, as well as the African Union (AU), have declared the fight against corruption as their priority. But the efforts of those governments with the political will, and the AU, to curb corruption seem like chasing a mirage. It’s like a virus that has developed a resistance to drugs. Public officials and even heads of state who are elected to serve the interests of the people prefer to feather their own nests.
In Africa’s most advanced economy, South Africa, a commission of inquiry into state capture is currently underway. Over the past year, this commission, chaired by the Vice-President of the Constitutional Court Raymond Zondo, has heard from dozens of ministers, elected officials, businessmen and senior civil servants who have come to expose the shady cases of the ex-president Zuma era (2009-2018).
Earlier this month, a Nigerian court authorised the country’s anti-graft agency to seize $40 million worth of jewellery and a customised gold iPhone belonging to former oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke. That one individual could amass such a huge fortune in just four years of being in office is simply mind boggling!
The Swiss government has also announced the auction of an estimated $13 million of exotic supercars late this September, all of which were seized from the collection of the Vice-President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, who is up against international corruption and money laundering charges.
I recall a few years ago in my native Ghana where a former deputy communications minister, the very gorgeous, curvy (by African standards) Victoria Hammah, was reported to have said on tape to an as yet unidentified listener that she would not quit politics until she had amassed $1 million. She was alleged to have added that with money, one could control others. She was fired a day after the tape was made public.
This episode gives credence to what a friend of mine said in an email to me sometime ago. I found the contents hilarious but, sadly a true reflection of a common practice in most African countries. The email was about a minister on a monthly salary of the equivalent of $600 who buys three houses for $200,000 each, sends his child to a $10,000 per year university in the US, pays $20,000 to be allowed to contest for the presidential nomination of his party, and still manages to maintain a positive bank balance. My friend describes the minister as an ‘economic genius’.
The email adds that we drive latest model cars on our 1930s-1960s roads to our modern mansions with 1960s power supply feeding our modern television sets broadcasting 1930s ideas from our politicians elected in 2000s. The email was a brilliant piece of satire. Again, very hilarious and, again, sadly true!
Ironically Miss Hammah who, incidentally is one of my friends on Facebook, posted on the social media site earlier that year that since her ministerial appointment, she had been inundated with requests for financial assistance from many quarters, and wondered how she could meet all those demands on her junior minister’s salary. Expressing her displeasure at those requests, she said demands like that drove government officials to commit corrupt acts.
I’ve always maintained that Africa is the only place where a political appointment is a dream ticket to the kingdom of wealth and affluence. For most African politicians the immediate priority, on attaining power, is to enrich yourself, your family and cronies, and that leaves you open and ready to be corrupted. As if that were not enough, the ill-gotten gains are stashed away in foreign bank accounts that create wealth for the host country. A respected sociologist once told me that corruption is practised in most, if not, all of the advanced countries, but their proceeds are invested within those countries, thereby creating wealth for their respective economies.
At least the banks in which those funds are stashed will have enough to lend their private sectors to create jobs and by so doing provide tax revenue to the government, who in turn, get more funds to build infrastructure that aids economic activity and growth, and provide social services like schools, healthcare etc. Corruption has a become a pervasive problem in Africa, leading to stunted development, weak institutions, lack of investment and a general attitude of mistrust towards governance and its institutions.
In its report on corruption a few years ago, the AU revealed that more than $148 billion is lost to corruption in Africa every year. The amount, which are funds meant for projects such as hospitals and schools in communities, are diverted into private pockets of corrupt public officials while the poor and the needy continue to suffer and the continent as whole fails to make progress.
Corrupt officials are a product of political systems and national cultures and mind-sets that do not question the sources of great wealth. Cultures that glorify wealth, but do not question their source. I remember the case of a Ghanaian parliamentarian who was arrested and jailed for cocaine trafficking in the US more than a decade ago. During his trial, his party, which was then in power, hailed him during a parliamentary session as a great philanthropist who had done a lot of good for his constituents. And guess what? He was given a hero’s welcome when he was deported back home at the end of his prison sentence!
Research suggests that improvement in current levels of corruption requires strengthening of anti-corruption institutions and oversight agencies. Strong regional support for strengthening oversight institutions like anti-corruption agencies and auditor-general offices is also needed. It appears, however, that many of our leaders just pay mere lip service to the war on corruption. No amount of aid, investment or sky-high prices for our export commodities will lift our economic well-being unless we sacrifice our individual greed for the common good. Nobody can legislate for our mind-set unless we undergo some kind of Damascene conversion and put the welfare of our nations first.