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The Challenge of Corruption In Some African Democracies

By Emmanuel Abalo (November 11th 2005)  

"...According to the Washington DC based institution, “…The harmful effects of corruption are especially severe on the poor, who are hardest hit by economic decline, are most reliant on the provision of public services, and are least capable of paying the extra costs associated with bribery, fraud, and the misappropriation of economic privileges.” …..”

Today in most emerging democracies in Africa, the culture of chronic corruption in all facets of national life including the public and private sectors remains a daunting challenge that threatens the very existence some of these nations.

Corruption or corruptness is defined as “an inducement as (of a public official) by improper means such as bribery to violate duty such as committing a felony, destroying someone or some group’s honesty or integrity; or an impairment of virtue or integrity. Etymologically the word "corruption" comes from the Latin verb "corruptus" (to break); it literally means broken object.

State of Corruption

Rampant corruption is perceived to be acute in several African countries including Nigeria, Chad, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Ethiopia, Libya and Uganda among others. According to its Corruption Perception Index published in 2004, Transparency International (TI), an international non-government organization dedicated to combating corruption, stipulates some of the African countries named herein scored less than 3 out of a clean score of 10.

Some African countries have initiated programs to combat the stigma of corruption while others have been paralyzed nationally.

Elected to his second term in 2003, Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo has promised to tackle corruption. Already, investigations have triggered the sacking of two government ministers, the arrest of a former police chief and the resignation of the Senate president. To demonstrate transparency, the country’s revenue is now under the accounting and audit of a an international firm

In Sierra Leone, President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah acknowledges the cancer of corruption on his nation. Inaugurating the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) on Feb. 6, 2000, the president told the country, "My government and the ordinary people of Sierra Leone now have a new war to wage. This is the war against corruption. And in this fight, nobody will be above the law, including myself.”

There is no evidence that President Kabbah has been directly linked to any acts of corruption although his critics have been frustrated at the slow and hesitant prosecution of those charged with corruption.

In Zimbabwe, everyone knows terms like "nothing for nothing", "complete the missing page", "and add an extra mile". These are common street expressions only understood by perpetrators of petty corruption. According to the Zimbabwean Herald Newspaper, “… Areas which are most vulnerable to grand corruption include public procurement, revenue collection, senior appointments and Government contracts.”

A Malawian newspaper The Nation is reporting that the Malawian parliament has recommended that President Bingu wa Mutharika and his cabinet be investigated for alleged corruption and paying bribes to buy support from lawmakers and traditional leaders.

In Liberia, army Master- Sergeant, coup maker-turned-President Samuel K. Doe toppled the civilian administration of President William R. Tolbert on April 12, 1980, accusing the government of “rampant corruption.” Consequently, over a dozen top government officials were charged and publicly executed by a firing squad. Sadly, corruption remained unchecked since then and Liberia degenerated into a failed state and a 14 year civil war that has left over 250,000 people plus killed and or dislocated.

The present National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) which is a coalition of warring factions and civil groups cobbled together to administer the country until general elections is riddled with reports of alleged corruption including the misappropriation of millions of dollars of revenue from the country‘s lucrative Maritime program. Interestingly and disappointingly, not one Liberian government official has been charged and convicted to date. The colloquial for a bribery which is also a form of corruption in Liberia is commonly known as “Gorbachop, eating gravy, chop-I-chop, let the soldier combat eat,” etc…

Political or civil corruption is expressed through ”bribery, intimidation, extortion, vote buying, destabilization or influence peddling.

Some General Signs of Corruption:

1. Stealing electricity or pipe borne water (illegal connections)
2. You always have to negotiate price.
3. Lot of toll roads and no maintenance
4. The police and immigration officers always want your passport or drivers’ license.
5. Bribes requested
6. No prices on products for sale.
7. Tipping the boss to get your paycheck

Causes of Corruption

There are numerous reasons which can be advanced for the cause(s) of corruption. Generally, compromised personal integrity, weak governmental and judicial institutional, lack of accountability and transparency all lend to the pervasive nature of the issue of corruption in public and private sectors of national life. Another contributing factor is the lack of a merit system which encourages nepotism, underpayment, and non- payment of civil servants who in turn “take matters into own their hands.” There is no job security in most African countries due to sluggish economies and, in some instances, a flourishing, parallel black market.

The former Sierra Leonen President the late Joseph Momoh is fondly remembered as saying, “Wherever you tie a cow it is where it will graze“. Go figure!

An important governmental branch, the judiciary which is tasked with interpreting laws that address breaches of the law in most African countries, remains seriously compromised. Lack of trained judicial officials, poor pay scale and the absence of decentralized government functionality are also contributing adverse factors.

Some Solutions to Fighting Corruption

The World Bank identifies corruption as a monumental impediment to economic growth and vibrancy in any country. The African Union estimates that corruption costs African economies more than US$ 148 billion dollars each year. This figure is thought to represent 25 percent of Africa's GDP and to increase the cost of goods by as much as 20 percent.

According to the Washington DC based institution, “…The harmful effects of corruption are especially severe on the poor, who are hardest hit by economic decline, are most reliant on the provision of public services, and are least capable of paying the extra costs associated with bribery, fraud, and the misappropriation of economic privileges.”

The vice of Corruption is an antithesis to policies and programs that aim to reduce poverty. And so a full frontal examination and implementation, without favor, of programs to eradicate or minimize corruption would serve greatly in the effort to address the scourge.

The World Bank has advanced the following key elements as the basis for addressing corruption:

1. Increasing Political Accountability
2. Strengthening Civil Society Participation

3. Creating a Competitive Private Sector
4. Institutional Restraints on Power
5. Improving Public Sector Management

To reduce the corrosive impact of corruption in a sustainable way, it is important to go beyond the symptoms to tackle the causes of corruption.

African nations must immediately ratify the Anti-Corruption Covention of the African Union. The AU Anti Corruption Covention which is aimed at preventing and combating continental vice was adopted two years ago but disappointingly only 10 African countries have so far ratified the Convention. Additional and intrinsic measures to combating corruption must include, political stability, freedom of speech and press freedom.



About the author:

The author, Emmanuel Abalo, is an exiled Liberian journalist , media and human rights activist. He served as a former News Director of the erstwhile Catholic owned ELCM Community Radio and later with the Liberian Broadcasting System (ELBC). He is the former Acting President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL). Mr. Abalo presently resides in Pennsylvania, USA and works as an analyst with CITIGROUP, North America.


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