The Corruption Question in Africa

Every time we reel off numbers in their percentages while addressing the issue of corruption in Nigeria and many other African states, a certain cloud of annoyance sets upon the audience even though not many people are able to truly get a grasp of the physical consequences of the hydra-headed monster on the lives of individual Africans. From newspaper editorials to social media interactions, corruption is dressed as a scepter of government and a coterminous element of every elected office. It is gospel truth that many elected representatives of the people in many African states have gone beyond putting their hands in the resource-till to actually annexing the whole commonwealth for the profligate lifestyles of themselves and their generations unborn. This has caused a gradual movement from demoralizing the citizenry to emboldening their innate resolutions to grab as much as they also could, wherever they could even in once sacred sectors; even gospel charlatans have joined the rot. Making corruption unattractive in Africa would therefore require looking beyond addressing misappropriation in official quarters to orientation adjustments for the average African from the streets of Lagos to the posh corners of Durban.
The Encarta Dictionary defines ‘corruption’ as “dishonest exploitation for personal gain” and as “extreme immorality or depravity”. In similar fashion, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘corruption’ as “impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle: depravity” and also as “inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (as bribery)”. A reflection on these definitions invokes the necessity to consider the scourge of corruption as a cancerous growth that has extended beyond the head at government levels to corporate setups, informal sectors and even family settings. The exploitation of positions for personal gain has become at once a cause and a manifestation of widespread corruption in Africa, from government administrations riddled with bullets of nepotism to sole proprietors stealing from their own ventures even as their sons are praised for ‘tapping’ pens from their colleagues at school. There has been an accelerated breakdown in the moral structure of the Nigerian society for instance, that it is so hard to imagine that an otherwise proper state of things once existed, that taps once flowed, systems worked and contracts did not have to be awarded without rubbing the palms of officials with a quarter of the contract worth itself. It has been an alarming impairment of individual values and societal ethics.
Bad leadership is at once a fundamental cause of corruption in Africa as well as the principal inhibition to its eradication. This is perhaps the sole reason majority of the campaigns have been to reduce the malaise to the barest minimum and as framed in the present discourse, make it unattractive. I however do not see this as a veiled way of admitting our fated inability to stamp out such gross levels of moral depravity amidst us in Africa, but a realistic approach at solving a behemoth problem. Afterall, it is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a step. The incompetence and dishonesty of leaders have ensured that despite the abundance of mineral resources in Africa, communities continue to wallow in squalor, with not much hope of an immediate or imminent sprint off the blocks. In Nigeria for instance, being Africa’s most populous nation, $600billion has been reportedly stolen from government coffers between independence in 1960 and 1999. It is such level of fiscal recklessness that has ensured that even though 15% of the world’s population live in Africa, only 1% of the world’s manufacturing takes place on the continent. In countries like Nigeria, only 16% of the people can access pipe-borne water in their homes while up to 70% of the people live on less than a dollar a day. The corruption of bad leaders has ensured that once fledgling institutions have been reduced to ghostly apparitions of the promising ventures they started out as, from power generation corporations to government’s aviation investments.
In Africa’s most populous country for instance, due to the diversion of public funds budgeted for an important sector as health into private pockets, basic drugs to combat malaria are often unavailable at government hospitals and patients are made to buy virtually everything from blood pints to surgical blades. I once had to buy a set of medical gloves for a nurse who was going to dress my wound at a government clinic because the clinic had no supplies. Due to corruption, truckloads of modern farming tools and fertilizers have been delivered on the pages of newspapers while jaded farmers are bent over hoes and cutlasses, tilling the ground under scorching sun for a measly harvest. The manufacturing sector has been run aground by the constant absence of power supply, stifling the growth of cottage industries and resulting in massive unemployment. Reforms in the power sector once gulped $16billion within eight years yet the darkness in the land is thick and perpetual. Children continue to sit on floors in primary schools surrounded by caving walls and broken windows while their university counterparts sit at home for months on end due to recurrent strike actions by staff unions. Contracts are repeatedly awarded for road construction, repairs and maintenance to the tune of millions of dollars yet they remain impassable and potent death traps. Militancy, sectarian insurgency and kidnapping continue to rise while profiteers from such societal dysfunctions arrange for spurious amnesty grants where billions of dutiful taxpayers’ money get appropriated and for a certainty misappropriated.
       The university system is perhaps a very good model of the manifestation of corruption in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. By virtue of a staggering number of over a million secondary school-leaving students jostling for the limited spaces in the equally limited number of universities, the authorities in majority of these schools have perfected exploitative admission processes while regulatory agencies look the other way. As soon as the students become enrolled, the lecturers take over, using their position to extract all manners of unlawful stipends from the students without paying which they could be made to fail the course. Yet another manifestation of this dishonest exploitation is the sale of recruitment application forms by paramilitary agencies at such exorbitant prices that they are able to amass enormous wealth from the process running into millions of dollars in excess funds.
         Corruption in Africa trickles down to even the common man, the messenger who will refuse to ensure the transfer of a needed file to the appropriate office until he is financially motivated by the potential beneficiary; the doctors who divert syringe and needle supplies in public hospitals to their private clinics; the trader who will rather spare a fraction of her tax debt as bribe than pay the government what he actually owes; the elementary school teacher who takes home school notebooks for her children’s use instead of distributing to her students as instructed; the petrol attendant who adjusts the pump to cut back on actual litres of fuel sold and also collects extra charges for selling into jerry cans: corruption is everywhere in Africa.
Making corruption unattractive in Africa will inevitably require an all-encompassing framework that washes the filth off both the high and low; the government and the governed; the exiting generation of leaders and the future ones. A framework that incorporates both formal and informal approaches to enlightening the African people to the deleterious effects of corruption among us while at the same time encouraging punitive measures for erring individuals and corporate bodies.
         Curbing corruption in government circles will undoubtedly save most of the waste that Africa experiences and reverse the stagnated nature of our development. It is humbly proposed that some consideration be given to the opinion of American Lawyer, Jack Blum who opined that the self-appropriation of public funds be treated as a crime against humanity. Blum stated at the Financial Transparency Coalition’s conference in Tanzania that “There are cases where corruption, rottenness and theft of public funds do become a crime against humanity”. He also added concerning huge sums stolen in Equatorial Guinea that “There are more children dying in infancy as a result of that lack of money than you can count. And to me, it’s on a par with a kind of genocide.” Truth be told, Africa has handled corrupt officials with kid gloves for far too long. More punitive measures must be put in place to combat corruption in public offices and while existing anti-corruption agencies must be strengthened to pursue their campaigns more vigorously.
         Ensuring the stiff punishment of corruption in official places is however one of the only means by which we may discourage corruption in Africa. In this work, I have endeavored to show the very presence of corruption in virtually every cadre of the society and class of people. This indicates that a far more effective approach would be to address the decay in our moral structures. It is time for all organisations working in Africa to join forces to conduct widespread and consistent orientation exercises for Africans right from the elementary school students to market women and to corporate executives. Obviously, teaching the future leaders the virtues of honesty and integrity will prove more effective in the long run but similarly, raising a large corps of Africans who will not compromise and will also not bare to stomach corruption being perpetrated before them will help put the current leaders on the edge of their seats and help to salvage the situation to a large extent. If we teach the people to cease to celebrate people of questionable means and character, then the desire to amass wealth at the expense of public convenience will become unattractive.
      Yet another solution that needs to be immediately pursued is the acceleration of processes from filing systems at courthouses to clearing schedules at our ports. If things can be done more quickly, the need to bribe officials to guarantee faster solutions will be taken out of the way.
         Africa will also benefit in no small measure from communal conversations organized through available media such as open house meetings and family discourses where people can check up on their kinsmen and publicly denounce those who are doing the wrong things. The knowledge of possible isolation for corruption will hasten the feet of many people away from the thought of perpetrating illicit acts, I believe.

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