By Gedion G. Jalata

The theme of the African Union Summit for January 2018 is “Winning the Fight Against Corruption.” The African continent has indeed demonstrated robust growth rates as well as economic indicators that continue to record notable progress, over the last decade and half years. Thanks to this progress, Africa is increasingly referred to as the “rising star” or the “emerging continent”. This is in sharp contrast to some years ago when the front cover of the Economist magazine asserted that Africa was “the hopeless continent”. In order for Africa to avoid reversing back to being perceived as “the hopeless continent”, it should strive to significantly improve the quality of its growth, via structural transformation, to ensure that it is inclusive and creating jobs. However, to achieve inclusive development and growth, African countries still has to resolve several key challenges, including: over-dependence on primary commodity exports; wide infrastructure gaps; political crises and/or conflicts; high unemployment; as well as inadequate governance, notably widespread corruption.

The extensive literature on corruption confirms that there are diverging views not only on the definition of corruption, but also measurements of the phenomenon. Most scholars and practitioners define corruption as, “the abuse of public authority or trust for illegal private gains”. This definition, used by Transparency International and the World Bank, has its limitations since it tends to be less precise and narrower than the actual economic, social and political implications. Hence, some scholars indicate that corruption should be explained through its various acts such as bribery, embezzlement, fraud and extortion, abuse of discretion, intimidation, nepotism, favoritism, kickbacks and patronage. Moreover, receiving an unlawful gift and commission, illegal contributions, money laundering, identity theft, insider trading, abuse of power and white-collar crime are equally considered as acts of corruption.

Several studies argue that bribery is the most commonly practiced form of corruption since it entails beneficiaries using extralegal means of payment to acquire government favors and resource allocations. In Africa, bribery, patronage, nepotism and clientelism are deemed to be common forms of corruption.
The extensive literature on corruption confirms that there are diverging views not only on the definition of corruption, but also measurements of the phenomenon. Most scholars and practitioners define corruption as, “the abuse of public authority or trust for illegal private gains”. This definition, used by Transparency International and the World Bank, has its limitations since it tends to be less precise and narrower than the actual economic, social and political implications. Hence, some scholars indicate that corruption should be explained through its various acts such as bribery, embezzlement, fraud and extortion, abuse of discretion, intimidation, nepotism, favoritism, kickbacks and patronage. Moreover, receiving an unlawful gift and commission, illegal contributions, money laundering, identity theft, insider trading, abuse of power and white-collar crime are equally considered as acts of corruption.

Several studies argue that bribery is the most commonly practiced form of corruption since it entails beneficiaries using extralegal means of payment to acquire government favors and resource allocations. In Africa, bribery, patronage, nepotism and clientelism are deemed to be common forms of corruption.
The second type of corruption, which is also prevalent in Africa, is administrative or bureaucratic corruption, better known as petty corruption. It is defined as the use of public office for private benefit in the course of delivering a public service. Such practice is often associated to the socioeconomic settings whereby incomes are not deemed to meet the basic needs of civil servants. Such type of corruption is experienced regularly, notably within public service delivery sectors.

Common forms of administrative corruption include bribes to issue licenses, avoid or lower taxes, escape customs procedures and win public contracts. Such kind of corruption distorts the provision of public services as it leads to the unfair distribution of services and resources.
Corruption is by nature unfathomable, given the secretive nature of the act of carrying out a corrupt act or accepting private illegal gains. This critical characteristic makes it difficult to accurately quantify corruption and provide and cost the impact of corruption on any economy. On the basis of current corruption measurements, it is reported that the problem of corruption has reached alarming proportions in many African countries. In 2004, it was estimated that Africa lost more than US$ 148 billion annually, or 25% of the continent’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The ECA’s the African Governance Report (AGR) indicates that corruption ranked among the top three problems in Africa following poverty and unemployment. It is disturbing that the buoyant growth rates in some African countries could be reversed and the prospect of sustained economic development in others could be mired by extensive and institutionalized corruption.

Corruption is also perceived to be adversely affecting key economic sectors in Africa, including the extractive industry as well as critical economic activities, such as public procurement and public service delivery. The perception of corruption in Africa remains consistently high for many Africa countries. Key government institutions and service providers are perceived to be tainted by corruption and the non-state institutions of civil society and the private sector are not insulated from the problem. It remains the single important challenge to the eradication of poverty, the creation of a predictable and favorable investment environment and the achievement of SDGs and Agenda 2063. Although there are signs of improvement in some sectors, the overall trend is not as such promising.

This result presents enormous concern, since it compromises the credibility and legitimacy those institutions responsible for upholding good governance, providing service and fostering development. If the situation persists, it could lead Africa into a quagmire of poverty and underdevelopment and reverse the positive progresses achieved so far.

The widespread actual and perceived level of corruption indicates that the problem might not be eliminated soon, but it is possible to reduce the magnitude and impact of corruption in Africa. The following recommendation should be taken into account to minimize the extent of corruption in Africa:
There must be political will, determination and commitment from leaders. Most of the time charges are often brought against low-ranking officials or former leaders, hence the leaders in Africa should set an example by committing themselves to the anti-corruption struggle;
– Corrupt free government and institutions are essential in promoting good governance and fostering development,
hence the capacities of key government institutions should be strengthened and code of ethics should be introduced along with strong punitive actions. Strengthening the capacity of anti-corruption institutions in terms of finance, skilled manpower and capacity is also an area African countries should look into. A powerful anti-corruption constituency could be created through the collaboration of civil society and the media and key public institutions in the fight against corruption in Africa;
– Corruption becomes a norm if the chances of being punished or caught are very low, hence strong measures should be enforced against offenders. In this regard, anti-corruption laws including the UN and AU Conventions Against Corruption and other sub regional instruments must be harmonized and domesticated by respective African states;
– Fair remuneration and working environment for public servants. Public sector workers need living wages to improve their morale and dedication to work and to prevent corrupt practices. A poor salary that does not meet the growing living condition encourages petty corruption as the public servants justify it as supplementary income;
– African citizens must demand their rights than paying bribes to get their rights;
– African countries also must draw important lessons from countries that successfully fighting the challenge of corruption within African countries such as Botswana, Cabo Verde and Mauritius, and Asian countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea. The fight against corruption in these countries indicated that it is possible to reduce corruption significantly yet difficult to eliminate; and
– In general, a holistic approach should be employed to see corrupt free Africa as the causes of the problem are diverse.

Gedion G. Jalata, is the chief executive officer, Centre of Excellence International Consult based in Addis Ababa
E.mail:centerofexcellenceinterconsult@gmail.com gediongam@yahoo.com
Skype: gedion.jalata

This article first appeared in the January newsletter issue for Center of Excellence International Consult (CEIC).

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