Corruption is a canker worm that is eating up African countries. This ‘dishonest or illegal behavior’ or ‘inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (The Free Merriam-Webster) is destroying the continent slowly but surely.
Corruption in Africa includes ‘giving or accepting of bribe or inappropriate or double-dealing, under-the–table transactions, manipulating elections, diverting funds, laundering money and defrauding investors.’ (Investopedia)
The way it eats up the continent from within is a cause for concern. It is the same way that worms eat up and destroy mangoes from inside. Outside, such mangoes would look fresh and inviting; but inside they would be rotten.
Corruption is everywhere in Africa. If you live in an African country, you will, undoubtedly, find some form of corruption going on around you. It is practiced in offices, on the streets, in churches, in the banks, etc.
You have to bribe for almost everything you want. The most fertile ground seems to be the Ministries. Here, you have to bribe to have your file processed and forwarded to a higher authority. Often, when you go to check your file for advancement, reclassification or salary payment, the most likely thing you would be told would be that it is missing. The real truth would be someone has deliberately hidden it in a drawer. If you give a bribe, it will be shamelessly scooped up and treated.
The canker worm called corruption has installed itself in the education sector. Many African children pass examinations only when they have given a bribe. They do not pass because they are intelligent. They pass because they have given money to the teacher. Intelligent students instead find themselves failing. The reason: they have not given money to the teacher.
The Public service is another area where corruption is rife. You have to pay to pass a public service exam either to get a job, or gain entry into a professional school from where you will graduate and have a Government job.
Thus, in many African countries, you have to bribe to pass an exam, get a job, win a public contract; get a promotion; win a case that you were supposed to win; win one that you were supposed to lose; and if you do not bribe you will lose it even if you were supposed to win it.
You have to bribe the police and gendarmes on the high way to go through a check point without car documents or with documents that are not up-to-date. At the police station, you have to bribe to have your statement well taken when you report a case against someone. If you do not give a bribe, it will be distorted in favor of the other party if on their part they give a bribe.
You have to give a bribe in hospitals to receive medical care. If you give a bribe, you will go in to see the Doctor ahead of patients who were there long before you. These bribes are not small amounts of money only. Of course, there are people who for one dollar will render you any service that you want. An example is the police and gendarmes who get one thousand francs from drivers on the high way. This is petty corruption.
There is grand corruption when people give huge amounts of money to get one service or the other. In some countries you need as much as one thousand dollars (two million CFA francs) to get admission into a professional school. Access to such schools is closed to the children of poor people. If your parents are poor, forget about it. If you are the son or daughter of a highly placed person in the society, you can gain admission into good any school of your choice without writing the required entrance examination.
This evil practice raises its ugly head very highly in the public contracts sector. Here huge sums of money change hands before a contract is awarded. Highly placed people are often party to the deal. Foreign countries and international companies are not left out either. Colossal sums change hands when the contract is a huge one.
In the political domain politicians corrupt the electorate to win their votes. It is not uncommon to find politicians carting bags of salt, cartons of soap and tins of oil at election time to distribute to ignorant, helpless villagers. The result is those who have money find their way to leadership positions even when they are not competent for the position. The competent ones who can do good work are pushed behind.
Corruption is a way of life in many African countries. It is deeply rooted in the continent. African countries are consistently placed at the bottom of the list in corruption ranking by Transparency International.
The Obama administration has demonstrated great concern about corruption in Africa. It has also made it clear it will not sit by and see it continue. Rather it will fight it with all its weight for the economic growth of Africa.
This was clearly demonstrated in August 2014 when over forty African leaders arrived in the US for the US-African Leaders’ Summit. Addressing the leaders on August 4th ahead of the key address by President Barack Obama, vice President Joe Biden spoke in very strong terms about this ‘cancer’ which he called ‘an affront to the dignity’ of the people of Africa, and a ‘direct threat’ to the stability of African nations. To Mr. Biden, ‘it not only undermines but prevents the establishment of genuine democratic systems. It stifles economic growth and scares away investment. It siphons off resources that should be used to lift people out of poverty. And it weakens – to the core – it weakens your military readiness. It creates vulnerabilities to foreign manipulation and interference.’
Indeed corruption is a set back to the development of Africa. It hurts everyone. It retards development. It drives away investment. It undermines democracy and the rule of law. It makes life difficult especially for the poor. It increases crime wave.
What causes this social ill? Poverty ranks high on the list. Many people are poor and want to get money at all cost to make both ends meet.
There is also greed.There are people who have accumulated a lot of money but want more. They do not care about the poor and suffering. All they think about is their self interest.
There is also lack of educated minds. Many people do not see anything wrong with corruption and so when it is being condemned they find it strange. They are very comfortable with it.
Another cause is the poor system of governance. There are no proper measures put in place for accountability. Hence people appointed to high office do whatever they like and go free.
A low sense of integrity. People are shameless. They do not have a feeling of shame when caught in corruption.
There are many more causes. Whatever the case, it is imperative that all hands be put on deck to kick corruption out of Africa. Fighting this social ill is best done as a collective effort. Many Africans are worried and rather pessimistic. They believe there is no way to eradicate it; and that all the claims by their leaders that they are fighting it is mere window-dressing with no seriousness and hence, no prospects for good results.
This pessimism can be understood. Children are born into this it; and from childhood they learn that one does not have to work hard or sweat to succeed. They are made to believe that it suffices for one’s father or mother to give a bribe for one to have what one wants. They grow with corrupt beliefs in their system.
Many adults seem to have the ill in their blood system too. Since they live and feed fat on it, and depend on it to build mansions, buy luxurious cars for themselves, run their homes, swell their bank accounts, send their children to expensive schools and universities at home and abroad, and even keep girl-friends here and there, it is difficult for them to let it go. Instead, they invent new ways of doing it when the old tricks are discovered. If anyone dares to stand on their way, they sweep him off his feet and off their path by any means.
One would have expected people in high places to be out of this; but it is not the case. Those at the forefront of this evil practice and who do it with impunity are those in high places in various countries. Many of them hold key positions in Government such as General Managers of State Corporations, Directors in Ministries and Ministers.
In some countries, some of those who have been caught have been arrested, tried, and sentenced to serve prison terms; but the general feeling is this is not enough. If, as commonly said, example comes from the top, when top officials are corrupt, the rest of the people will not see why they should not also be corrupt.
This is the dark picture of Africa as far as corruption is concerned. Yet, there is hope. On this continent there are many people of high integrity who have money but will not give a bribe for anything on earth. They hate corruption and spare no effort to condemn and fight to see that it ends. Here we have people in the security forces, treasury officials, magistrates, medical practitioners, journalists, principals of schools, teachers, health workers, lawyers, engineers, accountants, finance officials, civil servants and non-civil servants, to name just these. They are upright, honest, and devoted. They do their work in the best way they can; seek neither to amass wealth, nor further their self-interest. They are only for the common interest. They give us hope that one day corruption may come to an end in Africa.
There are also institutions that are playing a remarkable role in the fight against corruption. These include the media, the Church, non-governmental, human rights and anti-corruption organizations.
The struggle must continue whether or not the efforts deployed are paying off as fast as everyone would like. Anti-corruption champions in Africa cannot afford to give up. That would mean giving a lee-way to its proponents to continue with impunity. Africa would be ruined.
The attitude of some people pretending to fight against corruption when, in fact, they are actually practicing it must be vehemently condemned. People, indeed, do this. They speak out vehemently against corruption and other malpractices but at the same time, in darkness, they promote them.
To boost the fight against corruption, I have a proposal. I would like to propose the institution of an annual African Role Model Award for those who distinguish themselves in the fight against corruption. Also people of integrity who have rendered outstanding, selfless service to their people would merit this award.
The Church, Christian Universities or other Church institutions which enjoy a high degree of moral authority, can institute this award. Such recognition will motivate the recipients to continue to strive to remain role models. It will challenge others to emulate their example. Winners of such an award can constitute a bank or pool from which public authorities can draw the human resources that their countries need to achieve their development dreams.
We say therefore, that corruption in Africa is a reality and a worrisome one. It is deeply entrenched. However, we must continue to be optimistic. Even if it is deeply rooted, even if it destroys, and impoverishes the people, even if it retards development and democracy, there is room for hope. The war against it shall be won because there are people who are fighting fiercely against it. If it is not won today, it will be won tomorrow. If it is not won in our lifetime, t will be won after our lifetime. Therefore, those who promote it and feed fat on it should know that they are fighting a battle that they will not win. They are fighting a battle that they have already lost.