By Anver Versi
I am filing this month’s editorial from Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, where I have been attending a very interesting conference on corruption in Africa.
The AU Heads of State have decreed 2018 as the year when Africa will embark on ‘Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation’. About time too, I am sure you will agree.
The conference was organised by the Economic Commission for Africa’s Southern Africa region, the African Union Southern African Regional Office and the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime, Botswana.
Although the focus of the conference was Southern Africa, the meaning and implications of the discussions have an Africa-wide impact. No doubt similar meetings will be held in other regions.
At long last, the continent has grabbed the bull by the horns and at the continental level at least, is determined to beard “the monster of corruption” as the keynote speaker, Professor Amos Sawyer a former President of Liberia put it, in its den and if possible, slay it.
With very good reason. Corruption, in its manifold manifestations, “decelerates development, accentuates poverty, generates conflict, retards economic growth, denies quality social services and devalues the state and its people,” declared Professor Said Adejumobi, the director of the ECA’s Southern Africa Region office.
He went on to add: “The World Bank estimates that businesses and individuals pay an estimated $1.5 trillion in bribes each year. This is about 2% of global GDP — and 10 times the value of overseas development assistance”. Seventy-five million Africans are reported to have had to pay bribes to get the services their taxes entitle them to. But the impact goes deeper still. The basic definition of corruption is: the misuse of entrusted power (by heritage, education, marriage, election, appointment or whatever else) for private gain.
While this definition covers a multitude of sins, most of which we are too familiar with, there is also another side of corruption. It defines ‘rottenness, decay, the absence of morality or ethics, cheating, misrepresentation, unfairness, thievery, illegality’.
Societies function on the basis of trust. We expect that our professionals will act according to their offices, that our teachers, doctors, lawyers, policemen, pharmacists, builders, bakers, leaders, legislators will do and act according to what is on the tin.
Corruption destroys this trust. You cannot tell what is false and what is genuine. Is the uniform a true badge of office or a disguise for crookedness? Is the occupier of office, from the lowest to the highest in the land, a true representative or is it a masquerade for personal gain? Is the wealthy person an outstanding entrepreneur or a champion crook?
Disintegration of societies
The lack of trust leads to the fracturing and disintegration of societies. Violence more often than not becomes the currency of discourse and you are well on the way to a failed state. Corruption, like say, the dreaded Ebola, is passed on from person to person until it becomes ‘normalised’. This is usually the end of progress. Examples of this state of affairs are all around us.
But, it is important to state this: Corruption is universal and not the sole preserve of Africa. In fact, history tells us that corruption arrived late in Africa, in the wake of the colonial interregnum – which in itself was corruption on a colossal scale.
It is also unfair to tar the whole of Africa with the same brush. In fact, according to Transparency International’s latest corruption perception index, Botswana, Seychelles, Cape Verde, Rwanda and Namibia all score better on the index compared to some OECD countries like Italy, Greece and Hungary. In addition, Botswana and Seychelles, which score 61 and 60 respectively, do better than Spain at 57.
“The key ingredient that the top performing African countries have in common is political leadership that is consistently committed to anti-corruption,” says the report. “While the majority of countries already have anti-corruption laws and institutions in place, these leading countries go an extra step to ensure implementation.”
The proof was there in front of us in Botswana, the venue of the conference.
Botswana is also one of the best government countries not only in Africa but the world. Are the two aspects merely coincidental? I think not – both are as closely related as the hand in the glove.
With benchmarks such as these African countries to guide us, the battle against corruption can be fought and the hydra-headed monster can be slain before it devours our beloved continent. Let battle commence in earnest! NA