THE NATURE OF CORRUPTION
Corruption across Africa takes place in many forms. In any case, whether it is bribery on a small scale or top-level political embezzlement (theft of public funds), corruption serves to the detriment of all societies in which it happens. Bribery is exceptionally common across the African continent – a poll by Transparency International across 28 sub-Saharan countries found that 22% percent of people admitted to having given bribes, whilst in Liberia the figure was as high as 69%! Clearly, then, bribery is one of the primary forms of corruption, with most bribes going to police and court officials in order to avoid criminal charges. Yet such petty bribery is not the only form of corruption in Africa – high-level political embezzlement across the Continent contributed to a net loss of $10.9 billion in 2011.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FIGHTING CORRUPTION
Corruption, in any form, harms society in many ways. Whilst embezzlement by corrupt politicians on a large scale has the largest direct impact on the economy, bribery works to weaken popular trust in public institutions such as the police and courts. This means that people become more likely to resort to bribery, as they believe it is the only way to get things done. Combatting corruption is also essential in the fight against poverty in Africa. The drain on public resources caused by corruption means that crucial public services like health, education and water supply become strained, reflecting that corruption hits the poorest members of society hardest.
The examples of the Botswanan and Mauritian economies demonstrate how tackling corruption can lead to economic strength. In both countries less than 1% of people admitted to giving bribes, perhaps explaining Botswana’s excellent per capita income level of $17,000. In Kenya on the other hand, the opposite is true – the government was reported buying ballpoint pens for $90 each and wheelbarrows for $1000, perhaps providing an explanation for the country’s budget deficit of 9%… At any rate it is clear that corruption is something that needs to be fought and rooted out in order to give countries the best chance of economic strength, and it is my firm belief that promoting transparency is a good way to do this.
WHAT IS TRANSPARENCY?
The ability of members of the general public to view, comment on and crucially criticise public policy and strategy is essential for transparency. Transparency can take form in ways such as the presence of news companies in government meetings, publication of national budgets and policy decisions or the creation of public inquiries into government conduct. Transparency is closely connected to the idea of political accountability – the notion that politicians should be held responsible for their actions and should not be able to act without consequences. In a transparent society, freedom of the press is championed and people are able to criticise aspects of government without fear of imprisonment or intimidation.
THE ROLE OF TRANSPARENCY IN TACKLING CORRUPTION
A promotion of transparency in public affairs builds the trust held by the people towards the government themselves – if people can view how money is spent and what it is being spent on, then they are far more likely to trust the government and its institutions. If public trust does improve, then this is likely to reduce the incidence of bribery, as people have faith in the ability of the police force and the judiciary doing their jobs without the need for bribery. A more transparent electoral system – one in which political opponents are not intimidated and are allowed to voice their criticisms freely – means that the likelihood of violence breaking out as a result of a rejected election result is significantly lower.
Ultimately, championing transparency and accountability is the most effective means of combatting corruption in the African continent. It is in the interest of all Africans to help fight corruption, as they are the ones who will benefit from its absence.