This statement was made by an International Development Guru on the BBC’s radio 4, it had me thinking about a discussion I had with an Oxford graduate (African Studies) who had written a paper on corruption in Africa.
My argument was against the the premise that Corruption, Bribery or whatever else you want to call it is solely an African issue,Corruption exists in most countries in the world, however it has become the bogeyman for commentators looking to explain why western interventions have failed in Africa. They use Corruption in Africa to explain why billions of aid which has been sunk into the continent has failed to achieve the expected outcomes.
These commentators often forget the greater harm caused by the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programmes, or the West’s acquiescence in doing business with African dictators or for that matter the historical damage done by colonialism and Slavery. There is no one reason why Africa remains poor, its a combination of factors. As my Senegalese friend says, if paying a small bribe means I get my passport application processed quicker, so what?
In the Asian part of the world Corruption has actually aided development, from Thailand to Indonesia to China and India paying bribes to speed up the flow of business is an everyday occurrence, yet these countries have gone on to post some of the most impressive growth numbers.
The point I’m trying to make is the fact that Nigeria is abound in corruption is not the sole reason why 70% of its population still live on the poverty line. The reasons why many African countries are still poor despite being abound in natural resources is far more complex than people taking bungs.
In America lobbyists and their clients contribute financially to elected politicians in exchange for influencing policy, indeed this is all legal as long as its declared, the Jack Abramoff scandal showed how thin the line was between lobbying and outright corruption.(I must confess I have lobbied in the past)
Recently in the UK, the Secretary of State for International Development(DFID) got into trouble after it came out he had lobbied the Vice President of Ghana to remove a ban that had been placed on a British Company operating in Ghana after the firm broke local regulations. The ban was lifted after the Vice-President intervened, but it turned out the company in question had contributed over £40,000 to office of the UK minister.. is that Corruption?
In the ideal world there would be no need for need for Bribery or Corruption but the reality is somewhat different, I hope I have demonstrated from the previous paragraphs that Africa doesn’t have a monopoly on Corruption, many countries have developed and prospered in the midst of corruption.
What is needed across the continent is more transparent politics, yes I believe we need more lobbyists in African countries, every Government policy or decision should be made in an open and transparent way and people in society should be able to take on the Government and try and argue their opinions, it already happens on radio stations all across the African Continent, what we need now is to formalise it and force African politicians to publish all their meetings with businessman and lobby groups. Once the policy making process becomes as transparent as the tendering process, real change will start across the continent.
Am I wrong? Do you think I’m deluded and that Corruption is the bane of African Society, I’d love to hear your opinion.