Corruption and Unending Problems in Africa
Africa is incontrovertibly blessed with an abundance of natural resources, especially land that is rich in all sorts of imaginable minerals. Hundreds and thousands of fertile tracts that are conducive for agriculture can be found nowhere else on the globe except in most African countries.
Had these resources been harnessed and utilized efficiently for the good of each nation concerned, under the framework of a regional and continental unity mandate, Africa would without doubt be a global powerhouse. Unfortunately, it seems that most governments in Africa are under the spell of a propensity for policy inconsistency. Corruption has evidently taken root in almost all sectors of the fledgling economies. Admitting to a problem is the first step towards finding a solution. Rather than simply pointing fingers, it would be feasible to look at the causes and effects of corruption in a historical and future context.
For specificity’s sake, it would be interesting to look at the case of Zimbabwe. The injustices that prevailed in North and South Rhodesia were enough of a stimulus to spark an unending war between the indigenous African peoples and the occupying British forces. The conflict led to a serious war that left thousands dead, with both sides suffering many casualties. Corruption was manifested then in the form of racial discrimination that appropriated land and other national resources and opportunities on the basis of skin colour. Black People were denied the opportunities, privileges and rights that white people had easy access to.
Corruption was a catalyst to international condemnation in Southern Rhodesia after, the then Prime Minister, Ian Douglas Smith declared the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965.
On the one hand, it can be argued that colonialism contributed significantly to the political and economic challenges that Zimbabwe is facing today. Besides inheriting a skewed land ownership pattern, the nation was still on the verge of collapse as the protracted civil war threatened the newly emergent country. Even after independence, 80% of the country’s indigenous population occupied 47% of the land compared to 15% of the non-indigenous population who owned 38% of fertile land.
On the other hand, it is an undeniable verity that corruption took its toll on the country as disillusionment among the populace showed itself. Presently, the Governor of The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has outlined the existence of corruption within the top echelons of the nation’s business and political leaders as an impediment towards the envisioned economic recovery program. As the country reels from one crisis into another, the resultant problems are exacerbated by social and moral rot within and between individuals who are bestowed with political and economic leverage.
One publication titled Anti-corruption Mechanisms & Strategies in Southern Africa by P.Matsheza & C.Kunaka aptly points out the causes of corruption. Firstly, the scarcity of essential commodities and services leads to increased levels of corruption. Despite the recent government blitzkrieg on retailers ordering them to change the prices of essential products as at prices obtaining one month ago, this move has only served to fuel the existing crisis.
Late at night, daring retailers deliver products like bread, sugar and cooking oil to their houses for storage purposes. During the day, one is amazed to find all these products up for sale on the street at exorbitant prices while a visit to the shop will reveal empty shelves. Even when such products are delivered to the shop during the day, the top managers of certain shops selling essential commodities give orders to the effect that particular ‘special’ customers be sold the products in large quantities.
One old man bitterly complained that he spent the whole day from 9am to 3pm waiting in a sugar queue while some ‘special’ customers gained entry into the shop several times in one hour hoarding the commodity. Secondly, low salaries and the rising cost of living serve to accentuate the growth of corruption.
The rate of inflation has soared to well over 4500% while worker’s salaries and wages are not commensurate with this figure. It certainly comes as no surprise when workers engage in extra income-earning activities that are contrary to the law such as dealing in parallel market activities involving the buying and selling of fuel and foreign currency.
Although this cause of corruption may be dismissed as a result of the broad political economy shortcomings in the country, questions need to be asked as to what policy makers are doing to address these issues, and if anything is being done why is it not being publicized and implemented?
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is discouraged from entering the country as the prospect of legitimate business is bleak. FDI certainly stimulates economic growth and consequently alters the economy’s balance of payments position into a favourable one. Investors are opting to channel their financial resources to other nations because of the perceived corruption within the political economy of Zimbabwe.
The ripple effects in this regard are acute foreign currency shortages; money which is needed to purchase fuel and other critical inputs necessary for the smooth running of the economy. In a special article on Zimbabwe the New African (May 2007) issue, quoted The Reserve Bank Governor Dr. Gono explaining how FDI has drastically gone down in Zimbabwe. In 1998, FDI inflows amounted to USD$444.3 Million but by 2006 the figure had collapsed to an astounding USD$50Million. Corruption has also been singled out as being a factor that undermines the growth of emerging industries as the cost of establishing them becomes exorbitant through bribing of officials responsible for licensing, allocation of land, construction of factories and granting of contracts.
Business is certainly difficult to establish in the city of Harare because the process of going to tender is already fraught with inconsistencies. In other words, when most tenders are published, that is simply done for the sake of procedure but the winner is already there before the results are published. One may point out that the country is under an economic onslaught from the West over a bilateral land dispute between the governments of Zimbabwe and Britain.
However, how does one explain the continued sustenance and occasional economic booms that the country experiences? This is simply because the country has resources that keep its economy moving yet a large proportion of the total population is living under the poverty datum line.
A United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report notes that corruption denies the poor their share of the nation’s resources by misdirecting resources allocated for relief. Perhaps this explains why the UNDP mission in Zimbabwe has been instructed to stop supporting national economic programs, such as the much publicized National Economic Development Priority Program (NEDPP). They have instead shifted policy focus towards remedial social work and political governance issues.
The nation’s natural and industrial resources are being used to the benefit of individuals who wield power in society. For instance, diamonds were discovered some four months ago in Marange, an area that lies in the East of the country. People rushed to dig up what they could before government forces intervened. Under the guise of protecting the environment from destruction by ‘marauding people’, soldiers and policemen quickly secured the area and declared it a no-go zone.
In another instance, diamonds were discovered once again in Epworth, an area that lies just a few miles out of Harare, but the area was sealed off to people because they were causing ‘environmental damage over false claims of a diamond cache.’
In both cases nothing was ever heard about where the minerals were going. Corruption ensures that a few elite individuals gain so much wealth while the majority of people moan under the tight grip of poverty.
It also goes without saying that as long as key government ministries like the National Registration and Passport Offices are not subjected to some form of public scrutiny, then citizens are denied their rights to travel and identity documents. It is an open secret that passports are officially ‘unavailable’ because the Passport Offices do not have enough foreign currency to purchase the relevant materials needed to make a passport. However, for as much as US $250 one can quickly obtain a passport through the ‘back -door.’ Malfeasance on the part of these public officials is an urgent cause for concern that needs redress because it all translates into the motto that he who has nothing shall receive nothing even though he is entitled to it by right.
Under such a scenario it is needless to point out that corruption in political terms threatens the very nature of governance, political stability and the rule of law by eroding public confidence in the institutions of the state.
The current brain drain being witnessed is evident of poor economic performance in the country, with corruption being an extenuating factor. According to The Financial Gazette (13-18 July 2007) Zimbabwe has this year alone lost 300 degreed and skilled engineers to South Africa because of better remuneration there.
However, the high levels of corruption have also contributed to this flight of skilled personnel to other countries. Securing a job in a company or public body is rather difficult because the country has one of the most educated people on the continent therefore competition in the employment arena is tough. This is where cronyism begins to show itself, as close associates and friends are given top positions within the company.
Surprisingly, even under qualified people are employed rather than educated people because the latter are perceived as difficult to work with and exploit. Lately, most companies prefer to employ University students seeking an attachment for work-related learning purposes rather than qualified personnel. Out of desperation, the students receive minimal wages and are made to work hard much to the benefit of the employing company.
This scenario certainly leads to lack of confidence within the economy on the part of qualified individuals yet nothing is being done to resolve the impasse. Corruption remains a contentious issue which, if not addressed with the urgency that it warrants, can lead to unforeseen consequences.
The scourge has a trickle down effect that affects the psyche of even the poorest of men in society. Most people resident in the urban areas of the country no longer have any confidence in their government because they believe that it is corrupt.
A cursory glance at the affairs going on at the Harare City Council reveals that there are a lot of officials and members of the Commission who should have been sacked many years ago because of their ineptitude in handling the Council’s business. Garbage is found littering the streets of some high density suburbs because refuse collection trucks are not being assigned to do their job. Burst sewer pipes that pose a humungous threat to residents’ health through poring out onto the streets and roads are not being repaired with urgency. Water shortages are occasional in some lucky parts of the city while they remain the order of the day in some areas. In fact some parts of the city have been reported to be going without water for the past month or two.
The excuse may be that the Council does not have enough foreign currency to purchase the required materials and resources to repair the pipes but nothing is being done to show for it. This is so in light of the fact that residents are expected to pay the high ‘service’ charges at the end of the month without fail. Failure to do so warrants an immediate cut to the water and sewage supplies.
Worse still, when residents go to the Council offices to pay for these bills at the end of the month, it is rather difficult to do so because of the great number of people clogged at the premises. Corrupt council officials seize upon this opportunity to solicit bribes from impatient individuals in order to pay quickly and go home.
One may be tempted to apportion the blame on such individuals because they tolerate corruption. Indeed corruption is a two way process that requires the co-operation of either individual in order for things to ‘work out.’ At the end of the day, it seems as if neither party in the corrupt practice has any regrets because they feel that they got the service that they deserve because they were willing to fork out and receive money. When corruption reaches levels where it has been institutionalized then that becomes a national crisis.
Poverty, high rates of unemployment and shortages of commodities are the main factors that cause corruption to flourish in most African countries. Certainly should any other continent experience the same problems, then corruption is bound to occur.
Despite such a sober look at the causes and effects of the scourge, this should never be an excuse for its growth and tolerance for its existence. Prevention, punishment and public education should be the motto in the fight against corruption. Only then will the continent experience a reform of phenomenal changes that impacts positively on the concerned political economies and societies.