For years, we refused to acknowledge that the cause of Africa’s underdevelopment and resulting poverty was corruption. One popular explanation for our poverty was that African states were structured on the Core-Periphery model.
The core was inhabited by rich countries and the periphery by poor ones. Wealth, in terms of raw materials, flowed from the periphery to the core. This relationship ensured that rich nations continued to grow their wealth at the expense of poor ones.
Another popular explanation was the post-colonial theory. It postulates that colonialism created a dependency on Europe which has persisted even after independence. In this relationship, Europe’s proboscis remains deep in Africa’s veins.
Yet another explanation, popular with Afro-centric scholars, holds that we will never develop unless we model our states on the pre-colonial traditional society. A branch of this school of thought claims that the gods of Africa are angry for abandoning them, and we can only make progress if we make amends with them (sigh!).
The Core-Periphery theory could not account for how some countries in the periphery inched towards the core. The post-colonial theory disregarded internal factors underpinning underdevelopment such as poor governance and corruption.
The traditional argument is fundamentally flawed because it goes against the logic of development.
Progress presupposes ability to think outside the usual habits of thought. The argument blaming our poverty on the anger of African gods belongs in the realm of mysticism. Development relies on science, not magic. It relies on planning, not divine will.
Kenya’s Justice Mumbi Ngugi, in a ruling on a corruption case involving a high government official, described corruption as “that insidious scourge that has reduced our society to penury.”
This now gives legal grounding to the argument, once frowned upon by African scholars, that corruption was a key factor in our underdevelopment.
Recently, the Court of Appeal determined that “the right to property protects the sweat of the brow, not property acquired through larceny”.
Now the Supreme Court has ruled that it will not entertain cases on forfeiture of illegally acquired property, thus agreeing with the Court of Appeal’s interpretation of the “right to property” constitutional provision.
In 2018, the AU Heads of State Summit included corruption on its agenda. Taking the cue, Kenya has moved aggressively against corruption cartels deeply embedded in every government department.
This fight is facing stiff resistance from key people in government. They have used the age-old tactic of claiming that the anti-graft war is aimed at an ethnic community, as if thieves steal on behalf of communities. But this argument is easily quashed by facts.
It now seems that finally there is national and regional political will to fight corruption. The Kenyan Judiciary, an institution that once facilitated graft, has begun to take a stand against this vice that has ensured we remain a poor backward country.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.