Locking up crooked officers will not stop graft; value the skilled

Wednesday July 31 2019

Preaching against corruption will not provide a long term solution. Locking people up will only have a short term expression of fear. FOTOSEARCH


What do poor nations have in common?

Over the past few weeks we have been looking at what the wealthiest and most successful nations have in common. We have identified attributes like strong leadership, structure, order and a strong culture as some of the common features.

Now we want to shift our focus to poor nations. We have already identified key elements among poor nations like the focus on religion and spirituality without the balance of skills development.

We identified the fact that they largely bury their talents and resources and then pay those who are skilled in tapping those resources to purchase finished and processed products.

The majority of the poorest countries in the world are in sub- Saharan Africa. Non-African nations like Haiti, Afghanistan and Nepal fall under the same category.

Over the years, different hypotheses have surfaced trying to explain why poor nations have remained poor.


Dan Acemoglu and James Robinson touch on this in their book, Why Nations Fail. One of these hypotheses is the geography hypothesis, which attributes the wealth divide among nations to geography.

Africa, Central America and South Asia are between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn which are hot zones of the earth while the rich nations are mainly clustered around temperate latitude.

The general belief that people in tropical areas tend to be lazy and lack innovation as put forward in the eighteenth century by French philosopher Montesquieu has been countered and contradicted by the growth of climatically hot and economic giants like Singapore and Malaysia. So, No. Poor nations cannot hide behind geography.

I grew up in Nigeria, a hot country. When I was young, Nigeria had a great future. I do not remember my parents ever buying second-hand cars.

We had assembly plants in different parts of the country for cars, trucks and buses. Car dealerships in those days sold only brand new cars. We did not have mass importation of second-hand cars.

Back then, Nigeria was exporting palm oil, groundnuts, yams, tin and many other commodities.

Today, the story is different.

The discovery of oil in 1956 was a game changer. Nigeria became independent four years later, and there was a shift from making the best of what we had—our land.

The concept of the national cake was born. This was a major shift that negatively affected the nation and continues to do so.

No longer was prosperity tied to effort and skill. It was tied to the government. The money kept flowing in and the then president said that Nigeria did not have a money problem but how to spend the money.

The wealth produced a new breed of millionaires many of whom had one thing in common—they were either in government or were close to government.

It is difficult to find an authentic African billionaire who does not have contacts with the government. This is fundamentally wrong because it created a playing field that was not level. It did not matter how skilled a person was; if they did not have the right connections with government, their skill would not change their lives.

This is one of the most common traits of poor nations. Their skilled people cannot benefit from their skill. Wherever you have this gap then people justifiably begin to look for how to change their lives, which becomes the breeding ground for corruption.

When people know that outside of government there is no link between skill and personal transformation, they will attempt to steal all they can from the government coffers.

Preaching against corruption will not provide a long term solution. Locking people up will only have a short term expression of fear.

Have you ever driven by an accident scene on the highway where people have lost their lives due to reckless driving? For a short distance from the accident scene, motorists drive carefully at reduced speeds but shortly after, they return to their default. They forget what they saw.

To rid our continent of corruption, we must ensure that we restore the link between skill and personal transformation. The people who killed Africa destroyed the link between skill and personal transformation. The people who will rebuild Africa will restore that link howbeit in our small capacities.

The small multiplied become the great.

Remember that talking about corruption without actively getting involved in restoring the link between skill an personal transformation is like driving past an accident scene where people have died. Nothing changes.

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks