Failure to end graft is Africa’s leadership curse

Saturday August 05 2023

Presidential guards run to prevent some of thousands of Malians from storming the presidential compound in Bamako during a protest on May 21, 2012. PHOTO | AFP


On July 26, 2023, soldiers overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger. Thus the country got on the list of countries in West Africa that have recently experienced coups d’état. 

The soldiers who took power cite incompetence, corruption and inability to secure the country from militia attacks as reasons for their takeover.

In the column, Guinea mirrors the post-colonial history of Africa, I wrote: “Last year, after yet another coup in Burkina Faso, this column decried the endless cycle of megalomania in Africa: Successive civilian or military regimes all promise an end to thievery, incompetence and despotism, only to perpetuate or, quite often, escalate the vices. When a new regime takes over — through the ballot or bullet — it vows a new dawn of prosperity and freedom. Soon, however, the populace is back on the streets dodging police bullets. Poverty and death remain constants in their lives.” 

Read: Self-funded, free and fair polls ideal tool for silencing the guns in Africa

Whether the change of government comes through the ballot or bullet, what stays constant is thievery, incompetence and poverty.

The two coups in Burkina Faso brought no relief.


The next change of government in Burkina Faso, whether by coup or elections, will promise to end incompetence and thievery. By the time it, too, is overthrown or defeated in an election, those vices will be even more entrenched.

In Kenya, just the other day, the president and his deputy decried laxity, incompetence and corruption in their government.

They told us that some ministers and principal secretaries do not know what goes on in their departments.

Some spend their time gallivanting from Western capital to another, according to DP Rigathi Gachagua, changing clothes at the airport.

Because of this perpetual travelling, important sub-Cabinet meetings do not take place.

When they are in the country, they seem to be otherwise engaged because, as President Ruto said, they know nothing about their departments. These revelations came after many unarmed demonstrators were shot dead for protesting rising poverty.

It is ironic that the president and his deputy would praise police for brutally suppressing protests over poverty and yet not see the connection between incompetence and thievery in their government and rising poverty.

Read: Ruto bullish stance makes political settlement hard

Every government of Kenya, from Jomo Kenyatta’s to Ruto’s, promises to end corruption, incompetence and mismanagement but the vices only escalate. The UhuruRuto government promised a new digital government in which it would no longer be business as usual.

But an auditor-general’s report indicated unprecedented theft in their first six years in power.

Even the Pope, Barack Obama and the European Union abandoned diplomatic niceties and asked the government to rein in runway theft.

Later, Uhuru revealed that his government was losing $2 billion daily. Ruto, in the last elections, vowed to end corruption.

Now he is revealing how incompetent and corrupt his officers are.

He will not be the last to promise action and fail. 

The new rulers in Niger, too, will fail. It is Africa’s curse of leadership.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based poltiical commentator