The problem with fight to end graft in Africa
Saturday April 15 2023
In many African nation-states, corruption thrives to the point of being normalised across all age-groups and economic sectors but merely grounds economies
For the past three or so weeks, Al Jazeera ran an exposé on the illicit gold trade in Zimbabwe dubbed ‘Gold Mafia.’ The exposé left me asking if it were possible to eradicate corruption in Africa, for what we happens in Zimbabwe is replicated across the continent.
Indeed, many African nations are at a point where corruption has become an integral pillar of economic activity. Corrupt officials and politician steal, build mansions from cement, roofing sheets, tiles, and paints that he buys.
Now, multiply that thousands of times, and you will see the real impact of corruption. So, to eradicate corruption will actually have economic consequences. There have been cases of leader campaigning for office on an anti-graft platform. The moment he gets into office, the economy takes a nosedive.
We are told that when a lion tastes human blood, you have to kill it; otherwise, that’s all it will ever desire. Unfortunately, when corruption was at the stage when it was conducted secretly and it was shameful to be called corrupt, we did nothing about it. That is when the lion should have been killed, but we did not.
Now corruption is actually rewarded, and the Nollywood movie King of Boys has a line where the good cop said of the drug baron that one day, he will run for president, and win.
Sad as it sounds and as much as we do not want to accept this fact, corruption has become what drives the economy in many African nations. That is what drives the cement, paints, building products, automobile, and the banking industries — all because we did not kill that lion before graft became fashionable.
Money for traffic infraction
How then do we deal with it? A young person growing up today in Nigeria knows that when stopped by the police for a traffic infraction, just offer some money, and all will be well. This is the only reality this person has known since birth. They do not know any other way. In fact, they have seen people who tried to follow the straight and narrow path, pay a steep cost including having their cars impounded by the traffic police.
In the just-concluded elections, the Lagos state governor who was seeking re-election had all the cars seized by the government returned to their owners in order to woo the voters. For a young person growing up in such environment, it is their normal that the solution to getting government services or getting away when you are in the wrong is through cash inducement.
We wallow in it, and will even advise visitors on how to go about it. International businesspeople who deal with us, as seen in the Al Jazeera documentary, know it and tell everyone that once you are ready to grease the wheels, you will get anything done in Africa.
Getting a passport in Nigeria is another good example. Somebody was at it for weeks, paying so much in the back-and-forth to get from his home to the passport office. But, another who greased the proper wheels got his passport in 48 hours. Now repeat this scenario in every sector where government services are required and across the continent, and you will get an idea of the true impact of corruption when it has become cultural.
As one of the characters in the ‘Gold Mafia’ documentary put it, it’s not just bribery and corruption. It is facilitation and appreciation. And this is the problem. When a society justifies its evils by renaming them, a time will come when the righteous will become the sinners and the sinners will be the bastions of a new morality.
Can we curb this corruption plague? I believe we can.
To be continued...
Wale Akinyemi is the founder of The Street University. Email [email protected]