What forms the core of Africa’s culture of corruption?

Saturday April 22 2023
People marching along Nairobi streets in Kenya

People marching along Nairobi streets in Kenya on December 9, 2021 to mark the International Anti-Corruption day. Africa is the land of billionaires without portfolio. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Confluence is in the institution of government; the granary feeding self-seekers without compunction

I bumped a gentleman in Abuja who gave me his business card. Upon reading the card, I looked at the man and then back at the card to ensure I had read it correctly. It stated that he was a friend of the brother of the president and was selling Access.

In the Al Jazeera documentary we discussed last week, a man stated that he would require $200,000 to arrange a meeting with the president. Now multiply this by 54 countries, and you get an inkling of Africa’s corruption core.

Within every problem there is a core — the seed problem that births all others. If we get busy doing everything but the core, nothing will change. The most sustainable solution to a problem is to fix it at the root. That said, what are the key problems plaguing the African continent today? Predictably, every respondent points to corruption.

If, however, we focus on corruption alone, we will miss the point. What are the parents of corruption? Why is it that the Al Jazeera documentary on the illicit gold trade in Zimbabwe that has been traced to very top is a familiar script in many African nations? If you want to address the small cop taking the bribe at the roadside, you range against very powerful people who are beneficiaries and part of the chain.

What lies at the core of Africa’s entrenched corruption? First let’s examine the continent’s wealthiest people and determine what many have in common? They are either currently or previously involved in government, or have family or friends in or were in government. They are very smart, but without government help, the likelihood of their being this wealthy remains debatable.


Africa is the land of billionaires without portfolio. When they declare their net worth, you wonder what they did because all their lives were spent in government.

The Obasanjo Solution

This is why many Africans have written books about their entrepreneurial journey. While there exist fantastic stories out there, the majority cannot write about their experiences because the root of their financial success is tied to the government.

Once in office, the agenda is simple: amass as much as you can and for as long as you are there. This explains the culture of mediocrity and corruption that has taken over the entire continent.

We have discussed the problem, but what is the solution? I believe we need to create new paradigms and mindsets for the next generation.

Former Nigeria President, General Olusegun Obasanjo, who had benefited from every coup in Nigeria’s history, did something dramatic when he became a civilian president. In the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, Nigeria lived on coups and regime changes. Every so often, martial music would play on TV and radio, and soon after, announce some new administration.

But how does one prevent military officers who enlisted from becoming governor, minister or head of state or taking over the government.

Simple yet drastic

Obasanjo’s solution was simple yet drastic — he fired every military officer from the rank of brigadier and above, and any other officer (regardless of rank) who had tasted political power. This left behind a new generation of military officers who shun involvement in politics.

How can we apply this to our current situation? Does the current crop of leaders possess the willingness or capacity to change? Yes, there are some very inspiring exceptions to this, but generally, the Zimbabwe scenario is the same across the continent.

But, can we forge new templates where young people with ideas and mentorship, execute these to create prosperity without relying on knowing the friend of the brother of the president?

Wale Akinyemi is the founder of the Street University. Email: [email protected]