Is Africa, at last, wriggling out of the clutches of corruption? This question has been inspired by recent declarations of zero tolerance by governments in the East African region to the evil that has bedeviled the continent for far too long.
The vice of corruption may not be of African descent but the continent has appropriated it and its extent, both in depth and breadth, on the continent, has surpassed the levels of whoever might have invented or pioneered it.
African scholars, notably Chinua Achebe, were disturbed by the extent of corruption practiced by the new African leadership during the early days of independent Africa.
In his novel, A man of the people published in 1960s, Like Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiongo in Petals of Blood, Achebe explicitly showed how our leaders colluded with agents of neocolonialism to exploit, not only African resources, but also to undermine the dreams of Uhuru Africans had fought for; The dreams of prosperity, dignity, equity and equality ad infinitum.
Corruption is indeed a cancer that slowly eats in the social fabric, and when not diagnosed, and treated early would need a major surgical operation that may entail severing off the affected organs. As it is now, the operation at this stage calls for the most senior surgeons – the ladies and gentlemen occupying the highest dockets of our governments. The presidents, the judges, senators, members of parliament, cabinet ministers and ministers of the church.
Starting from Burundi which fared badly in the recent corruption rating by Transparency International, I was impressed by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s declaration of zero tolerance to corruption (Igiturire), which has been roundly applauded by Burundians at home and abroad.
One gentleman said on BBC Imvo n’Imvano Kinyarwanda/ Kirundi programme that he had to leave his country because he saw no future in a country so corrupt, echoing the Achebe and Ngugi premonition decades back, that corruption and inept leadership were bound to be serious impediments to postcolonial progress.
The story told by the Burundian was indeed more absurd than the fictional character of Chief Nanga in A Man of the People. Having lost his passport abroad and equipped with necessary documentations from his Embassy, the gentleman returned to Bujumbura to apply for a new passport but he was stunned by a passport officer who rejected his photographs on the grounds that they were so clear t that hey could not have been taken in Burundi.
This serves to show how corruption has been entrenched in Africa. Stories of corruption on the continent abound, so in this article we use only two countries for the purpose of illustration.
In Burundi, like in Kenya, there are specialized institutions to fight corruption which include special police forces and courts. The integrity centre in Nairobi houses the Kenya Anti-corruption Commission. These institutions can only work effectively if the leadership does not merely pay lip service to war against the vice.
How do we exterminate the culture of “man eateth where man worketh”? The answer can only be found in total commitment at all levels and of course civic education. During the corruption debates on BBC in the last two weeks, Rwanda was repeatedly cited as exemplary.
Although I don’t have any corruption indices to be able to tell levels of corruption, as a person who lives in Rwanda, I know that the leadership has no tolerance for corruption. I have seen big shots in real trouble—that is deterrent enough, but also, in addition, there has evolved anti -corruption discourse that reminds us all of the evil.
Kenya seems to have taken the fight against corruption to the highest quarters, with both the Executive and Parliament determined to show the way. Three ministers have been suspended to pave the way for investigations and a number of Permanent Secretaries and parastatal bosses have been sidelined or face charges related to corruption. Kenya’s re-energized war against corruption has won praise from other countries and will certainly improve business and investment opportunities.
I have heard a few social friends trying to rationalize corruption saying that it sometimes helps individuals out of problems. That is double faced corruption because it used to impinge on laws established to regulate society.
There is no good or bad corruption and, as veteran Kenyan Politician, Koigi wa Wamwere, wrote in The Daily Nation of 4th November, corruption is theft whether we conceal it in unclear terms like misappropriation and corrupt people are, simply, thieves.
They steal from the public who are the losers if roads and other infrastructure are ‘eaten’, hospitals working below capacity; schools are inadequate because some individuals have to satisfy their unquenchable lust for wealth.
The war against the evil can only be won if the men and women in top public positions, the media and civil society, show incorruptible integrity themselves. It is only then that Africa will occupy a decent position it deserves in the international community.