Is corruption getting worse in Africa?
By Virginia Gidley-Kitchen
BBC News

Friday, 11 February, 2005,

Kenya has run a high-profile campaign against corruption

Kenya's government, which was elected on a pledge to fight corruption, has been hit by the resignation of its chief anti-corruption official John Githongo this week.

Donor countries have threatened to suspend aid if they cannot be sure that their money will be well spent.

Kenya's leaders are not the only ones to find that eradicating corrupt practices is a tall order.

Sceptics fear that the UK-led move to increase aid to Africa and forgive their debts will only make more money available to corrupt elites.

Western governments are increasingly linking aid to good governance, and in particular to efforts to tackle corruption.

So, is corruption in Africa getting worse, or just getting more attention?


William Kalema, Chairman of the Board of the Uganda Investment Authority, and one of the Commissioners for Africa named by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, is not sure if corruption is worse than five or 10 years ago but says it is certainly more widespread than 20 or 30 years ago.

"The scale is increasing but I think also that the information about it is also increasing.

"As long as politics is seen as the path to wealth, then Africa is on a downward path" [Jeremy Pope,Transparency International ]

"The erosion of institutions in Africa has been a steady process so if the institutions get weaker every year then the time comes when they are so weakened that certain things are possible that would not have been possible before."

Jeremy Pope, a founding executive director of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, says Kenya's anti-corruption chief John Githongo did his best but was blocked by powerful political groups.

"It's been a very gutsy performance by John, he has stuck in there to do absolutely what he could," he said.

"He realised that he was going to get nowhere because the political forces against reform were so much stronger and were outwitting the political forces in favour of reform."

Lone reformer

Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo has also found it difficult to stamp out corruption once in office.

Mr Pope says he is desperately trying to get on top of corruption but that even the president can do little on his own.

Corruption can spread from the top to directly affect people's daily lives
"Everybody knows that come a certain date, he will be out of office, he will be gone, and the inertia is there. It is very, very difficult for a reformer at the top unless there are people like him throughout the system."

Zambia and Malawi have had a similar experiences, with new presidents promising to get tough on corruption facing political obstacles, sometimes from within their own parties

"What has been revealed is a hopelessly corrupt political elite - a political class across the spectrum that simply sees politics as a way of becoming wealthy," Mr Pope says.

"As long as politics is seen as the path to wealth, then Africa is on a downward path."

He points to Botswana as proof that African countries can be well governed.

"They look after their money, they invest wisely, and they run a decent country with a very good human rights record."


Mr Kalema says that both African countries and the west can take measures to make it harder for the corrupt to benefit from their crimes.

"In many consultative meetings people called on particularly the governments of the West to make it very much harder for ill-gotten gains to be salted away in their banks.

Even the president needs help to fight corruption in Nigeria
Other suggestions are to make it easier for African countries to recover stolen assets.

And to publish information that would enable civil society to hold leaders to account regarding the use of funds and regarding their own personal gains from public funds.

Mr Pope feels that the only solution is the emergence of a new political class that has not had to buy its way into politics.

But he emphasises that it is not just African countries themselves who are responsible for corruption.

"When one focuses on corruption in Africa, the tendency is to think only in terms of Africa. But the international banks, the Western businessmen who bribe to get the contract, who are in cahoots with all the millionaires are all up to their eyeballs in what's taking place.

"So when it comes to moral standing everybody belongs in the gutter together."

A gloomy picture.

But at least the new emphasis on linking aid to good governance gives both Western and African governments a greater incentive to see what they can each to do to tackle the scourge of corruption.