John M. Mbaku, a top-notch scholar, and rated as Africa's best scholar on the political economy of corruption, wades into the issue. John Mukum Mbaku was born in Cameroon and received the Ph.D. degree in economics from the University of Georgia. He is currently the Willard L. Eccles Professor of Economics and John S. Hinckley Fellow at Weber State University (Ogden, Utah). He is the author of several articles and books on African political economy including Corruption and the Crisis of Institutional Reforms in Africa (1998), Bureaucratic and Political Corruption in Africa: The Public Choice Perspective (2000), and Institutions and Development in Africa (2004). He has just completed a book-length manuscript on Corruption and Public Financial Management in Africa.
First of all, I would like to make it clear that corruption is not a phenomenon that is limited to Africa, its economies and governments. The Watergate affair in the United States, various corruption scandals involving Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, the Enron affair in the United States, and several others, are indicative of widespread private and public corruption in the developed industrial market economies. Of course, given the relatively weak and fragile African economies, high levels of poverty and material deprivation, and unmanageable external debt levels, corruption tends to have more magnified effects on Africans and their societies. Most important, corruption hinders indigenous entrepreneurship and the creation of the wealth that Africans need to deal with poverty; alienates people from their governments; stunts innovation and discourages the engagement of many people in productive activities; forces citizens to lose respect for their country ÉJ ÉA governance system; distorts income distribution and further marginalizes historically marginalized groups (e.g., women, youth, urban poor, rural inhabitants, minority and politically excluded ethnic groups, etc.); and infringes on the human rights of many citizens (consider the case where an individual is denied service at a public hospital because he does not have the money to bribe the doctor or nurse).
The relevant question to ask is: Howcan Africans deal effectively with corruption? Several suggestions have been made on how to deal with corruption in the continent. Some of them are repeated in No. 70 with respect to Nigeria. Success of these anti-corruption strategies, however, depends on the existence of (1) political will on the part of state custodians (civil servants and politicians); (2) free and independent media that is capable of investigating and exposing corruption; and (3) well-constrained judiciary and police systems. An effective anti-corruption program must begin with the selection of new rules that (a) adequately constrain the exercise of government agency; and (b) provide the foundation for the design and adoption of new and more effective counteracting agencies (e.g., an independent judiciary, a well-constrained police force, a professional and neutral military, an independent central bank, a free press, etc.).
Of course, unless an anti-corruption program has the support and backing of the country ÉJ ÉA leadership, it is not likely to succeed. However, it is important to note that the right type of political leadership (that is, one that is committed, ethical and hence, willing to rid society of corrupt practices), is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for effective corruption cleanup. Within the country, there must exist institutional arrangements that adequately constrain state custodians and prevent them from successfully engaging in corrupt behaviors and other forms of political opportunism (e.g., rent seeking).
Provision of new rules or institutional arrangements that adequately constrain civil servants and politicians and prevent them from engaging in opportunistic behaviors calls for the reconstruction and reconstitution of the postcolonial state through democratic (i.e., participatory, inclusive, people-driven, and bottom-up) constitution making. Most African countries are currently saddled with laws and institutions that were either inherited from the colonial state or were compacted at independence through an elite-driven, nonparticipatory and top-down process. Such an elite-driven constitution making process produced rules that did not reflect the people ÉJ ÉA desires, pains and frustrations, values, interests, aspirations, customs, cultures and traditions, worldview, and hence, were often totally irrelevant to their lives and daily travails. Many Africans came to view these governments (as well as their institutions) as foreign impositions and not legitimate tools for governing their relationship with their neighbors or promoting sustainable human development. While these constitutions are indeed legal documents, it is difficult to see them as legitimate tools for governance.
The African state at independence was largely an insensitive, exploitative, illegitimate, fragmented, and dependent entity, which treated citizens with contempt and was, in many instances, the source of most of the violence directed at the people. The postcolonial indigenous elite, which continues to lead in many countries throughout the continent today, was weak, fragmented, highly insecure, dependent on foreign benefactors, totally insensitive to the aspirations of the people, and impatient with participatory or democratic forms of governance. The fixation of such an elite on raw power at all cost has blinded it to the needs of the people and has prevented it from engaging in the type of transformative processes that can enhance indigenous entrepreneurship, promote peaceful coexistence of population groups, and deal effectively with corruption. Such an opportunistic and exploitative elite cannot be expected to successfully lead the fight against corruption in the continent. The continent ÉJ ÉA fight against corruption must be seen as part of the overall effort to totally reconstruct and reconstitute the postcolonial state through democratic constitution making. Such a transformative process must be led by popular forces, including especially people at the grassroots ÉJ ÉDouth, farmers, workers, urban poor, rural inhabitants, women, teachers, etc.
Through participatory constitution making, each African country can produce rules that (1) reflect the values of the relevant stakeholder groups and hence are most likely to be considered by the people as legitimate governance tools, improving the chance that the people would respect and obey them; and (2) effectively constrain the state and make it much more difficult for civil servants and politicians to extort bribes from the private sector or loot the national treasury. Of course, participatory constitution making can deal with other societal problems ÉJ ÉJt is an excellent panacea to political violence, public cynicism, alienation from government, coups and countercoups; it encourages reliance on dialogue and consensus. Vigilance by the people is an important way to minimize corruption. However, as long as people view their government (including its institutions) as foreign or alien impositions, they are unlikely to maintain the type of vigilance that contributes to reductions in public venality.