Defend Truth


Corruption is crippling Africa, ‘more like sand than oil in the economic engine’


Dr Chris Jones heads the Unit for Moral Leadership at Stellenbosch University.

African Anti-Corruption Day is celebrated annually on 11 July, and this year it comes as perceptions and lived experiences of corruption on the continent are sky-high. The bribery rate in Democratic Republic of the Congo is reportedly the highest in Africa, while Mauritius boasts the lowest bribe rate of the continent.

We know that corruption hinders Africa’s economic, political and social development and is a huge obstacle to good governance and basic freedoms. Economists Nelson Sobrinho and Vimal Thakoor state in this regard that corruption behaves “more like sand than oil in the economic engine”.

Corruption also affects the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities. Although differing significantly across countries and public institutions in Africa, corruption undermines the chances of hundreds of millions of citizens for a stable and prosperous future.

The African Union points out that corruption has “stolen futures” in Africa, indicating that at least 25 million primary school children alone are its victims.

It’s important to point out that foreign role players also contribute to the increase in corruption in the continent. When money that is supposed to support important services such as healthcare and education flows out of countries due to corruption, ordinary citizens are hit the hardest. According to estimates, Africa loses at least $50-billion a year through illicit financial flows.

Corruption challenges

Corruption challenges on the continent, as elsewhere, are complex and multifaceted and need to be addressed fundamentally and systemically. Without discussing them specifically, these challenges mostly have to do with political corruption, state capture, patronage networks, conflict of interests, corruption in development assistance, opaque political financing, vote-buying, and the role of foreign actors such as multinational companies.

Added to these is land corruption which affects women most. Furthermore, gender-based corruption, usually rooted in culture and sextortion, is rarely reported to superiors in the workplace due to fear of retaliation or other consequences. For example, in Zimbabwe, up to 57.5% of surveyed women indicated that they had experienced, in different sectors of the community, sextortion.

We know that land is the bedrock of social, economic and political life in Africa. Unfortunately, land distribution and corruption go hand in hand, with one in every two people encountering it during land administration processes in Africa compared with one in five for the rest of the world.

Increase in corruption

According to the Global Corruption Barometer — Africa 2019, most respondents indicated that corruption had increased in their country. However, the majority (53%) said that as citizens they could make a difference in the fight against corruption, even though 67% of people thought it could lead to prosecution or retaliation.

More than half (55%) of all citizens believed corruption had increased (in the 12 months preceding the survey). Only 23% thought it had decreased. Only 34% gave their government a thumbs up for combating corruption, while 59% thought they were doing poorly in this regard. In some countries (Gabon, Madagascar, Sudan) the latter is higher than 80%.

More than one in four people (28%) who had access to public services such as healthcare and education had to pay bribes for this access in the year preceding this survey. This equates to about 130 million citizens in 35 countries.

The bribery rate in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the highest at 80%, while Mauritius boasts the lowest bribe rate of 5%, followed by Botswana and Cape Verde Islands with 7% and 8% respectively.

This survey also shows that the poorest Africans are twice as likely to pay bribes for essential public services as the richest. As a result, they have less money for basic necessities such as food, water and medicine.

Concerns about the integrity of public officials are also high. Among the key public institutions, the police are widely regarded as corrupt. Forty-seven per cent of respondents indicated that police officers were corrupt or completely corrupt. In the DRC it is 81%, with Gabon and Uganda above 70%.

Furthermore, almost four out of 10 citizens think that most or all government officials (39%), parliamentarians (36%), and offices of the president or prime minister (34%) are corrupt.

For example, in the DRC, the office of the president or prime minister (82%) and parliamentarians (79%) are perceived as the most corrupt institutions.

About 36% of people think that business executives in Africa are corrupt. Yet people’s actions regarding bribery differ. Men (32%) are slightly more likely to pay bribes than women (25%), and young people between 18 and 34 years old (32%) pay bribes more easily than people aged 55 and older (18%).


There are several international instruments, regional organisations and initiatives, as well as other key stakeholders such as the media and civil society, trying hard to mitigate and reduce corruption in the continent because it directly affects the lives of citizens, undermines the integrity and effectiveness of Africa’s institutions and deprives governments of much-needed tax revenue.

While initiatives to tackle corruption in specific institutions such as the police or parliament are always welcomed, we need a holistic and systematic approach coupled with stronger, ethical governance to fight this scourge. Measures taken from other parts of the world could also be helpful.

It is extremely important that African governments put anti-corruption commitments into practice such as:

  • Ratifying, implementing and reporting on the African Union Convention to Prevent and Combat Corruption;
  • Investigating, prosecuting and sanctioning all reported cases of corruption in both the public and the private sectors, with no exception;
  • Developing minimum standards and guidelines for ethical procurement and building strong procurement practice throughout the continent with training, monitoring and research;
  • Adopting open contracting practices, which make data and documentation clearer and easier to analyse, and ensuring transparency in hiring procedures;
  • Creating mechanisms to collect citizens’ complaints and strengthening whistle-blower protection to ensure that citizens can report instances of corruption without fear of reprisal;
  • Enabling media and civil society to hold governments accountable;
  • Supporting transparency in political party funding; and
  • Allowing cross-border cooperation to combat corruption.

While millions of Africans continue to endure the negative effects of corruption, unscrupulous individuals keep their ill-gotten funds abroad and enjoy the high life with their friends and families.

Governments from around the world, especially those with large economies including member states of the G20 and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, can help to reduce corruption in Africa by effectively and transparently implementing the toughest international anti-corruption and anti-money laundering measures and standards and applying them fearlessly.

On African Anti-Corruption Day, we can praise individuals and governments who are trying hard to fight corruption in all its forms. Africa deserves to be corruption-free. Our leaders — on the continent and worldwide — should act with much more urgency, dedication and integrity in this regard. DM


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