Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Corruption in Africa - a complex picture

By Chantal Uwimana, Regional Director for Sub-Saharan Africa at Transparency International 
Finn Heinrich, Director of Research at Transparency International 

When it comes to corruption, much of Sub-Saharan Africa is seen as a lost cause. There are almost daily media reports on major corruption scandals or on political leaders expressing their frustrations about the lack of progress against corruption (often followed by the sacking of senior anti-corruption officials). In international league tables, most African countries occupy ranks in the lower ranks of these indices, such as our own Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. But what do Africans think about the state of corruption in their own country? 

To find this out we partnered with Afrobarometer who asked a representative sample of a total of 43,143 Africans in 28 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa a number of questions about their views on, and experiences with, corruption. On 1 December, we launched the report on People and Corruption: Africa Survey 2015. Interestingly, the answers we got from across Africa defy an easy story. Neither is the state of corruption seen as bleak everywhere on the continent; nor do most Africans think that corruption is on its way out in their countries. As we know – but as global public opinion often forgets – Africa is extremely diverse and, some would argue, in a process of diverging even further in a number of key areas. Our survey finds that the issue of corruption is not an exception to this diversity. 

In our survey, we asked Africans about their views on the degree of corruption in the public sector and its change since last year, their approval of the government’s handling of the issue, their own sense of empowerment to do something about corruption, and their own experience in having to pay bribes, among others. We summarized these country findings in a Citizen Scorecard (below) which visually shows the diversity of the corruption landscape in Africa.  Apart from two countries (Sierra Leone, Nigeria) which are given negative ratings by their citizens on all five areas, all other 26 countries have a mixed picture of positive, medium and negative ratings. Some interesting examples: While most Malawians and Madagascans perceive corruption to be rocketing and their government to be totally ineffective, they still feel that they can do something to change it. South Africans are also very negative about corruption) and particularly its perceived increase over the last year (83% see it as on the rise), but they rarely encounter situations when they are being asked for a bribe (only 7% did in the last year, while the regional average is 22%). The list could go on.

What to make of this picture? Geographically or population-wise, small states (Lesotho, Cape Verde, Namibia, Mauritius) seem to be doing relatively well in their fight against corruption; a pattern which we have seen elsewhere – see the positive rankings for Hong Kong, Singapore, Barbados or Estonia in global corruption indices. Other than the geography and population – two factors which are arguably among the most distant from any policy influence – there are no apparent patterns. Neither the degree of democracy, economic development nor internal conflicts seem to have a clear influence on how people feel about corruption: citizens of the relatively rich, democratic and non-violent countries of South Africa and Ghana provide a rather negative scorecard, while citizens of poorer and less stable places such as Burkina Faso and Lesotho are rather positive about the state of corruption in their country. 

What becomes clear is that each country faces its own set of corruption challenges – from tackling high levels of street-level bribery (such as in Liberia where 69% of people paid a bribe last year), ensuring that government makes more progress in the fight against corruption (such as in Madagascar, where 90% of people consider the government ineffective), to giving its people a sense of agency against corruption (Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe). But, most countries also have some positive aspects to build on. While this is certainly good news, the challenge will be to sustain these advances as corruption has a tendency to fight back.

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