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Lookin Inside from Outside

Why Fighting Corruption in Africa Fails

Post-independence African countries inherited deeply corrupt institutions, laws and values from colonial and apartheid governments. In the majority of African former colonies, the colonial elite centralized political, economic and civic power, exclusively reserving top jobs in the public and private sector, as well as education only to fellow colonials.

Colonial Roots Of Corruption

At the time in the colony, the institutions that should have served as watchdogs against corruption: the judiciary, police, security services and rule of law, selectively served the interests of the elite classes. These institutions were more often subservient to the all-powerful colonial administrator or governor. The colonial private sector, for the most part, produced for export to the imperial market and as such was usually deeply dependent on the colonial government for licenses, contracts and subsidies. This sector rarely held the colonial government to account. With the exception of a few, colonial media sources were equally bridled.

Independence Movements Entrenched Compromised Colonial-Era Governance Systems

Instead of changing colonial era institutions, laws and values for the better, African ruling parties and leaders entrenched these deeply compromised governance systems. At African independence, the colonial elite were often replaced by a similar narrow elite class. This time, however, it was the aristocracy of the independence and liberation movements; the dominant independence leader and dominant ‘struggle’ families, or the dominant ethnic group or political faction. African independence movements were often highly centralized or strongly dominated by one leader and his political, ethnic or regional faction. The dominant structural make-up of these movements has meant that they can seamlessly fit into a similar centralized political culture very much like the colonial administration.

At independence, the indigenous communities of most African countries were relatively poor, unskilled and without any significant holdings in the private sector. Very few grassroots cadres which formed part of the liberation movements had professional careers outside the struggle. Post independence, many were simply appointed to posts for which they had little aptitude, experience or skills to perform. Such a situation is fertile for corruption. The newly acquired state bureaucracy, military, judiciary, nationalized private industries were often seen as the ‘spoils’ of victory. A reward for the struggle of independence. The whole process often became opaque and unaccountable with ‘struggle aristocracies’ dishing out patronage – jobs, government tenders, and newly nationalized private companies – to their political allies, ethnic group(s) or regional interests.

Giving jobs to members of the same faction, ethnic group or region meant the idea of merit-based appointments was all too often thrown out of the window. This also meant that even if the newly empowered independence movement launched economic development programs to transform the colonial economy, such reforms were hardly ever going to have any impact, given the fact that unqualified cronies were managing key public institutions, and that scarce resources were being coarsely diverted to allies, family and friends.

Appointments to the key institutions that scrutinize as well as hold rulers to account – the judiciary, the police, and the media – became increasingly occupied by liberation aristocracy loyalists. These institutions already corrupt under colonialism continued to be perverted with a new set of management cadre who were unlikely to hold the rulers, through whose patronage they serve, to account. In many countries, this continues to be the case today.

Those who held junior ranks in the party hierarchy but had little skills, education, or employment, found it difficult to make a decent living in the now normalized society. They too were forced to seek out, by corrupt means, the patronage of leaders that had control over the distribution of the ‘spoils’. Almost all jobs available in the newly independent country were in government, or the newly nationalized media, banks, schools, universities, etc. , Decent employment very much depended on ‘clearance’ from the liberation movement leaders or the ruling group. In most cases, those critical of the dominant leaders or their policies were likely to be excluded from work in the public and private sectors.


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