Corruption is an abuse of public power for private gain that hampers the public interest. This gain may be direct or indirect. Corruption entails a confusion of the private with the public sphere or an illicit exchange between the two spheres. In essence, corrupt practices involve public officials acting in the best interest of private concerns regardless of, or against, the public interest.
Corruption further involves behavior on the part of officials in the public and private sectors in which they improperly and unlawfully enrich themselves and/or those close to them, or induce others to do so, by misusing the position in which they are placed.
The manifestation of corruption includes; grand corruption, state capture, and administrative/petty corruption.
Grand corruption which is also known as political corruption and involves higher-level officials and larger sums of money. This may include kickbacks to win large public procurements, embezzlement of public funds, irregularities in public finances and in a political party and campaign financing, and political patronage as well as in large multinational companies paying millions of dollars to government leaders or politicians to obtain business contracts.
State Capture is used to describe a situation where economic elites develop relationships with political officials through whom they exert undue influence over them and over public policy for their own personal gain.
While Administrative or Petty Corruption describes everyday low-level abuse of power that citizens and businessmen experience within the state bureaucracy, such as demand for small bribes or gifts before certain services, which are supposed to be free, are rendered.
Broadly, the following are identified as forms of corruption: bribery, embezzlement, fraud, intimidation, extortions, and abuse of power, conflict of interest, insider trading, receiving an unlawful gratuity, favoritism, nepotism, illegal contributions, money laundering, identity theft, and white-collar crime.
The level or “incidence of corruption” differs greatly among societies, “ranging from rare to widespread to systemic” When the incidence of corruption is rare, it means it is “easy to detect, punish and isolate”.
When corruption becomes systemic it is difficult to detect and punish and increases the incentive for additional corruption. Where there is systemic corruption, the institutions, rules, and norms of behavior have already been adopted to a corrupt modus operandi, with bureaucrats and other agents often following the predatory examples of, or even taking instructions from, their principals in the political arena
Corruption in Africa is principally a governance issue – a failure of institutions and a lack of capacity to manage society by means of a framework of social, judicial, political, and economic checks and balances. When these formal and informal systems break down, it becomes harder to implement and enforce laws and policies that ensure accountability and transparency.
From an institutional perspective, corruption arises when public officials have wide authority, little accountability, and perverse incentive, or when their accountability responds to informal rather than formal forms of regulation. Though debatable, the lack of adequate public sector wage/remuneration is also considered as one of the factors that contribute to the high rate of corruption in the public sector in Africa.
The effects of corruption in Africa are wide-ranging. Some of these effects are fairly obvious, while others require explanation. They include: undermining the sustainable development goals, economic loss, and inefficiency, poverty and inequality, personal loss, intimidation and inconvenience, Public and private sector dysfunctionality, failures in infrastructure, rigged economic and political systems, impunity and partial justice, rising illiberal populism, organized crime and terrorism, diminished state capacity, increasing polarization and unrest, climate change and damage to biodiversity, human rights violations, armed conflict and atrocity crimes, public frustration and cynicism.
To win the battle against corruption, and ensure a solid foundation for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063, Africa must move beyond setting up offices to pragmatism and action, exploring new and innovative solutions.
First, anti-corruption strategies must be comprehensive and include governance innovations such as open data, transparency, and accountability in business, procurement, construction, etc. Anti-corruption initiatives must be an integral part of national development plans with the requisite resources and benchmarks for assessing progress.
Second, African governments should make use of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) and social accountability tools. Several web-based applications have been developed that provide easy-to-use electronic platforms for citizen engagement. An example is the Ushahidi platform used to collect and map reports of violence through SMS and email created in the aftermath of Kenya’s contested 2007 presidential election, and subsequently used to map post-disaster data in several countries including Haiti and Chile. Similar platforms could be used to report instances of corruption in real-time, and for anti-corruption agencies and integrity, institutions to respond in an open and transparent manner.
Third, civil society organizations (CSOs) must play a more robust role as the true watchdogs for the people. Given the need for CSOs to be autonomous and sensitive to local needs, it is unfortunate that, according to a 2013 USAID CSO Sustainability Index Report, almost 90 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s anti-corruption CSOs are funded by international donors agencies. The funding strategy must be adjusted, with national governments and other non-state actors taking up more responsibility for supporting anti-corruption CSOs.
Lastly, partnerships between development partners and recipient countries should evolve to the point where the private sector, including banks and transnational companies, are held to the same standards as public institutions, helping to curb the corruption associated with illicit flows and tax avoidance.
Written by Israel Ogwuche Ogra