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The cost of corruption in Africa

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According to 58%of those asked by Afrobarometer, an organisation which publishes surveys on African governance, bribery is increasing in their countries.  And those countries are in Africa.  From a bribe to a doctor in Liberia or Guinea to paying a bribe to obtain official documents in Cameroon, corruption is endemic.  Incidentally, it is the poor who pay the most bribes.  According to Coralie Pring, the corruption surveys research coordinator at Transparency International, “this might be because poor people feel powerless to stand up against a corrupt official, or because rich people use their connections to avoid paying such bribes.”

Of course, the role of western nations in enabling corruption in African nations cannot be put aside.  The former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz mentioned at the 2011 Global Poverty Summit that more discussions needed to take place about undisclosed bank accounts in the West.  But the people who are the first and the direct victims of this widespread corruption are Africans.  In a statement issued by Transparency International, Jose Ugaz, the chair of the organisation pointed out that “corruption creates and increases poverty and exclusion.  While corrupt individuals with political power enjoy a lavish life, millions of Africans are deprived of their basic needs like food, health, education, housing, access to clean water and sanitation.”

Both African governments and the international organisations need to work together to combat the problem.  “The solution lies in good, ethical leadership, strong and enforceable laws against corruption, severe sanctions for corruption crimes underpinned by a national culture of promoting ethics from family to national level,” says Ali Mufuruki, a member of the International Monetary Fund’s Group on sub-Saharan Africa.  But how is that good, ethical leadership to be achieved?

It is estimated that between $972 bn to $2.02 tn flow out of developing countries every year.  $20 tn is held in offshore tax havens.  That money, according to ONE, could pay for the education of 10 million African children a year or provide antiretroviral drugs for more than 11 million people.

For the Kenyan anti-corruption campaigner John Githongo, the world’s richest nations need to act.  The ideal would be for Africans themselves to take their responsibilities before a problem that affects them by demanding accountability from their leaders.  Incidentally, countries with higher literacy rates like Botswana do not have such a high figure for bribery.  African civil societies might therefore lobby for Africa’s money stashed in foreign banks to be returned in order for it to be invested in the education of millions of Africans.

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