Effects of Corruption on Sustainable Development in Africa

By Mawutodzi Kodzo Abissath


An American IT guru, Marto Thomas, once said: “There are two kinds of people in the world: Givers and Takers. The Takers may eat better, but the Givers sleep better.” 


However, when it comes to matters of corruption, the popular saying is that: “Both the Giver and the Taker are guilty.”


On Wednesday, 11 May 2016, while in London to participate in the Ant-Corruption Summit in that country, the calm, cool and soft-spoken President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria told the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron something to this effect: “Keep your apologies and return my stolen moneys to me.” Obviously, he was provoked when Prime Minister, Cameron ‘framed’ Nigeria as “fantastically corrupt.”


President Buhari, on that occasion described corruption as “hydra-headed monster which threatened the security of countries and does not differentiate between developed and developing countries.” But when the wise Nigerian leader was reported by BBC to have said that he was not “demanding any apology from anybody but return of stolen money,” he must be speaking not only for Nigeria but for the entire Africa continent because it was not only Nigeria whose money was stolen by the morally gargantuan-corrupt advanced nations.   


Nine years ago, exactly, in 2007 when President Buhari was no nowhere near the seat of government, Dr. Gbenga Lawal of Olabisi Obasanjo University in Nigeria published a scholarly article in the Humanity & Social Sciences Journal entitled “Corruption and Development in Africa: Challenges for Political and Economic Change.”  This writer finds that article today as relevant as the day it was published. And for the purpose of this write-up, it is important to share some of the salient points with the reader.


Dr Lawal defines Development in the article as a process by which a type of change is introduced into a system in order to produce a better production method and improved social arrangement. “It involves a structural transformation of the economy, society, polity and culture of a country.” He went further to explain that the level and rate of development of any particular society is influenced by so many variables such as the political culture, leadership and corruption.


Because this article is about corruption and development in Africa, I narrow the scope on the   subject matter. According to Dr Lawal, in Africa, corruption has been at the centre of development and an impediment of true and real development in the society. “Corruption has ravaged the entire African system, causing the continent to be the most corrupt in the world,” he opined.


The author was of the view that if Africa was to be saved from this infection, the endemic presence of corruption ought to be dealt with. Hear him: “Once corruption becomes entrenched, its negative effects multiply. It induces cynicism, because people begin to regard it as the norm. It undermines social values because people find it easier and more lucrative to engage in corruption than to seek legitimate employment. It erodes governmental legitimacy because it hampers the effective delivery of public goods and services. It limits economic growth because it reduces the amount of public resources, discourages private investment and saving and impedes the efficient use of government revenue and development assistance funds."


Even though the author was writing about corruption in Africa, he pointed out that the canker was a worldwide phenomenon which has long been with every society in the world. He lamented that corruption has been a bane of most political and economic problems in societies. He added:  “A nation that condones corruption is often besieged with a lot of economic, political and social vices.”


Dr. Lawal observed that corruption in African countries has become endemic, as such, it is found almost in all aspects of life. He said corruption deepens poverty and makes it difficult for ordinary people to get ahead as a result of their efforts.  He said different arguments have been put forward to explain the pervasiveness of corruption in Africa. These include poverty, the personalisation of public office, the political culture and the inability of leaders to overcome their colonial mentality in respect of their perception of public office.


The Nigerian Professor quoted Ayittey (2002) as saying that “the wealth resulting from corruption also forms part of capital flight and on an annual basis, exceeds what comes into Africa as foreign aid.” The author again credited Ayittey (2002) to have argued that “the inviolate ethnic of the ruling elite in Africa is self-aggrandizement and self-perpetuation in power.”


For most of these corrupt African leaders to achieve their self-aggrandizement objectives, they take over and subvert every key institution of government to serve their needs and not that of the people. By so doing, various institutions as the Judiciary, Military, Media and Banking; and even various commissions with lofty ideals that are supposed to be non-partisan and neutral are also taken over and debauched.”  Thus, Dr Lawal concluded that the negative effects of corruption on sustainable development in Africa are more deadly than HIV/AIDS.


Having said all this, this writer is still optimistic that there is hope for Africa. There is hope for Africa because, gradually but steadily, most of the immediate post-colonial African heads of state who are corrupt to the bone are fading out of African politics.  They are giving way to modern democratically elected leaders whose national constitutions, under the eagle eyes of the fearless media and fire brand civil society movements will not make it easy for them to siphon African funds into their private accounts abroad.


Again, on Thursday, 12 May 2016 when the actual Anti-Corruption Summit was held in London, the host Prime Minister, David Cameron announced that there would be a global plan to help recover stolen assets.  It was resolved that the said “Global Forum for Asset Recovery would bring together governments and law enforcement agencies to discuss returning assets to Nigeria, Ukraine, Sri Lanka and Tunisia.”  That meeting will be held in the US next year, to be co-hosted with UK, and supported by the UN and the World Bank.


As in Africa, when Nigeria sneezes all other countries catch a cold, so, too, when Nigeria’s “fantastically” stolen moneys are returned, all others shall follow suit. And Africa, our beloved continent shall be free of corruption, paving way for sustainable development for the benefit of present and future generations of Africa.


The author works with Information Services Department ISD in Accra

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