African business, politics and lifestyle
Can Africa shake the corruption curse?
African countries once again bring up the rear in this year’s Corruption Perceptions Index , a closely watched benchmark of how well – or badly – countries are tackling graft.
Of the 47 countries reviewed in the region, corruption was perceived by executives to be “rampant” in 31, and a “serious challenge” in 13. Only three countries – Botswana, Mauritius and Cape Verde – got anything like a clean bill of health.
But amid the gloom are some interesting developments compared to last year’s table, suggesting the right mix of anti-corruption policy – plus a dose of rosy public relations – can help individual countries shake off the kind of reputation that scares investors off.
Perhaps the most stunning ascent this year was that of Liberia, storming up the chart from 138th to 97th this year, putting it well ahead of relative giants such as Argentina and Indonesia.
Monrovia has long received plaudits for its “zero tolerance” policy on graft, while its effort to buy back outstanding government debt has also soothed investor nerves. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf won explicit backing from the United States earlier this year, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stopped off on a trip through Africa to tell her she was on “the right track”.
Over the coming years, the eyes of the world will be on how Liberia uses its share of the the proceeds from a multibillion-barrel offshore oil frontier off its coast and that of neighbouring Sierra Leone.
Likewise, Sierra Leone itself appears to be on a modest role, climbing 12 places to 146th position. The credibility of its anti-corruption drive received a boost earlier this month when it indicted the health minister on suspicion of mishandling a medical supply contract.
Sceptics noted that the indictment – the first involving an acting public official since the creation of the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission in 2000 – came just weeks before a high-profile investor conference in London.
Among the losers, Senegal stands out. Long perceived as one of the easier parts of West Africa to do business in, it even one a U.S. grant worth $540 million from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) this year in recognition of its good governance.
Does the fact that it has slipped from 85th place to 99th position suggest that the accolade is out of kilter with perceptions of those doing business there now?
Transparency International, the Berlin-based watchdog that puts together the report, concludes that the various anti-corruption reforms going on in the region will come to nothing unless there is a genuine will to properly implement them.
In that sense, a U.N.-sponsored deal in Vienna last week under which countries will from 2011 have to file reports what specific action they are taking against corruption may be a step forward – although civil society groups complain that those reports will not be sufficiently independent.
Can anything be done to help Africa shake off the corruption curse?