Fighting graft in Africa. Or not.

November 26, 2008

 A little while back, we asked who is and isn’t fighting corruption effectively in Africa. This week, a number of examples bring us back to the subject.


In Tanzania, two former ministers have been charged with flouting procurement rules over the award of a tender for auditing gold mining back in 2002. The pair, who deny wrongdoing, served in the government of President Jakaya Kikwete’s predecessor Benjamin Mkapa. One of them also served under Kikwete himself.


Tanzania’s pledge to fight corruption is under close donor scrutiny and given the level of aid that Tanzania gets – more than one tenth of GDP by 2005 figures – it has little choice but to show willing. There have been doubts in the past, however, about how serious the government really was about going after the most senior and the best connected.


“By hauling the long-serving politicians to court, the Government has dispelled the rumour that some influential personalities are being shielded,” commented The Citizen newspaper of the charges against the former ministers.


Is Tanzania’s anti-graft drive now fully on course or will these two turn out to be scapegoats while others are ignored?


Next door in Kenya, hit by a series of major corruption scandals over the years, it looks as though an official inquiry is likely to clear former finance minister Amos Kimunya of any wrongdoing in the sale of a luxury hotel and he told Reuters he hoped to get his job back.

But lawmakers who passed a vote of no confidence in Kimunya have vowed to stop him returning to the Treasury whatever that inquiry says – its findings have not yet been made public. Critics argue that the separate inquiry was duplicating the work of the parliament. Some warn of a possible tussle between parliament and President Mwai Kibaki if he does try to bring Kimunya back.
“The main risk, of course, is that the decision making process becomes overly politicized and that those on the losing side in the power struggle decline to bow out gracefully,” commented Richard Segal of UBA Capital.


In Nigeria, the troubles of the former head of the anti-corruption agency are back in the headlines.


Nuhu Ribadu was sacked by President Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration despite winning favour from many Nigerians, foreign investors and western donors as head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. He had targeted some senior politicians and was widely credited with doing more than anyone had previously, although critics accused him of pursuing only those out of favour with former President Olusegun Obasanjo.


Ribadu’s position has been getting ever rockier since he was sacked and demoted. At the weekend, he and his family were bundled out of a graduation ceremony from the government institute where he was sent after being fired from his top post – although the presidency later intervened to say he would get his certificate after all and ordered an inquiry into the incident.


“The entire Ribadu family must by now be wondering, as are millions of other Nigerians, if it’s a curse to serve this country with all one’s heart and whether it’s a country worth dying for,” wrote Thisday’s Funke Aboyade after the ceremony.

Ribadu may now face a police disciplinary panel next month. Meanwhile, a top official of the anti-corruption agency has resigned after failing to report suspicious payments, another setback for the troubled body.


The very different examples bring up the issue of how politics complicates the fight against corruption – something in no way exclusive to Africa. Is it possible to fight corruption without truly independent and trustworthy police and courts? And if not, how is it possible to put those in place when leaders promise to stamp out graft but fail to live up to their words?


As one Nigerian leader remarked not so long ago: “This administration will mobilise all resources at its disposal to fight the menace of corruption.”


President Yar’Adua? His predecessor President Obasanjo? No. That was General Sani Abacha, who died in suspicious circumstances a decade ago with billions of dollars thought to be stashed in foreign bank accounts (If you still get emails from people purporting to be his relatives, it’s probably best not to reply).


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It is high time now government official who have been using Power of the offices to appropriate personal wealth at the expennse of imporverishing ordinary citizens pay for their wrong doing.They should be brought to Justice without descrimination.Thanks to JK Government it has deared to what citizens have been crying for.Keep it up.

Posted by Saidi Nungu | Report as abusive

This is a good article, but all this has to be put in a different context too. An entirely different context. See this article I co-wrote in The American Interest recently. It looks at the global context of all this.  /article-bd.cfm?Id=466&MId=21

Posted by Nicholas Shaxson | Report as abusive

The type of framing explicit in this article that turns what is really a distribution of public wealth into private and individual hands obfuscates the underlying tendencies, and even the essence, that make this particular form of activity a recurring theme in the public sector in Africa. Corruption as a concept cannot begin to make known these tendencies. And it is the insistence of its use by writers and commentators on Africa such as the present author that severs the political from any analysis of elite led (mis)appropriation of public resources. It is not paradoxical, contrary to the assumptions of this writer, that politics will undermine efforts to curtail such (mis)appropriation. It is politics that have created the foundations and sanctions for it. It will be more appropriate, in any narrative on the level of public misappropriation in Africa, to do so in the context of what the ruling class does in power. This will more explicitly make it clear that this, as an phenomenon,is not uniquely African; a fact that the article posted by Nicolas Shaxson clearly demonstrates but often forgotten by commentators over-invested in the project of showing Africa’s exceptionallism

Posted by Nathan Okonta | Report as abusive

Great debate, i am sure if we can have something in the mould of anti corruption commissions in Kenya, Nigeria or Tanzania many of us will die of heart attack once we hear what the Mugabe administration has been doing with tax, donor money since 1980

Posted by Stanley Kwenda | Report as abusive

There was a time in Nigeria under The EFCC Boss “Nuru Ribadu” when order reigned. Corrupt officers, official, rotten politicians who for the simple fact embezzled resources not only within their regions were humiliated and embarrassed.
This was a time phrase in Nigeria and Nuru had a lot of appraisals, commendations from within and even from the outside world, until the DO or DIE President stepped aside.
Nuru once a hero of antigraft now became a victim spoiling his achievements with selective judgments, selectivity between the corrupt and rotten but in actual fact for reasoning those he tried were neither sacred nor saints but those who actually i would like to refer to for emphasis as vessels unto dishonor; garbage.
And i must say, with the coming of the menstrous woman, the tides have change; corruption has been exalted, appraised, the corrupt have once again taking a grip of the society and like their deeds are multiplying, booming in corruption. The effect, depredation of the society and people living in it, with the number of the poor increasing.
I have this quest, to find out if the war against corruption for the past 9 years; 8 years actually, the pardon in our debts, contribution of foreign aids towards fight against corruption in the most populous black african country is indeed worth it.
It’s bleak but all I’m seeing is pointing to no.

Posted by Oyewole Oluwaseun Olaposi | Report as abusive