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Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on the 25th of May, 1963, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) now African Union (AU) was established primarily to: co-ordinate and intensify the co-operation of African states in order to achieve a better and prosperous life for the people of the continent, defend and protect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of African states and to consciously see to the eradication and elimination of all forms of colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperial domination on the continent. Through its Liberation committee, the OAU played a pivotal role in the decolonization of the continent and the fight against apartheid. The organization has also contributed in several respects in the settlement of disputes among African states. Commendation must also be given to the organization for its efforts in confronting the refugee problem, conflicts on the continent, solidarity and the rather slow unification project of Africa.
Fifty-five years (55) on, the unity of Africa remains an ideal project, the continent of Africa is still plagued with conflicts, diseases, hunger and poverty. In 2012, 47 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lived on $1.90 a day or less (World Bank, Sub-Saharan Africa Poverty and Equity Data). Political corruption and a lack of good leadership are among the most pressing problems of the African continent today.
As we mark the AU day today, the Union invites us to do a sober introspection on the urgent need to fight against the cancerous canker of corruption on the continent. The theme for this year’s, “winning the fight against corruption: a sustainable path to Africa’s transformation” is most appropriate. There could not have been a better time than now, when livelihoods on the continent remained threatened by political corruption, to reflect on the complex and corrosive nature of corruption and the need to confront it head on to achieve transformation and shared growth and prosperity for all peoples of the continent.
According to the eminent African philosopher, Prof. Kwame Gyekye, “Political Corruption may be defined as the illegal and unethical exploitation of one’s political or official position for personal gain or advantage”(Kwame Gyekye, 2013). The focus here is on acts of corruption committed by persons who hold public office and are in charge of shared or common goods and resources, since this is the bane of the continent. According to Transparency International, nearly 75 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are estimated to have paid a bribe in the past year – some to escape punishment by the police or courts, but many forced to pay to get access to the basic services that they desperately need (People and Corruption: Africa Survey 2015). Corruption is a dangerous human rights abuse! According to a 2002 AU report, corruption cost the continent roughly $150 billion a year (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/
A winnable fight against corruption must, to my mind, be preceded by a clear understanding and appreciation of the nature of corruption. Pope Francis was spot on, when he remarked, “Corruption is not countered with silence, and we must speak about it, denounce its evils, and try to understand it so as to show our resolve to make mercy reign over meanness, beauty over nothingness”. We must try to understand the nature of corruption to successfully win the fight against it; you cannot confront and defeat that which you have not properly understood.
There are some conditions that have been identified to account for widespread corruption: the cultural or social system, the political system, weak political leadership, poor economic circumstances and a lack of adequate institutional and legal systems.
African societies are largely communitarian in nature. The individual does not only have a responsibility to himself alone, but to other members of the extended family as well. In a typical African family, a person who is well to do is responsible for his own needs, the needs of his immediate family and sometimes, the needs of the entire clan. He is expected by the society to cater for both his needs and that of his family, lest he be termed as irresponsible. It is not uncommon for a man to be insulted for failing to provide for his siblings and other relatives when he occupies a “big position”, “a whole minister of state and his own brothers are suffering” are common things one will hear. Such cultural or social outlook mostly pushes public office holders who often come under social pressure to engage in acts that are unlawful in order to satisfy family demands. The pressure from extended family members is often too much such that, the public official who has access to state resources is pushed to prioritize his duty to his family above that of the common good.
The political system in use can also serve to breed corruption. When the political environment around which the state is organized is such that, an official seeking public office will have to rely heavily on the favors and financial contributions of others to successfully get elected, it serves as a potent ground for corruption since the elected individual is expected to return the favor by appointing them or awarding them contracts or granting them favors that invariably leads to the illegal and unethical exploitation of his office. Multinational companies and their cronies who aid and sponsor political parties and politicians end up getting tax exemptions, evading taxes altogether and winning contracts. According to a report released and authored by 13 UK and African-based non-governmental organizations, which include Health Poverty Action, Jubilee Debt Campaign and World Development Movement, suggested that US$192 billion leaves the region, money is lost through tax evasion, climate change mitigation and the flight of profit by foreign multi-nationals.
Weak political Leadership on the continent has provided fertile grounds for corruption to thrive. There exist a lack of willingness to fight corruption by the continents political actors; this phenomenon has emboldened many others to engage in wanton corruption with impunity. Public office holders will tend to point to their predecessors who have engaged in similar acts as a justification. Political leaders who are themselves corrupt lack the ability to wage any effective war against corruption. Nigerian president Sani Abacha was estimated to be worth $20 Billion at the time of his death, how on earth did a mere public official come by such money? Can he gather the moral courage to call others to order when the engage in corruption? Certainly not!
Now let me touch on the lack of adequate institutional and legal systems as another factor that accounts for the incidence of corruption on the continent. I definitely agree with former US president, Barak Obama when he asserted that, “Africa requires strong institutions”. Corruption continues to spread because of a lack of strong institutions and legal systems to regulate behavior and punish acts of corruption. Most of the institutions of state remain under the effective control of the government of the day, government officials and public office holders who engage in corruption are easily left of the hook, unpunished. Political parties go to every extent to provide solidarity, support and protection to their members who engage in corruption.
In spite of the above conditions which account for the incidence of corruption, I am inclined to agree with Prof. Kwame Gyekye when he asserts that, “political corruption is essentially a moral problem”. A sober reflection and observation of society’s general revulsion to acts of corruption and yet the widespread of the same cancerous menace leaves me with the conclusion that, everyone in the society or at least, most members have a distaste for corruption and what to eschew it. However, what they lack is a moral Will or commitment to not engage in corruption. Political office holders know the right thing, know that corruption is wrong, know that you will be punished when caught, and yet engage in corruption. You know and are aware that stealing from the national coffers is the wrong thing to do but you just cannot stop yourself from taking it. Therefore, I believe that any meaningful talk and fight against corruption must pay particular attention to building the individual will to do what is right and just. As Kwame Gyekye puts it, “any efforts at dealing with corruption effectively will have to come to grips with the moral circumstances of it which go far beyond the well-laundered articulation of the moral system and the impartation of moral knowledge to concerns about the individual character” (Kwame Gyekye, 2013). We must concentrate energy and efforts on building individual character if we mean to fight a war against corruption and win.
In conclusion, yes, the continent must consciously take steps to remove cultural or social conditions such as gift giving and extended family expectations which put pressure on public office holders to engage in corruption. Put in place appropriate political structures that will not serve to promote a flourishing ground for corruption. Put in place legal systems and institutions that work to ensure that public office holders are held to account when they engage in corruption, and severe punishments handed to them. But most importantly, there should be a concerted effort to build the character of the individual to do what is right and in the common interest. Civil education, patriotism and above all, moral and character education must be intensified in the fight against corruption. Sustainable Development, shared growth and prosperity for all of Africa’s children will elude the continent if the fight against corruption is not successfully waged and won. Like Pope Francis said, “Corruption is not countered with silence, and we must speak about it, denounce its evils, and try to understand it so as to show our resolve to make mercy reign over meanness, beauty over nothingness”. Let’s all get to work then!
Happy AU Day.
The writer is the Projects and Programs Secretary of the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS), a Youth Advocate and a Research fellow at the Centre for Youth Development, Ghana (CYD-GHANA).
BY: ANANPANSAH, SOLOMON