“It is our turn to eat” — Africa’s greatest curse

Candid Comment: Brezhnev Malaba

KENYAN politician Raila Odinga has often narrated an amusing tale. He says a transport minister from an African country was invited to visit Malaysia. He enjoyed a tour of Kuala Lumpur, marvelling at the glitzy capital’s impressive infrastructure. In the evening, the Malaysian transport minister treated the African minister to a sumptuous dinner in his magnificent mansion.

“My brother, this is a fabulous mansion. How did you manage to get such a residence?” asked the African minister. Without batting an eyelid, the Malaysian host took the visiting dignitary to the balcony and, pointing into the distant cityscape, replied: “Do you see those fantastic roads, there?”
The African nodded. “Ten percent of the project money came into my pocket.”

A year later, it was the turn of the African minister to reciprocate. So, the Malaysian minister was taken on a tour of the African nation’s capital city, full of potholed roads and decaying infrastructure. In the evening, they went to the African minister’s palatial mansion for dinner. The Malaysian visitor asked rather curiously: “My brother, how did you get such a wonderful palace?” Without skipping a beat, the African minister took the visitor to the balcony and, pointing into the distance, replied: “You see all those new roads there?” The Malaysian minister was puzzled, he could not see any new roads. The African minister continued: “100% of the money for roads came to me.”

Corruption is found everywhere in the world, but what we are witnessing in Africa is astonishing.

Eleven of the world’s 20 most-corrupt countries are found in Africa, with Somalia and South Sudan topping the list. It is no coincidence that these two nations are among the most dangerous places on the planet. There is a direct link between bad governance and corruption.

In southern Africa, Zimbabwe is a top contender for the most corrupt country award. This is not idle propaganda. Go and read the findings of Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index which were released this week. Zimbabwe is now ranked among the 20 most corrupt nations in the world.
As if to confirm this, President Emmerson Mnangagwa was yesterday forced to disband the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission. His gripe? He says an institution mandated with fighting corruption has itself become fantastically corrupt.

The catalogue of factors contributing to high levels of corruption gives you a glimpse into the reasons why much of Africa has regressed economically while the rest of the world is surging ahead in achieving better prosperity. Chronically weak public institutions, policy instability, democratic deficits, political turmoil, rotten law enforcement mechanisms, gross human rights violations, subversion of the rule of law, disregard for property rights . . . the list is endless.

Civil strife — as we have seen in Zimbabwe in recent weeks — is the logical outcome of unresponsive politics, autocracy, corruption-fuelled poverty and bad governance. What is needed is a new governance ethos, but the big question is: are these political leaders capable of reform?