Is African corruption unique, or is it just like corruption
in the many other parts of the world? Citizens of African countries tend to
argue that they have an unchallengeable lead in the whole business of
corruption – their own problem exceeds that of all other countries.
International corporate types, however, tend to see corruption in Africa as
being no different to that which they face or participate in across a range of
countries. In NGO circles corruption in Africa tends to be regarded as a
product of western influence and the siren voices of capitalism.  Where
does the truth lie?

In my book, Global Corruption : Money, Power and
Ethics  in the Modern World, I explore the nature  of corruption
across the world, the forces which drive it forward, and the roadblocks to
combating it. Many of the issues discussed are common to a range of countries.
I particularly focus on five key drivers. The first is the size of the
‘unrecorded economy’ – in many countries from Russia to Nigeria unrecorded
transactions amount to at least 40 per cent of GDP, constituting a vast
reservoir from which corrupt payments can be made without  trace.
The second is the system of ‘political finance,’ by which
huge sums of money, often gained corruptly,  are invested in the political
process with the expectation of  a corruptly gained reward once power is
secured or re-secured. This is easily discernible in most political systems
from the US to India.
The third is the role of organised crime in securing
political support and cover for trading operations ranging from drugs to
counterfeit pharmaceuticals – a recognised practice from Italy to Thailand.
The fourth is the role of national and international
companies in the ‘mis-pricing’ of products which enable a large chunk of
profits to be moved to havens where tax is low or non-existent – a common
phenomenon from Russia to  Peru.
The last is the system by which illegally and corruptly
gained products – such as oil, timber and rare minerals – transit from the
illegal sector to the legal sector, such as timber from Cambodia or counterfeit
drugs in south east Asia.
It is easy to see that these five drivers are also at work
across Africa. No African country has an economy, except South Africa,  in
which more than 60 per cent is recorded in standard GDP figures; dominant
political parties are typically funded by a small clique with corporate
interests ; organised crime is a major factor in many countries especially in
the drugs and counterfeit pharmaceuticals business ; ‘mis-pricing’ of mineral
and timber exports is common; and the transit of  illegally acquired
products  – such as timber, oil  and coltan – from the informal to
the formal sector is widespread. By these criteria, corruption in Africa is
very much part of an international pattern.
How does this work out at the country level?
In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe has been maintained in power by
an elite group with strong ties to the military. This group once extended its
tentacles to the DRC and does so now in the domestic diamond mining industry,
the output of which goes largely unrecorded. Paul Biya, in power in Cameroun
for 30 years, is partly sustained by the export of illegally felled logs from Cameroun’s
vast forest reserves. Key politicians in Guinea-Conakry and Guinea-Bissau have
become active partners with Colombian drug cartels in the trans-shipment of
cocaine to Europe. In Nigeria, oil ‘bunkering’ from the Delta enriches both
local and national players in the government and the army – a classic case of
illegally acquired products entering the world’s legal trade through the
Rotterdam market. The price at which Tanzania’s booming mineral exports –
notably gold, platinum and uranium – enter the world market is controversial
and secret.
Whilst these types of corruption are common across much of
the world, it is difficult to argue that Africa is a victim of global and
corrupt processes which, substantially, it cannot control. The question of the
size of the unrecorded sector is one which governments can tackle over a three
to four year period as, for example, Rwanda has shown. Any increase in the
local tax take – a growing theme amongst donors – depends on a steady increase
in the relative size of the formal sector. The control of political finance is
a big problem throughout the world, but the more outrageous raids in Africa on
Treasuries, Central Banks and the defence budget can be dramatically reduced.
The expansion of the tentacles of organised crime depends on the compliance of
at least some elected and non-elected officials, but the process is not
inevitable. The transit of products from the illegal to the legal sector,
although a mechanism requiring international collaboration, is ultimately triggered
by local rather than international initiative.
The question of mispricing is one for which the
responsibility falls much more heavily on the corporate world outside Africa
and where African countries are undoubtedly frequent victims of this, losing
huge quantities of revenue in the process.  Here initiatives such as the
Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which commits both
companies and governments to reporting the revenue they respectively earn and
receive from the exploitation of mineral resources, are key (of the 14
countries which are ‘fully compliant’ with EITI, seven are in sub Saharan
Africa’s corruption has many global aspects, especially the
fact that it arises from deep structural factors which it will take great
energy and courage to change. Heroes such as Nuhu Ribadu and John Githongo have
shown the way forward, but have also demonstrated the depth of resistance to
rolling it back – both were forced into exile.  As elsewhere in the world,
governments will have to address the underlying issues as well as the
symptomatic cases which are only occasionally brought to court.
Laurence Cockcroft is a development economist and former
chair of Transparency Internatiional. His book, Global Corruption : Money,
Power and Ethics in the Modern World, is published by I.B. Tauris this


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