Corruption in Sub-Saharan Africa - An Impediment to Economic Growth
European Scientific Journal April 2019 edition Vol.15
Corruption in Sub-Saharan Africa - An Impediment to Economic Growth
Lamin Ceesay International Economics 0
0 Nanjing University of Science and Technology , China
Sub-Saharan Africa is faced with many challenges. It is a region bulging with resources but cursed with incredible political and economic greed. With a vast ethnic diversity and an often misconstrued cultural lifestyle, which puts the region on the marginalization line. From a historical context, the impact of colonialism has haplessly set the environment for low leadership standards. The background setting for Sub-Saharan Africa's economic underdevelopment is uninhibited corruption that exists within Sub-Saharan African societies. This institutional corruption takes a triangular cause - cultural, economic and political; each, together with so many other factors threaten Sub-Saharan Africa's socio-economic development.
Economic under-development; Corruption; Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)
without (foreign aid) but from within, by putting strenuous efforts into fighting
corruption. Political graft in the region accounts for the largest cost while small
bureaucratic bribes undermine public trust in the government with hazardous
effects on primary institutions.
Considering the avalanche of the related problems to slow economic
growth in Sub-Saharan Africa, this paper critically analyses one of the primary
causes - Corruption, which is apparently an unceasing cycle. Referencing to
Dambisa Moyo?s bestseller ?Dead Aid?, Sir Edward Clay, a British special
envoy to Kenya in 2004, commented: ?ministers were eating like gluttons and
vomiting on the shoes of foreign donors.?
Corruption is perhaps the most talked about issue regarding the continent?s
pretty poor economic performance as compared to the rest of the world, though
a few countries like Kenya and Rwanda are establishing the continent?s
presence in the international economy, with the former having recently
launched a nationwide anti-corruption commission headed by renowned
Professor and Public Speaker, Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba. Most economic
analysts undoubtedly agree that corruption tends to lower and stagnate
economic growth, identifying two reasons to this detriment of sustainable
economic growth. The weakness of the central governments takes primacy in
this case. A weak central government leaves loopholes for other government
agencies and bureaucracies to indulge in independent bribes. Bribery can be
defined as another form of illicit taxation as a foreign investor or even a local
has to offer bribes to numerous government agencies to acquire an operations
license. These bribes increase the cumulative cost of operation, which lowers
the incentive for foreign investment. The second important reason is the
secrecy in corruption. Secrecy can shift investments away from high-value
projects, towards lower value projects. The inherently secretive nature of
corruption gives way to the choice of projects.
With a total of forty-six countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, inhabited by an
almost staggering one billion people (certainly minimal compared to China
and India) across its four geographical areas (East, West, Central, and South),
with some few other islands laying out-land, the overall economic attribute is
similar in almost all of SSA, other than some slight aberration. From a
historical context of the scramble for Africa, the fragmentation has rendered
certain countries like The Gambia, Togo, Benin, Rwanda, Burundi and
Swaziland relatively small in area, while notable nations like Nigeria,
Tanzania, Ethiopia, and DRC are larger in both area and population. This
difference in size and population represent little or no difference in setting the
pace for economic growth. South Africa, cited as one of the largest and most
modern in the region, follows the general trend, because daily life and
economic status of the average native South African in Soweto is nothing
different compared to that of the average Gambian dwelling in the suburbs of
Serrekunda, The Gambia.
The majority part of this research dwells on objective analysis of the
corruption cause, an impediment to economic growth in SSA. The research
collects useful data as indicators to measure Sub-Saharan Africa?s
competitiveness with the rest of the world. Independent analyses of the
proposed cause are then carried out to devise constructive
longterm propositions to SSA?s slow economic growth. The secrecy that is
inherent in corruption breeds in a certain degree of difficulty in addressing the
The fundamental findings of this paper are that while the significant
number of the region?s one billion people live under seriously corrupt
regimes, the impacts of corruption on economic growth are apparent.
LITERATURE REVIEW AND THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
Existing as long as mankind, corruption is widely recognized both as a
strength for action and as a quantified tangible item. According to the
anticorruption organization, Transparency International (TI) defines it as ?the
misuse of entrusted power for private benefits?. But in a broader and more
current sense, we can further classify the corruption concept into three
constituents to form part of the larger whole - corruption linked to the
performance of one?s duty, corruption in the form of economic exchange, and
personal corruption ingrained in a societal setting. The use of influence is the
common attribute to all these three forms and does exist in all levels of society,
from the lowest class to the elites in power. The pervasiveness of corruption
is entrenched within the three most important functions of society ? Economic,
Political and in the Cultural realms. Throughout history, some political elites
have put forward suggestions for better government reforms, usually as a
result of the situation they currently face. English Philosopher, and one of the
founders of modern philosophy, Thomas Hobbes advocated a decisive
?powerful leader?, the view that all legitimate political power must be
"representative" and based on the consent of the people. On the other hand,
Italian politician and diplomat, Niccolo Machiavelli, stated that graft was
essential to political survival. ?Unless he withdraws from that general equality
a number of the boldest and most ambitious spirits, and makes gentlemen of
them ? by giving them castles and possessions, as well as money and
subjects; so that surrounded by these he may be able to retain power.?
In the absence of strong democracy, rigged elections and a dependent
judicial system, dictatorship is often the norm in Sub-Saharan Africa. The
pattern of dictatorship in the region takes the most brutal of forms, that makes
the unlawful seizure of assets (land, natural resources and financial
institutions) necessary in order to reward the loyalty of political supporters.
Since the majority of the companies operating in the natural resources sector
are mostly foreign-owned enterprises (FOEs), the expropriation of natural
resources does not, in any way, threaten the previous elite rung.
Lord Acton?s short proverb, ?Power tends to corrupt, absolute power
corrupts absolutely,? holds generally true ? but slightly deficient as it does not
illustrate the causality. The causal ties run both ways: power leads to
corruption and corruption leads to power.
Viewing corruption from an economic lens and its effects on society?s
political will, it is imperative that we refer to the theory of political economist
William Forster Lloyd who, in 1832, closely examined two different scenarios
of the cattle that grazed on common land and the other that grazed on private
property; where the former was not as fully developed as the latter. The whole
logic behind this proposed theory is to show how selfish mankind is in his
pursuit, and how it is often tied to political corruption. ?On a common
property, there is no motivation for a farmer to withhold his cattle from grazing
in order to better serve another farmer?. If a farmer is conscious of the
longterm of over-grazing as collectively detrimental, his consciousness is soon
after written-off after he realizes that he loses competitive advantage to his
neighbour in the short-run if he withholds. Referred to as the ?Tragedy of the
Commons? theory by American Ecologist and Philosopher, Garreth Hardin
assumes that once one party takes a self-interested advantage, others would be
doing themselves a severe disservice if they held off ?for the common good?.
This theory also reflects in the corruption of civil servants and government
property as they are viewed to be owned by the state, with the freedom to
unlimited use with little or no responsibility. This self-centred practice breeds
a lack of care for government property, excessive embezzlement, and civic
Sub-Saharan Africa is plagued with weak political institutions and a large
number of unpredictable leadership, which serves as an incentive for the
political elites to the sinister of wealth accumulation as they face continued
uncertainty and fear of an unknown future. This staggering level of
opportunism that pervades Post-Independent Sub-Saharan African economies
is mainly the result of fairly poorly constructed, non-feasible and unsuitable
The idea of corruption is not only an accidental phenomenon in
the region but a stigma deeply rooted in the cultural norms and morality codes
? with a usually oft-forgiving behaviour towards it. In the CPI (Corruption
Perception Index) for 2017, Transparency International surveyed some 180
countries and the results revealed that: half of the bottom 25 nations in terms
of heavily corrupt were in Africa while also having 0 of the top 25 least
In the analysis, South Sudan and Somalia are interesting examples to cite
? making the bottom two in global rankings with scores of 12 and 9
respectively. Nigeria?s case is another puzzling one, on 148th position, with all
the potential of an economically strong nation in Sub-Saharan Africa. It
overtakes the United States in oil reserves on a scale of 37,139 m/b to 23,267
m/b. But regardless of this comparative advantage, the World Bank states
?about 80 per cent of Nigeria?s oil and natural gas revenues accrue to one per
cent of the country?s population?leaving Nigeria with the lowest per capita
oil export earnings, at $212 per person in 2004.?
Figure 1 - 2017 Corruption Perception Index
Source: Transparency International
Sub-Saharan Africa scores an average 32 points, with Somalia and
South Sudan making the bottom least. The only impressive score of the
report is Botswana?s 61 points that topped the list in SSA. South Africa has
fallen two places to go 9th, after claiming 7th position with Senegal in 2016.
Because corruption has gradually become an important and particular
feature of society, however some Sub-Saharan Africans are conscious of this
detriment to economic growth, thus this invites two obvious questions. Is
corruption the product of inefficient checks on weak political institutions? Or
does the culture of African anthropology permit corruption to fester within the
political structures. The answer to these fundamental questions may be found
in addressing both with the same degree of importance.
Justifying corruption will sound quite absurd to any sane man, but we must
not rule out the fact that it does supplement the income of millions of people
in Africa, where political and social support is usually lacking. If none, there
only exist minimal national social welfare systems due to the presence of weak
institutions. This is the number one incentive for those in position to secure as
much wealth as possible for sustenance and those of their families. This act is
not often viewed as corruption, but rather a norm for doing business in the
Paolo Mauro, in 1995, suggested that corruption might increase growth
through two fundamental mechanisms. Bureaucratic delays are likely to
decrease if there is speed money corruption, and government workers are
inclined to work even harder when they are allowed to take bribes. Both have
significant effects on growth ? either directly or indirectly.
Nigerian Politician and Professor of Political Science, Wale Adebanwi,
argues ?Corruption occurs in both the public and private sectors, and public
sector corruption may be both bureaucratic and political. Whichever way one
views it, however, corruption is endemically rooted in human societies,
especially those with weak institutions. Corruption in particular and
maladministration generally are antithetical to societal progress and
development. They breed inequality, undermine societal development, and
Furthermore, Transparency International argued that corruption is ?a
social institution that is based on a principal-agent relationship that allows for
frequent violation of formal or informal rules.? This practice of ?getting things
done? gains somewhat of a ?legal status? through time as it becomes deeply
ingrained in society?s attitudes. This does not, however, write-off the moral
Also known as the ?agency dilemma?, this is a standard theory applied to
corruption within society. This occurs when one or entity called the "agent" is
able to make decisions on behalf of, or that impact, another entity the
"principal". While it is widely perceived as immoral or criminal, the
?principal? offers payment in monetary terms or kind to a public servant,
referred to here as the ?agent? as a reward for the favour. How do we clear the
doubt or validate this ethical misconduct? Has the agent betrayed public trust
by using influence or power to their own ends to grant favour? Or should we
call the offer from the principal a temptation the agent could not shy away
from? The answer goes both ways, for political elites in Africa are heavily
dependent on corruption to cling on to power; whilst the masses get on with
the practice to make ends meet. Most Africans see no incentive to desist from
corruption as the abstinence brings in no change. What this widely held yet
rather poor belief is suggestive of the economic principal stated in the
?Tragedy of the Commons?, a situation in a shared-resource system where
individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest
behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling that
resource through their collective action. The figure below clearly describes
The question of whether African Culture is to blame has often been
raised. Culture, without any iota of doubt, does play a significant role in
widespread corruption across the continent, but attributing it as endemic only
to Sub-Saharan Africa would sound quite prejudiced and biased reasoning.
The Impact of Corruption in the Region
Sub-Saharan African countries will continue to fail and be at the mercy
of the world if the impact of corruption is underestimated. Numbers has it that
almost half the population of the region is living under abject poverty, while
annual stolen assets that flow out of the region to offshore tax havens is well
over $50 billion; a staggering amount that could be used in job creation and
improvement of social services. Extensive corruption schemes substantiate
prevalent lack of development in the region, which does not only drive away
investors but as well deters development.
The corruption syndrome does not spare individuals and families as
most have to pay bribes before they are offered public service.
Solutions to the Corruption Cause
In an open letter to the African Union dated
11th July 2018
Transparency International together with 28 African chapters highlighted
seven key areas where the African Union should put strenuous efforts in to
mitigate corruption if not completely eradicated:
? Financial support. Funding must match commitments to help strengthen
existing anti-corruption systems and support civil society.
Treaty ratification. The countries that haven?t done so must ratify the
AU Convention to Prevent and Combat Corruption, a shared roadmap
implementing governance and anti-corruption policies.
Internal investigation. Recent allegations of corruption within the AU
Advisory Board on Corruption and throughout various departments of the
AU should be investigated and any wrongdoers should be punished.
Procurement. The AU should develop minimum standards and
guidelines for ethical procurement and build strong procurement practice
throughout the continent with training, monitoring and research.
Open contracting. Open contracting practices, which make data and
documentation clearer and easier to analyse, should be adopted by all
Stolen assets. Governments should create and enforce laws that address
the proceeds of corruption, crime and money laundering.
Shell companies. Private companies sometimes keep their owners?
names secret, allowing for criminal activities and dirty money to go
untraced. AU countries should establish public registers that name these
individuals and thoroughly vet bidders for public contracts.
To expect a difficult-free transition from an under-performing to a
functioning and well-diversified economy characterized by government
transparency is like living a world of fantasy. There still exists divided political
and economic landscape in SSA, and the region is continually ravaged by a
descent into anarchism and fractionalization.
The proposition that the quality of political institutions is a measure of
responsible political stewardship infers that a correlation exists between
leadership and economic development.
It is evident to adduce that SSA?s socio-economic development is just a
fraction compared to the extensively large degree of embezzlement and
corruption. This does not only create regular patterns of intense and selfish
desire for power and wealth, but also a cycle of anarchy. At this fundamental
stage in SSA?s desperate need for economic transformation, it is imperative
that resource-endowed nations take the lead ? as facilitators essential for
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