Unpacking perceptions of corruption on the African continent | by Nikolai Viedge

Nikolai Viedge Dec 2017With a recession looming and South Africa’s unemployment at a 10-year high, economic development and a cohesive and unified approach by those in power is more important than ever. However, as the Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) - Africa, by Transparency International (TI) notes, corruption, which hinders “economic, political and social development”, continues to dog the country and the continent. In fact, according to its global report, sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest scoring (and, therefore, the most corrupt) region in the world.

As the GCB – Africa report notes, corruption is not just illegal, it has significant and detrimental ramifications for ordinary citizens. Corruption “harms hundreds of millions of citizens by undermining their chances of a stable, prosperous future”. In real terms, what this means is that “[p]aying bribes for essential public services means poorer families have less money for basic necessities like food, water and medicine”.

A corrupt system is open to both domestic and foreign influences. In South Africa, as a poignant example, the state capture enquiry (in which it is alleged that the Gupta family illegally took control of several organs of state with the help of government officials) is an example of how internal corruption can have long term, far reaching effects. Further, as the GCB - Africa report highlights: “[f]oreign businesses continue to bribe public officials throughout the continent to get an unfair advantage during bidding processes and secure deals that are overpriced or do not yield real benefits”.

Worryingly, throughout the continent, police were seen as the most corrupt institution. Throughout the continent, 47% of all countries surveyed for the report claimed that police were the most corrupt institution in the country, that figure is 49% in South Africa.

In an African context
Unfortunately, Africa as a continent is widely perceived as being a corrupt one – especially from the perspective of western and developed nations. This is also the perception of the citizens of the 35 African countries surveyed for the report. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was seen by its own citizens as the worst-faring country on the continent, with 85% of its citizens claiming that corruption had increased from September 2017 to September 2018. Cote d’Ivoire fared best with only 40% of citizens surveyed in that country thinking that corruption had increased in the same period.

South Africa, with 64% of surveyed citizens claiming corruption had increased, sits above the halfway mark, in the negative sense. Perceptions of increased, recent corruption is above that of Zimbabwe (60%), Guinea and Niger (both 62%), and only slightly below Zambia (66%), Kenya and Zambia (both 67%). Further adding to a negative outlook, 70% of people in South Africa think that the government is doing a bad job of tackling corruption.

On a slightly more positive note, only 18% of people admitted paying a bribe in the 12 months between September 2017 and September 2018. This is one of the best figures on the continent, bettered only by Cabo Verde (8%), Burkina Faso (16%), Senegal (15%), São Tomé and Príncipe (16%), Botswana (7%), Namibia (11%), Lesotho (14%), Mauritius (5%) and Eswatini (17%). But while bribery is relatively good in the African context, it still represents nearly 1 in 5 people paying bribes.
corruption report
A South African perspective
The report paints an interesting longitudinal picture of the country in particular. According to the report, in 2015, 7% of South Africans admitted to paying a bribe, while only 3% of people paid a bribe to the police. In 2019, these figures had jumped to 18% and 19% respectively. However, again according the report, the number of people who think that corruption has increased has actually dropped in the same period of time. As noted above, 64% of people believed that corruption rose from September 2017 to September 2018. This compares favourably with the 83% of people, polled in 2015, who said corruption had increased.

While the percentage of South Africans who thought the government was doing a good job increased from 20% in 2015 to 25% in 2019, the number is still unacceptably low, indicating a government perceived to be battling to tackle the widespread corruption plaguing the country. In addition, while it is perhaps encouraging that 57% think that “ordinary citizens can make a difference in the fight against corruption” this number is both too low and, simultaneously, raises the question of how much responsibility ordinary citizens should be saddled with in order to tackle corruption?

Finally, while 64% of people thinking that corruption had increased is favourable, compared to the 83% four years earlier, it is still an unacceptably high perception.

Nikolai Viedge is a former academic and regular feature writer for Bespoke's Bulletin - www.bespoke.co.za 

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Posted on August 19, 2019