Every year the continent hemorrhages billions of dollars from corruption in Africa. Corruption in Africa poses a great challenge to development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Fostering structural transformation requires more than a national policy and strategy in order to operate effectively in the age of globalization.

The African Union’s theme for the year is “Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation.

Corruption in Africa is a stumbling block to development and undermines the rule of law. According to Transparency International corruption is the the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Corruption can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs. Corruption can be classified as ‘grand corruption’, ‘petty corruption’ and ‘political corruption’. Grand corruption is the abuse of high-level power that benefits the few at the expense of the many, and causes serious and widespread harm to individuals and society. It often goes unpunished. Petty corruption is everyday abuse of entrusted power by public officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens, who often are trying to access basic goods or services in places like hospitals, schools, police departments and other agencies. Political corruption is the manipulation of policies, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources and financing by political decision makers, who abuse their position to sustain their power, status and wealth.

Corruption in Africa affects institutions, citizens and investments into the countries. A 2002 African Union study estimated that corruption cost the continent roughly $150 billion a year. Yet in 2008 sub-Sahara received $22.5 billion in aid (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). Money lost through corruption could easily build and sustain Africa.

The prevalence of corruption also warps the political process. Political candidates seek election in order to gain access to the government purse.

Poor governance and corruption repels international investment into the continent. Africa’s global image as an investment destination is tarnished by bribery, corruption and scandals. However, on the other hand the Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Mozambique all featured in the top five FDI inflow host countries in Africa in 2014, despite their low rankings in the 2015 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index and the 2015 World Bank Ease of Doing Business Survey.

A fish rots from the head down

Corruption in Africa is exemplified by political leaders through the looting of state coffers and unethical government contracts. Former Nigerian president Sani Abacha was estimated to be worth $20 Billion at the time of his death. In South Africa, former president Jacob Zuma was found to have unduly benefited from the taxpayers money in the infamous Nkandla debacle. In Congo, Joseph Kabila and his family are among the richest people in the continent owing their wealth to diamond mining. President Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Jomo Kenyatta, was on the Forbes list(2011) of the richest men in Africa. Jomo Kenyatta openly grabbed vast tracts of land from the British when Kenya attained independence. President Paul Biya in Cameroon is also amongst the richest people in Africa and corrupt dealings have been synonymous with his name. In Zimbabwe, top government officials are notorious for their lavish lifestyles.

Hope for a cleaner Africa

Africa is the most corrupt continent in the world. However corruption is not inherent in Africans. Case in point: Rwanda and Cabo Verde. These countries show how decisive and ethical leadership is fighting corruption. While the majority of countries already have anti-corruption laws and institutions in place, these leading countries go an extra step to ensure implementation. In Rwanda President Paul Kagame has shown unwavering and strict enforcement of compliance with the leadership code in Rwanda. In Cabo Verde President Jorge Fonseca has exhibited open promotion of institutional transparency. Botswana has fought corruption through President Ian Khama’s innovative approach of “mainstreaming anti-corruption”.

Other governments are following suite and making great strides in fighting corruption in Africa. Shortly after assuming office President Alassane Ouattara from Cote d’Ivoire 1) passed a law on the prevention and repression of corruption; 2) set up a national anti-corruption authority; and 3) pursued compliance with some international initiatives, like the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI). Similarly President Macky Sall put in place a Ministry of Good Governance and National Office against Fraud and Corruption (OFNAC). He also re-instituted Senegal’s Court for the Repression of Illicit Enrichment (CREI), among other measures. Since then, the government followed through to ensure proper facilitation and functionality of these institutions.

The way forward

There should be increased participation and ownership by the population at large in development planning processes and corresponding policymaking. The lack of a participatory approach creates a significant space for corrupt practices. Government and political leaders must prioritise transparency and accountability. Weak transparency and accountability undermine the possibility of planning and executing policies.  Governments must build credible governance institutions. African states must focus on institution building. The African Union must call for visible commitment to anti-corruption from all of its leaders.

Corruption in Africa is indeed one of the major impediments to structural transformation on the continent. Africa desperately needs great leaders like Kagame, Ouattara and Sall. Leaders who know that fighting corruption start with themselves. Leaders who champion fairness and justice. Leaders who serve Africa and not themselves.