Monday, November 19, 2012

Corrupt Roots

Before independence, the small colonial elite often lived lives of conspicuous consumption: expensive mansions and shopping trips in the capital cities of colonial empires, and lavish parties. Many of the post-independence African elite took the colonial elite’s conspicuous consumption standard as a benchmark for ‘success’.

At African independence, instead of changing colonial era institutions, laws and values for the better, the colonial elite was often replaced by a similar narrow elite class. This time, however, it was the aristocracy of the independence and liberation movements; the dominant independence leader and dominant ‘struggle’ families, or the dominant ethnic group or political faction. African independence movements were often highly centralised or strongly dominated by one leader and his political, ethnic or regional faction. It has meant that they are very much like the old colonial administrations. The newly acquired state bureaucracy, military, judiciary, nationalized private industries were often seen as the ‘spoils’ of victory. A reward for the struggle of independence. The whole process often became opaque and unaccountable with ‘struggle aristocracies’ dishing out patronage – jobs, government tenders, and newly nationalized private companies - to their political allies, ethnic group(s) or regional interests.

By their very nature, many independence movements’ struggles were secretive. During the independence struggle, many African liberation movements discouraged dissent and criticism of the movements themselves lest they exposed divisions within the movements of the oppressed. By force or negotiation, many independence movements annex opposition parties making one large united party (albeit with ongoing tensions). During independence struggles, liberation movements often became corrupt themselves, as they were forced to adapt to the unaccountable and opaque strategies frequently employed by their oppressors. For example, while waging an armed struggle, it was not always possible for donor funding to be reconciled with receipts, or to properly supervise how money was spent during the course of underground operations. This process or lack thereof was often referred to as ‘struggle accounting’. Unfortunately, when eventually installed in government such ‘struggle accounting’ practices continued post independence.

Liberation movement governments embarked on a policy of creating a ‘capitalist class’ or new ‘indigenous’ business owners, black economic empowerment or indigenisation programs. Political leaders either get stakes in newly privatised public companies, get state tenders to supply services for government, or get slices of private companies owned by former colonials, minority ethnic groups or foreign companies. Liberation and independence leaders were often put on a pedestal by supporters and allowed leaders to get away with personalised rule, disguised by the rhetoric of ruling in ‘the service of our people’.

 Reforms were hardly ever going to have any impact, given the fact that unqualified cronies were managing key public institutions, and that scarce resources were being coarsely diverted to allies, family and friends. Almost all jobs available in the newly independent country were in government, or the newly nationalised media, banks, schools, universities, etc. , Decent employment very much depended on ‘clearance’ from the liberation movement leaders or the ruling group. In most cases, those critical of the dominant leaders or their policies were likely to be excluded from work in the public and private sectors. Very few African countries at independence had a significant private sector: those that had, more often than not saw it nationalised by the liberation or independence movement, turned government. Where significant private sectors remain, they often existed under the threat of possible nationalisation or not securing trading licenses if they failed to toe the line. Given this, such companies were unlikely to employ anyone out of favour with the ruling elite. Partially for these reasons, post-independence, the private sector in many African countries were usually docile and unlikely to demand accountability from national governments. The private sector was often under constant threat of having their businesses nationalised or ‘indigenised’ from the new rulers.

After independence, significant independent civil groups, such as trade unions and farmers associations, were often incorporated as ‘desks’ or ‘leagues’ of the new ruling parties (formerly independence/liberation movement). This meant that civil society groups that held the colonial governments to account and served as checks and balance mechanisms abdicated this role now. 

This provides fertile grounds for corruption leaving corruption to flourish. Corruption undermines the delivery of public services including public housing, healthcare, access to water and adequate sanitation, and access to reliable supplies of electricity. Corruption diverts resources that can be used for development.  For far too long, African ruling parties have gotten away with blaming the previous colonial administration - apartheid government or opposition movements for their own government failures. Most African ruling parties and leaders lack the political will needed to genuinely tackle corruption. Ordinary African citizens, community groups and civil society must become corruption fighters themselves. There needs to be grassroots campaigns across Africa against corruption. The masses must know the extent of corruption and what the impact it has.

African governments should not solely be in the dock. The developed countries essentially ‘buy’ the support of African leaders. This can be secured by forcing poor African countries, in global forums, to support policies that benefit developed countries, but disadvantage the very African countries supporting such policies. This is often achieved through bribery, the promise of more aid, or indeed threats to cut aid. However, this is almost never seen as corruption – yet it is. Western countries look the other way when corrupt African governments are their allies, this has in fact encouraged corruption. Western business organisations in return for investment opportunities collude and are accomplices in corrupt practices. Corruption in business is often not seen as serious by business leaders, either globally or locally. The global financial crisis was essentially caused by corrupt and greedy bankers. Yet, many of these business-men and their companies now flourish in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, as if they are blameless. The duplicity of capitalism must be stopped.

 Adapted from this article

1 comment:

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